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  • Ronan Harrington

A-Z of Resilience - L is for Longevity (and losing your parents)


I recently discovered that my 72 year old dad has been smoking a packet of Silk Cut Purple a day since he was 11.


I laughed when my mother told me this little known family fact, feeling a tinge of admiration and of course bemusement at Irish culture. But the laughter turned to sadness, as I remembered that at around the same age, shaken by my brother’s death, I would pray every night before bed that he wouldn’t die of cancer. What I look back on as a childhood affectation regained relevancy as I watched him recently excuse himself again and again last weekend, ‘for a fag’.


It was the second time my parents visited me since I emigrated from Ireland, 12 years ago. Like many, I’m crossing a threshold where my parents are now properly old, and with it comes a type of pre-grieving for their eventual loss.


As a keynote speaker, I always remind audiences that we are all living with a disease that will, one way or another, take us out. That disease is ageing. It is so universal that we don’t even consider it as a disease, instead believing it to be inevitable.


We begin to see ageing as a disease once we understand its pathophysiology. In every cell of our body, we have a strand of DNA, 6 metres in length if laid out, but so tightly round it fits neatly inside a single cell. The cell reads its particular section of DNA strand and is programmed to play its particular part in the wider orchestration of your body. Overtime, due to entropy, a process called ‘X-Differentiation’ occurs, where the DNA strand unspools, and the cell starts reading the wrong bits of strand.


The body has its own genius process of regulating this process. There are number of anti-aging genes that clear and repair and decommission dysfunctional cells. They evolved to switch on in times of adversity (cold, hunger, extreme heat), preserving the body by doing some internal housekeeping to make it more efficient. The radical breakthrough is that we can now mimic this process, with a protocol that I will share in the comment section below.


As a wellbeing keynote speak, when I talk about the prospects of radically lengthening our lifespan, most people respond with a shudder. Who would want to live beyond 100, brittle boned and dependent? We are in danger of confusing life expectancy with health expectancy. At the moment, people are living incredibly long by historical standards but often with decades of declining health due to chronic disease. After 65, we can face a humiliating decline that can make life barely worth living.


Our love for parents justifiably masks the incredible burden they place on our families and society. It is worth considering your anti-ageing efforts not only as an insurance policy against your own premature decline, but as a moral obligation to your friends and family. They deserve you at your best for as long as possible. It might be too late to radically extend the health or life of your parents, but even a few more good years are an incredible gift.

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