Yesterday’s post, How to improve your life expectancy, showed some strange anomalies when comparing young adults’ deadly risks to geriatric ones. Youths were far more likely to get killed through voluntary actions than old people. The biggest killers of youth were traffic accidents, violence, suicide and poisonings, which accounted for 15,489 deaths of males between ages of 15 and 25. Old people were not dying from those voluntary activities, but from chronic problems: cardiovascular, lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer, prostate, pneumonia and kidney disease. There were lots more geriatric deaths, but everyone over the age of seventy-five is going to die of something, but those under twenty-five generally don’t.
Living old people are a self-selected group, because these very people have learned to behave in ways that preserved their lives. The members of their cohort who got themselves killed didn’t have the opportunity to get cardiovascular disease or cancer. As far as I know there have been no studies of how those people who didn’t survive would have done had they lived longer. My suspicion is that since those people died in their youth they were taking risks that their friends were not, and if that is what was happening then it is reasonable to assume they would have continued taking excess risks and died earlier than those who did survive. The risk takers probably would have died from the diseases caused by poor diet and other forms of mistreating their bodies; it would just have taken longer for them to kill themselves. The risk takers might have died from the same old age diseases, but they would have died at an earlier age because of the over-stressing of their bodies.
The greatest killer of geriatrics is cardiovascular disease, and that is in part caused by living an unhealthy life style. Cardiovascular disease usually begins with a plating of the arteries with plaque, and that is created by cholesterol covering over inflammation of the arteries which creates a higher blood pressure. Both the cholesterol and the inflammation are controllable, but the individual must take specific actions. High blood pressure is an indicator for the arteries being partially blocked and the blood that is being forced to flow through smaller pipes must flow faster, which requires higher pressure. That plaque accumulation is a set up for a potential disaster, because at some point it breaks off and flows down stream. If the plaque lands in the heart there is a very noticeable reduction of blood flow and severe heart attack symptoms; if it lands in the brain there is a stroke; if it lands in any of the other vital organs or in a muscle there is some failure of that body part. If the clot isn’t cleared out in a few hours, by natural or artificial means, then the affected tissue dies, and if that is the heart the victim dies soon. Failure of the other organs might not be so quick to kill the victim, but the end result is the same. We need our vital organs to function, or we eventually die.
The cancers on the list were broken down into their special organs of failure and some of them are clearly related to risky behavior, like smoking causing lung cancers and other diseases, and generally the acceleration of aging.
It appears the cause of death at every age is influenced by voluntary risky behavior. For young adults, especially males, the risk takes the form of intentional physical dangers created by excess aggression that is created by natural testosterone and a masculine social environment of bravado and risk taking. In middle years that aggression is replaced by generalized abuse of the body in the form of working too hard, drinking and smoking too much, eating an excess of high fat foods and sedentary loafing. By old age the accumulation of tiny injuries caused by those excess life activities have stressed the body and set it up for coronary failure and cancer exposure. By old age those excess-risk taking people are living with tattered bodies, but even the risk avoiders are having their bodies wearing out from unavoidable aging such as telomere shortening in the cells.
Some risks are worth the risk but most risks just lead to an early demise.