The Secret of Longevity
AS A normal person, you would like to live for a long, long time. But how long can you expect to live? What is the limit of the human life span? Can you do anything to extend your life span? What is the secret of longevity? These are good questions, and finding the answer to them might help you to live much longer than seems possible at present.
Before looking for these answers, we have to clarify the difference between two important expressions: “life span” and “life expectancy.” Life span refers to the biological limit to the length of life. Life expectancy refers to the average number of years that a group of people born at the same time might be expected to live. Sadly, throughout history man’s life expectancy has fallen far short of his life span.
Life Expectancy at Various Times
“In a man’s length of days he may see and suffer many things that he much mislikes. For I set the limit of man’s life at seventy years.” These were the words of Solon, an Athenian statesman and Greek lawmaker who lived about 600 B.C.E. Thus, according to him, the life span was 70 years. However, according to data from burial inscriptions, about 400 B.C.E. the life expectancy in Greece was approximately 29 years.
In ancient times, apparently the life expectancy in various countries of Europe did not vary substantially from that in ancient Greece. Because of the high death rate at an early age, the average life expectancy fell far short of the life span. The box on the next page gives the average age at death in some European countries, providing a comparison of that of ancient times with the life expectancy about the year 1900 and at the present time.
As you look at the figures in the box, you will note that a remarkable increase in life expectancy was reached during this 20th century. So, you may wonder, how long will this increase continue? Regarding the increase in life expectancy, James F. Fries and Lawrence M. Crapo wrote in their work Vitality and Aging, 1981, pages 74-6:
“The average length of life in the United States has increased from approximately 47 years at the turn of the century to over 73 years today, an increase of more than 25 years. . . . A critical look at these data, however, shows that the increase in life expectancy results from the elimination of premature death rather than by extension of the natural life span. When life expectancy is calculated from particular ages, the higher the age, the less is the increase. From age 40, life expectancy has increased relatively little. From age 75, the increase is barely perceptible. Beyond the age of 85, an increase cannot be confidently determined at all. . . . The best projections we can develop indicate that the median natural human life span is set at a maximum of 85 years.”
But what about the possibility of extending the life span significantly by diet, vitamins, drugs, and so forth? On page 18 of their work, Fries and Crapo explain:
“For hundreds of years, alchemists attempted to prepare rejuvenating elixirs, without success. Literally hundreds of substances, including herbs, drugs, vitamins, extracts of animal cells, fermented milk, and various serums and potions have been reported to have rejuvenating properties, without convincing evidence. In our own country, the traditional snake oil potions have fallen into disrepute, but we do still have our vitamins. Recently, the drug gerovital has been promoted by Aslan in Rumania as an agent to prevent aging. Gerovital, whose main ingredient is the local anesthetic Novocaine, has been used in treatment of Khrushchev [1894-1971], Sukarno [1901-1970], Ho Chi Minh [1890-1969], and other dignitaries. There exists, of course, no evidence that this agent has any such effects, and there are no a priori reasons to assume that it should. The persons cited as examples of prominent users by gerovital proponents all died, and at unremarkable ages.
“In 1974, Packer and Smith published a paper in a prestigious American scientific journal reporting experiments that seemed to show that vitamin E markedly prolonged the life span of normal human fibroblast cells cultured in a laboratory flask. Later, they retracted this claim, when neither they nor others were able to reproduce the experimental results. To date, no diets, lifestyles, vitamins, drugs, or tonics have been shown to extend the human life span. Of the 4 billion human beings who have lived and died, nearly every possible combination of diet, chemical exposure, and psychological life must have existed. The absence of super-centenarians argues strongly that there is no easy track to long life, or someone would have found it by now.”
Clearly, humans have not been capable of extending their life span, although particularly by reducing the number of deaths from childhood diseases, life expectancy has been extended somewhat. From the human standpoint, the hope of extending the life span is dim indeed. However, there is a sure hope that the human life span will be extended. By what means?
Extending the Human Life Span
Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ asked: “Who of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his life span?” (Luke 12:25) Nobody, of course! However, Jesus also said: “The things impossible with men are possible with God.”—Luke 18:27.
God’s original purpose was for man to live forever. The first man Adam had the opportunity to enjoy an endless life span, subject to obedience to God. (Genesis 2:15-17) However, because of disobedience, Adam forfeited that opportunity, and from him all the human race inherited sin and death.—Romans 5:12.
Many of the pre-Flood patriarchs, being closer to Adam’s original perfection, possessed life spans approaching a thousand years. (Genesis 5:5-31) After the Flood, the human life span dropped suddenly, and by his time Moses could write: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things.”—Psalm 90:10.
Later on, the prophet Isaiah foretold that God “will actually swallow up death forever, and the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will certainly wipe the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8) This promise was repeated in the last book of the Bible, where it says that God “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:4.
You may ask, though: Will I inherit these blessings automatically, or will I have to do something in order to receive them? The Bible goes on to say: “Anyone conquering will inherit these things, and I shall be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowards and those without faith and those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and fornicators and those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur. This means the second death.”—Revelation 21:7, 8.
Yes, in order to live forever you have to be a conqueror, that is, you have to remain unconquered by the world with its practices mentioned in Revelation 21:8. Likewise, taking in knowledge about God and about his Son is essential.—John 17:3.
Will you be a conqueror? Will you be among the millions who are about to inherit the blessing of an eternal longevity? Proper action on your part will enable you to answer these questions affirmatively.
[Box on page 21]
Country In ancient About 1900 At present
Austria 37 40 73
Bulgaria 39 40 72
England 33 50 74
France 28 47 75
Germany 35 47 73
Greece 29 40 74
Hungary 36 38 70
Italy 27 45 74
Romania 34 42* 71
Spain 37 35 76
Yugoslavia 33 52* 70
The data is from the History of Human Life Span and Mortality, by Gy. Acsádi and J. Nemeskéri, Budapest, 1970, page 222, and from Old Age Among the Ancient Greeks, by Bessie E. Richardson, page 234. For the period around 1900, data is from the Demographic Yearbook, 1967, by the United Nations, New York, 1968, pages 722-38, and from The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, Volume 38, 1960, page 132. For the present time, data is from the 1986 World Population Data Sheet, published by the Population Reference Bureau.
The ages for ancient times were compiled from burial inscriptions.
[Picture on page 20]
“For hundreds of years, alchemists attempted to prepare rejuvenating elixirs, without success”
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