A coming of age for longevity

A change that brings many opportunities to improve our healthy lifespan, start new companies around longevity and accelerate research for life extension

A coming of age for longevity
Photo by Tolga Ulkan / Unsplash
I want to live as long as possible, as healthy as possible.

I just finished watching Limitless in which Chris Hemsworth explores the different ways humans can live better for longer: regenerating damage, maximising strength, building resilience, shocking the body, supercharging memory and confronting mortality. I'm amazed to see how in less than 10 years longevity advocacy has gone from a fringe topic to a mainstream movement. In a different way than I expected and hoped back then but maybe... the only way.

As long as possible

My interest in longevity started around 2013 after going through a deep identity crisis. For several years I struggled with acute anxiety and an a deep fear of death. I wasn't afraid of suddenly dying in an accident; I was just terrified by the thought of one day not existing anymore.

In 2013 longevity was still a fringe topic so any Google search about senescence or life extension would point you in a single direction: Aubrey de Grey. He co-founded the Methuselah Foundation back in 2001 when it was widely considered both foolish and immoral to work on extending healthy human life. For scientists, it was academically dangerous to even discuss the possibility. He taught me (and many others) to think about aging as a disease (a problem that can potentially be solved) and not as an unavoidable process which leads to an unavoidable outcome.

I read everything there was to read back then: Ending Aging, The Telomere Effect, everything published on senescence.info and on the SENS foundation web-page. I was looking at longevity from every possible angles. So I read Immortality by Stephen Cave to understand the history and philosophy of longevity. I got as far as reading The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil because on the cover it was written When humans transcend biology. I even got interested in cryonics for a bit.

All ideas, like parallels, meet at infinity.

But leaving philosophy and science fiction behind, I kept reading: The Gene, The Emperor of All Maladies, The Epigenetics Revolution, I Contain Multitudes and many, many other books and materials that would touch the longevity topic even tangentially. Most of what I learned around those years can be summarised in the following:

Aging is caused by the accumulation of damage over time.
  • Genomic instability → the genetic material in a cell becomes damaged or altered, leading to mutations and other changes in the cell's DNA. This can lead to the development of various age-related diseases and disorders, such as cancer, and can also contribute to the overall decline in the function of the body's cells and tissues that occurs with aging.
  • Telomere attrition → telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes. They get shorter each time a cell divides, and when they become too short, the cell can no longer divide and will die. This can lead to a decline in the function of tissues and organs that rely on cell division, such as the skin and immune system.
  • Epigenetic changes → these are changes in the way genes are expressed, without changes to the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can affect the function of cells and tissues, and can contribute to the development of age-related diseases.
  • Loss of proteostasis → loss of the the balance of protein production and degradation in the cell. As we age, the ability of cells to maintain this balance can decline, leading to the accumulation of damaged or misfolded proteins. This can have a variety of negative effects on cell and tissue function.
  • Deregulated nutrient sensing → nutrient sensing is to the ability of the body to detect and respond to changes in the availability of nutrients. With aging, this ability can become disrupted, leading to changes in metabolism and the development of age-related diseases such as diabetes.
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction → the mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, responsible for generating the energy needed for the cell to function. With aging, the mitochondria can become less efficient and can produce harmful byproducts, leading to a decline in cell function.
  • Cellular senescence → is the state in which a cell is no longer able to divide and replicate. As we age, more and more cells become senescent, leading to a decline in tissue and organ function.
  • Stem cell exhaustion → stem cells are the cells in the body that have the ability to self-renew and differentiate into different cell types. With aging, the number and function of stem cells can decline, leading to a reduced ability of tissues and organs to regenerate and repair themselves. This can also contribute to the development of age-related diseases.
  • Altered intercellular communication → constant presence of inflammation markers throughout the body

These are known as the hallmarks of aging. And if we invest enough talent, time and resources we will solve all of them. That was the conclusion back then it it's still the conclusion today.

But I'm a technologist; I'm not a scientist and I'm not a researcher. Back in 2018 when I attended Undoing Aging Berlin, I didn't know what could I do nor how could I contribute to achieve Longevity Escape Velocity. So besides donating, I paused my active interest in longevity for a while.

Instead I decided I will become a CTO and I dedicated the next 5 years of my life to exactly that.

As healthy as possible

Until 2022 when I discovered Peter Attia's podcast The Drive (I'm a big podcast listener, specially in the gym). What surprised me the most was his practical approach to longevity. He talks about 5 tactics anyone can use to affect longevity:

  • Nutritional biochemistry → molecular nutrition. Which points to the huge importance of what we eat
  • Exercise physiology → stability, strength, aerobic efficiency/performance and anaerobic performance. If anything, longevity begins in the gym
  • Sleep physiology → duration, depth, continuity and regularity
  • Distress Tolerance → cope with distress to minimize hypercortisolemia. The impact of mental health on longevity is just too important to not focus on it
  • Exogenous Molecules → drugs, supplements and hormones anyone can take to extend healthspan and lifespan

Peter teaches how to to live longer, be healthier, and optimize performance. He occasionally talks about anti aging drugs but usually tries to keep his feet on the ground. Through Peter I also discovered Andrew Huberman who discusses science and science based tools for everyday life. It's the applicability of science what keeps me hooked to his podcast.

A few weeks ago I also discovered Dr. Howard Luks' book Longevity... Simplified, an easy-to-read guide that tosses out the myths and clears up the truth behind living longer. In a very practical way he teaches straightforward, actionable longevity strategies.

This is a way of looking at longevity that I didn't find anywhere in 2013. Back then it wasn't uncommon to find posts reading Live forever or die trying on the r/longevity subreddit. For me it felt childish and at times kinda cultish: unless you were a researcher you didn't have any other option than donate and hold on to the hope that someday someone will discover a drug that will stop and even reverse aging.

What can we do today to extend our healthspan and lifespan?

A few years back most of the content considered mainstream by the longevity community were videos like this one by Kurzgesagt or the famous video about the fable of the dragon by CGP Gray.

Chris Hemsworth after swimming in the freezing Arctic ocean

And even if content like Limitless, only tangentially mentions the hallmarks of aging or research for rejuvenating therapies, I think it opens the door for much more people to be concerned with their own longevity (healthspan and lifespan). Which inevitably leads to both:

  1. Live as long as possible, as healthy as possible (practical & actionable) and
  2. Target the hallmarks of aging (research)

All ideas, like parallels, meet at infinity. The more implausible an idea seems, the more it gets associated with other fringe ideas. And in the case of techno progressive ones, with the same type of movement: a cultish cyber techno future. I think putting longevity in the same bucket as The Singularity wasn't a good idea. Nor associating it with the traditional transhumanism movement. That wasn't beneficial either (I did consider myself a transhumanist for a brief period of time). Longevity research has been stagnant for a long time and I think at least part of it was because of the narrative.

But in the past 5 years, on top of the work the SENS foundation and lifespan.io have done, senescence research has expanded, the research for drugs that target the hallmarks of aging has exploded, the number of biotech companies focused on longevity has skyrocketed and investors have become more interested in the longevity industry which will be the biggest industry in history.

And yes, scientific knowledge compounds over time and more and more billionaires got interested in anti aging research. Any meaningful outcome has more than just one cause. But this acceleration does coincide with an increased interest in longevity and a more practical and reachable approach to it going mainstream.

Google Trends showing an increased interest in the topic Longevity

When I got interested in longevity back in 2013 there were only a few people advocating for life extension (in any way). I'll be eternally grateful for his work. But this year I got to know Peter's work who has this practical approach to longevity that I (and many others) can actually apply in the day to day.

A more practical approach to longevity won't stop nor will reverse aging. But it maximises the probabilities of living as long as our biology allows.

If anything, longevity begins in the gym.

The coming of age for longevity, at least for me, is understanding that both approaches are right, necessary, complementary and create a system between each other with a positive reinforcement loop. Getting to longevity either from health & fitness or from science & research will only benefit the field.

Forever Healthy's five pillars for health

Forever Healthy advocates for combining rejuvenation therapies with the latest medical knowledge on prevention, health monitoring, mental well-being, and integrative treatment approaches.

What I've concluded in coming back to the longevity community after a while is that we should keep heavily investing our time and resources in deep research for rejuvenation therapies and at the same time live our lives in a way that maximises our chances to benefit from that research. The longer we stay healthy using any tool available today, the greater the probabilities to take advantage of the benefits of future, more advanced therapies.

If you're interested in understanding how to approach longevity from this practical perspective I highly encourage you to start with these books:

  • Longevity Simplified → Dr. Howard J. Luks, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specialising in Sports Medicine, who writes straightforward, actionable longevity strategies
  • 10 simple principles of a longevity diet → get back control over your health beginning with the very food we eat, and carrying through to exercise, mental health, and much, much more
  • Exercised → why something we never evolved to do is healthy and rewarding

And for the research part I think we need different strategies and frameworks to research life extension so we can maximise our probabilities. I highly encourage you to donate to any of these foundations. And if you have the means, invest in startups that are looking to extend healthspan and lifespan in any way.

If you're new to the longevity field and want to learn more about the science of aging I highly encourage you to read any of these books:

This coming of age brings many opportunities to improve the quality of our life, start new companies around longevity and accelerate research for life extension.

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