Longevity is about more than just living longer; it’s about having a sustainable lifestyle. Too many people assume that pain and sickness are a natural progression of life, thinking it is what happens as you age. They gradually gain weight, become progressively more sedentary, and are more frequently sick as they age.
All habits have a compounding effect, the good ones and the bad ones. Therefore, it is crucial to develop good ones as early as possible. In the wise words of F. M. Alexander:
“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits, and their habits decide their future.”F.M. Alexander
You can live a long life without gradually becoming more and more miserable. The key is to make yourself a little uncomfortable now to prevent being in a lot of pain later. This process is delayed gratification; you have a slightly negative experience now and likely prevent a more negative experience in the future.
Longevity science is a new but growing field of research involved in cracking the code of why we are and how we can prevent it. A couple of books worth diving into if you want to learn more about the science of longevity are:
- Lifespan by David A. Sinclair
- The Science and Technology of Growing Young by Sergey Young.
I won’t go too deep into the science of extending your healthspan. I want to focus on helping you develop the hard habits that lead to a long and healthy life. Rather than go in-depth about those habits and give you no guidance on how to achieve them.
Some of the habits for longevity that I will discuss are not easy to do, such as cold showers, fasting, meditation, and exercising regularly. To say they are not easy might be a little misleading. They are hard to do, especially regularly; they can give you the impression of living a restricted life. They can cause you physical discomfort bordering on pain.
But I will show you how you can do all of these practices while still living a happy and fulfilling life. If you do develop the habits outlined below, you will likely live an even more joyful and fulfilling life.
The goal of these habits
These longevity habits are not a “fad diet” that you should try to lose a couple of kilos [though you will likely lose weight by following these guidelines]. Instead, I am writing about a lifestyle you should adopt if your goal is to live a long healthy and happy life. Research and technology are advancing quickly. An aging treatment will likely become available within our lifetime – unless we destroy the planet and all die a painful, fiery death in an apocalypse of our own making.
Assuming that doesn’t happen – I am an optimistic guy – we should start learning what it will take to expand our healthspan. The goal is to stave off aging (healthspan); it is not simply to live longer (lifespan). There is no point living to 120 instead of 100 if you are sick and immobile by 80 and spend the last forty years of your life plagued with chronic diseases. The aim is to maintain your youth. I know it’s hard to imagine, but recent research shows that it is possible.
Animals such as the naked mole-rat, Greenland shark and ocean quahog already age extremely slowly. These examples show us that it is possible; all we need is technological advancements or the appropriate biology. Richard Dawkins theorized in The Selfish Gene that humans could extend their healthspan by simply delaying reproduction.
By gradually delaying reproduction to an ever-increasing age, those incapable of producing offspring at that age would not pass their genes down to the next generation. Each generation would be composed entirely of people whose parents were healthy well into old age. Gradually, humans would be able to produce offspring until later in life, increasing their lifespan by eliminating late manifesting diseases from the gene pool. My description of his theory is a bit wishy-washy. Still, I highly suggest giving his book a read if you are interested in evolutionary biology.
The purpose of longevity habits
To develop longevity habits, you need to have a long view. As Stephan Covey suggests with his second habit of The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, you need to:
“Start with the end in mind.”Stephen Covey
It gets a little complicated here because “the end” is no end, but you understand what I mean. Suppose you have read this far in my post. In that case, I presume that you are already interested in a long and healthy life. Still, before I get started with the habits, you need to know that nothing will make you immortal.
Someday, you, me, and everyone we know will die. Regardless of which habits you develop, getting hit by a bus will always be a destructive action – so try not to get hit by a bus. Instead, as a mildly better option, I want you to live in discomfort.
Longevity is often uncomfortable.
The discomfort associated with longevity habits ranges from mild to severe. They can last between two minutes and five days. It is vital to accept discomfort as a part of your longevity plan. Nothing in life is free; the most effortless life is also the least healthy. A life without discomfort can never be comfortable. The brain quickly adapts to any positive stimulus exposed to it.
So embrace the discomfort, learn to tolerate it, and you will quickly learn to appreciate when you are comfortable. It is only by getting out of our comfort zones that we can grow. I am not big on unfounded philosophy; I prefer my philosophy with a side of evidence. Many of the practices I will discuss have evolved independently across various cultures worldwide through the ages. So there must be something instinctive about making yourself miserable to feel better.
Lessons learned and then forgotten.
I have spent the last few years, as Mark Manson refers to as a “Self-help junky” in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. My favourite form of “self-help” is not the typical “think yourself happy” that doesn’t work. It is either the raw offensive type of the book above or the science of how things work and why they are essential.
I read Breath by James Nestor in December of 2020 and still have it in the back of my mind whenever I open my mouth to breathe. I don’t remember much of the book. Still, I remember that it convinced me that breathing with your mouth closed is significantly better than breathing with an open mouth.
Consequently, I am not a much better runner than when I first read the book. I took the lesson, turned it into a habit, forgot about it, and now live a healthier life. I had a similar experience with Why we Sleep by Mathew Walker – only instead of breathing, it was sleeping.
I have learned – and forgotten – why sleep is essential and made a habit out of getting enough of it and developing a nighttime routine. I could go on listing lessons I have pulled out of books and integrated into my life, but I rather not bore you with it.
The main takeaway I have gotten from all of the books I have read and continue to read is the more accessible the path, the more bleak the future it promises. It is easier to open my mouth to breathe when I am running, but I know it will hurt my performance. I know it is more fun to watch Netflix and have a couple of coffees in the morning, but this habit would degrade my cognitive abilities.
Chasing happiness is the short and narrow path to misery and sickness. Our brain did not evolve to live in the land of plenty; it evolved to survive. Therefore, it evolved to make you want to eat, have sex, and gain power.
Longevity is selfish
Our genes evolved to keep the species alive; they do not care about maintaining individuals; we must take that responsibility for ourselves. Longevity habits – those with a long view – are about keeping the individual alive.
For the individual (this is you, by the way) to extend their healthspan, they must learn to use their consciousness. Meditation will take you a long way and make it a habit of meditating, but it is also important to make the right choice when presented with options.
To the best of our knowledge, we are the only species capable of making a conscious decision. That means we know that there is a right choice and a wrong choice. You know that anything fried is unhealthy – and you can choose not to eat it. Biology will never tell you to have a salad instead of chips; it’s not as delicious. If you put a bag of chips in front of me, I will probably finish it; I could also decide not to.
I am still working on developing longevity habits for myself. My willpower against eating chips is still low; I am transitioning to my optimal practices. It is easier for me to choose at the store than at home.
Others would gawk at me if I attacked a bag of chips with the ferociously of a pissed-off gorilla. When I am in the comfort of my own home, no one is there to judge me but myself, and that judgement usually comes after the bag of chips has been emptied.
To integrate the habits that I will discuss, you will need to learn a few things: patience, discipline and the knowledge of how to make things easier. Thomas M. Sterner wrote in The Practicing Mind:
“The problem with patience and discipline is that it requires both of them to develop each of them.”
So the best approach is to focus on making things easier. Don’t aim for perfection; it will only lead to frustration and abandonment of the project. Instead, work on creating a plan for how you will integrate the habits into your life. You will be doing these habits for the rest of your life, so take your time and do it right.
If my argument is not convincing enough, please do more research into what I am discussing. If you find that I am wrong somewhere, please let me know. My aim with this project is to be as accurate and helpful as possible. Even if we don’t find a cure for aging, these habits will help you stay younger and healthier for longer, so they are still worth developing.
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