Broker Check

Living A Long Life

April 30, 2024

As Financial Advisors, we're expected to help people plan for and live a successful retirement. Generally, people think that means having enough money to do the things they really want to do once retired, without the fear of running out of money. However, having enough money in retirement is always a question of how much spending takes place and the number the years that spending is going to be needed for. We can't always control how much spending may be needed in retirement which is why Advisors will usually plan for contingencies, like long term care expenses, when assessing how likely a client is to have enough money to last for their lifetime.

What about the other side of the equation, how long a person may live to? Advisors rarely talk about this and if we do so, it usually is couched in terms of "let's just pick an age that you'll live to" as part of a financial plan's euphemistically titled "end date". There's a lot more value that we, as Advisors, can bring to this discussion if we want to and in this blog I'd like to touch on some recent findings that can help with this discussion.

Jayne Burns, a vibrant 101 years old, still works part-time and drives to a job she has enjoyed for the last 25 years; a sales associate at a Joann fabric store in Mason, Ohio. She says" “You’ve got to keep moving and not sit around the house all day” as her secret to longevity. Jayne exemplifies what is being recognized as a key element of living a long life; stay active and continue to do something that you enjoy and which provides value to you and others.

The media is filled with stories of famously successful people who retire, only to find their lifespan unexpectedly cut short by a sudden, unpredicted health tragedy. Statistically, a man who retires at age 65 can expect to live another 13.5 years, but this is just an average. The actual age that any one individual will live to is dictated by such factors as genes, exercise, diet, and social connections.

In his book "The Blue Zones", author Dan Buettner examined the characteristics of famously long-lived societies around the world. Buettner travelled to Costa Rica, Sardinia, Okinawa and other locales where people are renown for living to 100 and beyond. He found that while each society displayed a wide array of social and dietary norms, such as indulging in or abstaining from alcohol or marital infidelity, there were generally two things in common among all these communities. One was that the aged stayed active, often working hours each day doing manual labor of some sort and walking miles as part of their chores. The other key finding was that in all these long-lived societies, the aged filled a vital role in their communities. Unlike the norm in North America where we often relocate our elders to a "retirement home" or some other facility, the Blue Zones displayed an appreciation and even a reverence for the experience and wisdom accumulated by their aged.

The role that social factors play in our being able to age successfully is often unappreciated or goes unrecognized entirely. British scientist and author of the book “Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old,” told USA Today that "how long people live is about 20% down to their genetics and 80% down to lifestyle and luck". Of course, if we're unlucky enough to be hit by the proverbial bus, that would be an exceedingly unlucky event, but what about lifestyle?

Jayne says she still lives with her daughter and exercises regularly. Mirroring Buettner's findings in Blue Zones, she eats pretty much whatever she wants to, including sweets, and drank socially for years. She has had her health challenges and is a cancer survivor, having had surgery to remove part of her colon years ago. One of the factors helping Jayne cope with the health challenges that inevitably come with aging is her positive, optimistic outlook: “I really don’t notice that I’m any older...I just can’t get around as much.” 

The role that attitude plays on the aging process is, itself, a nascent science that is barely understood at this point. Deepak Chopra, in his book "Ageless Body Timeless Mind" states: "...human aging is fluid and changeable; it can speed up, slow down, stop for a time, and even reverse itself. Hundreds of research findings from the last three decades have verified that aging is much more dependent on the individual than was ever dreamed of in the past."  Thomas T. Perls and Margery Hutter Silver, in their book "Living to 100", agree with Dr. Chopra's conclusion about the role of attitude on aging. In describing those who manage to hold onto their faculties better than their peers, they state " They have a fighting spirit. They take extraordinary measures to maintain their physical strength and thinking ability. They refuse to see age as a limitation on their enjoyment of life".

Perhaps you or a loved one are dealing with health challenges or other challenges associated with aging. The research continues to show that these challenges need not be the rapid decline and pre-determined "expiration date" we've all been led to believe. There is much we all can do to improve both the outcome of the aging process and the quality of life we live along the way. Much of this will depend on the choices we make when confronted with the journey into retirement and beyond. Most importantly, stay active, do what you love to do and stay engaged. In that respect, Jayne sums it up nicely: "“I just like working and I like working with people.”

If you or someone you know would like to estimate your lifespan go to:

Rich Jacobson, CFP