Dr Shigeaki Hinohara was recognised for helping to make Japan a “world leader in longevity” and was chairman emeritus at St. Luke’s International University. He died in July this year at the age of 105, having worked up until a few months before his death.
Speaking with Japan Times in 2009, Dr Hinohara said “energy comes from feeling good, not from eating well or sleeping a lot”.
He advised adults try to have fun as they did when they were children, explaining that as children we “often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe that we can keep that attitude as adults, too. It’s best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime”.
He also advised those looking for longevity to avoid retiring, explaining that “there is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65”.
“The current retirement age was set at 65 half a century ago, when the average life-expectancy in Japan was 68 years and only 125 Japanese were over 100 years old,” he explained.
“Today, Japanese women live to be around 86 and men 80, and we have 36,000 centenarians in our country. In 20 years, we will have about 50,000 people over the age of 100.”
Should one enjoy such a long life, Dr Hinohara advised they also “strive to contribute to society”. He suggested it is easy to work towards individual goals and meet familial needs up to the age of 60, but beyond that, the focus should shift to social goals.
“Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours, seven days a week and love every minute of it.”
It begs the question: Can we live forever?
The short answer is no.
“Ageing is mathematically inevitable—like, seriously inevitable. There’s logically, theoretically, mathematically no way out,” Joanna Masel, author of a mathematical study into the inevitability of death, told the World Economic Forum.
The ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Arizona in the US explained that while everyone knows they will die, the question of why we age is more mysterious.
“People have looked at why ageing happens, from the perspective of ‘why hasn’t natural selection stopped ageing yet?’ That’s the question they ask, and implicitly in that is the idea that such a thing as non-ageing is possible, so why haven’t we evolved it?,” she said.
“We’re saying it’s not just a question of evolution not doing it; it can’t be done by natural selection or by anything else.”
That is because trying to prevent ageing in a significant way is a zero-sum game. Treat “sluggish” cells, and the results are quickly regenerating cells and cancer.
“The basic reason is that things break. It doesn’t matter how much you try and stop them from breaking, you can’t,” said Professor Masel.
“You might be able to slow down ageing, but you can’t stop it.”