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Olwen Anderson's Blog

The extra life we don't have a map for

Saturday, March 24, 2018
Our grandparents and great grandparents never expected this, so they couldn’t teach us how to manage it. The challenge? How to live longer; because major epidemics aside, we’re likely to live longer than our ancestors even dreamed was possible. It’s new territory.

If you were born in 1880 life was a race to reproduce your genes before you passed away yourself at about 50. As you can imagine there was no concept of a luxuriously long retirement, where you could be kept busy babysitting the grandchildren. Just birth, work, reproduce and die, and not many holidays either.

But gradually, life span changed. If you were born in 1946 you could expect to live long enough to create a family. Not much time for retirement fun though, with a life expectancy of 66. Improvements in health care and infection control, along with improved living standards, has made all the difference. Life just keeps getting longer. 

By 2007 average life expectancy was 79 or so. The World Health Organisation now estimates that a child born in 2015 can expect to live at least 82 years; longer than our great grandparents ever thought. Long enough to produce a family and even some grandchildren, with time left over for perhaps a second career, study, or developing a sporting career if you aren’t leisurely exploring the world.

But there’s a catch. The World Health Organisation now has an extra statistic: “Healthy” life expectancy – and at present it’s about 10 years short of estimated total life expectancy. The gap exists because it’s now also possible to live a long and un-healthy life. 

Lifestyle diseases are behind the gap between healthy life expectancy and total life expectancy. (A ‘lifestyle disease’ is a degenerative problem often brought on by unhelpful living habits: think adult-onset diabetes and obesity from sugar and lack of exercise, cardiovascular disease from smoking.) 

Fortunately, though, many people are learning how to manage these bonus decades of life. They’re persisting with exercise, training their bodies, even competing in Masters Games and the like. They’re eating well, and generally caring for their bodies. They don’t want to be one of those suffering for the final 10 years of their life. 

You might have more time left than you think: how would you like to spend it? The statistics indicate that without managing these extra years effectively, those last years could be unhealthy and not much fun.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Anti-aging strategies for blokes'

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