The Longevity Revolution: How Old Are We, Really?

betty white

Life expectancy is increasing, as is quality of life for many people. So, how old are we, really?

The youthful glimmer in Betty White’s eyes speaks volumes. Although the 90-year-old’s body may be winding itself down, she’s still highly active and engaged in living. There’s no question that age is better measured as a state of mind than what shape the body’s in. Still, we are bound to these bodies, which are highly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. When taken care of, they can be more resilient to illness and disease, maintaining a youthful appearance and vigor up until the very end. Modern science, for all its chemical “cures,” has significantly helped to thwart diseases and preventable deaths with valuable advancements in internal medicine, surgery and early disease detection.

We can—and are—living longer. Still, stigmas exist about benchmark ages. Many people still aim to retire at 65 when they may have 30 or 40 good years left. Will this change? Are Ms. White and other youthful seniors examples of aging redefined?

Jodi Sawyer, RN says, at least for women, 40 really is the new 30 (phew!). “Women in their 40s are looking and feeling better than ever! Life no longer starts going downhill the second we hit that magic number.” While women may be more susceptible to aging stereotypes, we do also seem to be aging slower. Many women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are still the epitome of glamor, sexiness and health, even if they still dye their hair and wear push-up bras…after all, there are lots of ladies in their 20s who do this anyway.

Boomer and aging expert Dr. Ken Dychtwald calls this the “Longevity Revolution,” which, he says, may have a greater influence on humanity than both the industrial and technological revolutions combined. That’s a pretty big statement, but it also feels really right. Never before in recorded history have we lived this long. While 100 years ago, women weren’t expected to live much past age 40, now many are just beginning to start families at that age. We’ve got marathon runners gleefully sprinting across the finish line in their 80s and 90s. Dustin Hoffman just made his directorial debut at age 75. Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen perform stage antics in their 60s that many limber 20-year-olds aren’t likely to try anytime soon. While industry and technology have given us great tools for life–longer, more fulfilling lives are dictating what we do with them.

Take a stroll into decades past (I do this regularly by watching Turner Classic Movies until my boyfriend finally hides the remote) and you’ll notice that many of the actresses and actors look decades older than their actual age—at least, by our standards. A 40-year-old Humphrey Bogart could pass for 60, or even 70 today. Granted, there was a lot more cigarette smoking (particularly for Bogey) and quite a few other less-than-healthy habits back then; but it’s not just today’s health food freaks who look and feel younger.

If 40 really is the new 30, what does 70 or 100 look like? With longer lifetimes becoming the new normal, have you asked yourself what you might do with all that “extra” time? How old do you really feel? These are important questions to ask ourselves so that we’re not only prepared for the likelihood of longer lives, but so that we may live them to the fullest.

According to Dychtwald, our longer life spans will provide “time to chart a new course.” These are comforting and inspiring words as we can begin to reshape how we look at our “golden years”—no longer is it the beginning of the end, but, perhaps it’s just another beginning altogether. He adds, “We’ll have the time and resources to reverse past failures or build on past victories, perhaps changing careers, taking a sabbatical, or returning to school. With longer life spans, there will also be sufficient time to take a more active and contributing role in the lives of our children, grandchildren and community life.”

If we are indeed at the beginning of a longevity revolution, we’re all at a unique advantage. Unlike revolutions past, where the majority of the work was left to the few experts in the field, we all play a role in how we embrace aging and reshaping a world where “old” is no longer a measure of age.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Off Their Rockers via Facebook

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