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Health Care
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By Chase Squires / Apr 4, 2016

American Habits at Odds with Healthy Longevity

people walking - longevity

While advances in nutrition, workplace safety, and medicine have been increasing the odds that you will live a long, healthy retirement, Americans may be actively engaged in cutting their own lives shorter, a recent study finds.

You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Retirement is in sight, a lifetime of retirement savings are in place. You want to enjoy the next chapter of life.

But without a focus on health at every stage, the growth of American life spans could grind to a halt. In fact, today’s youth may be among the first generations to see health decline and life expectancies drop, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Transamerica recognizes the importance of healthy aging and has made a long-term commitment to supporting the Stanford research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab.

The Stanford Center’s new study, “Optimizing Health in Aging Societies,” spotlights breathtaking gains in health and longevity over the past century. Sickness is down and long life is the norm, not the exception. But those gains are at risk without attention to the effects of today’s sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.

Alerting the public isn’t enough, according to the study, authored by Laura L. Carstensen, Ph.D., Mary E. Rosenberger, Ph.D., Ken Smith, M.S., and Sepideh Modrek, Ph.D.

“All told, nearly 30 years were added to the average life expectancy in a single century. Increases continue today, with 3 months added to life expectancy at 65 every year,” the study reports. “We have every reason to celebrate these historical accomplishments, yet in critical areas, our successes have led to unintended consequences.”

While more Americans are living long enough to suffer from common infirmities of old age—Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease—one of the biggest killers, obesity, gets its start in childhood and progresses through middle age. Give in to those extra helpings and unhealthy temptations as you near retirement, and you could be risking years of healthy retirement living and time with loved ones while surrendering retirement savings to unexpected medical expenses.

“The bottom line is that we need to change the way we live,” the study reports.

The fix may well be a lifelong effort to modify behavior at every age, starting with childhood lessons on nutrition and exercise. Incorporating technology can help, including health monitoring through our smartphones and “wearables,” the study finds. And while the focus in the past has been on individual responsibility, the way forward may lie in population-wide strategies to improve health and fitness.

“The near doubling of life expectancy is among the greatest achievements in history,” the study concludes. “If we are to fully realize the gift of longer life, we need a population that is actively engaged with families, work places, and neighborhoods throughout their lives. The sobering news at this point in history is that gains to fitness have not only ceased, they are reversing.”

The full study is available for download at the Stanford Center on Longevity’s website.


Transamerica is not affiliated with the Stanford Center on Longevity nor the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab.