Tuesday, 11 October 2011

peak life expectancy

I'm sorry if this post is a little incoherent, but my point is that instead of helping ourselves we're also hurting ourselves with our modern views of what is good health and how we should live.

A fellow blogger posted some time ago about the topic of life expectancy and raised the notion that in developed nations in some places it was lowering, perhaps for the first time. He called his article "Peak Life Expectancy". For most of human history we have struggled to make our lives better, I would wonder if the revelation that life expectancy is now lowering in places where everyone is "healthy" is not some sort of indicator of sustainable development?

I happen to agree with much of what Cameron wrote there and cogitation on that (at least subconsciously) forms the point of this post. My feeling (based on what I see) is that from now its quite likely that we're going to start going backwards, trending towards being less strong and healthy in age and perhaps not living as long.

I have struggled with a notion that while we are trying to make things better, perhaps we have failed to sit back and observe that things are quite good and perhaps we can start to take advantage of our hard earned gains. A point which seems to be lost on people is the need to build capacity or a reservoir of strength which to draw upon as we get older.

The author Frank Herbert made the point in his novel Dune that people flourished in adversity. History seems to show also that empires which were built on tough conquest failed when the society fell into indolence and decadence.

My dad is in his 80's and he's a tough old bastard. In his younger days he worked in bloody tough conditions, doing such things as out at sea whaling or commercial fishing. He grew up in a tough time and during his life he worked hard. Its no wonder he's a strong tough guy because a lesser man would probably have been dead.

Today almost noone works hard, plays sport or even does much physical activity in the west.

Why? well our economies have been transformed to "service sector" and if anything we obsess about workplace health and safety like a pack of worried nannies. Fewer people get enough exercise because we are too worried to walk or ride a bicycle anywhere (and perhaps even rightly too). We drive more and more and of course this effects our health in poor air quality as well as poor physical health.

People wouldn't consider riding a bike 12Km to work, but they'll spend some hundreds of dollars for a gym membership (the wealthy ones) where they sit on an exersize bike and ride 12Km. The non wealthy ones either buy crap exersize stuff off TV or just watch TV.

People "slim down" by diets rather than genuine exercise (which also builds strength) often robbing themselves of core strength. Medical science is just starting to catch on to this with recognition that osteoporosis is actually simply prevented by simple stuff like aerobics, weight bearing, and resistance exercises.

When my dad (or even I) was young there was nowhere near the amounts of food intolerance or various allergies as we have now. People speak of virtual "epidemics" of allergy today and interestingly much of the evidence is pointing to things like:
  • us being too clean (not properly building and using our immune systems)
  • use of too many new (newly synthesized) chemical cocktails for general life
  • over exposure to a host of new toxins
As one with a history of tertiary study in microbiology and biochemistry I will say that the overwhelming majority of benefits to humanity come from the most basic of medical development. Simple stuff like hygiene, washing food, not shitting in your water supply, access to good nutrition has been responsible for the greatest improvements in life expectancy and quality of life.

So while stuff like MRI is truly fantastic stuff, but you need to keep in perspective that bang for buck it has done far far less for human health than washing your food and keeping ourselves away from parasites (or this guy).


Jao said...

Good post. I am always scratching my head at the folks driving a few blocks to the gym to walk on a treadmill. Or those at my work who incessantly complain about having to walk a whole 5 minutes from the parking lot because the close in parking is always full. Worse, there is actually a shuttle! For a five minute walk! Doing that 5 minute walk twice a day (or 4 times for those that drive off to go get lunch at a "restaurant" instead of bringing in something healthy) is another 50 kcals burned. Anyway, off my high horse now ;-)

Anonymous said...

I especially liked the part where you compare our sivilization to other already collapsed ones. I believe we are on the same path. And I call that development.

writergenn said...

It seems to me that we as a society are at a crossroads where a significant part of or resources are at cross-purposes. Medical science and social policy are increasingly being directed towards increasing life expectancy by reversing or overcoming our own best efforts to shorten it. At the same time the our food sectors are spending vast amounts on producing poorer foods and convincing us that that is what we want. And that it is our right to eat what we like. And that we can expect medical science to repair whatever damage we do in the process.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with you on diets - it depends what one means as it is a word that is hopelessly overused. Trying to improve overall health through exercise alone is pointless if one continues to consume buckets of crap - which is what many a gym tragic tries to do. Starving oneself without doing any actual work achieves just that - starvation but not health. The simple need for combination of healthy diet and exercise are so often repeated that they've become a cliche and are drowned out by the chorus of fad diets and pounding joggers.
There is no need for a "modern view", human biology hasn't changed in the last few millenia as far as I know.
Here's my outlandish theory to get us back on track: Get some exercise and eat proper food - that's it. Do both at the same time and really set the world on fire - throw a sandwich and a bottle of water into a backpack and walk up a hill somewhere - I'm sure we still have them and apparently it's free. Not a great commercial proposition but the view is amazing.

obakesan said...

yes, I agree "Diet" is flogged to death. What you eat every day is indeed your diet.

I was meaning Diets such as crash starvation sorts of diets, or zero carb diets ... you know "lifestyle" ones