A strong focus on life extension may be a silver lining to this crisis.
People can live their entire lives planning their retirement, saving money, organizing their career, helping their children set up their own lives.
They do everything to make sure that when they reach the golden age, they would be comfortable and free of all those life anxieties of youth and struggle.
It is rare, however, that you meet a person that thinks the same way about health. It is the most important thing, and yet, when we start planning, we neglect it so much.
We are somehow stuck in the culture of thinking about health only when things go wrong.
How could we possibly achieve the optimal outcome on a complex system, without any organization or planning?
Schools don’t teach young children about their health. We go to the doctor when we’re sick. As soon as we recover, health problems are a long-forgotten memory. The reactive approach to health is the root of the problem.
We have to be proactive. We need to start thinking about the problem most likely to trouble us decades in advance. You don’t run a company without checking the key metrics. Generally, you don’t do things without any thinking, especially if you are aware of the consequences of those things.
Longevity science is clear:
If you want to live longer and healthier, you should focus on delaying the onset of chronic diseases instead of trying to live longer once you have the disease.
It’s not to sound alarmist or over-anxious about the problems of the future, but if you want to avoid chronic diseases, you have to find early signs of problems and address them quickly. It is very much possible! If you take a closer look at how your body reacts to certain foods, activities, situations, you might realize that in specific areas, you can implement life-saving changes (even if the life you’ll be saving is that of a 70-year old you).
Approaching health with the framework: “track, understand, act” would solve most of the preventable problems. Our reactive approach to health was developed during centuries when no technology was available. Now we have new tools, but we continue having the old mindset.
Of course, taking a proactive approach to longevity isn’t easy. First, there is what I call the “Longevity Paradox.” When everything goes well for you, you don’t want to think of any bad scenarios. You don’t want to learn that your chances of developing cancer are high or that your metabolism is far from optimal. But, like in everything with life, when you run away from problems, procrastinate, the problems can pile up and become even worse.
The other challenge is that this strategy is very expensive. Right now, taking the preventive approach to health costs a lot of money, and a lot of time. Why? Because you have to pay for all the gadgets and plans yourself plus you have to organize it yourself. Insurances and payers aren’t aligned with you when it comes to longevity. That’s the root of the problem.
The incentives aren’t aligned.
The problem is that insurance companies have short-term thinking. Imagine a scenario: a thirty-year-old woman that has a two-year insurance plan. Thirty years away from developing a serious health condition. Likely to move around the world, live in different cities or countries because of job, love, whatever.
Insurance companies will not have any interest in thinking about her health problems when she’ll be older.
Everyone will agree that prevention is the best medicine. But very few will pay for it. That’s why longevity is as much an economic problem as it is a scientific problem. If we want to make it to 100 years old (or more) in great shape, science and money must find common ground.
Could more interest in the longevity & health optimization field be a silver lining to the COVID19 pandemic?
That’s possible. Health, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences are sectors that are hugely attractive to investors due to their applicability in the current environment. The current crisis defines a significant change in business opportunities. John Luttig writes:
The Internet tailwinds that propelled Silicon Valley’s meteoric growth for decades are stalling out. The ripple effects will jolt the tech industry.
It may create the perfect shot for founders working on longevity and life extension:
Founders may seize this moment to build new tools to better understand operational investments, create the financial layer of the Internet, or look beyond the Internet to build new platforms in biotech or energy.
There appears to be a shift in the business side of life extension, but, most importantly, there is a mindset shift.
As Balaji S. Srinivasan put it on The Portal with Eric Weinstein, people got used to checking health dashboards every day. Health is at the center of everything since February 2020. In articles, discussions, social media, health is everywhere. The increased importance we give to health in light of the pandemic may contribute to putting health among the central features of our societies.
Wearables also gained a lot of traction during these months. For example, the Oura Ring was used to predict COVID-19 related symptoms up to three days in advance. The future might give even more importance to diagnostic-grade wearables.
With no sign of the pandemic being completely eradicated soon, this massive interest in health & biotech may continue for the years to come. According to the best scientists in the field, radical life extension is much more achievable than people think.
For example, this recent pre-print study looks into the possibilities of reversing the age of rats. David Sinclair, the author of Lifespan, explains it in this thread, to help us better understand the implications of such findings.
The COVID crisis showed us how much of our assumptions were wrong. It showed us how bad things could get without appropriate planning. It showed us how catastrophic not investing in prevention can be.
It’s the perfect opportunity to correct some of these problems and use this paradigm shift to 10x the speed of innovation in fields that matter. Progress and innovation are slowing down, and these unprecedented challenges call for a strong reaction. As Marc Andreessen put it, “it’s time to build.”
Increasing healthspan & lifespan will require a multidisciplinary effort from discovery and business to distribution. For now, we already have a lot of technologies we could use better to help people increase their healthspan & lifespan. In parallel with trying to extend the human lifespan radically, we can focus on helping people optimize their health to live to 100 in great shape. People deserve it.
We can start now.
People are ready.