The U.S. population is aging rapidly due to falling birth rates and rising life expectancies. By 2050, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, one-in-five Americans will be 65 or older, and at least 400,000 will be 100 or older.1 Some futurists think even more radical changes are coming, including medical treatments that could slow, stop or reverse the aging process and allow humans to remain healthy and productive to the age of 120 or more. The idea that people could live extraordinarily long lives is no longer improbable. A recent issue of National Geographic magazine featured a baby on its cover with the headline “This Baby Will Live To Be 120.”
Many Americans are not content with the idea of living longer lives. The Pew Research Center released a new survey that found that people see both the potential benefits and risks of biomedical advances that could extend life. More people think that living much longer than is possible today would be bad for society than good. Would you choose to have medical treatments to slow the aging process and live to be 120 or more? A majority of U.S. adults (56%) say “no.” But roughly two-thirds (68%) think that most other people would. People expect that longer life spans would put a strain on natural resources and that only the wealthy would be able to afford it.
There is no method of slowing the aging process and extending average life expectancies to 120 years or more at present. Corporate labs and universities are researching how to prevent aging, and religious leaders, bioethicists, and philosophers are debating the morality of greatly extending life.
The survey, which was conducted from March 21 to April 8, 2013, among a nationally representative sample of 2,012 adults, looked at public attitudes about aging, health care, personal life satisfaction, possible medical advances (including radical life extension), and other bioethical issues. A telephone survey was conducted by calling people’s cell phones and landlines in all 50 states. The margin of error for the whole sample was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
The findings suggest that the gradual rise in the number of older Americans is not a particularly worrisome issue for the U.S. public. Most adults surveyed say that “having more elderly people in the population” is either a good thing for society or does not make much difference. Just 10% see this trend as a bad thing.
While Americans are optimistic about their own future, they are also optimistic about getting older. The majority of those surveyed report being content with their current situation, with 81% saying they are satisfied. Furthermore, 56% believe their lives will improve in the next ten years, while 28% expect no change. The majority of Americans, across all age groups, expect their lives to be better or about the same in the next decade. Young adults are the most optimistic, with 23% expecting their lives to be better in 10 years, but even among adults aged 65 and older, 43% expect their lives to be about the same. While a fifth of all adults in the U.S. worries about outliving their financial resources in retirement, more than half don’t worry too much or at all.
Most people believe that there will be some significant scientific advances in the next few years. Many Americans believe that medical advances will continue to be made in the future. For example, 69% believe that there will be a cure for most cancers by the year 2050, and 71% believe that artificial limbs will perform better than natural ones by that time. Most people see medical advances that help people live longer as being generally good, while a smaller group sees them as interfering with the natural cycle of life.
However, there is also some caution regarding new medical treatments. A little over a quarter of adults (24%) report having a lot of confidence that new medicines and treatments have undergone thorough testing before becoming available to the general public. While a majority of Americans support medical treatments that extend life, 41% believe that often these treatments create more problems than they solve.
Views of Radical Life Extension
The survey is designed to give people an idea of what they think about the possibility of humans living much longer lives in the future. Opinion on potential scientific breakthroughs is difficult to gauge. Based on the survey results, very few people are aware of the possibility of medical treatments lengthening life in the future. 38% say they have heard a little bit about it, while the remaining 54% say they have heard nothing at all on the topic. The wording of the survey question focuses on the result of scientific breakthroughs (much longer life spans) rather than the breakthroughs themselves because the public is uncertain and does not know much about the field.
At this point, people’s reactions to the idea of radical life extension are both uncertain and disbelieving. If new medical treatments could slow the aging process, half of Americans believe it would be bad for society.
Although some people believe that a major breakthrough will happen soon, most people doubt it. The majority of people do not think that the average person in the United States will be living to 120 years by the year 2050. Just 25% of adults believe that it is likely for the event to occur by 2050.
Many people are doubtful that these types of medical treatments would be effective. A large majority of people believe that “everyone should be able to get these treatments if they want them.” Most people think that only wealthy people would have access to the treatments in practice.
Most Americans also foresee other negative implications. A little over half of the people surveyed agreed that longer life expectancies would put a strain on natural resources, and a little under 60% agreed that medical scientists would offer the treatment before they fully understood its effects on people’s health. A little over half of the people surveyed also agreed that these treatments would be fundamentally unnatural.
People are divided on whether working longer hours would make the economy more productive. 44% agree that it would, while 53% reject the idea.
How different age groups, races, and ethnicities feel about the potential impacts of a significant increase in human life expectancy varies. While whites are the least likely to see radical life extension as a positive development, blacks and Hispanics are more likely to have this view. Younger adults are more likely to say that radical life extension would be beneficial for society than older adults.
Why is optimism important?
Everyone experiences stress in their life, which can positively or negatively affect their health and mood. If you don’t manage your stress, it can cause health problems like premature aging. Although you don’t need to be constantly happy, thinking positively and focusing on the good aspects of life is more effective than you might realize. Optimism isn’t just linked to a longer life; it’s also linked to a healthier and more fulfilling life. You also may think that there may be other factors that contribute to this optimism-lifespan association. Optimistic women who have healthy diets or who exercise frequently might be more likely to conceive. Although the Harvard study found that common lifestyle factors, such as regular exercise and healthy eating, were associated with optimism, they accounted for less than a quarter of the difference in lifespan.
The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study found that there was also an association between these two factors. The researchers found that, after taking into account sociodemographic characteristics, optimism was associated with better cardiovascular health in both Black and White participants at all time points over 10 years. They also found that optimism may play a role in setting future patterns of cardiovascular health in adulthood. This is good news because it means that being optimistic can help improve other areas of your health.
This information about positive longevity factors like optimism can help public health efforts to reduce overall health disparities. These risks, such as smoking and drinking, are important, and we should work to reduce them. However, we should also focus on the positive risk factors that can improve our health.” Although it’s important to work on reducing negative risk factors for our health, like smoking and drinking, we should also focus on the positive risk factors that can help improve our health. Kong urges people to think about the benefits of optimism for their health, noting that these benefits are seen in people of different racial and ethnic groups.
How much longer on average do the most optimistic women live?
The research from Harvard showed that the most optimistic women were 10% more likely to live to their 90th birthday than the least optimistic women. Based on total demographics, however, the highest vs. lowest optimism quartile in the Women’s Health Initiative study is broken down as follows:
- Overall – Associated with a 5.4% longer lifespan
- White women – 5.1% longer lifespan
- Black women – 7.6% longer lifespan
- Hispanic/Latina women – 5.4% longer lifespan
- Asian women – a 1.5% longer lifespan
The data shows that Black women are the most optimistic demographic and have the highest longevity rates. Black women who are optimistic tend to live longer, according to the Jackson Heart Study. The study found that there is a positive correlation between optimism and longevity among African Americans. An optimistic outlook was found to be linked with a lower mortality rate among African-Americans in the study.
The data from both groups is significant because most previous studies on optimism and longevity were only done with non-Hispanic White populations and were more limited in what they reported. The Harvard study included a broader, more diverse group of people, providing more accurate results.
How to live a longer life: Longevity hacks
Optimism may help you live longer, but there are other things you can do to live a healthy life. These factors include:
A healthy diet
—It has always been important to maintain a healthy diet to benefit overall health. While the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats and whole grains, is known for its health benefits, the Japanese diet is also a great option, with adherence to this diet being associated with a longer lifespan. The DASH diet is also a good option and has been linked to slower aging. Also, remember to avoid excessive alcohol use, as that can contribute to premature aging, with the potential to worsen health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and mood disorders.
Maintaining a healthy weight
—Keeping the number on the scale in a healthy range with a combo of diet and exercise is a large aspect of staying healthy.
Targeted nutrients can also help support your longevity efforts. These nutrients include:
- Nicotinamide riboside: A precursor of NAD+, and a form of vitamin B3 that can fight general fatigue, support cellular energy production, and even contribute to anti-aging.
- Resveratrol: Skip the wine! Resveratrol has potent anti-aging properties, including fighting free radicals and mimicking calorie-restricting diets that are key to longevity.
- Curcumin: The golden spice is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits and, with that, its ability to benefit whole-body health. Working to keep your joints and your brain healthy, it’s a no-brainer that this extract will keep you as young as you feel.
Keeping stress at bay is crucial to living a long and healthy life. There’s even evidence that managing stress can “un-gray” your hair! And who wouldn’t feel optimistic about that?