Today, aging and disease are linked like birthdays and cake. In fact, the greatest risk factor for all the big killers is the number of candles on that cake. But imagine living to 85 or 90, never worrying about getting cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s not possible now but it could be.
Scientists who study the biology of aging — the basic mechanisms of how our cells and tissues change with age — believe the aging process is modifiable. It cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed. Even better, scores of peer-reviewed studies have proven that decelerating the aging process in lab animals also offers huge health benefits, dramatically delaying and lowering their incidence of chronic disease.
If we could achieve the same exciting results in humans, we could transform the lives of older people and achieve what aging researchers call a longer healthspan. As University of Michigan gerontologist Dr. Richard Miller has said, “the goal isn’t to prolong the survival of someone who is old and sick, but to postpone the period of being old and sick.”
So what’s stopping us? Our scientific understanding of the aging process and how it affects our health is still a work in progress. With America’s 65-plus population set to double in the next 20 years, and age-related health care costs threatening to bankrupt federal and state governments, it’s time to change our approach to research on the biology of aging. Putting a man on the moon was a defining national goal in the 20th century; in the 21st century, it should be decoding the biology of aging to find the fountain of health.
Interventions proven to slow the aging process include genetic manipulation, diet, and drugs.
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