You hear a lot about how important retirement savings are, especially as Americans are living longer – and adding more years in retirement.
But while advances in nutrition, workplace safety, and medicine have been increasing the odds you will live a long, healthy retirement, Americans may be actively engaged in cutting their own lives shorter, according to a recent Stanford study.
Without a focus on health at every stage, the continued extension 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 researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity.
The Stanford Center’s study, “Optimizing Health in Aging Societies,” published in “Public Policy & Aging Report,” 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.
“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.”
Dangers of obesity
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 and you could be risking years of healthy retirement living and time with loved ones while surrendering retirement savings to unexpected medical expenses. The study reports:
- Life expectancy for the average American could decline by as much as five years unless aggressive efforts are made to slow rising rates of obesity.
- The consequences of obesity are sufficiently serious that in 2013, the American Medical Association classified it as a disease in its own right.
- Obesity is associated with a 40% increase in duration of disability and thousands of dollars in increased health care costs.
“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. “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.
Have you made it a point to squeeze some healthier habits into your day? We know it’s not easy, so we’d love to hear how you did it.
Transamerica is not affiliated with the Stanford Center on Longevity or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab.
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