In Afghanistan, it's about 43. In Japan, it's 81. And in the United States, it's 77.
But what is life expectancy but a cold statistic used to compare countries?
A column in a database next to gross domestic product and the percentage of households with television sets?
In reality, most of us expertly avoid imagining exactly when our number will come up. Vague forecasts for the golden years of life -- even for those in the midst of them -- are more comforting than the digits of destiny.
Such is the disquieting thrill of an encounter with the Living to 100 Healthspan Calculator.
Created about five years ago by longevity researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston Medical Center, the online calculator (www.livingto100.com) was recently revised by its lead architect, Dr. Thomas Perls, to be more user friendly. It is based on a lifestyle and family history questionnaire that can be completed in minutes.
Then, after some instant data crunching, it displays a number: You're personalized life span, down to the decimal point. About 4 million people have used the calculator.
"I'm hoping it's a bit of an eye opener," said Perls, a Harvard researcher and director of the New England Centenarian Study, a decade-old project that looks at the health and habits of people who have crossed into triple digits. "It's not supposed to be some crystal ball."
True, a fortuneteller would probably deliver a more nuanced reading. But perhaps the calculator has something in common with the medium: Give patrons a vision of the potential future so they can take steps to change -- or achieve -- it.
"If you do bad things, you subtract years. If you do good things (exercise, shun cigarettes, learn a musical instrument), you add years, or stay where you are," Perls said.
Stay where you are indeed; the main message of the calculator seems to be, first, do no harm to yourself. Second, hope for good genes.
"The calculator was based on the presumption that most people in westernized countries have the environmental and genetic makeup to get them to their mid to late 80s. As you get into the really extreme ages, genes become more important," Perls said.
As it poses questions with clinical curiosity about your vices ("How often do you eat sweets such as ice cream, cake/pie/pastry, or candy bars?") and private habits ("Do you have a bowel movement at least once every two days?"), the calculator inspires the queasy feeling that tends to accompany moments of unvarnished introspection about one's health habits.
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