There is a difference between living longer and living many years feeling and looking more youthful and free from chronic illnesses. While life expectancy is getting longer with advancements in the medical and lifestyle fields, most people also spend more years battling age-related chronic illnesses. That means they’re not getting many years of good health. Instead, they are getting more years with illnesses.
What’s the difference between longevity and aging?
Think of aging and longevity in terms of health-span (the part of your life during which you are generally in good health) and lifespan (the period of time a person lives). Taking these concepts into consideration, researchers have created general definitions for longevity and aging. The latter is the progressive, event-dependent decline in your overall ability to maintain physiological and biochemical functions, while longevity is simply the length of one’s lifespan.
Note that aging and longevity are intertwined, which means distinguishing biological aging from longevity is challenging. This is because your rate of aging affects the overall length of your lifespan. But some researchers still believe that lifespan and longevity are independent of aging and lifespan, meaning they are two different forces at play.
What drives aging and longevity?
The scientific community has demonstrated with complex mathematical models that longevity is primarily determined from evolutionarily chosen genetics for reproductive advantage. Therefore, human longevity is best thought of as a somewhat accidental byproduct of fixed gene programs that optimize reproduction, growth, development and ensure the offspring’s reproduction success – like grandparenthood.
Aging, on the other hand, is often driven by the balance of damage and repair process, which is widely influenced by genetic variation and environmental exposure. Note that the damage can be intrinsic, like non-reproductive cell mutations that may arise during cell division. Other causes of damage could be health behavioral risk factors such as obesity and smoking. The overall impact of damage in your body depends on its repair and response mechanisms. For example, at a cellular level, complete repair yields undamaged cells.
In the coming decades, the scientific community will learn more about aging and longevity. With most studies surveying DNA sequences and genetic regulation, researchers are more likely to understand the human aging mechanism and provide insights into how humans can slow down the aging process, help us age well and experience more fulfilling lives.