Advances in anti-aging are the big topic in recent scientific literature. And for good reason. An American born today has a projected average lifespan a whole 2 decades longer than a child born in 1925.
In less than a century, more years have been added to life expectancy than all years added across all prior millennia of evolution combined, notes Stanford professor and author Laura Carstensen. The reason for this radical life extension - someone born in 1925 had a life expectancy at birth of 59 years, while an average someone born in 2045 could realistically expect to live to be 81 - is due to what prize-winning economist Robert Fogel call a "technophysio-evolution," which describes biological changes due largely to technologies ensuring a steady food supply.
Of course the Agricultural Revolution is partly responsible. The ability to feed large groups of people reliably year-round led to a population explosion and to an increased lifespan. But other advances were involved, including electricity; pasteurization and water purification; waste disposal; and vaccinations.
What to do with the aging population is another story. Cities really weren't built for older persons who can have difficulties getting around, and it may be hard to convince a person to retire in his early 60s when he can expect to live another few decades. Indeed most of the diseases that plague modern medicine are age-related diseases, like cancer and heart disease, the biggest risk factor for which, more even than diet and exercise, is a person's age. A 70-year-old clean liver is at a higher risk of developing cancer in the near future than a 20-year-old obese kid who smokes, drinks, and lives off burgers and milk shakes.
And from the laboratory new chemicals are emerging which, if they produce effects in humans similar to what has been observed in animals, could push the maximum life span as high as 142. (Currently the oldest known person is 116 years young.) Who in her right mind would ever wish to live that long, judging by how the average senior citizen looks and feels when only half that age, slow and stooped at 70, is not being considered. As with most things scientific, advancement at all costs is the modus operandi.
But we shouldn't ignore the facts. A person today experiences a loss of skin resiliency at age 18, deteriorating lung function at age 30, a decrease in bone mass at 35, muscle loss at age 40, which is about when eye problems arise, kidney dysfunction at 50, hearing loss at 60, malabsorption due to gut dysfunction at 60, and a loss of brain mass by age 70. Increase the life span and these changes will still occur, perhaps a few years later, but our flimsy flesh and fragile organs will never be immortal. Not a pretty picture. I'll pass on the resveratrol and rapamycin, thank you very much.
But I will say this: a discovery is emerging which places one factor beyond the others in its efficacy for extending life and making those years on earth more enjoyable. This is meditation. An ever-increasing swath of the scientific community is endorsing the age-old practice as a natural anti-inflammatory that can also increase telomere length and in so doing halt or even reverse the aging process. Talk about winding back the clock. Mind and body truly are connected. Some studies even show that meditation can slow the age-related decline of gray matter in the brain. As if you needed extra incentive to pay close attention to feelings, thoughts and other stimuli while meditating, a practice called mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR.
But what about the bigger incentive? What about accessing eternity? Imagine what life was like before you were conceived, before the beginning of time, when there was no concept of space? By closing your eyes and clearing the mind of thought you can transcend time and space, and that body that is aging slowly or more rapidly than other bodies. The moment is your ticket to eternity. Think of it. Without anything around to judge the passing of time, or measure space, a moment lasts forever. Make this your moment.
Because you are more than the brain or the body in which it is housed. You are the consciousness identical to the canvass on which this universe of shapes and forms appears! If buying your body a few more years on this feverish planet is the incentive you need to simply be as you are then fine. But remember. Being is bliss! Let that be your last thought before you enter forever.