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Brain Health and The way we age now

Posted Apr 25 2007 12:00am

The New Yorker April 30th issue includes a superb article on The Way We Age Now: Can medicine serve an aging population?. Atul Gawande provides a great (and a bit depressing) survey on the geriatrics field: more and more need for practitioners, with less and less supply.

now, a couple of quotes and data points that are very relevant to our efforts around healthy brain aging.

  • “for most of our hundred-thousand-year existence—all but the past couple of hundred years—the average life span of human beings has been thirty years or less. (Research suggests that subjects of the Roman Empire had an average life expectancy of twenty-eight years.)”
  • “Inheritance has surprisingly little influence on longevity. James Vaupel, of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in Rostock, Germany, notes that only six per cent of how long you’ll live, compared with the average, is explained by your parents’ longevity; by contrast, up to ninety per cent of how tall you are, compared with the average, is explained by your parents’ height. Even genetically identical twins vary widely in life span: the typical gap is more than fifteen years.”

Fascinating. First, let’s appreciate our incredible life expectancy today; we are literally pushing the envelop of how to maintain healthy brains and bodies. By historical standards, many of us are living on “borrowed” time. Second, there you have some evidence for the importance of our experience and our lifestyle on how long we live. In terms of healthy aging, on average, nurture seems to be at least as important as nature, and the one more in our control to take action today.

You can learn more on the Successful Aging of the Healthy Brain: a beautiful essay by Marian Diamond on how to keep our brains and minds active and fit throughout our lives.

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