I want an improved health span, not life span

I probably won’t die of “old age.” More likely, I’ll die of some disease associated with growing older.

For too many of us, health span is reduced by disease, not old age. Many those diseases are preventable, or could be made less deadly through research, but little money is put into cures because old people get them. It’s ageism, pure and simple.

image: Die at your peak

We are living longer but not necessarily better. While the average lifespan of Canadians is 82 years, the health span is only 72 years. That means a lot of seniors live their last 10 years in poor health. In some cases, it’s a life not worth living.

By “health span,” I mean living healthy, independent and strong lives. Health span can be measured of the quality of life that includes: Mind & cognition (processing speed, short term memory); Body (maintenance of muscle mass, functional movement, freedom from pain).

Andrew Steele, biologist and the author of Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old, told CBC Radio’s Spark:

“Until now, we’ve been treating medicine in this very unsystematic way. So what we could do by understanding these hallmarks is to potentially come up with treatments to intervene in them directly. And that means preventative treatments; treatments can go in earlier and stop people getting ill in the first place (April 29, 2022).”

Researchers who want to improve the quality of life by reducing the diseases of aging are often met with pushback. Critics say that dying of disease is natural and keeping seniors healthy as they age will result in them living longer. The illogical thinking doesn’t escape Andrew Steele:

“Let’s say I had written a book on cancer research and how I think we’re going to cure leukemia in the next 20 years. Nobody would write me an email saying, ‘Hi, Andrew, you know, this cancer research, aren’t you really worried about all these extra people who are going to be surviving cancer and cluttering up the planet’?”

If we want to improve the health of children by reducing disease, why wouldn’t we want to improve the health of everyone?

The answer is ageism. Another guest on the radio show has done research on how positive attitudes on aging can actually improve the health of seniors.

Becca Levy, a psychologist and epidemiologist at Yale University, found that ageism results in more than hurt feelings or discriminatory behavior. It affects physical and cognitive health and well-being in measurable ways and can take years off one’s health span.

So rather than treating aging as a single, inevitable change in our bodies, it’s more like a series of processes brought about by disease. If those processes can be prevented, or even reversed, then the health span of people could dramatically increase, along with being able to live considerably longer.

Life span has increased by improving health span. Better public health measures such as clean water, antibiotics, and vaccines mean we live longer and healthier.

But diseases that develop with aging remain a barrier to improved health span.

To maximize longevity, we need to delay the onset of the three largest killers of humans: cerebrovascular and cardiovascular, cancer, and neurodegenerative. These three causes of death will kill 75% of us.

For me, the ideal would be a health span equal to my life span.

Resistance to wind energy is futile

 

It’s hard to believe that some Canadians are opposed to wind energy. Contrary to the results of a Health Canada study, they think turbines contribute to health problems.

WindTurbine

The $2.1-million study followed 1,238 people in Ontario and Prince Edward Island in response to anti-wind farm groups who said that the turbines were making them sick, creating stress and disrupting lives.

Turbines do not have any measurable effect on illness, chronic disease, stress or quality of sleep. However, some people are annoyed by the aircraft warning lights or the way they cause shadows to flicker.

One of the most vociferous anti wind protesters, Esther Wrightman of Adelaide Metcalfe, Ontario, was so disturbed at the construction of wind towers that she moved to New Brunswick. In her blog Mothers Against Wind Turbines Inc. she says: “I don’t think we had much of a choice here. When you have people in your family with (pre-existing) health problems –you can’t risk it to stay –you have to leave.”

Annoyance is subjective. Those who benefit are less annoyed. “Annoyance was significantly lower among the 110 participants who received personal benefit, which could include rent, payments or other indirect benefits of having wind turbines in the area e.g., community improvements,” said Health Canada

Annoyance can be implanted. Susan Holtz, a Nova Scotia consultant on energy and environmental policy explained how in Alternatives Journal. It’s called the “nocebo effect,” similar to the placebo effect except that negative expectations induce negative effects. In a study conducted at the University of Auckland, one-half of subjects were shown news clips about health problems related to inaudible low frequency wind turbine sound. Then they were exposed to nonexistent (sham) low frequency sound and then subjects reported symptoms as they saw reported. The other half who had not seen the news clips reported no such symptoms when exposed to fake, or even real, inaudible low frequency sounds.

Even politics affect people’s perceptions of wind energy. The darling of the right-wing set, Ezra Levant has taken up Esther Wrightman’s cause when she was forced to take down some content on her blog. The wind turbine company, NextEra, threatened legal action and claimed Wrightman had made false and misleading statements against the company and had unfairly attacked their trademark.

Levant came to her rescue. “And the only reason you have not heard of this lawsuit — the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is not defending her free speech, the CBC has not put this on their nightly news — is because the corporate bully here is not an oil company like Exxon. It’s a wind turbine company called NextEra. See, that kind of bullying is OK,” he said in the Toronto Sun. Levant opposes wind turbines for no other reason than they are supported by the Ontario Liberal government headed by Kathleen Wynne.

Wind turbines are an inexorable force as part of quitting the fossil fuel habit. Wind power is increasing by 15 per cent a year globally and in Denmark it produces 40 per cent of their total. To paraphrase Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Who’ll stop the wind?”