People are living longer than ever before. Today we live twice as long as we did 100 years ago and reached a 10% increase in life expectancy in the past 50 years (Flatt, 2017).

In 1997, the oldest person verified by official documents died in France. Jeanne Calment ended her long life at the age of 122 (Whitney, 1997). Although during her last few years she grew blind and deaf, Calment was generally in good health.

The public health researcher, Jean-Marie Robine, wrote a biography book on Mrs. Calment and accredits her long life mainly to her “immunity to stress”, maintaining an unflappable disposition (Whitney, 1997). Perhaps one could explain her longevity due to the genetics. Her mother lived until the age of 86 and her father until the age of 93.

Calment had her own thoughts to explain to her old age: eating two pounds chocolate every week, pampering her skin with olive oil, and enjoying a healthy lifestyle until 100 years old. Shockingly enough, Calment quit smoking only five years before her death.

“Je n’ai jamais eu qu’une seule ride et je suis assise dessus.”

Jeanne Calment

Her pleasures in life included tennis, roller-skating, bicycling, swimming, hunting, piano and the opera. Mrs. Calment lived in her own apartment until the fragile age of 110 when she moved into a nursing home. Her new residence did not particularly please her, often complaining about the food saying, “It always tastes the same” (Whitney, 1997).

Jeanne Calment 122th birthday.

 

Perhaps for society’s stake, ageing solves more problems than just the death of senior citizens. Ageing allots room for younger and better-fit generations to optimize our limited space and resources.

Just from 2000 to 2015, life expectancy increased 5% (WHO, 2017). While the growth of life expectancy fortifies humanity’s fantasy for immortality, it creates more socioeconomic problems than benefits. People on average are living longer, but they spend those additional years ill and weak. While longevity has increased, healthy living at an old age remains a farfetched goal.

The advantage of growing life expectancy is not related to the amount of time we live on Earth, but the how long we can life in a healthy state without disease and cancer. People do not want to live longer lifetimes but instead wish to prolong the quality of the end of our lives, taking Jeanne Calment as a prime example. This entails 90-year olds taking dancing classes or traveling the world (Flatt, 2017).

The fact of the matter is that regardless if we are aging in a healthy state or not, the global population is increasing in ways unprecedented to previous centuries. Overpopulation and overexploitation of the Earth and its natural resources will have to be curtailed through sustainable living. The scientific community will have to increase the technological progress to grow either at the same or faster speed than the population growth.

That’s not to say we should not continue the search for longevity, only that it must be coupled with a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Oliva Meiners

Sources:

Evolution of Life and Aging – Professor Thomas Flatt

Gao, G. (2017). Scientists more worried than public about world’s growing population. [online] Pew Research Center. Available at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/08/scientists-more-worried-than-public-about-worlds-growing-population/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

National Institute on Aging, (2017). Living Longer. [online] National Institute on Aging. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

Whitney, C. (1997). Jeanne Calment, World’s Elder, Dies at 122. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/05/world/jeanne-calment-world-s-elder-dies-at-122.html [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].

WHO, (2017). Life expectancy. [online] World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/situation_trends_text/en/ [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].