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Life expectancy increases and it is not all down to genetics

Globally, life expectancy defined as the average length of time a person is expected to live is increasing (see figure attached). The two main reasons for this is better healthcare and improved diet.

In today's terms, increased life expectancy translates into longer lifespan as well as an extended period of disease-free life (i.e. healthspan), thus improved life quality. Centenarians (people alive over the age of 100) have also become more common, and not only do they live longer but they often tend to enjoy healthier lives as well.

Many would think that this is due to their genetic make-up, but evidence suggests that external factors are more important than previously thought.  In fact only up to 30% of lifespan is determined by the genetic make-up, the rest is all due to environmental factors.

All this means is that ageing is malleable and thus we can intervene to modulate lifespan, and subsequently healthspan. Examples of the types of modulations that are available today consist of diet, exercise and even drug supplements. All of these have been proved to be effective at improving lifespan and therefore health in many model organisms, and because these have evolutionarily conserved mechanisms, we humans can also benefit from these lifestyle/environmental changes. 

There are many ways these interventions have been proved, and there's so much information out there pointing towards this. However, the take home message is that ageing is a process but we can all do something about it as it is not all determined by our genes. I'm happy to facilitate this discussion further if anyone is interested in finding out more. 

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Georgie Cade 11 months ago

Catalina, this is really interesting and it's incredible to see the progress made with life expectancy. You highlight how much environmental factors have an effect... One thing that is worrying then is the impact that poverty and poor living conditions can have. Michael Marmot at UCL has done a lot of work into how social inequalities influence how well and how long we are able to live.

Earlier this year he found that life expectancy was actually coming to a halt for the first time in England. He thinks austerity and increases in poverty could be behind this:

What does everyone else think about this and how inequality could affect how we age?

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Octavio Zamudio 11 months ago

This is super interesting, but shocking. I think that one of the greatest contributors within the environmental factors could be work-life balance. However it would be difficult to measure, and even more, to compare between countries.

Work-life balance (inherently linked to inequality), has different snowballing effects that hinders health and life expectancy. The question is what will be the role of the state to mitigate this.

A very short study in the link below, but it provides some insights to expand the discussion.

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Catalina Romila 11 months ago

You're right Octavio, and I think what you're touching on is the mindset aspect that arises from the work-life balance accolade.

You can imagine how important this is when you realise that it is all to do with the brain waves and how it functions. As an obvious example, an imbalanced work-life lifestyle has a much higher risk association to developing sleeping-issues, depression, mood swings etc, which clearly impacts the quality of living.

So, in effect it is simply not enough to have a good diet rich in protein and reduced sugar with moderate amount of carbs or exercise as for healthy living one has to mediate not only the body but the mind also.

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Catalina Romila 11 months ago

Georgie, you're right in pointing out this crucial bit of information that applies to this aspect. In fact, there have been several studies looking at how inequality (i.e. social status) shapes life expectancy and inadvertently healthy living.

This study for instance found that socio-economic status is a key determinant of this, and you can read how this health inequality gap leads to many developing countries still lagging far behind their counterparts both in terms of healthy lifespan and healthspan, as well as mortality (

With regards to the findings of the work you outlined above, it is not surprising to me that this was the case given that while there is little movement on the UK government supporting the boom of an old population, more immediate approaches and policies need to be put in place to support the ever-rising elderly population which has long been overlooked. This is an issue in itself costing the government huge amounts of money through healthcare costs in an attempt to support some of these people. However, there are sound arguments out there with which I agree that in fact majority of these costs could be far reduced if the government were to change gears and switch from a treatment-approach to a preventative-approach.

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

Status label added: Useful insight

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Miroslava Katsur 11 months ago

Hi Catalina! How do you think we can encourage older generation to choose healthier lifestyle? How to make healthy lifestyle more accessible and consistent? How older people can learn about what they should do to improve their health, and how to make it fun?

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Georgie Cade 9 months ago

Status label removed: Useful insight

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