On the one hand, extending life to the point of practical immortality (longevity escape velocity, or LEV) is an absurdly bad idea, the epitome of human hubris, fraught with all manner of social, economic, and philosophical problems—many of which we probably can’t foresee.
On the other hand, if aging is a disease like any other (as epigeneticists tend to think), and our number one killer at that, aren’t we morally obliged to work on a cure—especially if, as researchers claim, a cure most definitely exists? Aubrey de Grey, one of the most public advocates of life extension research, answers the question of why he wants to cure aging with another: “What the hell is wrong with everyone else that stops them from being motivated to cure aging? It’s responsible for the overwhelming majority of global suffering. WTF?”
On yet another hand (who knows, maybe we’ll graft one on next), if you’re enjoying life, why not prolong it indefinitely? It’s not like we’re going to eliminate death entirely and force everyone to live forever; we’re just looking at ways to tackle its primary cause.
In any case, wherever you stand on life extension, there are certain things you can do right now to improve your odds of living long enough to see it happen. And, even if when that day comes you opt out of “living forever,” these top 10 tips for practical immortality can only improve your health in the meantime. For the most part anyway.
10. Take supplements
Although there’s very little evidence in favor of supplementing nutrients for longevity (something de Grey himself points out), life extension zealot Ray Kurzweil takes hundreds of pills every day. If you want to stand a chance of living forever, he insists, you must “be aggressive with your supplementation.”
Stephen Coles, another life extension enthusiast, appears to agree, prescribing a daunting nutrient cocktail of vitamins (B, C, E, etc.), fish oil, soya lecithin, and many, many other supplements.
Obviously the cost of so many pills can rapidly get out of control. It’s also no small feat keeping up with the often contradictory research and adjusting your regimen accordingly, while at the same time accounting for differences in size, weight, gender, health, lifestyle, diet, and so on. Given that individual supplements could end up interfering with, duplicating, or even counteracting the effects of the others, fine-tuning your intake can become a rather tedious full-time job. And it’s probably not worth the hassle.
But if you’re serious about supplementation (because there is in fact reason to be), then the best way to get started is to plan out your own “personal supplement pyramid.” The idea is to start with a reliable foundation of supplements recommended for everyone—multivitamin, CoQ10, essential fatty acids, probiotics, and so on—before customizing your intake from there. First, you’ll add supplements recommended for your own medical profile (e.g. pomegranate extract for a family history of heart disease), and then you’ll top off your pyramid with some of the more faddish or experimental wonder-supplements (or drugs) of the day. These might include protein-refolding supplements, Basis, or metformin. Ned David, co-founder of Unity Biotechnology, is said to look 20 years younger, in part because he uses metformin—a diabetes drug that helped even elderly diabetics live longer than a healthy control group.
9. Watch what you eat…
As with supplements, Aubrey de Grey doesn’t think much of fad diets when it comes to extending longevity. Obviously an unhealthy diet can significantly shorten your lifespan, but slavishly following the Atkins or paleo diet (for instance) might be a waste of your time—unless of course you’re overweight.
That said, you can’t go wrong with a traditionally healthy diet. That means ample fiber (prunes, whole grains, potato skins, etc.), fatty acids (from oily fish or vegetarian supplements), and plenty of vegetables. Antioxidants are especially useful for slowing the production of free radicals that cause havoc to aging cells. Antioxidant foods include walnuts, pomegranates, ginger, and blackberries. Red wine contains the powerful antioxidant resveratrol and evidence suggests drinking it in small quantities could help protect against a variety of age-related disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Green tea, with its polyphenols, antioxidants, and antibacterial qualities, is also recommended. Meanwhile, you should limit your consumption of saturated/trans fats, meat, dairy, chemical additives, sugar, starches, and heavily processed foods. And you should never eat brains.
Some nutritionists believe we should eat the same as “Blue Zone” residents, i.e. those living in areas with the most centenarians. People in Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), and Loma Linda (California), for instance, have longer lifespans on average, perhaps because of their seafood-rich and otherwise plant-based diets.
It should be noted, however, that such a diet is not really feasible for most of us. Our use of chemical pesticides has rendered many foods (especially apples, peppers, peaches, spinach, and strawberries) actually toxic, and our polluted seas have increased methylmercury levels in fish to potentially dangerous levels.
In short, it’s probably best to follow de Grey’s golden rule for diet and eat whatever doesn’t make you feel ill.
8. …but eat less of it
People in “Blue Zones” also tend to eat less, for example by stopping when they’re “80% full” as opposed to fully stuffed. According to many life extension fanatics, this kind of calorie restriction may be key to extending longevity.
In fact, we’ve actually found that animals tend to live longer when they’re kept hungry—perhaps because a starving body focuses less on reproduction and more on surviving the famine, investing energy and resources into repairing cells and boosting resilience. One monkey put on a 30% calorie restricted diet at the age of 16, for example, turned 43 in 2017 (the equivalent of 130 in human years), breaking the longevity record for his species. Other studies have demonstrated the same effect in smaller animals such as nematode worms and rats.
Calorie restriction is tough, though, even if it’s only temporary. In one study, participants who restricted their calories on only five days per month for just three months of the year had a dropout rate of 25%. For some, calorie restriction just isn’t worth it. It diminishes their quality of life too much, even if it does extend the duration. And it could also be harmful. Many researchers are keen to point out that calorie restriction is really more of a focus for studying aging in the lab than a practical lifestyle recommendation. A drug with the same effect, i.e. of dampening the mTOR signalling pathway to regulate cellular metabolism, would be far preferable.
Still, calorie restriction might be a good idea if you’re currently overweight.
7. Get into shape
De Grey doesn’t live much of a temperate lifestyle himself; he drinks as much as he likes and doesn’t even bother with exercise because he’s “so well optimized” genetically (i.e. with high glucose tolerance, low insulin, and low triglycerides). Nor does he think it’s essential for anyone to lose weight or stop smoking to stand a chance of reaching LEV. You might gain a couple of extra years but this is nothing compared to the long-term goals of de Grey’s SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation. Within 30 years, he insists, we should be able to reverse any kind of lifestyle damage anyway. And we’ve already seen the first stirrings of the gene therapy era with the “impossible” advent of CRISPR, a revolutionary gene-editing system.
For many, though, especially if another 30 years would be pushing it, adopting a healthy lifestyle now is probably a good idea. For one thing, just like calorie restriction, exercise puts the body under strain and dampens the mTOR signalling pathway. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can also reduce your chance of mortality from any cause by a massive 61%, potentially increasing your lifespan by more than a decade.
But you don’t need to go crazy. The best (and safest) exercise might just be walking. Evidence suggests that it’s just as effective as vigorous exercise for lowering cholesterol and preventing hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. It also lowers blood sugar, improves digestion, eases fatigue, boosts mood, and enhances sleep, all of which are vital for getting into (and staying in) shape.
6. Stay safe
Even if you do live to see age and possibly disease eliminated, you’ll still be at risk of accidental death and murder.
You can actually run your own simulation here to see how long humans would live in a world without age or disease, based on data from the Insurance Information Institute. In one simulation of 500 practical immortals, for instance, the oldest person to die was 54,258 years old and the cause of death was a car accident. Other causes of death, including shooting and drowning, limited the average life expectancy to a paltry 8,938 years.
Setting aside the question of how car safety and other factors will have improved by the 563rd century (around the time that last quadragintiquinquagintimilliquinquagintiducentinarian crashes his car), these statistics can help us frame the dangers that we face every day. After age and disease, car accidents are the most common cause of death by far. You have a 0.011% chance of dying this way every year. The next most common cause of death, in the US at least, is assault by firearm. You have a 0.0035% chance of this.
Obviously the answer is to invest in self-driving cars, or to avoid driving altogether. Tighter gun laws might help too (although armed police apparently pose the real threat, killing more American civilians every year than mass shooters, terrorists, and gangsters put together). Then there are the freak accidents none of us see coming.
Unfortunately, you can’t eliminate risk entirely without severely limiting your quality of life. So you’re better off sticking with the essentials. Keep a first aid kit handy (and know how to use it); learn CPR and the Heimlich maneuver (and make sure those around you do too); and know exactly what to do in a variety of life-threatening situations.
While you wait around for LEV, you should also stay on top of regular medical and dental check-ups, including twice-yearly prophylactic cleaning in the latter case, and all essential vaccinations.
5. Minimize stress and get plenty of sleep
Importantly, don’t freak out about the risks that surround you each day. Avoid all stress in general, including about your age. Frequent bursts of adrenaline can be dangerous and cortisol can actually corrode bodily tissues. Stress also constricts blood vessels, potentially leading to angina.
De-stressing your life doesn’t have to be stressful. Some common tips are to avoid routine emergency deadlines, take time out when you need it, and use public transport instead of driving in big cities.
Getting good quality sleep is also important, so you should never go to bed on an argument or with unfinished business in mind. Sleeping pills are a bad idea because they interfere with the crucial REM phase of sleep. Take naps if you need to, but try to stick to a regular schedule that allows at least seven hours of sleep.
Incidentally, if you snore, you should get it checked out by a doctor. Snoring is often a symptom of sleep apnea and may indicate your blood and brain aren’t getting enough oxygen while you sleep.
4. Get out more
Research suggests that getting out into nature can also help to reduce stress levels. It’s such a powerful remedy, in fact, that even just looking at pictures has been found to produce similar effects. Indeed, spending time outdoors is often more effective than pharmaceuticals for treating a range of unhelpful conditions, including depression and dementia.
Untreated depression in particular can dramatically shorten your life expectancy, and this has little to do with suicide rates. Depressed individuals are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke and tend to have unhealthier lifestyles, being more prone to heavy drinking and smoking. In other words, if you want to “live forever” but you’re depressed, getting un-depressed should be your top priority.
It’s also important to surround yourself with good friends. Studies have consistently shown a correlation between good friendships and better health and well-being, including a lower incidence of disease and depression. According to a 2010 study, loneliness and isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and actually worse than being obese. The right friends can also help to promote healthier behaviors in general. Interestingly, relationships with family members do not appear to be quite as beneficial.
3. Have sex daily
Less than a third of Americans aged between 18 and 59 have sex more than twice a week. And this isn’t anywhere near enough. According to a 1997 study, 45 to 59-year-old men having sex less than once a month were twice as likely to die over a 10-year follow-up period as those having sex the most frequently. The optimum, according to L. Stephen Coles, is to have sex with a (willing) sexually healthy partner every single day, and this goes for any age group, so long as it doesn’t risk aggravating existing problems like heart conditions. But there’s apparently no requirement for orgasm. It’s just the intercourse that’s important.
It may also be important, particularly if you’re male, to avoid being single too long. On average, married men tend to live longer than their unmarried counterparts, and this may have something to do with taking fewer risks, as well as benefiting from a wider social circle.
2. Support causes
When Aubrey de Grey was asked what the best thing anyone can do to extend their life is, his answer was simple: “Give SRF [SENS Research Foundation] lots of money.” The next best thing? “Persuade others to.”
As far as he’s concerned, there’s really nothing else to do at this point. Our hopes for practical immortality rest squarely with longevity research. If you want to live forever, it makes sense to give what you can.
So why aren’t more of us investing? De Grey suggests it may have something to do with selfishness. Older investors may believe they stand little chance of personally benefiting from the research and refuse to part with their cash. Younger tycoons tend to be more enthusiastic.
But the odds aren’t actually that slim, even for the oldest billionaires. At 50-odd, de Grey gives himself a roughly 50/50 chance of reaching LEV, which not only means halting aging but actually reverting his body to the biological age of 30 and keeping it there indefinitely. More promisingly, he believes the first person to live to the age of 150 has already been born, and that they’re already over 60. Couple that with Kurzweil’s prediction that we could reach LEV by 2029 and there’s every reason to give money to SENS—just to hurry things up and improve your own chances of living long enough to benefit from the breakthroughs. (Then again, maybe that’s the idea; all religions make bold claims to get us to cough up donations.)
But there are other reasons to support causes in the name of longevity. Having something to believe in obviously gives you something to live for. And of course making the world a better place should be a priority if you’re planning to stay in it. You might therefore want to change your political alignment (and work to change others’) to vote for the most peaceful, science-literate, and non-climate-change-denying politicians. You might also want to campaign for nuclear disarmament, for preserving the oceans, and against Monsanto killing our bees. Ensuring you’ve actually got a world to live in is a no-brainer if you want to live forever.
Again, though, it’s important not to stress out over it. Having a purpose is one thing, and improving the world is fantastic. But go with the flow wherever you can and live and let live for longevity.
1. Have a backup plan
So you’re taking the right supplements, watching what you eat (and eating less of it), you’re in shape, keeping safe, getting plenty of peaceful sleep (after nightly sex), and you’re spending a lot of your time outdoors with friends. You’re even supporting SENS research with some of your (not too stressfully) hard-earned cash. You’re well on your way to reaching LEV and attaining practical immortality.
But everyone needs a backup plan.
Many life extension enthusiasts see cryonics as the next best thing, opting to have their bodies or heads cryogenically frozen in case they die before reaching LEV. This could also be a safeguard, going forward, against accidental death—even as a practical immortal. If you die in a car accident, for example, you could simply be frozen until we figure out a way to resurrect you. There’s no guarantee we ever will, of course, but it’s safer than rotting in the ground.
Some life extensionists also look to the 2045 Initiative, which seeks to eliminate the body entirely by uploading human consciousness to a digital format. Even the Dalai Lama is said to support this so-called “Avatar” project, whereby uploaded consciousnesses will be installed into humanoid robots.
While this might sound totally far-fetched, many just think it’s inevitable. In fact, as the name of the initiative suggests, they think it’s inevitable by 2045.
So it’s 30 years (ish) again. All signs point to this as the golden number. Live another 30 years and you stand a fairly good chance of “living forever”—in one form or another.
Just so long as there’s still a world in which you can do so.