Living a long healthy, happy and meaningful life is something I assume all of us would want. But imagine if you lived to be 100, or even 1000? In today’s English lesson we talk about longevity.
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Longevity Biomedical Gerontologist
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Well, during the period of pandemic that we’re in - and we’re all being locked up again for a month in the UK - we hear a lot about how old people, ‘the elderly’ as they’re sometimes called, how old people are more likely to get ill and die from the virus. So it’s actually really nice to talk about longevity this week.
‘Longevity’, L-O-N-G-E-V-I-T-Y is a noun and it means the quality of having a long life. If you have longevity in your family, it means people can live to quite an old age. You might use this noun when describing an item too, not just a person. You might use longevity of an animal, a relationship, or of something like a washing machine! Or a set of tyres on your car.
So on the whole, people all around the world are living longer. I noticed this week a news item which told me that the oldest person in the UK had died. And her age? Well, Joan Hocquard has died at the grand old age of 112 years old! That’s remarkable. So she was born on the 29th March, 1908 – that’s before the First World War.
Though you can live for as much as you like, but your longevity is stupidity if you were leading a worthless life.
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Apparently Joan ‘enjoyed butter and cream’ according to her nephew, himself aged 74 years. ‘And she didn’t approve of dieting’. Interesting isn’t it, when the people who arrive at a very old age, are asked, they tend to be the ones who enjoy their food and sometimes enjoy their alcohol too. Maybe it’s about having a relaxed attitude to life. And genetics, probably.
A photograph of Cupcakes with Butter Cream, something I'm sure Joan would have enjoyed.
Interestingly, Joan Hocquard was born on the same day, 29th March 1908 as the world’s oldest man, Bob Weighton. That was until he died in May this year, also aged 112. He was also from the UK – and died in Hampshire in May. And now the UK’s oldest person is believed to be Sarah Lilian Priest, also from Dorset, now believed to be 111 years old.
So OK, Bob Weighton was for a time, the world’s oldest man. Joan Hocquard and Sarah Lilian Priest have been in their turn, the UK’s oldest woman. But the UK is not especially known for its people’s longevity. We have a lot of unhealthy habits here in the UK and not the best diet – though I’m still thinking about Joan Hocquard enjoying her butter and cream. I think cutting carbohydrate, rather than cutting butter out may be the key – but that’s another podcast. So I started wondering what the record was for longevity.
A bit of research tells me that the current world’s oldest woman is Kane Tanaka, who fits rather more with my expectations, in that she is Japanese. And she was born 2nd January 1903, which makes her currently 117 years old and still going strong – she’s in good health. I say ‘fitting rather more with my expectations’ as Japan is known for the longevity of its people, in part because Japanese food is healthy. But it’s apparently also about remaining active and staying working for longer than most people do.
Joan Hocquard lived to be 112 years old, but apparently there are around 400 people living in the world at any given time now, who are over 100 years old. But also interesting – about 90% of these are women.
The oldest ever person, whose age is reliably recorded was Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997, aged 122 years. Imagine living for 22 years after being a hundred? In the UK, when you’re a hundred, you get a telegram from the Queen!
Have you ever come across Aubrey de Grey? Well, he is a strange one. He is a Cambridge-educated, world-renowned Biomedical Gerontologist. That’s a mouthful. ‘Biomedical’ just means relating to both biology and to medicine. So it’s a particular scientific training. And a ‘Gerontologist’? Well, words in English beginning G-E-R, like ‘geriatric’ concern old people, the elderly – apparently from the Greek γέρων, ‘geron’ meaning ‘old man’.
So Aubrey de Grey is a Biomedical expert who studies ageing and the elderly. And he’s quite an eccentric – a strange person, a different person that means, evidenced perhaps by his unusually long beard. He is 57 years old, but his long beard almost seems like an attempt to make himself look much older than he is.
Anyway, Aubrey de Grey is famous in part for claiming that the first human being to live to 1,000 years old may already be alive today. That needs thinking about – I’ll say it again. The first human being to live to 1,000 years old may already be alive today. Well, we’re all living longer that’s a bit of a stretch, surely?
Well, Aubrey de Grey is one of a number of people researching ageing – and looking at what happens in ageing at a cell level. Looking at what changes that cause people to decline and how these can be stopped or reversed. So cells, C-E-L-L-S are the individual tiny parts that our bodies are made up of. And Aubrey de Grey and others have identified seven processes at a cellular level in our body which lead to decline and to death.
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So he and others are working on different approaches to alter this, to alter what happens. For example, how to deal with cells which multiply, which turn cancerous. Or how to deal with cells which don’t properly get rid of their waste products – Alzheimers would be an example of a disease caused by this. And research is slow because of lack of funding, but it progresses year on year. There’s an idea around that ageing is inevitable, that it cannot be changed, so this area of Gerontology or Gerontology doesn’t attract the level of funding which it perhaps deserves.
I’m not sure how I’d feel, if I lived to be a couple of hundred years old. It might feel a bit sad, maybe to see so many different times and different people come and go? I guess you would be wise though, you would have a great store of knowledge. And there’d be plenty opportunity to learn and practice other languages too, I guess.
If you want more on Aubrey De Grey, let me know – that’s an interesting area. And if you’ve suggestions for any other podcast topics, why not get in touch and let us know. Send us an email with your suggestion.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.