So you’ve heard it before. Just diet and exercise and you could add 20 healthy years to your life. Intuitively this seems like good advice, but what does the science say? Is extreme health brought about by extreme measures, or is genetics a better indicator?
It is a puritanical notion that it is wrong to have health without sacrifice. A good exercise routine and diet have long been touted as a recipe for health and longevity. We are fighting our evolutionary roots when we exercise for no reason. Our cavemen ancestors conserved energy whenever possible . They also ate a lot whenever food was abundant, because often they starved for days or even weeks without it . Sleeping with one eye open to avoid attacks by dangerous predators was their reality. They were tuned for stress, because they had to stay alive in an extremely hostile environment. We have engineered most of these things out of our lives, and have made an artificial environment to live in, still our impulses and genetics remain the same.
We have enough food, many have too much. We live in warm houses, safe from predators, we can get enough sleep, and we might even have lower stress than they did in prehistoric times . Their lives were nasty brutish and short, as many have pointed out. Prehistoric man had to be fierce, just to survive to reproductive age. Many early humans died before their first birthday due to infection without the benefit of antibiotics, The average human lifespan was just 30-35 years or so. More often, the ancients were killed by trauma, infection, or they died in childbirth. Old age was present but it was more rare. The generations passed. We have forgotten our roots.
And so we demonize humanity. We say humans are lazy. We say they are slothful, sinful even. We don’t have a long enough lifespan to see our own history. If we could look back on early man, by using our memory, we would see how far we have come. Lifespans are short however. No one has survived long enough to remember how things used to be first hand. Due to our short lifespan we have become short-sighted to our history. How can we ever truly know how or why we adapted to our environment the way we did? This is where science offers some clues.We are still putting together the puzzle in this regard. Some evidence remains, but much was lost in the sands of time.
Recently scientific “evidence “suggests that the famous fossilised human ancestor dubbed ‘Lucy’ by scientists died falling from a great height – probably out of a tree.”* The fact that Australopithecus afarensis was a tree dweller, eluded scientists until recently. We are learning more and more, but many things remain a mystery.
So how much healthy lifespan can we hope to add to our lives due to diet and exercise? Well this is what a study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute found this. “The study, which found that people who engaged in leisure-time physical activity had life expectancy gains of as much as 4.5 years, appeared Nov. 6, 2012, in PLoS Medicine” **
So 4.5 years is a fairly good gain. It may improve quality of life while you are alive, but it is not a good strategy for living to 100 or 120 years if your genes determine that you will only live for 80. If your genetics pre-determine your health and your lifestyle only adds 4.5 years, than you may want to decide if all that effort is truly worth it. The research points out that extreme longevity is mostly decided by a luck of the draw.
Being healthy in the manner proposed ( diet and exercise) might be considered a waste of time in the future. Genetic engineering may be the weapon of choice for extending healthy lifespan in the coming years. Humanity may find better things to spend their time on, like deflecting that giant asteroid headed for earth. Many spend hours in the gym each day and it is regarded as a noble endeavor, to take care of your health in this way. Currently, we do not have many options. If we would like to add a few years onto our lives, this is the one choice we have. The future looks bright if this option seems unappealing. We will have to change our mindset if gene editing protocols like CRISPR come to pass. It may be easier to gain morphological
freedom with new technologies that alter our health for the better. We may become the species that evolves itself.
- * http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37194764
- ** https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/PhysicalActivityLifeExpectancy