Lessons on Longevity From Superheroes
Superpowers you can harness to promote a long and healthy life
Spider-Man’s superhuman speed and strength should serve him well in old age, helping prevent falls, a leading cause of disability and death among seniors. If he makes it to old age, that is.
Peter Parker, Spidey’s high-school-aged alter ego, is often out all night, hunting down bad guys while not getting the eight-plus hours of sleep needed by someone his age to support a healthy mind and body. Inadequate sleep raises the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other obstacles to a long and healthy life.
“Lack of sleep has been associated with poorer mental health, the development of obesity, and higher rates of accidents,” says Ruth Hubbard, MD, a professor and head of geriatric medicine at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Spider-Man is one of five real case studies of fictional characters in which Hubbard and her colleagues analyze how genetics, circumstances, and lifestyle choices might affect the health and longevity of superheroes in the Marvel universe.
The results, published December 13 in the journal BMJ, include some common superhero superpowers that we mortals would be wise to lean into:
- Optimism (yes, optimists live longer)
- Strong social connections and cohesion (loneliness is deadly)
- Psychological resilience (you may be more resilient than you realize)
- Physical activity (sorry, but it’s a huge factor)
“They often undertake high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has been linked with improved health status in aging men,” the scientists write. (Women benefit from HIIT, too.) “Even during discussions about how to stop aliens from enslaving humanity, superheroes stand regularly and pace, increasing their step count and reducing sedentary behavior, which should put them in good stead for reducing their mortality.”
Beyond these age-defying traits, however, some superheroes have serious health concerns, too.