- I used the Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator to see how old I was predicted to live.
- He said I would live to be 96, but with some lifestyle choices I could live much longer.
- Many genetic and environmental factors influence aging or slowing down, experts say.
Dr. Thomas Perls, creator of the free “Life Expectancy to 100 Calculator,” complains that people often complain, “We don’t know how to keep these very old people in good health”—but decades of research on hundreds of people don’t back that up.
“We do, we absolutely do,” he said.
America’s dismal life expectancy may make you feel like it’s hard to make it past your 70s in the US. But in reality, our low survival estimates are more indicative of the fact that it’s harder for young Americans to age in the first place. That’s because of a unique and devastating mix of American social issues, linked to fatal accidents. Drugs, junk food and guns They all play a big role.
Some variables going into longevity are more controllable than others. And a lot of what determines who lives to be 100 is genetics. But the more malleable pillars of healthy aging include diet, lifestyle choices like smoking or sunscreen use, relationships, and stress management.
So Pearls has developed a 10-minute 40-quick questionnaire aimed at helping people figure out how their health habits can improve longevity. I decided to try being brutally honest about my own health habits to see how long I would live.
The calculator says I’ll live into my mid-90s.
As I filled out the calculator at LivingTo100.com, the questions and answers flew by. It took me about 10 minutes from start to finish, and all he needed to do was get my recent cholesterol and blood pressure readings.
Questions include tips on how to cope with stress, questions about your weekly habits, whether you see family or friends “like family” at least three times a week, and gruesome dietary and medical details, including how often you eat. red meat, chips or cake, and how many times a week you exercise.
From the perspective of healthy aging, the questions make sense. I know from previous reports that good relationships, stress management, daily exercise and sleep are critical to a long life.
But when it comes to on-screen nutrition questions, the level of granularity makes me feel a little sheepish. How often do I do it? Really Eat sweets like candy or pastries: 1-2 days a week or more like 3-5? Do I eat more vegetables or chips? And what about the white bread, french fries, and other sugary, white carbs I consume every week? We know that diets rich in cholesterol-regulating, nutrient-dense whole grains are associated with longer life expectancy and lower rates of heart disease. I began to worry about how well the bag I had for breakfast would score.
Finally, it was there. A difficult number that tells me the hope of my life: 96!
Before long, my whole family wanted to take it – and the results were amazing.
Honestly, living to 96 is a bit of a scary prospect, I’m not even in my 40s yet. It was definitely older than I thought. I immediately texted my family a link to the tool. “I just tried this,” was all I said, but they all finished it before the day was over.
I guess my family isn’t unique in this regard – don’t we all want to know how long we’re going to live? The idea of being a little more sure of the boundaries of this one life, of knowing how long we can last, is simultaneously terrifying and comforting.
Ironically, my death estimate was 10 years higher than my brother’s Ironman – but 10 years less than my mother’s life expectancy, which was 105. This was really like a good reminder of the wide difference between us. A teaching tool, meant to provide general information about healthy behaviors. It is not a proper medical device.
“Leave it with white bread!” I thought the calculator yelled at me.
After revealing my mortality prediction, the website asked me if I would like to see some tips to improve my life expectancy. Sure, I thought why not go for 100?
I was a little surprised when the website suggested that the only thing I could do to improve my longevity after breaking the century mark was to improve my diet. While other recommended lifestyle changes, such as flossing or being more conscious about sun exposure, could add an extra year of life, at most a dietary change could take another half a decade for me, the calculator said:
“Eliminating fast food from your diet at your current consumption will add 4 years to your life.” And “reducing sweets from your diet to once or twice a week or less can add a year.”
There was also a line about taking a daily aspirin to improve longevity, but research on this idea has been back and forth for the past several years, and I ignored it.
As a science and health reporter, I’ve been following research and evidence-based guidelines around nutrition for a long time, and I’m well aware that diets rich in unprocessed healthy foods like fibrous vegetables, whole grains, and beans are often inseparable for some. From the best lifetime. I consider myself a healthy eater – not a health nut by any means – but a savvy consumer who prefers to snack on nuts or plain yogurt and never drinks sugary soda or sugary juices. So at first, it was a bit of a shock to hear that cutting back on the bags (tear) and a little candy (okay, good) would help improve my longevity.
This is consistent with the tallest people in the world we know of. Without drive-thru or packaged snacks on every corner, daily activity and healthy eating habits thrive in spaces built into the environment.
“We may have the impression that healthy living is free—but it’s really not free, and it’s certainly not easy,” Daniel Belsky, a longevity researcher at Columbia University, told me recently. That’s why he thinks that instead of focusing on individual behavior change, trying to change the environment people live in would be a more sustainable and equitable recipe for better longevity.