Living to 100: The four keys to longevity

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Living to 100: The four keys to longevity” is a fascinating report issued in July 2014 by the BMO Wealth Institute. According to the study, by 2061 it is estimated that there will be more than 78,000 centenarians living in Canada, up from about 6,000 reported in the 2011 census.

If you are a baby boomer on a quest to improve your odds of living longer than previous generations, the research suggests their are four keys to unlock the door to longevity: body, mind, social and financial.

Key 1: The body

Good health is one of the basic elements to achieve long life. A program of healthy eating, exercise and stress reduction can not only reverse the aging process, it may slow down the aging process at the genetic level.

According to the BMO report, other aspects of good health should include:

  • Adequate sleep (7 to 8 hours per night, and naps as needed).
  • Regular stretching and deep breathing to keep your joints flexible and your body oxygenated.
  • Physical activity that includes both high- and low-impact exercise at least 3 times a week.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water daily.
  • Generous amounts of dark leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains in your daily diet.
  • Eliminating or reducing the amount of unhealthy fats, processed sugars and preservatives in your diet.
  • Consuming a moderate amount of alcohol (e.g., just a glass of red wine with dinner).

Key 2: The mind

Living your best life depends on a healthy brain. A recent article cited in the BMO report explores the best ways to improve your brain power for life.[1] This article reveals that functioning to our fullest capacity is directly linked to the health of our brains. The article suggests that you incorporate these four fundamental lifestyle changes to boost your brain power.

  • Cognitive training: Memory, reasoning, and speed-of processing exercises create a winning combination for cognition.
  • Aerobic exercise: People who exercise moderately to vigorously just once a week are 30 percent more likely to maintain their cognitive function than those who do not exercise at all.
  • Don’t smoke: Non-smokers are nearly twice as likely to stay sharp in old age as those who smoke.
  • Maintain social networks: People who work, volunteer and maintain close-knit human bonds are 24% more likely to preserve cognitive function in late life.

The study results revealed that loss of mental ability was the biggest concern that respondents had about living to 100 and beyond.

Key 3: Social

The popularity of personal bucket lists has ignited a passion in seniors to take up new hobbies, write their life stories, or develop new careers. Senior wanderlust knows no boundaries when it comes to fulfilling dreams after raising a family and retiring from a dedicated career.

Study results suggest there are a plethora of new activities respondents are interested in incorporating into their daily lives after retirement. Spending more time on hobbies and starting part-time jobs were both shown to be highly desirable new activities on the list for many survey respondents and this is widely seen as a positive outcome.

Researchers at the Institute of Economic Affairs in the U.K.[2] recently identified a range of substantially negative effects on health after retirement. Their study found retirement to be associated with a significant increase in clinical depression and a decline in self-assessed health. These effects were shown to grow as the number of years people spent in retirement increased.

If you’re looking to boost your level of social interaction, to supplement your income, or are seeking a productive way to fill your time, you may want to consider taking on a part-time job.

Canadians participating in the BMO survey gave the following reasons for working during retirement:

  • 52%: Keep mentally sharp.
  • 46%: To get out of the house
  • 42%: To socialize
  • 40%: To earn money to improve lifestyle
  • 35%: Need the money
  • 32%: To stay physically fit
  • 28%: To do something I like
  • 16%: To learn new skills

Key 4: Financial

Canadians clearly understand that an important component of successful longevity is having a sense of financial security. Although financial security was cited as a lower priority than maintaining a social network of family and friends for the majority of Canadians surveyed, financial security gains importance with age and as personal assets increase over a lifetime.

The BMO Survey results showed that those with the highest income levels expressed the greatest concern over their finances after retirement. The wealthiest plan to preserve their financial security by  enjoying personal pursuits, socializing, exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Overall, the majority of survey respondents anticipate the financial impact of health-care expenses to be significant as they age, even with government provided health care. In fact, the Canadians surveyed expected to spend an average of $5,391 a year on out-of-pocket medical costs after the age of 65.

Surprisingly, even with provincial health care coverage – Canadians foresee medical and health costs to be the single largest expense for old age (74%). Other significant expenses include food, clothing and day-to-day essentials (57%) and housing (56%).

Putting aside money in Tax Free Savings Accounts and purchasing Long Term care insurance are suggested ways to defray future retiree medical costs.

A final thought

The compelling findings of the BMO study speak to the need for all of us to have a better overall plan when it comes to the four key components of longevity: body, mind, social and financial.

Many challenges that may arise in our later years can be both anticipated, and properly planned for, by making smart decisions focused on the ultimate goal of successful longevity.

[1] What Is the Best Way To Improve Your Brain Power For Life? Bergland, Christoper. Psychology Today. January 21, 2014. (accessed June 2014).

[2] Work longer, live healthier, Sahlgren GH. Institute of Economic Affairs, May 2013.

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