Last week I reported the news that deaths by suicide in this country are up 25 percent since 1999. According to federal data, deaths attributed to opioid overdose and alcohol abuse are now at the highest rate in 35 years. Life expectancy in the United States has dropped two years in a row, marking the first downturn in more than two decades.
The reasons for this surge appear complex and hard – if not impossible – to fully explain. One social scientist has recently suggested that we are suffering from “a crisis of meaninglessness.” Meanwhile, our status since the 1960s as a global leader in the length of life of its citizens continues to take a hit. The new adjusted average life expectancy for Americans stands at 78.7 years. We now trail developed countries such as Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan and the U.K.
Yet according to a recent report published in the journal Science, there may be some good news for those who can weather such recent trends to make it to the “golden years.” According to the study, a human’s maximum fixed lifespan has yet to be reached and human longevity is actually increasing.
The current record for the longest human life span was set 21 years ago by a Frenchwoman who died at the age of 122. It is believed no one has grown older since. The traditional view is that humans have reached a fixed life span limit, which scientists estimated to be about 115 years. This theory is now being challenged. According to the study conducted by demographers at the University of Rome, after the age of 105, the risk of death for humans slows, plateaus and even decreases.
If we are to ever come close to reaching this age plateau with functionality relatively intact, we had better face the fact that lifestyle disorders, to a large measure, have landed us in the fix in which we now find ourselves. Globalization, modernization, technology and economic progress have come with a price. An increase in obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other health disorders are just a part of the ledger. Stress, depression, isolation and the loss of a life of meaning for too long have been part of the hidden costs.
As noted in a recent think piece on the Conversation website, back in the 1950s scholars worried that the coming advent of technological innovations would leave Americans with more leisure time on their hands than they would know what to do with. The truth turned out to be something entirely different. As sociologist Juliet Schor notes, Americans today are overworked, putting in more hours than at any time since the Depression and more than in any other Western society. To what rewards? Since 1973, productivity has increased at about six times the rate of hourly pay. This 24/7, “always on” age in which we now live disturbs our leisure time, our family time, and creeps into every crease in our consciousness. It distorts how we experience time and space.
As Simon Gottschalk, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas writes, “It deteriorates how we approach our everyday activities, deforms how we relate to each other and erodes a stable sense of self. It leads to burnout at one end of the continuum and to depression at the other. Cognitively, it inhibits sustained focus and critical evaluation.” It stresses our bodies and disrupts vital functions.
We live in an age of incredible advancements that can enhance our human potential and human health. That is true. Yet why does it consign so many of us to a daily life that seem so overwhelming and anxiety-inducing?
Says Gottschalk, one way to explain what is driving all this is defined as “the force of acceleration.” “Propelled by its own momentum and encountering little resistance, acceleration seems to have bred more acceleration, for the sake of acceleration. Whether it is in the grocery store or in the airport, procedures are in place with one goal in mind: speed. Gottschalk sees this as a vicious cycle where acceleration imposes mounting stress on individuals and curtails their ability to manage its effects through time with family, leisure, community or self-development, thereby worsening the stress.
In addition to much current research, countless spiritual and philosophical systems preach that detaching from daily concerns and spending time in simple reflection and contemplation is essential to health and personal growth. An essential commandment of the Bible (Exodus 20:8-10) is to remember the Sabbath as a holy day to restore us, both spiritually and physically. Left by the wayside as we race along, is desperately needed time to seriously examine the rationale behind our frenetic pace.
We must learn to decelerate. By doing so, we may live longer.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.