Would you get bored if you had the chance to live forever? (Photo by mandj98)
As the description of this blog says, the idea behind my human experiments is to help me (and others) live longer and healthier. Unlike some people, who seem to know they will eventually want to die of old age, I haven't specified any upper limit on how long I want to live. In fact, there is no upper limit, because I don't want to die at all. I want to live forever.
Sounds ridiculous, right? How on earth is something like intermittent fasting going to make me live forever? The answer is it's not, at least not by itself. The key to understanding the five-step plan is to see that a healthy lifestyle is all about avoiding the most common causes of death, while people more gifted than me work on postponing the evitable.
These rather simple steps lay down my current strategy for dealing with the all-consuming, world-destroying, meaning-shattering problem that is aging.
1. Eating a healthy diet
A lot of the posts on this blog are focused on diet. Many of the experiments I've tried are related to diet. For me, searching for clues on what might be the optimal diet is a continuous process, a neverending quest. It's challenging, but also immensely interesting and rewarding.
Some people think or at least secretly hope that if they just eat healthy, they'll somehow be excluded from the sphere of aging. As if making that extra effort would make Death spare his scythe, just this once. These are the same people who look at their friends indulge in unhealthy pleasures like smoking, drinking, fast foods, while quietly thinking to themselves that their abstinence will have some grand payoff in the end.
It might, but not in the way they think. I have no disillusions about a healthy diet making me live forever. Whether it's a raw food diet, low-carb diet, a paleolithic diet, caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, none of these things alone will make me or anyone else immortal. The only reason I'm constantly tweaking and seeking to improve my diet is to avoid the causes of death that result from eating poorly. In other words, the goal of eating healthy is to maximize my natural lifespan.
But what exactly is the maximum natural lifespan? It seems that 120 years is about as long as the human body can survive without any extreme rejuvenation therapies. Even then genes probably play at least some part; some people lead very healthy lifestyles and still die before the age 100.
Nonetheless, and this is the important point, if the life expectancy for a person eating an average diet is about 80 years, and the life expectancy for someone eating a very healthy diet is 100 years, that's a difference of 20 years. As we will see, those extra 20 years might prove to be extremely important.
2. Leading an active life
Some people think being sedentary is alright as long as you eat healthy. Others say you can eat anything you want as long as you exercise and stay fit. I tend to lean towards the former, which is why leading an active life is second on my list, and diet is first. Of course, by combining the two, I'm expecting better results than from either one alone.
Exercise, just like eating healthy, is a way of preventing that which is preventable. If I can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and osteoporosis by jogging, give me a pair of running shoes. If lifting weights will help keep the heart muscle healthy, show me the way to the gym. Again, there is no exercise out there that will make me live forever, whether it's high-intensity interval training or ancient Tibetan yoga, but a decent routine will probably give me a handful extra years I wouldn't otherwise have.
Note that an active life doesn't just mean an active life physically, but mentally as well. It's no secret that people who have a sense of purpose in life tend to live longer, and people who actively use their brain tend to have better cognitive function at old age. When it comes to the brain, it's use it or lose it. From what I've read and seen in other people, being passionate about something – be it science, arts, music, gardening, or whatever it is that interests you – is much better for longevity than leading a passive life.
3. Taking supplements
This step includes basically anything that can be taken in capsule form: nutritional supplements, drugs, herbal extracts, etc. I will just categorize them all under the term 'supplement' for simplicity. The distinction between a supplement and a drug is arbitrary anyway.
Since it's not currently practical (not to mention enjoyable) to eat only supplements, a healthy diet without supplements is a better choice than a poor diet with supplements. Therefore, supplements are after diet on the list. They're also after exercise, because at the moment, we have more data on the benefits of exercise than we do on the benefits of supplements. Again, by combining the three, I'm expecting better results than from using a single approach.
Some people are almost irrational in their faith in supplements. Like with eating a healthy diet, they think that if they just take enough of their favourite vitamin every day, maybe they'll be able to cheat death. Granted, this idea is appealing, because even now, there are several supplements available that can provide us with compounds in concentrations thousands of times stronger than what is found in nature. Resveratrol is one such example. Thus, some supplements do allow us to cheat nature. None of them allow us to cheat death, however.
It's worth noting that many people are also irrational in their position against supplements. They feel no supplement is worth taking, either because it hasn't been shown to extend lifespan in humans, which would require waiting on the sidelines for a hundred years, or precisely because the compounds in them don't exist in similar quantities in nature. The latter view is especially common among those who support the argument from naturality, which basically says that anything that is unnatural is bad. But death, of course, is entirely natural.
I view supplements as a third way of preventing various causes of death and promoting general health. There is no single magic pill that will instantly give me an extra ten years of life, but there are a lot of supplements with promising health benefits: acetyl-L-carnitine, vitamin D3, vitamin K2, resveratrol, and curcumin, just to name a few. Anything that can delay even some of the manifestations of the aging process, if not the actual process, is useful in my books. Preventing death is a battle that must be fought on all fronts.
4. Rejuvenation therapies
This is without a doubt the most important step on the road to immortality. Without radical life extension methods, immortality is never going to be possible. If diet, exercise and supplements are pistols in the war against aging, good for taking out single enemies but not enough to conquer an entire army, the coming of life extension technology is the point in battle when the tanks roll in.
This doesn't mean that we will have a single therapy that will bless us with another 100 years each time we use it. Rather, what will likely happen at first is that we will have an engineering approach to the problem of aging: identifying the things in the body that are susceptible to deterioration and fixing them one by one, with priority on the parts that break down first.
This is a useful strategy, in my opinion, because it means we don't have to come up with the ultimate solution for aging right away. Instead, we can do our best to replace parts as they break down, and use those extra years to discover more efficient solutions. The key here is that these engineering methods will do much more for lifespan extension than diet, exercise and supplements ever can. They are the only to way to truly beat nature at its own game.
Perhaps in the long run, after several iterations of mechanical problem-fixing, we may even find that one-size-fits-all cure for aging. Or we may have discovered a way to transplant our brain onto a more suitable vessel, one unburdened by biological deterioration. It's impossible to know what the future looks like, but I have no doubt that at some point, all this will be possible.
And then there's the caveat: even though I have no doubt all of the above will happen, I have many doubts about when it will happen. Anyone who argues that immortality can never happen is in my mind certainly wrong, assuming the world is not destroyed by a meteor or something. Furthermore, anyone who argues that immortality won't happen within the next 10,000 years is in my mind almost certainly wrong. On the other hand, someone who argues that immortality won't happen in my lifetime may well be correct.
That's a frightening argument, but one that must be considered carefully. If immortality is impossible at any point in the future, it becomes irrational to pursue it. However, if it's probable that immortality will be possible within the next 10,000 years, as I suggest it is, but impossible within the next 100 years, it becomes rational to pursue it. But if the first real rejuvenation therapies will be here in the year 2100, what can we who are alive today do?
The best solution at this point is cryonic suspension. In layman's terms, you put yourself in ice and wait for better times. We already know how to do the suspension part, and even though we don't know how to bring people back, I think it's only a matter of time before we do. Even if my chances of ever waking from the glacial slumber are small, it's still a more rational choice for me than being buried or cremated. For the skeptics who still think your cells would freeze and explode in cryonic suspension, see the FAQ at Alcor's website.
Cryonics is more efficient and more safe now than it was when the first people took the plunge to the long chill. The mainstream media hasn't caught up with cryonics as much as it has with anti-aging, but as the world's millionaires and forward-thinkers get older and more desperate to find ways to be around when the future arrives, I think cryonics will become more fashionable.
I realize cryonics is a last resort. I hope rejuvenation therapies will see the light of day before I'm too old, but if they don't, I'm definitely headed for the ice box, not the grave. Also, if I knew I was going to die of a terminal disease, I would make arrangements for cryonics. At the moment, it would mean having the funds and likely moving to the United States. In the coming years, I think we'll see companies offering cryonics services in the rest of the world too.
My plan for achieving immortality consists of two main parts and a backup plan. The goal of the first part is to maximize my natural lifespan by avoiding diseases and staying healthy for as long as possible. That means following three basic steps, in the order of importance: eating a healthy diet, leading an active life and taking supplements.
Hopefully, these three steps will able me to live to see step four, the coming of rejuvenation therapies and radical life extension technologies. This is the step that is needed for true immortality to be possible.
If it looks like step four is not going to happen in my lifetime, it's time for the the backup plan or step five, which is cryonic suspension. Hopefully future generations will discover a way to bring me back from my icy sleep so I can join the party.
For some people, doing all this just to increase the chances of living forever might be too much of a hassle. Those with little imagination will not even see the appeal in living forever. Passive people are sure they would eventually get bored with life. Naturalists argue it's unnatural to try to cheat death. Religious people claim we shouldn't play God. Pessimists say it's a nice idea, but it will never work.
For me, however, the prize is too great not to try my best.
For more information on aging and immortality, see these posts:
End Aging to End Anxiety: Filmmaker Jason Silva Talks about Immortality
Anti-Aging in the Media: Vancouver Sun on Immortality
Anti-Aging in the Media: NOW Magazine on the International Anti-Aging Show
Anti-Aging in the Media: The Globe and Mail on Telomerase