Leonard Jones had sandy-blonde hair, a beard that “came down to his knees,” and a desire to put an end to the waggish shenanigans rampant among the 19th century American public.
In 1835, Jones met a preacher named “McDaniel,” who convinced him that immortality was within reach: all one had to do was live a “strictly moral life of prayer, poverty, and fasting.” “Death,” Jones proclaimed, “is nothing but unbelief.” They planned to found a town of immortals together.
Then McDaniel fell ill and died, and Jones made two observations. First, clearly McDaniel’s faith wasn’t strong enough to achieve immortality. And second, a town of immortals wouldn’t make the kind of impact he wanted on the world. He decided to run for office: first for Congress, in several districts, and then for President of the United States. According to a local paper, “he received but a few, if any, votes” in his 20 years as a candidate.
In 1868, Leonard “Live-Forever” Jones refused treatment for pneumonia, insisting that his faith would save him, and died at the age of 71. To his credit (and possibly devotion to caloric restriction), he lived about twice as long as the average American in his time.
“Spanners” like Jones have existed throughout history. Juan Ponce de León, who famously died while seeking the “Fountain of Youth” in 1521, is probably the most well-known spanner. Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, trusted his alchemists to create an elixir to grant him immortality (unfortunately, that elixir had a mercury base).
Thankfully, research from the past 150 years has made spanning more of a science-based undertaking and less of a madman’s pipedream.
For example, DNA—which we now know has a huge impact on life expectancy—was not discovered until the late 1860s. Watson and Crick only started theorizing about DNA structure, the double helix, in the 1950s. Senescent cells were first recorded in 1965. The “hallmarks of aging” weren’t defined until 2013. These breakthroughs are so recent that the possibility of studying—and beating—aging weren’t possible until very recently.
This article aims to answer several questions people have about spanners, namely:
- What is a “spanner?” What is spanning?
- Who are the spanners today?
- Are spanners “transhumanists” or “biohackers?”
- Is spanning safe?
- Why can’t spanners just follow evidence-based medicine?
It’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
What is a “spanner?” What is spanning?
Spanners are people who proactively seek to extend their own healthspan and lifespan indefinitely.
“Spanning” includes any deliberate activity to extend one’s life. For example, intermittent fasting, benchmarking your biological age, or even just going for a brisk walk can all be considered spanning, so long as the intended outcome is human life extension. In other words, two people, one a spanner, one not, can be weight lifting and using the exact same weights, reps, and sets, and only one would be spanning. Intention matters.
Who are the spanners today?
While it’s easy to point to spanners throughout history, we’re more interested in who’s actively practicing and researching life-extension methods today.
Currently, we’re working on a comprehensive list of top longevity influencers. In the meantime, we’d like to emphasize that spanners are all around you.
J.P. and I here at Longevity Advice are both spanners.
Liz Parrish, the BioViva entrepreneur who is controversially self-experimenting with a myostatin inhibitor and telomerase gene therapy, is also a spanner.
David Sinclair, author of the top longevity book, “Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To” and Harvard longevity researcher, is a spanner for neither of those accomplishments. He’s a spanner because of the stack of supplements he takes and lifestyle choices he makes intended to extend his own life.
Yogis? Maybe. Joggers? Maybe. Resveratrol consumers? More likely.
The question is, “Are you doing this activity to extend your healthspan and/or lifespan?”
If the answer’s “yes,” you’re a modern-day spanner.
Are spanners “transhumanists” or “biohackers?”
Transhumanists are people who believe technology can and should evolve humans beyond their physical limitations.
Biohackers are people who make purposeful tweaks to their lifestyles for a desired outcome, such as weight loss, reduced anxiety, or increased libido.
Spanners can be transhumanists and spanners can be biohackers. They can also be health nuts or fitness gurus or quantified-self fans. There is overlap with almost every wellness community, as wellness communities often espouse benefits for extended and improved healthspans and lifespans.
The solution to aging will likely be multifaceted and may come from a plethora of these communities.
Longevity.Technology has an excellent graphic demonstrating just how many different avenues there are from a business perspective to approach spanning outside of what one can do at home:
In other words, one does not have to be a biohacker or transhumanist to be a spanner, but many transhumanists and biohackers are spanners, or are biohackers or transhumanists because they primarily identify as a spanner.
Is spanning safe?
Spanning, like most things, is a function of personal calculations of risk versus reward.
For example, I broke my foot in two places while spanning: I was out on a run and landed wrong. To me, the chance of encountering personal injury was worth the long-term health benefits associated with running, like a lowered risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality in my sunset years. Nine weeks, crutches, a boot, and seven physical therapy sessions later, I still intend to run when I’m able to again.
The way I look at it, I’d rather break my foot again than get cancer, even in forty years.
More conservative forms of spanning might include prioritizing a regular sleep schedule. And more aggressive forms of spanning might include taking prescription medications like metformin or rapamycin for their off-label anti-aging effects.
However, if you do nothing by way of spanning, know that the average age of diabetes onset is 45, the average age for first heart attacks is 65 for men and 72 for women, and the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66. Doing nothing is a risk in and of itself.
Why can’t spanners just follow evidence-based medicine?
There has not been enough research into longevity, wellness, or healthspans to entirely rely on scientific consensus. Remember: as recently as 1953, doctors knew so little about health that they prescribed cigarettes to treat “sore throats and coughs.” Randomized, controlled trials weren’t commonplace until the 1990s—and women weren’t required to be in any medical trials until the NIH updated their research requirements in 1993. Major anti-aging research institutions weren’t founded until very recently: The Buck Institute in 1985, the Methuselah Foundation in 2003, and SENS in 2009.
In other words, the scientific foundation and best practices for wellness, anti-aging, and life extension research only started to get its bearings over the past 30 years. Nutrition and fitness science are overwhelmingly complex for the same reason: there just hasn’t been enough research, funding, or interest until very, very recently.
What’s next for spanners?
Life-extension enthusiasts and healthspan extenders are coming together to insist on more research and more interest to combat the problem of aging.
One of the best ways to do so is by sharing what you’re doing for healthspan and lifespan extension with other spanners. What is your regimen? What’s worked? What hasn’t?
Let us know in the comments!
Additionally, Longevity Advice aims to be a resource for spanners. If this is your first time on the site, consider starting with these articles:
- Is Human Life Extension Possible?
- 8 Best Longevity Books for 2020
- 5 Science-Based Tests to Measure Your Vitality at Home
By day, I am a problem solver, writer, and the co-founder of Longevity Advice. I’m best known for writing about technology and have been featured in Forbes, The Hill, and TechRepublic. When the batteries are powered down and the suit comes off, I’m an enthusiastic hiker, runner, and Rocket League competitor and enjoy discussing minimalism, Studio Ghibli, and Icelandic sheepdogs.