A Different Look at Life Expectancy

One of the key assumptions in any financial plan is life expectancy. We are all living longer. Some studies have shown that if a married couple both reach their 65th birthdays, there is a 15% chance one of them will celebrate their 100th.

life expectancy - a different lookTo some people, living to 100 sounds a bit scary. They imagine a not-so-great quality of life at that age. Several say bluntly, “I don’t want to live that long.” In one respect, that’s an understandable response. There aren’t a lot of communities reaching out to the elderly, supporting them with social activities, easing the navigation of the health care system, or just plain caring about who they are and where they’ve come from.

The follow-on question then becomes, “And what will my health be like?” The good news is that modern medicine has expanded our life expectancy by preventing a lot of the ailments that take lives too soon. Sometimes the not-so-good news is that we then have more years to manage a slow decline.

What factors determine whether we live, not just a long life, but a long vibrant one?​

I recently discovered a new app and research that is helping to answer that question –Blue Zones. The twist to Blue Zones’ life expectancy calculator is that you get, not one, but three life expectancies –

1) Your “healthy” (without chronic conditions) life expectancy;

2) Your actual life expectancy; and

3) Your potential (if you follow their suggestions) life expectancy.

The difference between 1) and 2) is the length of time you can expect to live with some sort of chronic condition like cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

The recommendations are based on research by the author, Dan Buettner, who spent years finding the common threads among societies where people live very long, vibrant lives.

In my own case, the difference between 1) and 2) was 10 years. Translation: Even though my life expectancy is 91, for the last 10 years of my life, I am likely to have a chronic condition to manage. Yikes. I don’t like that answer at all; so I feel motivated to implement Blue Zones’ tips about my diet, social life, stress management, spirituality, and exercise. None of them are new ideas; I just didn’t realize their impact until I used this app.

Those last 10 years, played right, have the potential to be some of the most fulfilling. Due to the Baby Boomer generation’s size, and their tendency to reinvent every age-decade they enter, I am optimistic our society will begin to embrace the contributions of the elderly, to support aging, and dignify the end of life. Rather than dreaded in financial planning discussions, long life will be something to welcome and embrace.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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