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Why do people live longer today?

by (1670)
Updated October 23, 2014 at 3:53 AM
Created October 23, 2012 at 12:40 AM

I was at dinner with my family and friends tonight and we got on the discussion of paleo (per usual since no one agrees with me) and they asked me," If we eat so poorly today, how come so many of us are living in to our 80s?" I had some pretty good arguments to counter, but I want to hear yours-- try to give me an answer other than genetics or the fact that we have medicine, I want to hear if their is something I am missing.

I am tired of hearing the argument of how healthy we are and how cavemen only lived into their teens....sigh!

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10176 · October 25, 2012 at 10:14 PM

Back for the second half today.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:52 PM

There is no answer to the argument. It's like predestination. Ready-made for argument.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:50 PM

That's what my grandparents died from 30 years ago at age 75-80. If they had eaten more bacon and less waffles they might have made it to 85. Would their slightly longer lives have been better lives? Not for me to judge.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Travis Culp had a good one a while ago. We're asymptomatic. I didn't know whether he was joking or whether he was jealous of JackLalanne. If you live to age 105 smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka and eating birthday cake, you don't stress out when some scold tells you're sick and don't know it.

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124 · October 25, 2012 at 8:15 PM

AND season two of BBC's The Hour starts in November.

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10176 · October 23, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Exceptional cognitive performance = awesome. I had a piece of bacon fried with an oyster this morning. It was only pretty good.

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20411 · October 23, 2012 at 2:43 PM

And Sherlock after that.

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20411 · October 23, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Longer, but not better.

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7592 · October 23, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Yahooooooo!!!!!

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26182 · October 23, 2012 at 2:10 PM

good point on the quality of life. 50% of healthcare spending in america is for 5% of the population, primarily older people with chronic illnesses that we are keeping alive (although maybe not in the best health) through drugs.

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78422 · October 23, 2012 at 1:46 PM

oh wait.. i see the r=1 of bacon consumption vs exceptional cognitive performance

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10176 · October 23, 2012 at 12:30 PM

The statistician in me says run the regression, then look at the size and significance of the coefficients. But we have no population data! Dang. I'd like to see it quantified. Oh....the factor for bacon has been left out...

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41442 · October 23, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Do you have a double blind 1 million plus subject epidemiological study to back that up? ;)

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3501 · October 23, 2012 at 5:16 AM

My heart gives you squillions of +1's

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1670 · October 23, 2012 at 2:24 AM

The other thing they fight me on it cavemen not living long... And I cannot find any hard studies...grrr! But stupid the proof is in the pudding aka me- that I am healthier. Wish they would listen..

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18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:14 AM

Plus OP...I don't know if there is empirical data on quality of life, but to me it's vital. If your 72...but on so many meds that you can't remember your own name and need a rascal to tool you around at wal-mart then I'm not too impressed with our increased lifespan. However if your mind and body are sharp then you are likely still enjoying and making the most of your time on Earth.

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18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:12 AM

But, hey it's just a guess....Good enough for me to give it a run though :).

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18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:11 AM

^ From what I gather the expected lifespan for a 15 year old paleo was 72. So throw in all those thing....clean water, improved sanitation, less overcrowded and better living conditions and I think we get over 82 easily.

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 2:07 AM

Its one of the most illogical arguments there is against paleo I have heard. People who make that kind of argument, have a severe deficiency in coherent thought.

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 2:06 AM

Its one of the most illogical arguments there is against paleo I have heard. People who make that kind of argument, have a severe deficiency in vitamin "coherent thought".

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 2:04 AM

Its one of the most insane arguments there is against paleo I have heard. People who make that kind of argument, have a severe deficiency of coherent thinking.

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 2:03 AM

Do those people think that eating a loaf of bread would protect them from being mauled, eaten, starving, freezing, dehydration, stillbirth, or dying from a disease which has no cure etc? Or that modern medicine, security, reliability of food supply, health standards, science etc does not raise the age of people who eat paleo?

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 2:00 AM

I think thats a pretty silly argument myself. Drop some modern people in a jungle. Spread their sad food out so that they have to risk life and limb to get at it. Give them nothing but spears and no medicine, and I am damn sure most of them would live a lot shorter than cave men. The simple answer is that their deaths had absolutely nothing to do with what they ate, but how perilous and dangerous their lives were. And our living long has nothing to do with what we eat either, but medicine, safety and security.

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 1:55 AM

Security and a reliable food supply should not be missed.

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26182 · October 23, 2012 at 1:38 AM

not necessarily, even in 1900, the expected lifespan for 15 year olds was 65. Today it is 82. So even corrected for infant mortality, life span have increased significantly since the 60s.

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11048 · October 23, 2012 at 12:48 AM

The crux of it is medical (artificial) intervention.

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12 Answers

Cc3ce03985eac5ebcbb95fc2329f13b0
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7380 · October 23, 2012 at 12:56 AM

Vaccines, anti-biotics, massive emergency plans, sterilisation, better hygeine, refrigeration, Industry standards, worker`s rights, respirators, blood thinners, chemotherapy...etc., etc..

And we might live longer in the western world, but there are still places where infant mortality is extremely high, and life expectancy low. I think people in the Western world are actually beginning to die younger now.

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5381 · October 23, 2012 at 1:55 AM

Security and a reliable food supply should not be missed.

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5356 · October 23, 2012 at 5:09 AM

The Walking Dead is back and Game of Thrones is only 5 short months away...gives people something to live for.

Updated 26/10/2012

I can't believe I forgot to include...Dexter

Holy F*ck balls!

(I don't know what a f*ck ball is, but I thank Deb for introducing me to the word)

Truth.

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7592 · October 23, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Yahooooooo!!!!!

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3501 · October 23, 2012 at 5:16 AM

My heart gives you squillions of +1's

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20411 · October 23, 2012 at 2:43 PM

And Sherlock after that.

4a3611b0503cbc5ee14d8d1d566c7f44
124 · October 25, 2012 at 8:15 PM

AND season two of BBC's The Hour starts in November.

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41442 · October 23, 2012 at 12:54 AM

Modern medicine.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Travis Culp had a good one a while ago. We're asymptomatic. I didn't know whether he was joking or whether he was jealous of JackLalanne. If you live to age 105 smoking cigarettes, drinking vodka and eating birthday cake, you don't stress out when some scold tells you're sick and don't know it.

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2341 · October 25, 2012 at 8:42 PM

You broke a leg in paleo times---game over

you break a leg today---your back on the football field within a year

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 10:14 PM

Back for the second half today.

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5201 · October 25, 2012 at 6:22 PM

The discovery of penicillin and public sanitation.

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78422 · October 23, 2012 at 4:27 AM

Paleo Diet + Activity = beneficial

Paleo Predation + Lack of Sanitation + Lack of Medical Care = not beneficial

the corollary:

Neo Diet + Activity = not beneficial

Neo non-Predation + Sanitation + Medical Care = beneficial

It follows that Neo non-Predation, Sanitation and Medical Care outweighs the non benefits of Neo Diet and Activity.

However, the optimal situation is:

Paleo Diet + Activity + non-Predation + Sanitation + Medical Care

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41442 · October 23, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Do you have a double blind 1 million plus subject epidemiological study to back that up? ;)

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78422 · October 23, 2012 at 1:46 PM

oh wait.. i see the r=1 of bacon consumption vs exceptional cognitive performance

Medium avatar
10176 · October 23, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Exceptional cognitive performance = awesome. I had a piece of bacon fried with an oyster this morning. It was only pretty good.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 23, 2012 at 12:30 PM

The statistician in me says run the regression, then look at the size and significance of the coefficients. But we have no population data! Dang. I'd like to see it quantified. Oh....the factor for bacon has been left out...

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1186 · October 23, 2012 at 3:17 AM

I found this interesting: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/05/01/falsehood-if-this-was-the-ston/

Trying to remember something I read about this question in the book "Sex at Dawn" but I can't find it right now.

The gist of it-- we are overcoming a lot of false assumptions and stereotypes of the 'nasty, brutish, and short" lives of our ancestors before agriculture... ignorant, violent, living in caves... you know, back in the day before magical Wheat made it all better.

As long as people are judging based on those unquestioned assumptions, it's tough to have a reasonable conversation about the quantity and quality of life pre-agriculture or even more recently in the hunter-gather societies observed. Apparently, if you have anything positive to say about their lifestyle you are merely 'idealizing the noble savage'.

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18635 · October 23, 2012 at 1:12 AM

From my understanding its a bit of an illusion due to improved infant mortality rates.

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26182 · October 23, 2012 at 1:38 AM

not necessarily, even in 1900, the expected lifespan for 15 year olds was 65. Today it is 82. So even corrected for infant mortality, life span have increased significantly since the 60s.

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18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:11 AM

^ From what I gather the expected lifespan for a 15 year old paleo was 72. So throw in all those thing....clean water, improved sanitation, less overcrowded and better living conditions and I think we get over 82 easily.

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52
18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:14 AM

Plus OP...I don't know if there is empirical data on quality of life, but to me it's vital. If your 72...but on so many meds that you can't remember your own name and need a rascal to tool you around at wal-mart then I'm not too impressed with our increased lifespan. However if your mind and body are sharp then you are likely still enjoying and making the most of your time on Earth.

3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7
26182 · October 23, 2012 at 2:10 PM

good point on the quality of life. 50% of healthcare spending in america is for 5% of the population, primarily older people with chronic illnesses that we are keeping alive (although maybe not in the best health) through drugs.

3846a3b61bc9051e4baebdef62e58c52
18635 · October 23, 2012 at 2:12 AM

But, hey it's just a guess....Good enough for me to give it a run though :).

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309 · October 25, 2012 at 6:14 PM

If only because I am thrown this same curveball by my father, who I consider fairly intelligent otherwise, I feel compelled to comment. There are two arguments to refute this thinking.

  1. The assertion that we live longer is, at its very base, faulty. People equate "Longer average lifespan" with "We live longer". Seeing that this is incorrect is not difficult. Grok, if he lived to 30, was not considered old by his companions. He'd still have to live to 60 to be considered old (not to imply and ageism here). See above posts regarding predation and disease.

  2. Obviously - medicine. We can cure diseases that are a death sentence. That increases overall life expectancy.

The argument that I've been given in follow-up is the traditional diet hypothesis - certain cultures eat foods that are decidedly non-paleo and live long, productive lives. I will, I admit, find myself a little befuddled by this, except to say that people eating traditional diets are often not living what we would define as modern lives. They stay active. More importantly, they still eat basically whole foods diets - even if rice, corn, pasta, and beans make up your diet, it's not as bad for you if you can avoid the barcode and eat real food.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:52 PM

There is no answer to the argument. It's like predestination. Ready-made for argument.

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20 · October 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM

yes JayJay is correct. Our average life span has increased because much fewer babies die, thereby increasing the average. Make no mistake, overall, we are not as healthy as we were even just 30 years ago. Much more heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Medium avatar
10176 · October 25, 2012 at 8:50 PM

That's what my grandparents died from 30 years ago at age 75-80. If they had eaten more bacon and less waffles they might have made it to 85. Would their slightly longer lives have been better lives? Not for me to judge.

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11478 · October 26, 2012 at 9:43 AM

They live longer, because they die later. Hope this clears things up.

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259 · October 25, 2012 at 10:56 PM

Medicine, hygiene, clean water, abundance of food and warm and dry houses. Absence of war and dangerous animals (ever saw bbc movies about ice age fauna?) These are all valid reasons.

I heard somewhere though that current generation will live less than previous one. Look, people who are in their 80s now grew on traditional food. All high fructose, low-fat, fast food and speed bread fermentation were introduced after 50s. Vegetarianism got popularity at 60s due to hippy movement.

So I think people who were born after 50s-60s won't make past 80 year in their majority.

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