7 Subjective Longevity Markers to Track (and Fix)

Inline_Subjective_Longevity_MarkersA few weeks ago, I went over 7 of the most important longevity biomarkers to track. Today, I’m shifting gears a bit. The theme remains longevity markers, but the markers I’ll discuss today are subjective, logistical, and psychological ones. A couple involve physical sense but you can’t measure these with a blood draw or a lab scan. The only way to assess your standing is through some genuine self-experiment and honest soul-searching. Or by, in one case, running a mile.

So, as you read through today’s list, keep that in mind. Where do you stand—truly? Do any of these apply to you? Number of years aside, what do you really want your longevity gains to look like, feel like? What changes are you willing to commit to now that will make this a more probable reality—to live longer and live more while doing it? Here are a few markers to start with.

Let’s have at it….

A Mile Run at Age 50

I’ve extolled the virtues of the mile run before. It’s a nice blend of stamina and intensity. It’s over quickly, ideally in less than 10 minutes, so you won’t accumulate the damage associated with longer runs at similar intensities.

And research shows that your mile run time at age 50 is a good barometer for your heart health. Since it’s right around middle age that heart disease becomes a real issue, if you can go into your twilight years with a decent mile run and the confidence that your heart works well, that’s a big advantage.

If you’re a man in your 50s, aim for 8 minutes or less. If you’re a woman in your 50s, aim for 9 minutes or less.

Number of Prescriptions Filled

Pharmaceuticals are getting better. The newest HIV drugs render the virus effectively non-lethal, for example. But we’re probably over-treating our elderly. We don’t need so many drugs, even if they work more reliably with fewer side effects than previous incarnations.

Am I going to say you should cut out the pills? No. Doing so may actually reduce your longevity, especially if they’re prescribed for a good reason. But if you find yourself filling prescription after prescription, perhaps you should take stock of the rest of your lifestyle…because something isn’t right.

Many prescriptions are given because doctors assume their patients won’t assume the responsibility to make lifestyle or dietary changes. This isn’t you. You’re different. Take your list of prescriptions to the next appointment and ask your doc which ones you can try replacing with lifestyle interventions. Maybe I’ll do a post on this subject.

Getting Weaker

This is a mix of objective and subjective. You can track your strength with PRs and reps, or you can observe how day-to-day life feels. Carrying groceries felt extra tough today? Are the stairs getting harder? Can you still toss your grandkid in the air? We all know when we’re getting weaker. The trick is to admit it to oneself.

What’s important is to be honest about your strength and to never accept its degeneration—because you can actively counter it with proper training, effort, and diet. Countering the loss of strength requires hard work, but it’s doable.

Aim to be one of those virile young Grandpas or Grandmas with an iron grip. You know the type. They look you in the eye as your hand withers in theirs. It’s here that actively countering this trend will prolong your life. Lift heavy things. Carry heavy things with your hands. Take the stairs whenever possible. Make sure you’re getting (more than) enough protein, since our ability to utilize protein degrades as we age. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t give an inch, or else the agents of aging will seize every opportunity to chip away at your lean mass (and, thus, organ mass). 

The Question of Retirement

The effect of retirement on mortality is context-dependent. In men pleased with their post-retirement lifestyle, it increases lifespan. In men dissatisfied with retirement, it decreases it. There are also links between early retirement and dementia, depression, heart attacks, and early death, though they’re riddled with potential confounders (are people with dementia-prone brains unable to stay productive and keep working as long as people with healthy brains?). Still, I think it’s safe to suggest that retirement isn’t always good for a person’s longevity.

Maybe it’s different in more laid-back societies with greater social and familial support. I can see the old Italian paterfamilias going gracefully into old age, retiring on the porch with his glass of homemade chianti, a wedge of pecorino romano, and perhaps a pipe as grandkids scuttle about at his feet. Me, when I think about retiring—which, financially speaking, I could do, I get antsy. I feel my soul slip away and my reason for getting up in the morning dissipating. Relaxation and repose is extremely important to me and to health, but so is having a mission. As lifespan extends so, too, must our engagement with the world.

I’m not saying every 70-year-old needs to start a business or even continue working. Retirement is fine. But if you do, when you do, don’t melt into the couch and gaze at your television. Get a side gig going. Have a hobby. Travel. Learn a skill. Read as much as you can. Be a regular caregiver for your grandkids. Just inject meaning into your life. One guy I know retired from a fairly hum-drum job and started haunting swap meets for old automotive promotional material and classic car tools and parts, which he now sells on eBay. He’d done it as a hobby before retiring, but it’s become a full-fledged side gig. Do something like that.

A Narrowing or Growing Social Network

I once heard a very poignant piece of advice from an old acquaintance. It was a sad moment, a man nearing the end expressing the deepest regret. He said, “Stay in touch with your friends. I didn’t, and just look at me.”

Make that call. Send that text. Reach out on social media. Answer the phone. Attend the reunion. Don’t drift away. Some suggest the only thing in this world a person can count on is that they themselves exist. Or that this is all just a simulation and we’re bits of data being rearranged for the viewing pleasure of the software developer/god. I don’t buy it. And if I’m wrong and I am the only real entity on this plane of existence, that social circle I’m imagining certainly feels real. I reckon I’ll keep in touch.

Financial Security

Most research has centered on the effect of growing longevity on seniors’ financial security. A longer-lived population needs more money, especially given the retirement age was made in an era when people died much younger. I’m interested in the effect of financial security on longevity. I’d argue that a strong longevity marker is whether you feel financially secure.

Not riches. Security. This isn’t necessarily only about savings (although that, too) but maybe about income potential through later years (again, maybe thinking semi-retirement with that passion-fueled gig like I mentioned before). 

Worrying about your finances as you head into old age is no way to live long and well. The fact is, financial insolvency is a strong risk factor for early mortality in cancer patients.

Tenor of Your Self-Talk

Sure, “negative” people are at a greater risk of early mortality. But many negative people don’t recognize that they’re negative, making this a difficult marker for people to track in themselves. In their estimation, they’re simply “realistic,” and their comments are honest observations of a dysfunctional and unfair world. Maybe. Or maybe you’re exaggerating. Maybe you’re making the world out to be a den of inequity and injustice because that makes it easier to give up and stop trying. If you can’t beat it, why strive?

A better marker is to observe the tenor of your self-talk. Are you denigrating yourself inside your own head? Are you thinking things that make you feel weak? Do you apply a fatalistic stamp to every new idea or enjoyable possibility that comes to mind?

An example of negative self-talk: “Ah, geez. Where’s my phone again? Looks like I’m getting old!”

If you’re going around grumbling at the world and bemoaning your place in it, your wish may come true sooner than you think.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of subjective longevity markers. These are simply the 7 markers I track in my own life, and I’m still kicking—and happy doing it.

What subjective markers do you use, consciously or not, to determine how well you’re living and how well you’re supporting your longevity prospects?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!


TAGS:  Aging, mobility

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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36 thoughts on “7 Subjective Longevity Markers to Track (and Fix)”

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  1. This might be my favorite post ever. Stuff like this is way more tangible than bloodwork or other biomarkers. I’m 51 and can’t wait to go out and time myself running a mile…I plan to beat the nine minutes for sure. Living a primal lifestyle I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a prescription filled. It’s been years and years. I definitely lift heavy things…not at a gym but with my part time bartending gig. Kegs are heavy! So are cases of wine. As far as the social network, I think you need to find a balance. It’s got to be quality over quantity. So while my network is always growing because I love meeting people, I say no to events and relationships that seem like obligations. For those that I can’t completely say no to I keep setting more and more boundaries. As far as the negative self talk, a great book for women is “Goddesses Never Age” by Christiane Northrup.”

  2. Some drug prescriptions are necessary. Many, if not most, are not. They are just moneymakers for the drug companies. I’ve had friends who take six or more prescriptions daily, and every single one of these people has gotten WORSE healthwise–not better. These people all believe the doctor is God, and that an often-toxic pill is a magic path to health and longevity. They apparently either can’t or won’t see that there is usually a better way. Or maybe they’re just lazy. Good health through lifestyle changes takes determination and effort.

    1. Nailed it! This is my parents and my brothers and they are circling the drain. Very sad, especially when you hear your brother yanked a perfectly healthy gallbladder because he was afraid of gallstones (ya…because his wife’s mother had an attack).

  3. “Many prescriptions are given because doctors assume their patients won’t assume the responsibility to make lifestyle or dietary changes. This isn’t you. You’re different.”. Sadly, you’re probably preaching to the choir here, Mark. The general population is one, never going to read this blog, and two, so inundated with the “expert” opinions of a “sick care” system that they’ll simply continue to follow the instructions of their MD and pharmaceutical package inserts.

    I’m married to a Chiropractor. I sit at the front desk of the office every day and can see the camera we have out on the parking lot. There is a pharmacy next door. All day I watch people in their 40s, 50s, 60s (and up) getting out of their cars and waddling, holding on to every bolted down object on the way, into the Golden-Heaven-Awaits-All-That-Ails-Me doors of the pharmacy. One day I’m going to get up the nerve to approach them and ask them to come in for a visit. Because obviously what they’re doing isn’t working. They would fail every…single…longevity test. These people should be in their prime but, instead, they’re living a less-than life.

    Mark, you need to come up with Primal Blueprint rack cards for your Primal Army to disperse. I have a whole population of people to hand them out to. Sadly, people don’t know what they don’t know.

    1. So true. And you get what you bring to the table as well. My doctors figure our right away that I’m a knowledgeable, proactive patient that can follow directions and is already dedicated to proper diet and exercise. So they treat me very differently than the patient who has thrown in the towel and abdicated all responsibility for their health. I get a conversation about options with an emphasis and what we can do without drugs and surgery – usually prefaced with “if you are open to it I can subscribe a low dose of such and such and you can see how you feel” or we can wait and see what you can do on your own and revisit the issue. I suspect that patients who get pushed into pills and surgery are also giving signals to their doctor that they are not going to take responsibility for their health.

      I’ve never had a pill pushing doctor, and at 51 years old, that seems improbable if it was left to random chance.

  4. Interesting. I ran a mile in 10 minutes last year at age 63, although I have to admit it was a combination of running and walking. I was on a team with a 33 year old and two 40-somethings, and my time was the fastest, although they ran the entire way. I noticed that the retirement paragraph was about men. I’m betting that women do better in retirement than men. Perhaps because women often have a better social network??

  5. I have MS and can’t run but I can use the rowing machine and airdyne bike. Is there a benchmark time/ distance I could use on there?

    1. Look for Kenneth Cooper’s research on Aerobics, maybe there’s a way to calculate VO2 max based on your exercises.

    2. I also have MS and can’t run But I walk as much as possible, and ride a stationary bike doing bike sprints a few times per week for cardio pulmonary conditioning. It helps maintain a lowish resting heart rate which can be used as a proxy for VO2 max.

    3. 2000 meters is a nautical mile. It is one of the programmed workouts. It is a good option for those of us with running complications. A 10 minute 2000 is like jogging pace and is easily achievable. The machine monitor displays the pace in minutes per 500 meters. So the goal is to maintain a pace less than 2:30. A 2:15 pace is a 9 minute mile and a 2:00 pace is 8 and so on. For sprints, 20 seconds or 100 meters is a 1:40/500 pace and a good goal. Invest in a C2 log card to keep track of your times.

  6. Creating a new email signature 🙂

    “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t give an inch”

    1. I have a similar pledge:

      “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Give nine inches.”

  7. I will be 76 in a month or so. It’s an interesting number, but not really my focus. Reading your list Mark I think that the most important is purpose in life. Given that, all the rest follows. Without that, why bother? Example: today, I’m waiting for a team of abseilers who are going to bring down a huge leaning gum tree. That is my winter firewood right there, and my heavy lifting for the next month or so. Yes, I could get a heat pump, but where is the joy? The sense of accomplishment? While the team are working I’m heading off with a friend to take a trailer load of scrub to the recycling. I’m clearing a steep hillside on our property tonight terraces so I can continue to walk there when I get old. This afternoon I have a new gallery to sort work for. Some studio time needed to finish a set of paintings for a boat show next year. I also have a client coming to pick up a painting. In the meantime my wife is away tramping, and has left me clear instructions about watering and tending her seedlings and kitchen garden. Then I cook dinner. Will post my latest work on Facebook, then go to bed. Retirement? What’s that? Grin.

  8. I like to use sleep quality as a longevity marker. I have heard from numerous people that their sleep quality dramatically declines as they age. They can’t get to sleep, they can’t stay asleep, they wake up too early and don’t feel rested for the day.

    When I started living a primal lifestyle one of the amazing added perks was the dramatic improvement in my quality of sleep. My insomnia was essentially cured! I sleep like a rock now; I wake up every morning without an alarm clock, fully rested and excited for the day. It’s absolutely incredible to not struggle with sleep issues anymore.

  9. Sometimes I think I am so self focused on my health and all my n=1 experimentation and the constant study of the subject (life extension, epigenetics and biohacking is fascinating to me) that I don’t live in the moment. Not a good epitaph “He spent so much time worrying about extending his life that he forgot to enjoy it” I think the people in the blue zone that live so long embody many of the traits Mark outlined here, but don’t count calories, time themselves in a run, or wonder if they should cycle off an on into a ketogenic state. I guess building healthy habits that become second nature and “stopping to smell the roses” is the approach to take. 🙂

  10. Can the mile run be done with a bit of power walking in between the sprinting? ?

    1. Interesting. I was thinking the 9 and 8 minute mile runs for men and women were really, really slow. My 3 mile walks only take 32 minutes. I think those run times should be lowered.

  11. I am 51 years old, and since switching to a Paleo lifestyle, I am in the best shape of my life! All my old aches and pains are gone, and I take no drugs at all for anything. I have always been extremely active and eaten healthily but had a lifelong battle with moods, depression, aches, and pains from motorcycle accidents, etc.

    Since my lifestyle change to Paleo, I am in perfect health and the happiest I have ever been! Thanks, Mark!!

  12. Good post, Mark. I’m “retired” from my career (at age 62), but I’m busier than ever with a whole host of hobbies and other activities, which I think is one of the keys to longevity. It’s true that everyone needs a purpose in life, and I definitely have that. I usually have a list of things I want to accomplish each week, and it feels good when I can cross things off of the list. “Compressed morbidity” (which Mark once wrote a post on) is my goal at this point (after many more good years, hopefully)…….can’t ask for more than that.

  13. I like these markers. They really get to the quality of life.

    I would really like to do the mile run, but since I cannot run, is there some equivalent for bicycling or rowing? I can find calorie burn equivalents, but have not found anything that says “if you can bicycle 5 miles in x minutes that means you have good cardiovascular health”.

    If a person runs a mile in 10 minutes and the calorie burn equivalent is about 1/3 on a bicycle, would that mean you should bicycle 3 miles in 10 minutes to be the same? http://www.drmirkin.com/fitness/8841.html for a comparison of running and bicycling energy expenditure.

    1. I have arthritic knees at the moment and cannot run without pain and trauma. However, I run on my Bellicon rebounder. Once you find the correct stance that mimics running posture its great. I build up a real sweat and get my heart pounding. I also consider fast outdoor walking, incorporating arms, as good as running.

  14. Mark – you caught us all out, your actually the star in an elaborate simulation similar to the Truman show – we are all just paid actors and androids.

  15. A word of caution! Where I live, the streets are crowded with runners who run 9-minute miles with atrocious form.

    What is better for longevity: a 9-minute-mile run with heels striking, shoulders slumping, arms akimbo, panting and staring at the ground?

    Or a 12-minute-mile power walk with balanced posture, total situational awareness, and 20 pounds on one’s back?

    What was more useful to our ancestral elders?

    Health is never as simple as meeting an arbitrary, fixed standard.

    Our ancestors passed down the legend of Procrustes to help us remember this.

    Did you have to look that one up?

  16. I continue to take my blood pressure medication at night but check during the day…if my pressure is below 140 I skip it, because it makes me light headed. I don’t take the cholesterol meds any more and I should probably find a new doctor, because mine is still of the old school thinking that eating fats is bad for you.

  17. One of my personal markers is how do I feel when I get up in the morning. Am I sore and achy, in a bad mood, dragging, mentally fogged? They I probably did something wrong with my Paleo lifestyle. Do I feel good, full of energy, mentally sharp, and ready to go? Then I figure I’m probably doing most things right.

  18. To the section on Social Network, I wanted to add: make friend who are younger than you are. A friend’s mom wasted away after his dad died. She said that all her friends, and now her husband, were dead. She had noone besides her son to relate to. As a teacher, I have maintained relationships with many of my students, and now with some of their children. i hope that will mean that I always have friend to care about and who care about me. Conversely, I also try to befriend those who are older than I, and from whom I can learn so much.

  19. Mark is always spot on. So many people are angry and don’t know it. They don’t sleep have no community, and maintain super toxic relationships. One of the best things that ever happen to me was disease. You have to take info like this and really dig deep and make the changes to make good things happen. Your doc is not going to sit down and tell you much about how to put all the spokes of the wheel of health into action. There is a huge movement happening now. People are fed up with being sick and the only thing they get from conventional medicine is another script. Thanks for putting the stuff out there Mr. Sisson. ps. Great comment Elizabeth R.

    1. Your words are absolutely my life! I nearly died from listening to doctors and then letting them *practice* on me. I realized I was also surrounded by toxic people, and back in the 90’s I swear it was me who said “stay away from poison people”…haha. Since 1999, I turned it around on every level that is pertinent to a healthy body and human mind. What still rings in my ears is a doctor who advised during a routine physical, that I should have a hysterectomy at age 38. I could go on synthetic hormones and never worry about any *female cancers* as he put it, including missing the horrors of menopause . My philosophy now is to stay away from doctors unless it is injury based.

  20. Good list. I know everyone is different, but some of your retirement talk misses the mark. If you think staying at work gives someone a purpose you may not have surveyed enough people. Many that I know are unhappy in their work, very unhappy. Also, if I were bored work would not be the way I’d solve that (I’m not bored though). I retired early and couldn’t be happier. I am way healthier now (was fit then too, but so much better now) and I get to hike and bike and swim and spend beautiful time outside. More quality time with family and friends and more quiet time, which I love. More time to eat right as well.

    So, I agree you need to keep moving, challenged, and interested, I just don’t think work is always the answer.