Live carefully, die never?

You either live long or you live short and you can’t do much about it. 

So said the world’s new oldest man, John Alfred Tenniswood, as he reflected on his 111 years. Despite attributing his long innings to “pure luck”, Tenniswood acknowledged common sense advice had likely served him well. The Englishman never smokes and rarely drinks. If you “do too much of anything, you’re going to suffer eventually”, he advised. 

Don’t smoke. Don’t be a glutton. Don’t be sedentary. That’s still the gold standard advice from any ordinary GP. And with a bit of luck and decent genetics, hopefully you’ll stay in reasonable nick into your 80s or 90s. 

But new longevity health gurus believe this lacks ambition. Figures like Andrew Huberman, Peter Attia and David Sinclair are making longevity phenomenally popular. They want us to beat the whims of fortune and emphasise our ability to control how long and healthily we live.  

Money matches the hype. It’s flowing into the sector, particularly from big tech titans. Jeff Bezos is an investor in Altos Labs, a cellular rejuvenation start-up seeking to prolong human life. Peter Thiel backs the Methuselah Foundation, a non-profit aiming to make “90 the new 50 by 2030”.

A catch-all term, we need to distinguish what our different thinkers mean by longevity. We define this as “practical longevity” and “moonshot longevity”. Huberman and Attia are adherents of the former. These thinkers are more focused on how we can live better rather than longer. Sinclair’s work is more speculative. He views ageing as a disease to be fixed and envisages a radical extension of what we now consider normal human lifespans.

PRACTICAL LONGEVITY 

The graph below outlines this field’s ethos. People should be healthier for longer. Good health should continue into our final years rather than dropping off after middle-age.

Healthspan as a measure of longevity

Attia talks about the Four Horsemen of Chronic Disease as the main culprits for making our “Aged” years miserable. These are:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Heart Disease
  • Dementia

So his advice focuses on how we can best ward these off. 

PHYSICAL TRAINING  

Big muscles are good. No respectable health and wellness podcaster appears without bulging biceps. Maintaining a lithe figure into middle-age is no longer enough. 

For Attia, strength workouts are about fighting the “gravity of ageing”. Time robs everyone of muscle mass and we must battle to maintain as much of it as possible. If you want to be able to pick up your grandchildren in your 80s, you need to start working towards that goal now.   

Attia is also a big proponent of “rucking”, aka hiking with a heavy backpack. It helps build cardiorespiratory fitness, a significant indicator of one’s likely lifespan, but also core stability. This helps prevent falls in later years. Over 65s who fall and break a hip have a 30-40 percent chance of dying in the next 12 months. Most survivors’ have a hindered quality of life.   

His muscular philosophy may be catnip for young men but there is little for mainstream science to quibble with. Attia does not believe we are on the precipice of any great lifespan extension, agreeing with Tenniswood that centenarians “just hit the genetic lottery”. But he believes everyone can live better by being fitter and stronger, thereby warding off the negative effects of ageing for longer. 

DIET 

Attia’s views are a little more contested when it comes to diet. Like all gym bros, he emphasises a high protein intake. While he is moderate, other protein enthusiasts take this further. 

Paul Saladino is a leading light of the carnivore movement. This claims meat fuelled our ancestors and should form the basis of our diet. Jordan Peterson is one high-profile follower who claims his regimen of beef and salt cured his autoimmune disorder. 

Others are scornful of this approach and say we already consume far too much protein. Tim Spector is one such nutritionist and he rails against the prevalence of protein powders and protein-enhanced foods on supermarket shelves. 

Dan Buettner’s anecdotal evidence suggests Spector is onto something. Buettner has popularised the concept of “blue zones”: areas of the world where communities live far longer and healthier. He finds people in these geographies rely on plant-based foods with meat eaten only sparingly. 

But all our gurus agree that we can learn primordial lessons. Rhonda Patrick emphasises whole foods and limiting sugars. Refined and processed foods are accused of being carcinogenic.  

We can also learn from our ancestors when it comes to eating intervals. Eating 3 square meals a day is cultural rather than biological. So intermittent fasting, which involves eating only within certain windows, is popular across the board. All agree that it’s a helpful weight-loss strategy. Some believe there are even greater benefits in reducing inflammation too. 

SUPPLEMENTS AND WEARABLE TECH

However, popular podcasters sometimes err from consensus with their emphasis on supplementation and tracking of health metrics. 

Andrew Huberman is the world’s leading health and wellness podcaster. His show Huberman Lab is the 8th most popular in Apple’s charts and his episode on the dangers of alcohol was 2023’s most shared.  

Huberman’s lengthy conversations or monologues are peppered with advertisements and his own recommendations for various supplements. They promise everything from testosterone-enhancement to better sleep to increased neural performance. Companies like Athletic Greens have become household names through aggressive advertising on Huberman Lab and other similar podcasts. 

Longevity is driving the vitamins and minerals market

But is such a complex regime of supplementation really necessary? Many nutritionists argue that, in the absence of any special diet, well-balanced omnivorous eating provides all our nutritional needs. Not subject to the regulation surrounding pharmaceuticals, they also fear that supplements are free to dupe consumers with fanciful claims about their potency. 

For Huberman et al, these dietary additions are part of a rise in personalised medicine. Different people have different needs and through regular tracking, we can see what nutrients we may be lacking. 

We have seen this in the development of sports watches. First the fitbit gave us a heart rate and a step count. The Apple watch now has a far more sophisticated range of tools including ECGs and VO2 max measurements. More serious users turn to the Oura Ring or Whoop. These subscription based models track sleep and recovery. A daily score advises you on how to live each day. 

The utility of constant monitoring is debated. Attia advocates the widespread use of glucose monitors (usually available just to diabetics), as well as extensive blood tests and preventive full-body scans. Critics suggest it contributes to the rise of the “worried well”. Regular screening might occasionally unearth an undiscovered health issue but it can also lead to a lot of unnecessary anxiety. 

Nevertheless, the uptake of these more sophisticated tools is attracting a lot of institutional cash. Whoop is now valued at $3.6 billion, with Softbank amongst its main investors. The drive for human optimisation means not just thinking carefully about what we do and put in our bodies but examining the effects with personalised data.

MOONSHOT LONGEVITY 

Behind these metrics is a feeling that better data means a better shot at a longer and healthier life. But it’s still rooted in the accepted laws of life and death. I can look at 93-year old Richard Morgan and seek to increase my chances of living similarly into old age.

However, others are measuring their health with loftier ambitions. Perhaps the most famous current example is Bryan Johnson with his motto of “Don’t Die”. Every day of his life is structured around a system to reverse cellular ageing and set back the biological clock. He takes 54 pills, undergoes rigorous physical tests and sits in an oxygenated chamber to reverse the shortening of his body’s telomeres – believed to be the crucial factor in the ageing process. 

The militaristic regime has made Johnson the subject of much ridicule. Regimented mealtimes and bedtimes make an active social life difficult. But Johnson’s data suggests his efforts are bearing fruit. He claims many of his biological markers are that of an 18 year old. He is 46. 

Johnson is part of a movement that wants to treat ageing like a disease. They feel it’s defeatist to accept an ultimate limit on human lifespans (most scientists place this around 115-120 years).

David Sinclair is the most respected scientist in this field. His Information Theory of Ageing contends that ageing is the result of losing critical instructions cells need to continue functioning. The cells themselves don’t mutate and so he compares it to a software, rather than hardware, issue. The human body is like a computer requiring a software update to keep running effectively.

Sinclair is proving that theory in mice. One of his paper’s last year showed reversed signs of ageing in the animals and the restoration of biological markers of youth. He also now sells a pill he claims can reverse ageing in dogs. While some criticise this appeal to pet-lovers as hype, he’s not the only one. Celine Haloioua’s biotech start-up Loyal recently raised $45m in equity to help bring its longevity drug for dogs to market. 

Speculative it may be, but many of the top tech billionaires are pouring money into this research. 

FAD OR FIXTURE? 

Cynics note the male-driven egotistical element to all this. Of course billionaires with fabulous lives want to live longer. Meanwhile the industry’s biggest influencers are middle-aged males. Instead of a Porsche to placate that midlife anxiety, they want to extend their youth by getting jacked and convincing themselves it’s not the onset of decline. Or, for the moonshotters, convince themselves that middle age is a misnomer because they will live for 150 years or more. 

That encourages some to dismiss the longevity movement as faddish. But beneath some of the bluster, there’s an important message of staying healthier for longer. As demographics weaken, governments fear increasing costs of state care. The longer we can keep people healthy and independent, the better. 

So the drive for healthier and longer lives will continue beyond alpha podcast circles. Investors need to work out what’s not just popular but credible and enduring. 

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