Agreed: To focus on "living longer" (absent any reference to issues of quality, enjoyment, meaning, purpose, value) seems distorted. But I don't know anyone for whom that's an authentic life goal. I say this being pretty well steeped in the science of aging/"anti-aging" and the various communities exploring same. I have not found that most references to life extension as a positive thing, place undue priority on living longer as opposed to living well. It's ultimately a question of emphasis.
I'm in my late 50s, feel fantastic, have goals that would never have occurred to me in my 20s, and it simply happens that the phrase "longevity" has become a useful template for exploration the same set of health values I've held since I was but a lad, in college, asking questions about diet, taking up running, trying yoga, learning meditation; all of which led me to start asking impertinent questions (from the standpoint of my Midwest upbringing) about "untapped human potential."
Interesting, I know many people in their 20s with an avowed interest in holistic health, prevention-oriented medicine, body-mind health; phrases of this sort. Few of them frame their interests in terms of "longevity" as a virtue. At another end of the continuum: people my age and older, with the same set of interests. Even if many older people feel as healthy and vital as they did in their 20s, the difference between the two groups is, largely: the older group knows they aren't 20 any more, will never be 20 again, but wish to continue feeling vitality, energy, curiosity, creativity, that 20 year olds take for granted.
Maybe a key difference is that, by the time you've passed mid-50s, you have figured out that the seeming "natural buffer" that allows younger people to waste time, energy, health; and make stupid choices on an ongoing basis — that buffer isn't limitless. You find out that, in fact, after 50 you'd better be making lifestyle choices that express the best of your genetics. Because you start seeing people your age falling into various states of disrepair, because their "vitality reservoirs" have dried up, largely. And the effects of their bad choices overtake the remaining buffer.
Look, simply stated, extending healthy longevity is truly an "unnatural" thing. Nature has no real interest in, or need for, you or me to stick around after passing on our genes, and ideally, actively raising offspring well. Beyond that, nature says, "You have ceased to be interesting to me, go shuffle off." However, there is a way to get nature to keep paying attention. Remain a lifelong learner; pursue best-practices toward diet exercise; manage stress; hang out with spirited people; make contributions, participate, join in; stay positive and future-oriented. Toward such persons, the Life Force says, "Well, look at you. I'm impressed. Would you be willing to be one of my ambassadors to the human world? Simple. Just keep on doing what moves, touches, and inspires you, OK?"
But even if that's the "positive" route you take in life after 50, still, there's no way any of us are getting out of this alive. We all know people who live righteously and still get sick; we know people who burn all candles at all ends, and keep going right along. In the proverbial final analysis, there are slower routes, or faster routes, to where we're all headed anyway. I have family members who chain smoke, consume alcohol in massive excess, eat with a stunning degree of ignorance and self-desructiveness, and sit on their asses whenever possible. And who acquire more pharmacological medicines with each birthday. A friend who lives this way - obese, alcohol, smoker, sedentary, depressed, RX medicine oriented - this week lost feeling in his left leg and went in for tests (massively expensive) to find out what's up. Nothing conclusive (no stroke, etc.). He did the bare-minimum tests, not including blood work that would have seemed to me crucial.
But, you see, my friend's goal was not to "be well" or even to "get well." His goal was that most familiar one: "I want the symptoms to stop so I can get back to ... normal." His symptoms-alleviation MD was only too glad to cooperate. Turns out most MDs don't offer this diagnosis: "Living dangerously beyond your genomic bounds." Oddly, if you attempt to kill yourself in very, very slow motion, it doesn't qualify for "suicide watch" or "danger to self." Go figure.
This is the logic that makes the most sense to me: One wishes to stay healthy or restore health. One attempts to do this, say, via diet, exercise, mindset, community, satisfying work. Hey, wait. Turns out these all correlate with greater longevity, whether that's our avowed goal or not. Genetics is a big factor, but even that's not set in stone. Smart lifestyle choices correlate with positive (pro-longevity) gene expression; vice versa.
Many start out focusing on "what to do": what to eat, how much to eat, exercise plans, supplements. That's a huge amount of what gets published here at PH. Yet at some point, the what to do to live long well equation seems to shift from doing to being.
"This is me. This is my life. I notice what's not working, I set about ceasing association with that. I notice what's fosters thriving. I go there instead as best I can."
Because I have come to believe that every day can, in fact, be a "summer day":
"The Summer Day" by
Who made the world?/
Who made the swan, and the black bear?/
Who made the grasshopper?/
This grasshopper, I mean-/
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,/
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,/
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-/
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes./
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face./
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away./
I don't know exactly what a prayer is./
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down/
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,/
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,/
which is what I have been doing all day./
Tell me, what else should I have done?/
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?/
Tell me, what is it you plan to do/
with your one wild and precious life?