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The Longevity Imperative | An interview with Health Economics author, Professor Andrew Scott, chaired by Lord Bethell

The Longevity Imperative With Professor Andrew Scott

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An overview

“There has never been a time where the young have such a good chance of becoming the old. If you have an 80% chance of living to 80 years, suddenly longevity begins to seem very important”
– Professor Andrew Scott

We were recently invited to attend a meeting at the House of Lords in Westminster to discuss the subject of longevity. Described as a “transformational discussion” by one participant, it was reassuring for us to hear that the UK Government has begun to identify the importance of living healthier for longer, notably by looking to improve a person’s healthspan. Healthspan is a relatively new term, and one that refers to the amount of years in your life where you are in good health, having less chronic illness, frailty or clinical dependence in older age.

In our country today there has never been such a high level of assurance that young people will have a good chance of reaching 80, 90 or even 100 years of age – great news! But what if there was more to it than that? Sure, we’re living longer; but are we healthy at the same time? Consider how many people you know that are above 65 years of age that have a chronic illness, or require assistance due to age-related frailty. Reaching a good age is one part of the plan we often have for ourselves, but it is equally as important to think about how we might be feeling at that age especially given the current statistics.

Over half of older people in the UK have at least two chronic conditions, also referred to as multi-morbidity (AGE UK). The number of people aged 85 or over is predicted to double in the next 20 years; yet, two thirds of adults aged over 65 are expected to be living with multiple health conditions by 2035 according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Having a chronic condition can have a substantial impact on a person’s life. It can manifest as chronic pain, issues with mobility, and side effects from multiple medications. Chronic illness and its difficulties can be summarised as a person being chronically symptomatic, to the point where it impedes on their day to day life. All of this raises the question; what good is it to live longer if we will feel rubbish most of the time; and is there anything we can do to help prevent this?

What is longevity medicine?

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We have many preconceived ideas about what our lives might look like above 65 years of age. Ageing is often viewed as negative because of its connotations with frailty, disease, having a dependency on others for basic life tasks, loneliness – the list goes on. But what if we could take control back, and see ageing as a positive – a way to ensure those years are spent well, in good health and with more freedom and control over our time.

Longevity medicine is an area of medicine that leads with a uniquely proactive and preventative approach that deviates from conventional healthcare which is reactive. Improving lifespan has always been at the forefront of medical care, however, in very recent years innovative, forward-thinking practitioners, scientists and researchers have started to shift their focus to the improvement of healthspan as well as lifespan.

The correlation between age and health is clear. As we age our cells can become sluggish, biological processes take longer, and essentially, we become more susceptible to things just not being as they once were. Fundamentally, we feel less able to do the things we used to do even just a handful of years ago. In contrast to these undesirable physiological changes, our later years also provide us with certain benefits that only time can provide. We will have a greater knowledge and awareness of ourselves, and are often at the peak of our careers or perhaps considering slowing down doing more of the things we enjoy. Many of us have secured a level of financial stability which gives us choices we never had before. We get a second lease of life and many of us choose to use this time to do things that bring us joy. We have the knowledge that we will most likely live substantially longer than our ancestors, but how we will spend this extra time that we have been given is in our hands.

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When should we be considering our longevity?

As a society it appears we are beginning to recognise the increased lifespan we have been given. Professor Andrew Scott pointed out that many people are staying in education for longer, women are having children later, marriage is often happening a lot later, and people are working into later life. Another excellent point raised by Professor Andrew Scott is that life is currently divided into three main stages; education, our working life, and retirement, however, this structure is becoming increasingly outdated. It is arguably limiting us perceptually, which could subsequently be limiting our life’s full potential.

The meeting at the House of Lords also raised the discussion on when people should begin to think about our longevity – is it our 20s, 30s, 40s, or even as children? Childhood obesity was also raised by a participant, as approximately 10% of children in the UK are obese (House of Commons Library) – raising the importance of a focus on health at a younger age.

At Harpal Clinic, we think that it’s never too early to begin considering our longevity – it is a decision only you can consider for yourself, after all, you will be the primary beneficiary! Our cellular health (a place where lots of longevity considerations begin) is heavily influenced by our environment (diet, stress, exercise, toxin load, and more) and so we can actually play quite an active part in how our body ages at any time point in our lives. Professor Andrew Scott stated; “health should have first order” – and we couldn’t agree more. Health doesn’t seem as important until you’re unwell, which is often when people begin to wish they had invested in it earlier on. Why not try to implement some longevity strategies to invest in your future self as early as possible?

Longevity medicine: where to start?

With more time ahead of us than past generations, what can we do right now to maximise our potential for ageing well? With so many longevity strategies and techniques available, it’s hard to know where to place our focus and how to begin.

Sleeping well, eating highly nutritious food, keeping moderately active, and spending time with the people we care about to maximise the joy in our lives, are all good starting points for those wanting to implement longevity practice. At Harpal Clinic we take many additional steps and dive deep into areas such as DNA, physical assessments (e.g., VO2 max, DEXA scanning – looking at a person’s visceral fat and bone density, as well as arterial age), and we consider factors like cardiovascular risk and gut health. This helps us to direct a person’s focus towards the areas that could have the biggest impact on their longevity. Our advanced testing and expert consultancy allows us to take a deep dive into a more personalised approach to preventative medicine.

The best part about longevity medicine is that the sooner you start the easier it is to slowly weave in strategies that, over time, will become second nature. If something is too difficult, time consuming or confusing, it can compromise the ability for us to complete it – especially if the fruits of our labour are not necessarily immediately apparent and the pay-off is in the future. This is a difficulty faced by the UK Government too. The Government often has pressing issues that need attention, and these can often have just a 1-5 year runway. This is quite relatable for most of us too as we tend to focus on our more immediate issues with less consideration for long-term areas like increased lifespan, and furthermore what we choose to do and how we choose to feel in those extra years.

Final thoughts

The benefit of implementing science-based longevity medicine strategies is that it is markedly more enjoyable and less stressful than conventional medicine. In conventional medicine one may be diagnosed with a chronic illness and need to make substantial changes in a short period of time. However, this can lead to stress and feelings of being out of control. We can also find the changes difficult to implement. Longevity medicine is worlds apart from this, allowing us to make changes steadily in a systematic way (even on a year to year basis), this makes longevity medicine a longer term, and luckily, easier game for all of us.

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