What is Aging

Longevity series: how to be like a bird and live to 200 years old?

What is longevity?

October 22, 2020

This article was originally published on medium.com on January 14, 2020.

Reading time: 11 min


This article is based on my research of information from publicly available sources and my personal experience. The information, opinions, and references provided in this article are for informational purposes only. This article is not a medical advise and is not intended to treat, diagnose or prescribe for any illness or condition. Please consult your doctor or healthcare provider for your specific diagnosis and treatment.

Longevity principles series

This is the 1st article in the Longevity Principle series discussing:

— What prompted me to research health & longevity?
— Who am I? Why do I write this? Can I be trusted?
— Birds, mice, and humans — who is the luckiest?
— How long are we likely to live?

What prompted me to research health & longevity?

I’ve been a health-nerd since the age of 15 eating small meals 6–8 times a day (mostly high-protein, medium-carb, and low-fat meals) and working out 4–5 times a week.

While I was in great shape (175 lb, 5'10 height, single digit body fat year-round), I felt that I’m NOT in control of my body and mind. I had ups and downs in energy during the day, often felt bloated, wanted to sleep, and was always hungry. Something clearly wasn’t working right…

The conventional advise made little sense — I only found one of the two:

  • high-level health recommendations (do Keto diet, do Paleo diet, eat small meals more often, become vegan, etc.) which I couldn’t trust and make sense of
  • scientific research which wasn’t practical

It got me thinking that there must be a better way. I spent hundreds of hours reading, analyzing, and synthesizing books and scientific studies to clearly understand:

  1. What to do and NOT to do to stay healthy for life
  2. Why that keeps humans healthy
  3. How to practically do it

I experimented myself with major diets, ~100 supplements, changes in my environment, etc. to see what works best for my subjective well-being, level of energy, and cognitive abilities — more generally, BEING IN CONTROL of my body and mind.

My  Oura readiness score  is 85+ (that’s when you get a crown) on most days and is often 90+
My Oura readiness score is 85+ (that’s when you get a crown) on most days and is often 90+

I made changes in my nutrition, training routine, environment, and other areas of life. Now it feels like I am in control of my body and mind because:

  • My level of energy increased significantly. I never want to sleep during the day. Now I drink coffee only for pleasure, cognitive boost, and its health benefits
  • I never have bloating or stomach discomfort
  • I don’t feel hungry and don’t want to snack
  • I never have cold and flu (without flu shots)
  • My Oura readiness score is 85+ (that’s when you get a crown for being extra ready for the day) on most days and is often 90+. Oura readiness score combines body temperature, resting heart rate, and other factors so it’s a good proxy of overall health state and physical and mental performance
  • I purposefully reduced muscle mass to minimize aging. Now muscles serve me to be healthier and live longer instead of me living to grow muscles (and age quicker as a result)
My 5-year evolution — less muscle, less aging
My 5-year evolution — less muscle, less aging

This and upcoming articles aggregate this knowledge and experience into systematic blocks which are easy to understand and supported by solid scientific research. In addition, you can follow my Instagram where I’ll be sharing quick health and longevity insights.

Who am I? Why do I write this? Can I be trusted?

Born in Moscow, Russia, in 1988 in a middle class family, I currently live in San Francisco with my wife and daughter. I was fortunate enough to visit close to 50 countries by the age of 30 (both for work and fun). This helps me keep a critical perspective and challenge conventional wisdom because I’ve seen and lived in a wide variety of cultures.

I was strongly influenced by my father who is a professor and scientist (specialized in metals corrosion) and also a life-long health enthusiast. I’ve been health conscious from a very young age and was trained to think as a scientist (I’m a PhD in Economics focused on commodities markets forecasting) meaning that I understand both the importance and the limitations of scientific research.

I also worked for 3 years as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company and developed a strong muscle of collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing large amounts of information. This muscle comes in very handy in researching such a difficult topic as longevity.

I research and write this in my spare time. I do not sell any products or services. I am not affiliated with any companies or individuals. I do this because I deeply care about health and longevity. My main motivation is that my writing, experience, and recommendations may inspire more people to become health conscious. I hope that I can achieve this by making a complex topic of health and longevity seem easy and fun.

Birds, mice, and humans — who is the luckiest?

Have you ever wondered why mice are used as test subjects in the vast majority of biomedical experiments? There are two simple reasons:

  • mice and humans are very similar — we have the same organs, systemic physiology, and have a similar disease pathogenesis — so it is highly likely that what benefits or kills mice would have a similar effect on humans
  • but mice have an average lifespan of 2 years so you get experiment results quickly (for example, you don’t have to wait many years to see if certain treatments extend lifespan)

Despite our similarities with mice, we are lucky to live on average 80 years instead of 2 years (with a theoretical confirmed limit of 120 years, although the oldest person ever allegedly lived to 146 years). It makes sense as large mammals live longer than small mammals. This is largely due to a lower resting metabolic rate of the larger mammals, i.e., the amount of energy needed to sustain each cell in rest. So, for example, the mice’s cell would consume 20-times more energy than the elephant’s cell — due to certain economies of scale.

But there is more to this than just the metabolic rate — we live 3–4 times longer compared to mammals of similar size and metabolic rate.

One of the prominent theories of aging —  The Billion Heartbeats Theory  — suggests that all mammals get a billion heartbeats per lifetime. Humans get ~4 billion heartbeats per lifetime.
One of the prominent theories of aging — The Billion Heartbeats Theory — suggests that all mammals get a billion heartbeats per lifetime. Humans get ~4 billion heartbeats per lifetime.

The Billion Heartbeats Theory which states that all mammals get a billion heartbeats per lifetime. Humans are a rare exception — we get ~4 billion heartbeats per lifetime; source: European Heart Journal

But wait, let’s look at the birds (which are not mammals but a similar class): a pigeon lives for 30–35 years and its heart beats 600 times per minute. That is ~10 billion heartbeats per lifetime. The one caveat — the billion heartbeats theory is an observational theory which relates to mammals but not birds. I use it here as a simple illustration. The proper way to adjust the age to humans would be through a mass-metabolic rate ratio.

Birds live ~10 times longer than mammals with similar metabolic rates. If we were to become more similar to birds, our average lifespan would reach 200 years. What’s so different between birds and humans? Can we become like birds?

Comparison of mice, human, and bird lifespans; (1) adjusted to human  mass-metabolic rate ratio , i.e., a resting energy expenditure per unit body mass per day
Comparison of mice, human, and bird lifespans; (1) adjusted to human mass-metabolic rate ratio, i.e., a resting energy expenditure per unit body mass per day

Birds are believed (proven for their heart cells and is believed to be true for other types of cells) to have more mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell) so there is less strain on each individual mitochondrion, they don’t get overworked, and leak fewer free radicals. It seems that birds have evolved this way to support the ability to fly when rapid bursts of energy are needed. Mitochondria in birds are also different from humans and support uncoupling in the electron transport chain (dissipation of energy as heat instead of generation of damaging free radicals). “Power, Sex, Suicide” by Nick Lane is a great read if you want to understand mitochondria better.

I have some good news and bad news to share. The bad news is that we can’t become like birds. Not until synthetic biology advances further and regulatory frameworks change. The good news is that there are many scientifically and empirically proven ways to live healthy into a very old age. May be even become a little more like a bird by growing more mitochondria.

How long are we likely to live?

Let’s look at the social security stats on life expectancy by age in the chart below. A few things stand out:

  • The average (between females and males) chance of making it past 100-years is 2%. Remember this number, we’ll use this number later in this article.
  • Females have higher chances of living longer. For example, females have a 3% chance of reaching 100 years vs. 1% chance for males. We’ll talk more about this in the future articles but 2 factors could be the reason — (1) females tend to have a healthier lifestyle; (2) females lose blood every month during approximately one half of their life (menstrual cycles), thus, reducing iron levels in their blood; excess iron levels lead to oxygen deficit in mitochondria so donating blood (unless you have anemia or low iron level) might be a good idea to live longer .
  • The probability to reach a certain age quickly declines after 80 years old. Males and females have a 51 and a 64% probability to reach 80, respectively, and 18 and 30% probability to reach 90 years old. So there is likely a point when aging significantly accelerates.
Probability to reach a certain age in the U.S.; source:  SSA, 2015
Probability to reach a certain age in the U.S.; source: SSA, 2015

The issue with these statistics is that it doesn’t take into account the health state. So we have to look at both the average human age and the health state. With a stronger relative health state, your chances of making it past 100 years should go up.

In the chart below, I define health broadly as strong (e.g., lack of chronic disease) vs. poor and compare to three age marks:

  • 40–50 years: 90%+ chance for both females and males for making it there
  • 80–100 years: 50%+ chance to reach 80 years old and 1–3% chance to reach 100 years old:
  • 180–200 years: not possible currently but might be possible in the future when bioengineering and synthetic biology advance further and regulations change.
Health state vs. Average human age
Health state vs. Average human age

Let’s take a closer look at the chart.

The majority of people on the standard American diet and with poor lifestyle choices (lack of physical activity, poor sleep, etc.) fall into the dark grey quadrant. That’s 70%+ of Americans assuming obese and overweight people (40% and 32%, respectively).

I recognize that this is a simplification and not all obese people have poor health and not all lean people are healthy but this is a good proxy.

Generally, the dark grey quadrant has a lower chance of reaching 100. Let’s assume that their chance to live to 100+ goes to 1% compared to the 2% average because of a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. It’s likely even lower than 1% but studies on centenarians (people who are 100+ years old) show mixed signals. Some researchers studying centenarians mention that they have no obese people in their cohorts. Some studies indicate that close to 50% centenarians are obese. The issue is that these studies usually use BMI or Body Mass Index. It is known that having strong muscles is associated with longevity. However, the BMI would classify more muscular people as obese because muscles have a ~20% higher density. So for now, let’s be conservative and assume that obese and overweight have a 1% chance to reach 100+.

Now let’s do a simple math on how being healthy increases your chance to live longer:

  • The average chance to live to 100+ is 2%
  • The dark grey quadrant (“Standard American diet”) is ~70% and has a 1% chance to live to 100+
  • Mathematically, it means that the “healthy” dark greeN quadrant represents 30% and has a 5% chance of living to 100+

The dark green “strong health” quadrant is where you want to be — it would increase your chances of living to 100+ years from 2% to 5%.

Moving more people to the dark green quadrant would also have a lower burden on the social security system and keep people healthier, happier, and more productive for longer. “The Hacking of the American Mind” by Robert H. Lustig is an excellent read on this issue.

Simplistically, here is the 2-step strategy to live to 200 years old:

  • Step 1. Keep strong health with optimal health and lifestyle choices. This and the upcoming articles will focus on this and will tell you what to do and NOT to do, why, and how.
  • Step 2. Use bioengineering and synthetic biology treatments when it becomes proven, more affordable, and regulations change in the future. Here is the summary of some possible future anti-aging treatments proposed by Aubrey de Grey, one of the leading minds in anti-aging. “Regenesis” by George M. Church is a great read for anyone interested in wider possibilities of bioengineering and synthetic biology.

Once you get into the “strong health” green quadrant, you want to be in the top percentile of healthiness to further increase your chances of living to 100+. This way, you will increase your chances of benefiting from Step 2 when the longevity science advances further.

The 2-step strategy to live to 200 years old
The 2-step strategy to live to 200 years old

What’s next to come

In part 2, we will dive deeper into:
— Why humans age?
— How to reverse or at least minimize aging?
— The 8 longevity principles to stop aging

We will then further break down the “What”, the “Why”, and the “How” of the longevity principles:

  • The “What”: what we want for longevity
  • The “Why”: what is often wrong and why is it wrong
  • The “How”: what you could practically do and how it minimizes aging

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