Posts Tagged ‘Longevity’

The healthy Hispanic life style

December 19, 2015


Hispanics in the United States are nearly as poor, on average, as African Americans.  Yet they live longer, on average, than non-Hispanic whites.  What’s their secret?

Jasmine Aquilera, writing for Yes! magazine, says it is a combination of close community and family bonds, a healthier diet and la cuarentena, a Latin American tradition in which a new mother rests for the first 40 days after giving birth, not lifting a finger except to breastfeed and bond with her child.

A life in which community and family take priority would certainly be less stressful than a life in which priority is given to climbing the ladder of success—particularly in an economy in which so many people are moving down the ladder rather than up.

The traditional Mexican diet, based on corn, beans and rice, is indeed a healthy one.  It should not be confused with the Tex-Mex diet, with its big gobs of ground meat and melted cheese.   I think that the Tex-Mex diet may be a big reason Hispanics suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes.

I was especially interested in Aquilera’s report on the custom of cuartena. It reflects a culture that is profoundly pro-life in a way that goes beyond mere opposition to abortion and contraception.

I’ve read international surveys of happiness, which in general is proportional to the level of material well-being in various countries.  The exceptions are the former Communist countries of eastern Europe, where people are less happy than the statistics would indicate, and the Latin American countries, where people are more happy than the statistics would indicate.

I think Latin Americans have something to teach us Anglo Americans about how to live.


Latinos Live Longest Despite Poverty.  Here’s Their Secret by Jasmine Aquilera for Yes!

What I fear more than I fear death

July 20, 2014

Leading causes of death in the United States

Something that frightens me much more than death is the prospect of having my body outlive my mind.  Death is, literally, nothing.  What scares me is the prospect of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or any other condition where my physical body is kept alive but only disconnected and chaotic fragments of my mind remain.  I would much rather have a sudden fatal heart attack while shoveling snow one winter morning.


The Next Plague: Alzheimer’s by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat.

How Doctors Stymie the Wishes of the Elderly by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat (via Naked Capitalism).

Longevity and Long-Term Care: the Medical Crisis of the 21st Century by Maggie Mahar for Health Beat.

Our unrealistic views of death, through a doctor’s eyes by Craig Bowron for the Washington Post.  [Added 7/21/14.  Hat tip to Rod Dreher]

‘If living was a thing that money could buy…’

July 7, 2014

If living were a thing that money could buy

Then the rich would live and the poor would die

via Joan Baez.

Rich people on average live longer than poor people, for many reasons.  On average, they grow up in less toxic environments, they lead less stressful lives, they have more time to devote to exercise and they have better choices about diet.

Life expectancy overall is increasing, and 80-somethings such as movie director Clint Eastwood and Senator Dianne Feinstein as active and productive as people in previous generations who were 20 years younger.

But for certain segments of the population—white people who haven’t completed high school, for example—life expectancy is actually dropping.

Frederik Pohl_1976_GatewayLinda Marsa, writing in Aeron magazine, describes longevity research that may widen the life gap between rich and poor.  Scientists are studying the genetic basis of aging with a view to using genetic material to slow down or actually reverse the process of aging.   These treatments will be expensive, at least to begin with, and unavailable to those who can’t pay.

Science fiction writers have already explored the implications of this.  Frederik Pohl, in his short story, “The Merchants of Venus” (1972) and novel Gateway (1977). described a society in which life could be prolonged almost indefinitely but only for those who can afford to pay.   The protagonist of “The Merchants of Venus” has a bad liver, and is trying to make enough money to buy a transplant before it goes bad.  Talk about living paycheck to paycheck!

The alternative to allocating scarce medical resources on the basis of money is to allocate them on the basis ofholyfire.n5489 merit.  That is the situation in Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire (1996).  The 94-year-old protagonist is granted access to life extension technology on the basis of good health habits (she has little sympathy for her ex-husband, an addicted cigarette smoker) and her positive contribution to society, which consists of serving on boards and commissions having to do with health care policy.

She is allowed to participate in a clinical trial of a drug that supposedly will restore youth, but the drug affects her mind and she breaks with her cautious life.   At the end, she loses her privileges and comes to terms with mortality.

I’m not attracted by either alternative, but I don’t have a better one.  If something is scarce, then by definition it can’t be provided to everyone.  And maybe over time the medical treatments available only to the rich, or to people with good connections to the medical research establishment, will become available to everyone.


How to lengthen (or shorten) your life

January 26, 2013


This chart from the January issue of Scientific American provides a way of thinking about healthy and unhealthy habits.  David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk assessment at the University of Cambridge in England, has developed a unit of risk measurement called a “microlife,” which is 30 minutes of an average person’s life expectancy.

It’s a good way to think about your habits, and to motivate yourself to adopt good habits.

Sitting on the sofa for four hours straight will subtract an hour from your expected life, but you can make that up by exercising vigorously for 20 minutes.  If you exercise for 20 minutes, you’ll add an hour to your life expectancy, according to Spiegelhalter.  But if you exercise an additional 40 minutes, you’ll gain only 30 minutes in life expectancy, which is a net loss—unless you like exercise.

Current research indicates that having a moderate alcoholic drink once a day will add 30 minutes to your expected life.  But if you take two more drinks, the gain will be canceled.   It is the fourth drink that will shorten your expected life.

Spiegelhalter very properly cautions that these are averages, and that not every individual will react in the same way.  Winston Churchill, according to a biography I’m reading, never went very long without a drink or a smoke.  I would say he was a high-functioning alcoholic.  Yet he lived to be 90.  He was in his late 60s during his first term as Prime Minister (1940-1945) and was 80 when he stepped down from his second term (1951-1955).  But that doesn’t mean that you or I could live as he did and be able to function as he did.

This is all about “chronic” risks—the things you do that affect your life expectancy in the long run.  Spiegelhalter gave an interesting TED talk on “acute” risks—the things you do that affect your odds of sudden death.