The Longevity Paradox: Healthy Bodies, Fragile Minds

Whether Methuselah or Dorian Gray, long lives and the idea of human immortality have always captured public imagination, inspiring countless works of art, religious dialogue and scientific innovation. And as I look across today’s medical landscape, and see so many promising breakthroughs for chronic illnesses on the horizon — such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes — I can’t help but project into the future.

According to a report from the United Nations, a woman’s life expectancy in the U.S. is currently 81 years, while men come in at 76 years. Just 50 years ago, by contrast, the average woman in the U.S. lived just 73 years, while men lived 66 years. That’s quite a striking contrast: we’ve added nearly a decade in life span in recent generations.

Though life expectancy figures are no longer climbing at quite the same pace that they used to, it’s not unreasonable to think that Americans will one day live to be 85 or 90 years old on average. And if this does occur, if we can develop cures for the diseases that ravage the body, will our minds be left behind? As our lives extend, will our brains be doomed to increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other neuro-degenerative diseases?

“The exact opposite is actually true,” says Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Many of the mechanisms central to the aging process affect the body and mind equally — they’re connected. So, as the body becomes healthier, and stays vibrant longer, research suggests that the mind stays healthier, as well.”

Barzilai would know. His landmark longevity studies on New York’s Ashkenazi Jews were the centerpiece of a major story from —> Read More