The evolution of humans throughout history is a fascinating though controversial subject. On the one hand, they have achieved majestic accomplishments mainly via technological development. Nowadays people can travel everywhere in the world quickly and safely, have built the infrastructure that can protect them in most weather conditions and have even started travelling outside Earth. On the other hand, their self-destructive nature is always an imminent threat as the bloody wars, during most times of their existence, have proved. Of course, such philosophical issues can't be thoroughly discussed in this blog, but one very interesting sign of the “development hunger” is the diachronic tendency of people to extend their lifespan. You all know that life expectancy has risen drastically in recent history but did you know that swimming in cold water can lead to longevity? Let's find out together the interesting parts of the story.
Inequalities of longevity: How the world is divided
Our world has never been an equal one. Many factors, including place of living, family origins, race, gender, educational level etc. affect the development and well-being of individuals. The issue of longevity is not different. Not all people have the same chances of living a long life. Official data issued by the United Nations show that the life expectancy of the population of Africa is much lower compared to all other regions of the world. On the contrary, the life expectancy of the inhabitants of Northern America is the highest. To fully understand what this means in numbers, we have to point out that the life expectancy difference between those two regions ranges from 20 to 30 years for the period from 1950 to 2050. This is a huge gap that reflects accurately the socio-economic inequalities. The same data show that below Northern America are Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean and Asia.
Why we age
Another significant aspect of our discussion is the reason behind ageing. Scientists are constantly researching the subject although the fact is that the causes of ageing are uncertain. We know that time leads to tissue damage as well as the inability of our bodies to repair the decline of cells and organs. External factors such as bad diet, air pollution, exposure to the sun, excessive drinking and smoking can play an important role and accelerate the process of ageing. But still, the importance of each of the above factors remains unambiguous. However, there seems to be a consensus that highlights the significance of the synergy among different factors of ageing and how it can accelerate the whole process. Dr Adam Salmon Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine and The Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio argues that health and lifespan might be significantly extended if we eliminate or even attenuate the increase of a few or even just one of the causes of ageing.
Why do people age differently?
The “mystery” of ageing intensifies by the great difference of it in people. Indeed, you could see two persons of the same age looking like they have a great age difference. Why is that happening?
We could identify four basic reasons:
- Genetic factors
- Environmental factors
- Social factors
Research has shown that about 50 % of the variation in lifespan is due to genetic factors. The scientific community is still working to identify more important genes than the ones we already know so that we could acquire a better understanding of the subject and intervene accordingly.
Environmental factors play a probably bigger role in the process of ageing. It is now common knowledge that people living in islands usually live longer than residents of big cities. The case of the Greek island of Ikaria is striking and highlights the notion that ageing is not only genetically determined.
Social factors are extremely important in the ageing process and clearly explain the previously discussed inequalities of longevity around the world. Such factors are wealth, education level and subjective perceptions of social status and social class.
Finally, the gender factor is very interesting. Some researchers consider the lower mortality rate of women to be a paradox, since most studies show that, in general, males are healthier than females. The chromosome difference is one of the main factors for that, although there are still open questions.
Taking control of the ageing process
The study of ageing is relatively new as the research on the subject takes place for about one century. It is a fascinating field of study, not only because of the topic itself but also because of its findings. The relevant study that takes place in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) is one of the world's longest-running. From 1958 onwards, the research monitors participants-age 20 or older- for life. The main findings of this ongoing research are the following:
- Ageing is highly varied
- There are no markers of ageing
- There are several strong predictors of how individuals would age
More specifically, the researchers of BLSA correlated healthy ageing to positive attitudes and mobility during middle age. The better their walking speed and their attitude towards ageing when they are in their 40's and 50's, the better people age. They also found that their behaviour and choices, greatly affect the growth of a disease.
Swimming in cold water could be a great option for longevity
Behaviour and choices then could make you live longer. So, is there anything more to do apart from following a balanced diet, avoiding sun exposure and taking control of your smoking and drinking habits? Maybe there is: Be cool! Literally speaking, maintaining a cool temperature in your body could extend your life span. Scientific studies indicate that as metabolism increases at higher temperatures so should the rate of ageing. What is the best way to keep your body cool? Cool it with cold water. It's common knowledge that after taking a cold shower your skin looks fresher and younger. The benefits of swimming in cold water could be even greater. Boosting your immune system, improving your circulation and mood and even increasing your libido are such advantages that can be fundamental for living a healthy and complete life. It is also a great way to burn calories and lose weight. It is not accidental that triathletes, who are considered to be among the best fit athletes, include swimming in cold water, in their practice routine.
Swimming in cold water will not catch you a cold
At this point, we shall clarify a strong stereotype that relates swimming in cold water to catching a cold and becoming sick. This is not true because we refer to the cold virus that can only be transmitted by people. This rule, of course, applies only to adults, as the kids have not fully developed their bodies yet. The greater possible danger when swimming in cold water is hypothermia. Hypothermia is defined as the point at which your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and could result in mental disorientation, physical fatigue and even drowning in extreme cases.
As with most subjects that are under scientific investigation by specialised researchers, the probable connection between longevity and cold water swimming is fascinating. Indeed, the absolute validity of the above assumption is not proven. There are two more elements to the debate: Firstly, that women live longer than men although they appear to have a slightly higher body temperature. And secondly, research conducted by the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute and collaborators from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China on roundworms showed that cold temperatures are not beneficial in all circumstances and added more controversy on the issue. In any case, what seems the best is taking into consideration all the parameters. People can increase their longevity and improve their quality of life by making logical decisions and appreciating the gift of life. Swimming in cold water could be a life-changing option, providing numerous advantages. A discussion with a certified swim instructor though is mandatory before entering the cold water and expanding your horizons. Safety comes first and since all necessary measures are taken, you could start this “journey” and see where it leads you. And, perhaps, you could share your impressions for us and make us wiser!