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Overreacting in the Direction of Doing Nothing

Posted: June 9, 2013 at 2:56 am

I believe it's a grand waste of time to try to optimize your health through presently available methods. It's very easy to get the 80/20 best expected outcome: exercise regularly, practice calorie restriction with optimal nutrition, and refrain from methods of self-harm such as smoking, jumping off tall buildings, and so on. This is not rocket science.

There is no scientific support for going beyond this to tinker with types of exercise, esoteric supplements, and the like, however. There's no way to link your future life expectancy with your activities, and there is no good weight of evidence to suggest that any of the thousands of available options are better or worse for life expectancy than the 80/20 approach. There is always someone out there pushing a new fad, but that doesn't make it right, useful, or legitimate. Maybe you'll improve your life span by a few percentage points, and maybe you won't. There is no way to tell, and the time and money easily wasted on that endeavor is better put to other uses that are far more likely to extend your healthy life span - such as supporting the research needed to produce rejuvenation biotechnology.

That all said, it's possible to go too far in the direction of doing little but the basics for your health - if you are thinking of letting it all go and doing nothing for your health, that will have consequences. This view is illustrated in the post quoted below, wherein the author rejects calorie restriction on the basis that the present consensus view is that it won't extend healthy life in humans by all that much. This ignores the amazing health benefits demonstrated in human studies to date - calorie restriction may or may not extend human life by more than a few years, but it certainly greatly improves measures of health and lowers risk of age-related disease. It seems silly to reject something shown to produce larger benefits for basically healthy people than can be gained by any presently available medical technology.

I want to live longer and help others do the same. I assumed the most effective way to do that is by understanding the science of aging and then engineering solutions to extend human lifespan. That is why I became a biomedical researcher and over the past several years I have pursued this goal almost single-mindedly.

When a 2004 study showed that reducing the calorie intake in mice extended their life by 42%, I enthusiastically embraced the results and even put myself on a calorie restricted diet. But, subsequently, a 2012 study showed that long-term calorie restriction may not have the promised benefits. On the contrary, fewer calories without the required nutrients might actually cause harm.

Calorie restriction is not the first such "promising" route that eventually did not live up to the promise, and it will not be the last. Antioxidants showed promise in holding back diseases caused by aging, but now we know that antioxidant supplements are more likely to shorten your life.

Earlier in May, researchers showed that reducing a protein called NF-kB in mouse brains modestly improved their lifespan. I am not holding out for this result either. Before too long, I'm sure there will be reports of severe side effects of manipulating levels of NF-kB.

Looking at the data I have come to the conclusion that "doing nothing" may be the best option in most cases. This may not be as pessimistic as it sounds and it is definitely not to say that research in fighting aging must not be carried out. When I say "do nothing", I am assuming that you do not smoke or drink too much alcohol, and have access to medical care in case of injury. Such measures are bound to increase your lifespan.

But currently, not intervening in the aging process is more likely to help you live longer than trying any of the methods I've mentioned, not by a few months but by many years. Trying any of those interventions may actually cause harm, and will do so for the foreseeable future.

I agree with the basic thesis here, which is to be a late adopter and refrain from chasing the latest fads and data - this is an aspect of what I am arguing with my view on the futility of trying to optimize health past the 80/20 basics. But again, you can take it too far and throw the baby out with the bath water. Calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has an enormous weight of evidence gathered over decades backing its benefits and safety, and the same goes for regular exercise.

Link: http://lifeboat.com/blog/2013/05/do-nothing-to-live-long


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