Making the Most of a Longer Life

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Making the Most of a Longer Life

As human beings live longer, poor health and poor choices can rob them of an otherwise rewarding later life.  Worse yet, dementia, depression, and other conditions that are common in old age can make these people a burden to their families and communities. 

But fortunately, new research is showing that making the right personal decisions, coupled with emerging new therapies, can dramatically improve the outlook for living a healthy life at an advanced age.  Making the right public policy decisions can help maximize access to relevant therapies and systematically encourage better personal decisions. 

For example, a recent article in the journal Nature1 shows that people in developed nations are living as much as 10 years longer than their parents did.  This is not because of some scientific advance that reverses aging.  It's because they reach old age in better health.  The aging process still happens, and once it starts, it still lasts the same length of time as it always did.  But the beginning of the aging process has been postponed.

This points to a key finding:  Improvements in living conditions, disease prevention, medical intervention, and lifestyle can all extend life.  In the nations with the greatest longevity, the average lifespan has grown by an astonishing 2.5 years per decade, or six hours a day, during the last 170 years.  It is now possible that most children who were born after the year 2000 will live to see 100. 

This has numerous implications.  For example, does it make sense to cram an entire education into the first 20 years or so of life and postpone childbearing for more education or advancement at work?  Does starting a leisure retirement at 65, or even earlier, make sense if you're still going to be in good shape at the age of 90? 

These are all issues that will need to be considered, but in the meantime, what can you learn about extending your own lifespan and staying healthy?  Recent research reveals some surprising answers: 

For example, the Journal of Happiness Studies2 reports that simply being married and having children is one important key to happiness.  And, the American Journal of Health Promotion3reported recently that, all else being equal, being happy and satisfied with your life makes you healthier, regardless of other factors, such as exercise, age, and even smoking and drinking. 

The journal Psychological Science

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