While longevity is a goal for many, others are concerned about living too long and enduring any suffering that might come with it.
For example, the popular British singer and TV presenter, Cilla Black, said in 2010 when she was 67, that she didn’t want to live beyond the age of 75.
Four years later, the acclaimed oncologist, bioethicist and former advisor to President Obama, Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, then aged 57, echoed her words, writing that “75 years is all I want to live.”
Their comments beg the question, is there a good age to die?
Researchers at the University of Kansas explored longevity in a recent study. The team interviewed 90 people aged 62 and older from the U.S., Germany and China. They learned that most people want to live long lives, but only on the condition that they remain healthy. No surprise there.
The team also learned that instead of seeing life as a continuum of time, the study respondents thought of their lives in four ages or segments, where the third age of active retirement is desired but the fourth age of disability and health decline is not.
The Fourth Age: Physical Decline
It’s that fourth age that concerned Cilla Black.
Her view was colored by her mother’s miserable experience. She tragically suffered an agonizing, lingering death due to illness. As fate would have it, Miss Black was granted her wish to die by age 75 following an accident when she was 73.
This fourth age also concerns Dr. Emanuel. In his essay, “Why I hope to die at 75,” Dr. Emanuel rejects the American obsession to cheat death and prolong life as long as possible.
He writes that by the time he reaches 75, he will have lived a complete life. He would have seen his children grow up, enjoyed seeing his grandchildren develop, pursued his life projects and made his contribution.
Beyond 75, even if not disabled, people are “faltering and declining,” robbed of their creativity and ability to contribute to work and society. He writes, “We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens.”
Life expectancy has improved, but the idea that these extra years will be without physical disability is a “fantasy” he asserts.There are exceptions, he acknowledges, but these people are rare and just lucky.
A Longer Life Elongates the Dying Process
As far as Dr. Emanuel is concerned, a longer life is accompanied by more years of physical and mental disability for the vast majority. Stroke is one example. With medical advances deaths have fallen considerably but many survivors suffer paralysis and inability to speak. “Does that sound very desirable? Not to me,” Dr. Emanuel explains.
Millions of Americans have Alzheimer’s. Even if you escape, mental functioning deteriorates so that “by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.”
Dr. Emanuel accepts that there’s more to life than career and creativity, and people can still be content and happy even with disabilities, but even putting financial and care-giving burdens aside, “living too long places real emotional weights on our progeny.
“Parents cast a big shadow…they set expectations, render judgments, impose their opinion, interfere and are generally a looming presence for even adult children.”
Age is Just a Number to Me…
My initial reaction to Dr. Emanuel’s essay is shock. I know plenty of vibrant people who live productive, creative and exciting lives beyond the age of 75. I agree that certain physical abilities do decline and some times even disappear with age, but there are new abilities that spring up to take their place. Abilities that are born of wisdom, experience and emotional and spiritual maturity.
I wish Dr. Emanuel had focused less on the problems of aging and more on the solutions. For instance, at no point in his essay does Dr. Emanuel mention the benefits of diet, nutritional supplementation, exercise, adequate sleep, or any other strategy to help people stay physically and mentally well throughout the aging process. Endless studies support such strategies, not to mention the progress being made in anti-aging science.
Living a Vibrant Life Beyond Age 75
The point is, succumbing to years of debilitating disease and disability after age 75 is certainly not inevitable.
If you’re interested in living a longer, healthier life, then start with your diet and nutritional supplementation. Currently, more than half of the calories the average American consumes come from ultra-processed foods. Choose to eat real food that is not processed or minimally processed. Fill your plate with lean meat, healthy fats, whole grains and lots of vegetables and colorful fruit.
This and this alone will go a long way towards helping you maintain a healthy weight and avoiding nutritional defcicieny. At present, nearly half of Americans are obese and 90 percent of adults fall short of recommended intakes for one or more vitamins and minerals.
It’s also important to exercise. Less than a quarter of Americans meet guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise.
If you can put some effort into improving your diet and lifestyle, you’ll see your health improve as well. This is especially important for folks over the age of 65. More than half of the senior population take four or more medications. In some cases, a healthier lifestyle can eliminate the need for certain drugs.
In my opinion, an active, lengthy, high-quality old age is not only desirable, it’s achievable and well worth aiming for. 75 is still far too young to die.