On April 19, 2022, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare reported that the world’s oldest person had passed away. 119-year-old Kane Tanaka had survived two bouts of cancer, Spanish flu, both World Wars, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Surely, her family, community, and medical team are mourning the loss of a tenacious and inspiring woman. But also, her remarkable life has many wondering: what can we do to live that long?
Indisputably, Kane Tanaka achieved longevity. Biologically, longevity is defined as having “long life” or living as long as possible under ideal conditions.
That said, many definitions of longevity don’t consider a person’s quality of life. It’s one thing to live comfortably to 119 – it’s another to be miserable for the last decades of life.
That’s why some scientists look at a person’s healthy life expectancy (HLE), which considers both the length and quality of a person or population’s life. However, achieving a high HLE is even harder than living into your triple-digit years.
One of the best ways to measure a person’s likelihood of achieving longevity is by looking at their biomarkers. Biomarkers, or biological markers, give us a sneak peek at what’s happening in an organism or individual cell.
Some biomarkers can be seen with the naked eye or simple medical equipment, such as your weight or blood pressure. Others, like your cholesterol, iron, or lead levels require testing your blood or urine. And still, other biomarkers can be found in your DNA or by looking at your body’s protein structures.
Doctors can use biomarkers to detect warning signals that may impair your longevity. (For instance, if you have high cholesterol, you may be at a higher risk of developing heart disease.) In so doing, they can help measure your potential longevity and advise you on ways to live a longer, healthier life.
When you look into how to increase your longevity, the answers typically include the usual science-backed suspects, such as: • Eating a healthy diet packed with essential nutrients • Exercising regularly to improve everything from your cardiovascular fitness to your mental health • Maintaining a healthy body weight to reduce the risk of weight-related diseases • Moderating your drinking to avoid addiction and lower your cancer risk • Quitting smoking to prevent tobacco-induced lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes • Cultivating regular sleeping patterns that cater to your mental and physical needs
Many of these factors so predictably play into longevity that you can use a life expectancy calculator to anticipate your lifespan. However, while we know what goes into longevity, there’s no universal rule or guideline that helps everyone to the same degree. Each person has unique genes, health histories, risk factors, interests, beliefs, and values that impact their longevity equation. Ultimately, what works for one person may do little for another.
Your longevity is determined by a potent, variable combination of genetics and lifestyle choices. Studies estimate that 25% to 30% of your longevity is determined by your genes. (In fact, exceptional longevity, or living 1-3 decades beyond the average lifespan, has been shown to run in families.)
If your genes determine one-third of your longevity, that leaves lifestyle factors to predict the rest. And it’s true: lifestyle choices like diet, exercise, smoking, and even where you live all play a substantial role in your life expectancy. Your gender and race can also contribute to your longevity, although how they do so may depend on your location or community.
With so many factors at work, it might seem obvious that handing out vague medical advice is counterproductive to living longer. The U.S. government discovered this firsthand when their Food Pyramid scheme failed to curb rising obesity rates. If anything, such indiscriminate advice only contributes to health problems, as generalizations overlook the nuances of culture and ethnicity that contribute to how individuals conduct their lives and care for their bodies.
Considering all these varying factors, it makes sense to tailor longevity plans to individuals rather than using broad-sweeping guidelines. Personalized longevity plans account for each person’s: • Health and history • Genetics • Culture • Preferences • Capabilities • Goals • Learning style • Day-to-day life and stressors And science suggests that personalized plans work.
For instance, a 2013 study funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that individualized care improves health outcomes. Notably, doctors who considered life circumstances like financial hardships, transportation problems, and social supports saw greater improvements over those who didn’t.
In recent years, such patient-centric thinking has given rise to a new partnership-style model between healthcare professionals and patients. Individualized Patient Care, or IPC, promotes greater flexibility and better outcomes than generalized advice and the “doctors know best” model.
And when patients feel heard and a part of their medical team, they come to perceive individualized care as more effective. In turn, patients may see both physical and psychological improvements, leading to increased satisfaction and higher quality of life.
At Afiya Health, we can help you build personalized longevity plans that put your health on your terms. Our patient-first plans are designed to optimize your body’s potential and help you lead a longer, healthier, happier life.
To start, our technology-based approach uses biomarker tracking and emerging therapies to understand your biological age and improve your performance. Digital healthcare interactions and a personalized dashboard ensure that you’ll receive accurate, no-jargon-included breakdowns to track your progress.
And because we focus on detection, protection, and prevention, you don’t have to wait until you’re sick to start feeling better than ever.
Kane Tanaka is an inspiration in longevity – even before considering she fought off cancer twice. But, as her story illustrates, happily living to 119 doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, achieving such longevity requires a lifetime of healthy habits and personalized medical care.
There’s no time like the present to take command of your health. If you want to see what an individualized healthcare approach can do for you, Afiya Health is the answer.