Increasing longevity consists in the process by which the individuals’ length of life has expanded throughout history.
According to Blagosklonny (2010), the progress of civilization has enabled a drastic reduction of the death rate of young people – who died mainly due to epidemics, famine, and physical violence – and hence the increase of lifespan. A century ago, for example, the odds of reaching the 100-year age group were 100 times lower (Blagosklonny 2010). In this context, currently, studies show that there are several factors that can influence longevity, among them highlighted the issues related to heredity, gender, socioeconomic status, nutrition, social support, medical care, personality, and behavioral characteristics (Robine et al. 1997).
Kaplan et al. (2000) highlight four characteristics, which distinguish human life histories from other primates and mammals: “a exceptionally long lifespan, an extended period of juvenile dependence, support of reproduction by older post-reproductive individuals, and male support of reproduction through the provisioning of females and their offspring” (p. 156). In addition, Homo sapiens has developed, over the humanity’s history, a large brain and, as consequence of its complexity, sophisticated psychological features (Kaplan et al. 2000).
The authors expose peculiarities in the human adaptation, such as the successful existence of humans in virtually all of the world’s major habitats; the capacity of eating a very wide variety of food, both plant and animal; the contributions of individuals of different ages and sex; and the contributions of men and women in the process of producing food (Kaplan et al. 2000). Those characteristics lead to the understanding that human adaptation is broad and flexible (Kaplan et al. 2000).
At the same time, the human species adaptation can be understood as narrow and specialized in the sense that it is based on a complex diet, having the individuals used their great intelligent to extract and hunt those foods. The species’ adaptation is also based in a life history with a long and slow development, having the individuals a great commitment to learning and intelligence (Kaplan et al. 2000).
The authors conclude that the course of human life is based on complex processes and in coevolution of psychology, physiology, and behavior (Kaplan et al. 2000).
Kaplan et al. (2000) suggest that language learning and the mastering of the environment, as major psychological milestones, have a close connection with a lot of factors. Among them, it can be emphasized the timing of brain growth; the growth rates during childhood and adolescence; the developmental changes in survivorship; the adulthood’s behavioral, psychological, and physiological changes; the profiles risk with age; and rates of senescence and aging (Kaplan et al. 2000).
On the other hand, Harari (2015) points out that Homo sapiens was an insignificant ape and that he didn’t have relevant changes in his physiology and not even in the size and external shape of his brain. Thereby, the author defines cognitive revolution as the process by which Homo sapiens, as a result of the occurrence of discrete changes in the internal structure of his brain, achieve the domination of the other species (Harari 2015). The author also suggest that humans are social animals, defining the ability of cooperating socially as the key for our survival and reproduction (Harari 2015).
Research projects related to twins, adoption, and other family studies have been important in understanding the influence of genes on longevity (Christensen and Vaupel 1996). Thereby, an association between certain genetic factors and longevity has already been found (Christensen and Vaupel 1996). As an example, there is the genetic factor apolipoprotein E, which, according to Christensen and Vaupel (1996), is the most potent “longevity gene” that has ever been discovered in humans. However, these authors affirm that recent analyses have shown that the variation of this genetic factor only explains 1% of the variation in lifespan. In this context, in relation to genetic influence more broadly, Iachine et al. (2006) allege that several studies with twins have shown that genetic aspects cause approximately 20–30% of all variation in lifespan.
According to Christensen and Vaupel (1996), the environmental factors are highlighted as determinants of longevity. They affirm that the decrease of the use of cigarettes, changes in the diet, and the practice of physical activities can influence the increasing of life expectancy. In addition, it is emphasized that current studies have found that an excessive consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of mortality (Christensen and Vaupel 1996), which shows another factor involved with longevity. Furthermore, Christensen and Vaupel (1996) consider three other environmental factors that may be influencing mortality and hence longevity. In this sense, these aspects refer to socioeconomic status, education, and occupation.
Resistance to Stress
Minois (2000) defines stress as external and internal events that arise for an individual, to which he must respond adaptively. Thus, it is stated that organisms can present low or high levels of resistance to stress, emphasizing that resistance to certain stress tends to increase resistance to other types of stress (Minois 2000). In this way, according to Minois (2000), if an individual has already been subjugated to a stress, he will be more able to deal with others stresses that appear to him.
In this context, as the contact with stress is related to aging, it is considered that resistance to stress and longevity are closely associated as well (Minois 2000). Therefore, Minois (2000) affirms that a range of studies concluded that high levels of resistance to stress entail high longevity. In addition, it is considered that, as exhibition to stress raises the resistance to other stresses, a moderate exposure to stress can be beneficial for increased longevity (Minois 2000). Thereby, it is proposed that the contact with mild stresses can have advantageous effects for longevity (Minois 2000).
Positive affect, according to Pressman and Cohen (2005), can be defined as sentiments which reflect a level of satisfactory connection with the environment. Feelings like happiness, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, contentment, and pleasurable sentiments in general are directly related with the concept of positive affect (Pressman and Cohen 2005). The suggestion that positive affect can bring improvements to people’s health has been made over the years.
In this context, Danner et al. (2001) affirm that literature has indicated increasingly that attitudes and states related to positive and negative emotions are associated with health and longevity. Thereby, the authors associate optimism with longer life, exposing other studies which sustain the idea that an optimistic way of life, which insofar results in the emergence of positive sentiments, may also contribute to the increase of longevity (Danner et al. 2001).
The correlation between happiness and longevity was noticed by Pressman and Cohen (2005) while analyzing studies made in several countries. The authors highlighted the indication that happier people seemed to live longer, while lower levels of happiness, or higher levels of sadness, presented a correlation with an increased risk of mortality (Pressman and Cohen 2005). However, Pressman and Cohen (2005) explained that there is no unequivocal indication that positive effects are beneficial for health, which implies the necessity of more sophisticated studies over those issues.
George et al. (2000) affirm the existence of plenty of evidence which reveals robust connections between religiousness and health. Analyzing several studies, the authors highlight conclusions that lead to the understanding that religion is directly related to health mostly in a positive way (George et al. 2000). The influence of religion is associated with the reduction of disease and disability and with the perceptions of health, energy, and vitality (George et al. 2000). In addition, the studies which analyze the relation between religion and mortality indicate that religious people tend to live longer (George et al. 2000). In the same context, according to the authors’ analyses, religion seems to imply better recovery from a variety of physical illness, and also it seems to be associated with a greater tolerance of pain and higher quality of life (George et al. 2000).
It is also important to highlight that George et al. (2000) conclude that religion seems to influence positively in the prevention of mental illness such as in the prevention of substance abuse.
On the other hand, the authors admit that there are specific subgroups in the population who were harmed by religious involvement, leading to direct and indirect negative effects for health (George et al. 2000). Although, it is important to emphasize that, according to George et al. (2000), the most recurrent pattern is that religion has no effect or has positive effect on human health.
The reasons why religion positively affect health seem to be related with prohibitions against risky behaviors and with the perspective by which body has both a spiritual and material meaning (George et al. 2000). The fact that religious people believe in a meaningful existence may also have relevant results for mental health (George et al. 2000). The social support among religious people who participate in the same organization seems to be also a determinant for the good effects religion has over health, insofar, in those communities, people tend to protect and support each other (George et al. 2000).
For thousands of years, studies about the duration of life have arrested the interest of people (Christensen and Vaupel 1996). However, knowledge about what factors are involved in determining longevity is still scarce – and the little that is known has been acquired in the last years (Christensen and Vaupel 1996). In this sense, it is important to emphasize that there is a great amount of aspects in the context of longevity increase still waiting to be investigated.
- Harari, Y. N. (2015). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. New York: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
- Iachine, I., Skytthe, A., Vaupel, J. W., McGue, M., Koskenvuo, M., Kaprio, J., …, Christensen, K. (2006). Genetic influence on human lifespan and longevity. Human Genetics, 119(3), 312.Google Scholar