You Could be Dead by Now


People are living longer these days than in the past. Why? Kim Peckham looks into the situation.

Whoa! Here’s a heavy thought: If you’d lived 100 years ago, you’d be dead by now. Unless, maybe, you were a complete vegan. As you may know, vegans refrain from eating all animal or animal-derived products, including milk and eggs. As a consequence they live so long that they receive greeting cards from Centrelink, saying, “Happy one-hundred- and-first birthday, and here’s another cheque. If you live much longer, we’ll be a fiscal wreck.“ The card is accompanied by a gift pack of cigarettes.

I just mention it in passing, also, that it’s always a good idea to check if a person is a vegan before inviting them to dinner. Otherwise, you might be enjoying cheese squares while your guest can do nothing to assuage their hunger except chew on a wooden table leg.

Whether or not you are a vegan, though, you will probably live much longer than your ancestors did. If you were a baby girl in 1850, you couldn’t expect to live past 40. That was actually a blessing in disguise, though, because you could put a cork in all those jokesters who come out on the occasion of a dreaded 40th birthday.

If you go back to ancient times, the average life span drops to 28 years! During this time banks were very reluctant to give anyone a 30- year home loan, which probably accounts for the fact that most people lived in tents.

You can’t imagine how dangerous those times were. Life insurance companies might disqualify you if you drank the water, even though today it’s something that will help you live longer (eight glasses a day, remember).

Then there was the local wildlife: lions prowled the countryside, and there was no place you could hide from them, as you lived in a tent. Lions think of tearing open a tent in the same way we think of opening a bag of potato crisps. They just assume that it’s a type of packaging that locks in freshness.

In Bible times, it seems, everybody went around heavily armed. You could say it was a lot like Texas, except that in Texas nobody is going to shoot you unless you do something really offensive, like leave fingerprints on their ute. But the ancients could be much more temperamental.

If you didn’t grovel in exactly the right way, they might believe their honour to be besmirched and come after you with a posse of kinfolk (remember Esau and Jacob, King Saul and youthful David).

Fortunately, the rise of civilisation changed a lot of that. With civilisation came lawns, and the same men who used to go out and pillage nearby villages on weekends now had to stay home and do yard work.

Life spans began to lengthen as doctors learned to show up at work without dirty fingernails. Today, we can all expect to live past 70 years of age. Scientists have found that men in Iceland live an average of 75 years, which is about three years longer than men in Australia and New Zealand live. Unfortunately, Icelandic men have to spend those extra three years shovelling snow from their driveways.

Yes, good nutrition, together with modern medical science and the fact that you talked your middle-aged husband out of buying a Harley-Davidson, has extended our life spans by several years.

So, what are you going to do with all that extra time? Will you write a book? Visit Tibet? Learn to play the accordion? Whatever you do, it still has to have quality. So live life to its fullest, enjoying the now and not waiting for the good times of the future. This extra time is a gift now.

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