For many (albeit not all) the future of longevity is now; we are already living longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans living into their nineties is expected to quadruple by 2050. Demographers predict that as many as half of today’s 5-year-olds can expect to live to the age of 100 in the United States. A century-long life will be a reality for more and more of us, so I’d argue that anyone who equates increasing age with decreasing quality of life (and contribution!) read on and discover how to activate your potential leadership and impact. No generation before us has had the potential to experience the benefits of increased longevity, sustained vitality and the capacity to consciously curate decades of a meaningful life.
The Stanford Center for Longevity (SCL) has done extensive and exciting work in this very area. With breadth of cross-disciplinary research and ongoing data collection, SCL addresses the “how” question at the meta-level – looking globally and structurally at policy and infrastructure changes necessary to support our longer lifespans in equitable ways. SCL’s recently published The New Map of Life navigates us toward new models of all the nitty-gritty things that will need to be updated and radically shifted: education and lifelong learning; redesigning how we work; developing new policies for health care, housing, the environment, and financial security. I’m proud to support the big picture shifts that need to happen through my involvement on the SCL Advisory Council. All of us are stakeholders and leaders, from wherever we are, in the seismic shifts outlined by The New Map of Life.
Longevity is Lifespan + Healthspan
Both the New Map of Life and my formula for a life well-lived share an understanding that longevity is not simply a measure of the quantity of years or Lifespan, but it is about the quality or Healthspan of those years. A burgeoning medical specialization known as Lifestyle Medicine is “the systematic practice of assisting individuals and families in adopting and sustaining behaviors that can improve health and quality of life.” We’re all familiar with the idea of preventative care, so why is it significant that our tradition-bound medical system has developed this new area of study and practice? It’s not only because five of the seven leading causes of death in the US can be attributed to chronic, lifestyle-related conditions. Lifestyle medicine recognizes that your physical health, emotional wellbeing, and the accumulated effect of your daily lifestyle choices are inextricably linked.
Health and wellness has become a multi-trillion-dollar industry, with estimates reaching over 8 trillion in just a few years. With everything from Pelotons, FitBits, supplements, fad diets, and far too many other options to mention, embracing responsibility for your health while sifting through the massive information available can feel daunting and is often unnecessarily expensive. However, cultivating your health and wellness doesn’t require expensive participation in that behemoth industry. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Your health and wellness journey can start today, and I’m here to simplify it. In the Five to Thrive process, I unpack the building blocks that ancient traditions and modern research agree bolster your health and wellness. Take the free assessment from which you can create your own micro-ambitious plan.
Purpose and Love Ground and Propel Us
As our recent Facebook quiz taught us, what makes a 100-year life worth living is when it is imbued with an ability to remain independent, with a sense of community, meaning, purpose and joy. To me, the discussion of longevity boils down to this: a life well-lived is not only measured by the number of healthy years you live but by whether or not you thrived in those years. And as social scientists from Victor Frankl to Brene Brown have proven time and again, without a sense of purpose and a capacity to love and be loved, we fail to thrive as humans.
Purpose and the deeply catalyzing force of love ground and propel every single one of us. Purpose, love and connection are central to my work as a leadership coach and a consistent element of what separates the good from the great. So, if we consider any formula for longevity seriously, a sense of purpose and love that bring meaning to this thing called life are required ingredients. You can cheat on a diet, you can get away (for a while at least) without daily exercise, but you can’t shortchange your spiritual and emotional health for long without serious consequences.
Resilience is the Bounce-Back Factor
Resilience is the bounce-back factor, the capacity to prevail in the face of stressors outside your control. Resilience means aiming for a sense of realistic, holistic alignment that is not contingent on your body being perfect or pain-free, unmarred by time, but extends beyond the physical and mental, and into spiritual wellbeing as well. It’s so challenging to cultivate resilience in light of the diet of success stories and routes to that success which we’ve been fed since our childhood. It goes like this: study hard, work harder, make the right connections, prove yourself, do it again. The underlying expectation has been that this recipe will cook up a smoothie of success for life. Yet, life is not a linear path towards ever-ascending destinations. It’s a journey that unavoidably hits detours through mountains and valleys. Those of us who understand and regularly practice strengthening our physical and psychological resilience are those with the right ingredients for a life well-lived. So yes, if we’re talking about living toward 100, resilience will be required. Lots of it!
So, what will you do with your one wild and precious, potentially 100-year life?
I love the way the Stanford Center for Longevity frames aging as “a longevity buffet with servings of time.” This begs for the question: what are you hungry for? Ignore the ageist memes and other cultural tropes that result in our missing out on the wisdom of our elders and suffering for that loss. You are needed now, perhaps more than ever. What the world needs now is not only love, sweet love, but wisdom, courage, experience, and a spirit of wanting to do the right thing for the sake of simply doing the right thing.