I went to a longevity conference where biohackers try to cheat death. But I found the real secret to anti-aging an hour away in Loma Linda.
- I recently attended the RAADfest longevity conference in Southern California.
- While there were many interesting ideas at the conference, the longevity science felt a bit speculative.
"I like the feeling that I'm already physically immortal," says Bernadeane Brown, an immaculately coiffed woman who's been on Earth for 86 years. "I'm not old. I'm burning."
Dressed in pale leather from head to toe, with a sharply cut silver bob, Brown explains to a rapt conference room that we're not meant to die. People who aren't so sure about that (myself included) are just trapped in a mortal mindset, she tells us.
It sounds exciting, new-agey, and, well, impossible, given how things have gone for everyone else who's ever lived.
Brown is a board member of the Coalition for Radical Life Extension, the organization that runs the longevity conference called RAADfest ("revolution against aging and death"). I'm here, a few blocks away from Disneyland, along with hundreds of people — many of them very fit, gray-haired, and pumped for a weekend of manifesting eternal life in the Los Angeles suburbs.
The annual conference is pretty high-profile. It attracts longevity scientists from across the globe who share their latest findings on how to slow — or, somehow, prevent — aging. Between seminars, attendees can shop for supplements and massage guns, find out their "biological age," and chat with like-minded immortals.
Most people I spoke to had heard about the world's five longevity hotspots called Blue Zones, but they didn't seem to be aware that they were standing about 50 miles away from Loma Linda, the only US Blue Zone.
I've reported on Blue Zones for years, but had never visited one in person. So, one day, I slipped out of the conference to check it out.
Here is a community of 25,000 people, tucked in the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains, who really are living longer than most. Not forever, but about 10 extra, healthy years on top of what the average American can expect. These people — by and large Christian Seventh Day Adventists — have pioneered way of extending their average lifespan, simply by living well. That's why their hometown is featured in the recent Netflix series "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones."
Compared to some of the hacks on display at RAADfest, I was amazed at how simple, cheap, effortless, and downright fun their longevity-booting techniques appeared.
Forget supplements — in Loma Linda, it's all pickleball, water aerobics, and vegetarian potlucks
Seventh Day Adventists don't take many supplements, or jet to Europe for stem cell treatments from doctors treating royals. By the looks of it, they're doing far fewer facelifts than people attending RAADfest, too.
Take Ethlyn Obland, a spritely 73-year-old who everyone calls "Obi." She pickleballs near Loma Linda twice a week, and enjoys vegetarian potluck dinners with her girlfriends each Sabbath. A recent Saturday spread included her mushroom patties, made with eggs, walnuts, and cottage cheese, alongside ginger carrots.
For Obland, the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars to biohack your body would be ludicrous. In her tradition, the key to longevity is a humble mix of exercise, diet, community, spirituality, and "drinking water."
"Adventists have kind of an advantage because we believe in health," Obland told Insider. "It's kind of like your body is your temple where you want the spirit of God to live," she said.
While they're not interested in sticking around for infinity, they are dedicated to living long and healthy lives. The time Adventists spend on Earth is deliberately infused with purpose, service, and a day to de-stress, sing, and worship at the end of each week. Science tells us that's a recipe for longevity.
Plus, traditionally, Adventists don't eat any meat, nor do they consume caffeine, alcohol, or even mustard — taboos directed at keeping the body healthy and clean. But some, like Obi, have a little meat now and then, or start their day with a cup of coffee.
Why the Blue Zone lifestyle is better for longevity than high-tech interventions
The success of Blue Zone lifestyles is far from mysterious, cardiologist Dr. Gary Fraser told me one sunny, hot afternoon in Loma Linda.
"I don't think that the 'Adventist' diet is all that different to what academics have understood is the appropriate way to live for the last 20 or 30 years," Fraser, an Adventist himself, who practices in Loma Linda, told me.
Fraser has spent decades studying exactly how the vegan and vegetarian diet patterns of nearly 100,000 Adventists across North America impact their health. He's learned that eating more nuts helps Adventist hearts stay healthy, and that consuming less meat is a big factor in Adventist longevity too.
"The genius, if you like, of the Adventist situation is that they've tied it to a religion and made it a high value kind of situation, with social support," he said.
There's a gym in Loma Linda frequented by roughly 1,500 members every day. Plenty of pickleball and tennis courts, balance classes, "rockin'" chair aerobics, plus a waterslide, are all on the menu.
The easiest way to live a longer, healthier life
Technically, we don't know whether or not people can live forever. But living like a Loma Lindan is a more road-tested (and straightforward) approach to cheating death. At least, for a while.
"I don't think those of us who are in this field — most of us — really have a goal of extending the human lifespan," Dr. Sofiya Milman, a genetics expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Insider, from her desk in New York (she did not attend RAADfest, but she is conducting the nation's largest study of SuperAgers.)
"What we feel is more important for society and for medicine and for people's quality of life is extending the healthspan."
Back at RAAD, I saw Brown, the "physically immortal" woman, listening intently to a keynote Q & A about supplements and blood transfusions from in-vogue anti-aging enthusiast Bryan Johnson. Then, she took the mic: "We have to keep changing," Brown said. "Rather than be old, be alive!"
Brown didn't specify exactly how she plans to cheat death, but it seems to involve trying out all the new, pricey (and sometimes unproven) anti-aging treatments on display at RAADfest that, in reality, most of us cannot afford, nor access.
My mind wandered from the gloomy conference room back to the fresh air of Loma Linda. To me, laughing and sweating on the pickleball court, hiking around and communing with nature, and being of service to one another, feels a whole lot more like being alive than this.
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