With all the advancements in genetic research and the successful sequencing of the genome, some scientists are predicting that we will be living much, much longer in the not so distant future. Aubrey de Grey claims that old age is a disease and it is curable. He suggests humans will live to 1000 years old. Barry Schuler says, “If you can stay healthy for 20 years, you will see 150, maybe 300.” Dean Ornish says that research shows that healthy living affects us on a genetic level.
You can watch their TED Talks videos with these links:
I am not a scientist, however even if these videos are only partially accurate there will be huge ramifications for everything we know about life. If you have trouble believing these scientists, Aubrey de Grey challenges you by saying, “I’ve published a great deal on this… If you think I am wrong, you’d better damn well go and find out why I am wrong.” I am sure their research is readily discoverable. Please check the veracity of their findings, but to paraphrase Bill Gates, “we tend to over-estimate what can be accomplished in one year and underestimate what can be accomplished in ten.” Certainly in twenty years, health care and genetics will be in a sufficiently advanced state to continue the increase in average life spans.
In 1935 when the Social Security Act was implemented in the United States, average life expectancy was 59 years old. Introducing pensions to those over 65 years old seemed like a good idea because most people would die before they ever received any money. Now people are living to 78 on average in the US and even longer in other countries. There are people collecting pensions for more years than they worked.
That is significant for a couple of reasons. First, life expectancies increased by 19 years over a 75 year period. De Grey says, “Life spans have been growing at one or two years per decade. “Most of that increase is from advancements in medical care and overall quality of life. We are living longer and will continue to live longer just by living healthy and from the discovery of more cures for diseases. Just look at the advancements in cancer treatments, a majority of cancer patients can expect to live a long life.
Secondly, increasing life expectancies are putting enormous strain on social welfare systems around the world. In simple terms, more old people and less younger workers paying taxes mean an inevitable bankrupting of pension systems. Governments just can’t afford to have people retiring at 65 anymore. Given the metrics used to calculate the optimum pension age in 1935, we should all be working to more than 85 years old. It is only a matter of time before governments around the world begin to gradually and continually raise retirement ages.
Lifestyle Design Implications
I am introducing this scientific research in the context of lifestyle design: our lives will be drastically altered over the coming decades. In a previous post, I wrote about how old age is the only real barrier to living the life we want. We will all get older, weaker, sicker and eventually die. The time to live your dreams is now. However, scientific advances might put an end to that argument.
As I approach 40 years old, I can clearly see and feel the aging on my body. In my twenties, old age was something for old people. It was impossible for me to imagine that I would ever be part of that older group. Well here I am. High school is now more than two decades in the past and I know that I don’t have the physical stamina of previous years. But what if the claims of Barry Schuler and other geneticists are correct? What if I am going to live to 100 or more?
60 is the new 40
Perhaps when I am in my eighties I will have a quality of life of people currently in their sixties. If you are in your twenties, and you believe these claims, your sixties will be like the forties of people now. You will feel and live like I do now. That also means you may be productively engaged in work until you are more than 100 years old.
What will that mean for society as a whole?
If you are working until 100 years old, then it is not unreasonable for 70-year-olds to begin a new career. They could still have thirty plus productive years ahead of them so going back to school, starting a new business or changing careers would still be a sound personal development investment.
Personally, I believe that I will be working as I am now well into my eighties. I love researching, writing and growing businesses. I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop. The only real barrier to me now is old age, but even that is disappearing. I have retired uncles, one in his sixties going back to work because he is bored. Another is in his seventies and he spends half the year hiking around Asia. My grandmother is 88 and she lives alone planting and working in a huge garden every year. Even now old age is not much of a barrier if you live a healthy and active life. What will happen in the next twenty years when genetic science offers effective therapies to combat aging? If you don’t think it is probable consider that animals have been cloned, commercial space travel is here and I have 10,000 songs on my iPod. If humans can do those things, I believe anything is possible.
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I moved to Japan more than 12 years ago, my wife and I have a one year plan to change our careers and move to a new country once again. If you are interested in hearing more about our progress and reading interviews with real people mastering the art of life, please subscribe to my RSS feed and follow me on Twitter.