The dawn of every new year brings renewed hope and numerous promises made by individuals across the world to improve their lot in life, whether through increased exercise, a new diet, or a career change. However, according to extensive research conducted on the topic, most of these resolutions are seldom kept long-term, and many people eventually revert back to old habits and modes of thought.
While failing to keep a promise to oneself to find a new job may not have catastrophic consequences for that person, an entire society or parts of the world falling short of goals such as reversing climate change may have disastrous implications for the rest of the world.
However, this article isn’t necessarily about saving the world. It’s about a topic that is very near and dear to me; specifically, personal responsibility, especially when it comes to longevity.
Whether we read about this topic, discuss it with others, watch interviews with experts and laypeople, or read polls, almost everyone would agree that the idea of living longer and healthier is very appealing to them.
Why is it, then, that observing people’s actions reveals that many of us do things that will prevent us from living longer and healthier? Why do so many people who claim longevity is important to them turn around and engage in behaviors such as overeating, smoking tobacco products, not exercising regularly, and so on?
Thankfully, there are some people out there who take longevity and health seriously, and these individuals eagerly follow new developments and hope for the scientific breakthroughs that will finally reverse aging and cure debilitating diseases that have plagued humankind for so long.
However, the first step toward curing disease and reversing the process of aging does not start with the chemists who come up with new medicines or the gerontologists who study aging or the governments that fund projects; it starts with the individual.
If you don’t believe me, simply take a closer look the next time you are at a restaurant or supermarket and observe what many people are purchasing and putting in their bodies. You may well be shocked at the sorts of things we are consuming on a daily basis. Several decades ago, there was a fear that humanity would face starvation on a global scale, but that threat never materialized. In fact, we now have far more food than we know what to do with. Indeed, our problem isn’t that we do not have enough food, it is that we have too much food, and too much of what we consume is unhealthy, thus reducing our life span and health span.
Even if we may not want to admit it, the first step toward living a longer and healthier life is entirely in our hands. The actions we take on a daily basis determine, in no small part, whether we can put ourselves in a situation to take advantage of the advances in medicine and technology that may cure us of disease and reverse the process of aging in our bodies and minds.
In my humble opinion, it is irresponsible for someone to neglect their health and well-being while at the same time waiting and hoping for a cure for aging or disease. There is, currently, no magic pill one can take that will cure them of poor health or magically reverse aging. Thus, the impetus is on each person to do all they can to take care of themselves and their health, while the organizations and individuals that are working on curing disease and reversing aging come up with the requisite scientific and technological breakthroughs. In fact, we could even argue that in addition to managing one’s health and diet very closely, we should do more to support the organizations and individuals dedicated to curing disease and reversing senescence, but that is perhaps another topic for another time.
Of course, by focusing on personal responsibility, I do not wish to ignore the numerous situational and socioeconomic factors that may contribute to people being unable to fully take responsibility for their health. Some people, due to conditions such as extreme poverty, are not in a position to take control of their lives in the way those of us in developed countries are able to. Similarly, though, I do not wish to ignore the plight of many residents of developed countries who face hardships (of the medical variety or otherwise) every day that prevent them from fully taking the advice in this article. Life is not black-and-white, but rather, gray, and I would never advocate for the law of the jungle in any society.
Thus, I also want to make clear that we as a society should do whatever we can to ensure that people who need medical care receive the care that they need, in a cost-effective and dignified manner. In a world of abundance, there is no reason why people suffering from curable conditions (or otherwise) should go untreated, and no reason why anyone should be bankrupted by medical bills. However, these are not the persons I have dedicated this article to. A tragedy of modern life is that so many people are easily able to make changes in their life that would lead to a healthier and longer life, but instead choose to not do so, and continue engaging in destructive behaviors.
Regardless of your views on disease and aging, it is not unreasonable to say that we should, at the very least, do whatever is in our power to take care of our own health.
Therefore, the next time you think about gorging yourself on donuts and guzzling the soda offered at the next company party, you might want to reconsider, because what many people are eating and drinking is literally killing them.
The next time you decide to sit at home and watch TV instead of doing 20 minutes of light exercise at the park or the gym, remember that lethargy has consequences.
The next time you tell yourself “I’ll quit smoking someday,” or “I’ll start exercising when I have more time,” please pause for a moment and ask yourself whether you are really being honest.
I do not wish to insinuate that we should try to be perfect all the time when it comes to health, diet, and exercise. Indeed, there is no way to get it right all the time, and the occasional piece of cake or glass of beer won’t derail your journey toward good health if you’re consistently and methodically taking good care of yourself. Rather, what I believe we should strive for is doing the best that we can on a daily basis, and if we need to make minor changes, to take small steps toward improvement every day.
There is a famous quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi that goes, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I agree wholeheartedly, and would add that we must be the change we wish to see in ourselves. Because no one is more responsible for your own personal well-being than you. And no one can do as much for your own longevity as you can.
Arin Vahanian is Director of Marketing for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.