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A Glimpse at our Future

Recently as I conducted my daily online search for the latest research and news about aging, one story caused me to stop and reflect: A group called The Coalition to Extend Life was lobbying for funding to help attain physical immortality.

On any other day, I likely would have blown off this story as a bunch of nut cases. However, that day I had also read that the South Korean government was spending $29 million to research “how to improve cardiovascular fitness, prevent diabetes and other aging-related diseases and prevent oxidation-reduction reaction in cells, the main cause of aging,” according to the International Herald Tribune.

A story by HealthDay News also caught my attention. “Experts say the post-World War II generation is changing the very definition of ‘old’ age,” the article said. “For many, 60 is not only the new 50 — it's the new 45.”

Marketers are certainly jumping on the bandwagon. We need look no further than the demand that Chanel has created for Sublimage, 1.7-ounces of regenerating cream that sells for $350. Some anti-aging fanatics are waiting months to buy the product. An alternative for youth-seeking individuals? Facial brightening, which promises to return older faces to the pinkish hue of their youth.

Of course, to stay young — or at least to be cosmetically restored — takes money. Does this mean we must work longer to pay for these products?

Financial management is what it's all about, according to Genworth Financial's advertising campaign, which features a pilot, trumpeter, water skier, columnist and other individuals 100 years of age or older enjoying active lifestyles.

“Your elder years can be much longer than you might think,” says Buzz Richmond, Genworth's senior vice president for brand marketing.

Richmond's comment made me wonder: Will we be real people in the future, or will we be reengineered like Steve Austin in the 1970s television series “The Six Million Dollar Man”? It sounds far-fetched, doesn't it? Not really.

Much of the technology needed to increase our longevity is already available, and it could be used soon in fitness facilities.

For example, Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones arrive at your club and fill out a form rating their health and fitness objectives in order of importance. Your staff member extracts DNA from each individual by swabbing the inside of their cheeks and places it in a microarray chip.

The next step in this scenario is not yet available but will likely happen in the future. Within minutes the genome of these individuals is transferred to a minicomputer. The machine examines their genes and how they relate to the ranked items on the list (e.g., lose body fat, reduce blood pressure, increase muscle mass, lower cholesterol). A program automatically matches these gene profiles (genotypes) with the most important objectives chosen by the two individuals and lists the specific interventions shown through research as best matches for producing these changes.

So if both have hypertension but Smith's genotype does not respond to aerobic exercise training and Jones' does, then the fitness director might prescribe exercise to both individuals, but he or she might tell Smith to see his physician for medication to treat his hypertension. On the other hand, the director might help Jones stabilize her blood pressure through regular aerobic exercise and strength training.

For those of us in the exercise business, the future is much closer than we think. Are we ready to adapt to these changes, especially for a market willing to pay $350 for less than two ounces of cream that claims regenerating abilities? Imagine what people might pay for something that actually makes them feel and look more youthful. Only the future will tell.

Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at

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