We have a tradition in my homeland to celebrate certain milestone birthdays, many of which are in the latter stages of life. One such milestone birthday is the seventieth, designated as a birthday “rarely reached since the olden days.”
I believe it was still rare to reach the age of seventy when I was born a few decades ago. But my nation has since seen great advances in peace and security, economy and technology, and medicine and healthcare. We now enjoy a much longer life expectancy of roughly eighty years, and as I have mentioned before, around one in twelve is at or older than this age in our population.
These people are still very active and young at heart, but not living entirely in health. Although they take good care of themselves today, they did not in their early years, mostly for the lack of knowledge and opportunity. So we would think, with all the benefits the younger generations reap from better living conditions, that we live healthier lives longer.
But a report on human lifespan published yesterday in an international scientific journal says that, although gains are seen worldwide in average life expectancy (i.e., more people survive to old age, defined by the researchers as age seventy or older), it is not likely that our maximum life expectancy will get longer than we have already seen.
Maybe it is because today’s medicine and healthcare cannot override the biological determinants of our lifespan, suggests the researchers.
But maybe there are psychological reasons as well, I think – maybe we are unable to estimate accurately the morbidity and mortality risks in the latter stages of our lives, which have become farther in distance in our future.
Or maybe we believe, perhaps blindly, that we will have better knowledge and more opportunities in the future to live healthier longer.
And thus, maybe despite all cautions and available preventive measures, we do not take as good a care of ourselves today as we could or should.
I must admit that I myself am a good (or bad?) example of the generation who are unlikely to extend life expectancy. I usually do not have a balanced diet, I do not exercise as often as I should, and I let far too many things stress me out… and suffer from all sorts of aches and pains in my body and my mind. And I am beginning to fear how many more years I am to live this unhealthy or worse!
We never know when it is our time to go, so it is difficult to calculate back and lay out a plan to live healthy all our lives. Then, maybe an occasional bucket of chocolate chip ice cream and procrastination on the couch are admissible. But maybe we need to keep them rare, for we are more likely to reach ages “rarely reached in the olden days” whether we want to or not.
Maybe what is expected of our lives is to make choices regularly today to reach our not-so-rare life expectancy healthy.