Tina Woods: Prevention is vital for Longevity

Longevity International’s Tina Woods tells us how the Longevity industry is releasing us from being trapped in the cycle of ill health and chronic disease.

Tina Woods is Founder and CEO of Collider Health and CEO and co-founder of Longevity International, a social enterprise bringing together stakeholders in government, science and business to enhance equitable access to the longevity dividend. She is the Secretariat Director of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity in the UK.

Longevity.Technology: Tina’s new book Live Longer with AI: How Artificial Intelligence is Helping Us Extend our Healthspan and Live Better Too is published on 9 October and is available on Amazon. It features interviews with 30 pioneers in AI, genomics and Longevity and explores the latest thinking in science and society for living longer, healthier, better lives.

Ahead of the book’s publication, and hot on the heels of her latest blog on World Economic Forum This pandemic has revealed our most precious asset, we caught up with Tina to discuss the need to embed preventative health strategies into healthcare, investment and policy.

This year’s COVID pandemic has thrown a spotlight on just how important to keep in good health. As Woods puts it: “It’s ironic – almost perverse – that it took this pandemic to force us into realising that we just cannot take our health for granted. We are suffering a chronic disease epidemic, and things have to change.”

Woods is interested in system change – in “pulling it all apart and putting back together”.
“There’s a lot of vested interests in this space,” she told us. “A lot of companies are quite happy to maintain the status quo of treating conditions, rather than working for the better health of all.

The life sciences industry, the food and drinks industry, the tech industry, indeed, even healthcare systems that are performance-managed on activity to manage disease rather than improve health and wellbeing – there are so many different sectors that are keeping the ball in motion to perpetuate unhealthy behaviours and lifestyle practices.

“This is the problem; we are trapped in the cycle of ill health and chronic diseases. And tech that’s geared to convenience, making it easier to conduct your whole life through your phone sitting on a sofa, doesn’t help promote health and fitness. There are many different factors at the root of unhealthy lifestyle choices, but most are to do with inequalities in life chances and access to knowledge.”

“There’s a sense of tipping points, a fast sort of systemic change that we need to see in terms of how people think about their health…”

However, she feels the time is ripe for change.
“There’s a sense of tipping points that are going to create acceleration,” she told us. “A fast sort of systemic change that we need to see in terms of how people think about their health. This includes what they want from companies and pushing for socially-responsible investment by companies. My book is trying to make sense of this ecosystem and the stakeholders and identify how we can really drive change forward.”

Woods describes how the pandemic has forced the pace to quicken. “The public mood is changing,” she says. “People are waking up to the fact that their health is an asset that shouldn’t be squandered or abused; the book is about that journey.”

Healthcare systems and stakeholders need to be aligned for Longevity. “We need systems that are really going to deliver on preventative better and equitable access to better health for everybody,” Woods says. “The pandemic has exposed shocking health inequalities, but if we can harness the public mood, social enterprise and socially-responsible investors and businesses, hopefully we can create a new direction of travel.”

Woods is clear that prevention is the cure – especially where extending healthspan is concerned; but this concept needs wider exposure and understanding by the public.
“The business community has a role to play, especially in prevention,” she explains.

“Political cycles and NHS budget cycles aren’t long enough to really take on preventive health measures to the extent that’s needed. This is as big as climate change – the pandemic is showing this in stark detail. This is where a long-term view is needed and patient capital needs to be harnessed: city money, institutional investors, pension funds, &c.

“These investors are looking for social investment opportunities and projects that deliver a social mission; they want to invest in responsible infrastructure projects, in smart housing, smart cities… health and care are natural follow-ons.

“Everything in the wider environment impacts on our Longevity…”

“The UK is leading the world as a test case for how business can work with government and with academia. COVID has demonstrated that the whole scientific community can work together in a way that really hasn’t happened before – silos are crashing down and collaboration is completely mission-led.

“This is the spirt of the APPG for Longevity which has become like an incubator of ideas to drive our goal, which is in the UK Government manifesto, of an extra five years of healthy life expectancy while minimising health inequalities by 2035. In an odd sort of way, COVID is compelling us to do things more quickly – it’s been such a catalyst for change and hopefully it will compel us into real action. It’s all up to us, every one of us, to do it.”

Woods is acutely aware that prevention isn’t just better than cure, it is the cure for aging, but most people still have no understanding what this means for them personally, at an individual level.

“This is where knowledge and access to information is key,” Woods explained. “The reason for writing the book is to spread the word to everyone, to tell them what is in their power to change in their lives – individually, their families, communities and ultimately the planet through collective action and system change.”

“The whole AI and personalised health field is so interesting, with developments progressing at a mind-boggling rate,” she told us. “People won’t necessarily change their behaviour unless they can really see the benefit for them personally and individually, and making it easy and cheap. Telling people to drink less alcohol and eat better food is all well and good, but especially tough for people on low incomes, especially when junk food is cheaper than healthy food and when alcohol might numb feelings of despair and a loss of hope. As I said earlier, vested interests need to change and we need to explore making healthy longevity choices – healthy eating, taking exercise – cheaper and easier. Business, academia and government have their roles to play in this.

“Science is only just really starting to understand how our bodies respond at a physiological and genetic level to lifestyle and the wider environment – the concept of the ‘exposome’ which I talk about in my book. Everything in the wider environment impacts on our Longevity: pollutants, green spaces, what we eat, how we exercise, stress levels, sleep… The more that we can equip people to understand that and give them the tools to take control, the more people can live a longer life and live a better quality of life.

“Longevity used to be snake oil and billionaires wanting to live forever, but now science is actually unravelling how the aging process works.”

“Healthspan extension is an enormous area – Longevity used to be snake oil and billionaires wanting to live forever, but now science is actually unravelling how the aging process works. Understanding the whole physiology of aging and what keep us in good health means people can access extended healthspan, on their terms.”

However, the increase in the understanding means the need to separate the wheat from the chaff has also increased.

“The health tech space is bursting with innovation,” Woods explains. “The Longevity field is enormous, complex and swamped with information – not all of it well researched nor credibly applied. In an age of so much fake news and misinformation, there is a real need to sift through all the innovations and research with a robust lens and pull out the nuggets that are likely to have the greatest positive impact on people.

“People are wasting buying supplements ‘for eternal youth’ which simply do not work. The supplements industry is worth billions but needs evidence and data to show what works. This is just one of the reasons why research into aging biomarkers, accelerated through AI, is so important; these will tell us what works, what doesn’t, and how in combination they can furnish the insights for us to follow personalised strategies while fuelling critical research too. This is especially in key the area of dementia, which is the disease that most people fear the most.”

Woods explains that the Longevity focus is increasingly on compressed morbidity.
“We need to minimise the time between when we start to get ill and death, she says. “Research into supercentenarians demonstrates they tend to have that trajectory – they’re very healthy right until the end and suddenly they just drop dead.”

COVID-19 has had an enormous impact globally, but Woods is looking for silver linings.
“The solution for this pandemic is to rebuild our health and economic resilience, but fundamentally it’s about delivering better health for all, and closing the gap in health inequalities” she explains.

“COVID research is highlighting the important role of inflammaging and imunosenescence in your risk of suffering and dying from the virus; the sheer incredible scientific collaboration that we’ve seen is exactly what’s needed. But digital exclusion is actually one of the biggest risks of COVID as well, so we need to make sure that we don’t create a bigger divide between the haves and the have nots in accessing health which will increasingly move online and with the devices that more and more of are using, like the Smart Watch.”

My focal point is the whole way that we think about Longevity and growing older needs to be seen through a much more optimistic and positive lens,” Woods finishes. “Health improvement is at the core of how we’re going to get out of this mess; we’ll have a much higher quality of life result for far more people, but in order to achieve this, we need to dismantle a lot of the organisational and cultural inertia that prevents change, as well as performance systems measuring societal progress solely in monetary terms.”

Woods is confident we can have both social progress and commercial returns, concluding: “Increasingly, the enlightened, creative organisations who walk the walk here will succeed, and more people will benefit from the Longevity dividend.”