In the last 200 years or so, the human lifespan has essentially doubled. That’s an amazing achievement.
There’s a good chance that in the next 10-20 years, we’ll begin to push the envelope on that elevated average lifespan. The massive amount of investment in longevity science and efforts to defeat the diseases of aging seem closer to paying off every year.
That means that age 50 may well be the average half way point. And it’s possible that’s true for people who are 50 right now.
Of course, lifespan alone isn’t much to get excited about if you’re physically or mentally debilitated. We want to live long, healthy lives, and that means what matters is healthspan:
Many might agree that “healthspan” can be defined as the period of one’s life that one is healthy. However, being “healthy” means different things to different people. A better definition might include being free from serious disease. A disease is considered to be serious if it is a leading cause of death.
Those leading causes of death are what billions are being spent to combat. If killers such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are eliminated or mitigated, then the average healthspan and lifespan will rise.
So right now, the average lifespan in the U.S. is around 79 years. But the current healthspan is around 63, and that doesn’t sound good to me. I’m betting you feel the same way.
We can’t predict the timetable of major medical breakthroughs. And while promising, we don’t know when longevity research into eliminating senescent cells will dramatically extend both life and healthspan.
So, we have to look out for ourselves in the meantime. As a Further reader, I’m guessing you’re likely inclined to do what needs to be done.
If you’ve been good about nutrition and working out for most of your life, keep going. But it’s not too late to start now and dramatically improve your health for the second half. While younger people will definitely benefit from an increased focus on healthspan-moderating therapies in the long run, we’re the ones who will be the first to see immediate outcomes.
Plus, taking care of yourself makes you optimistic that you’ll live longer and healthier, and leads to positive feelings about aging. Not only do optimists live longer, having a positive outlook on aging seems to play a role in actually living a longer, healthier life!
And finally, you have to have a reason to live. In other words, a sense of purpose that keeps you doing all of the above creates a virtuous cycle of improved lifespan and healthspan.
It may seem strange that having a reason to live is what keeps us living. The Japanese concept of Ikigai recognizes this essential drive, and it may not be a coincidence that people in Japan tend to live longer lives than most.
Which brings us back to the eternal question first posed to us at the beginning of a Twisted Sister video:
What do you want to do with your life?
Living longer, healthier lives means we’ll need to work longer. We’ll have multistage careers. And we’ll need to make meaning and purpose our guide to even want to keep going.
In essence, this is what Further is all about. We’ve been touching on all the related issues that come with redefining what getting older means, but of course they’re scattered all over the archives.
I’m working on combining updated versions of what we’ve covered over the years into a free ebook. It’ll be the foundational base that will take us forward as Generation X-tended.
For now, here’s some other good stuff to keep you going:
Big Brain Benefit
Meditation has almost too many benefits to list. New research now finds that spiritual fitness, a new concept in medicine that centers on psychological and spiritual wellbeing using a simple 12-minute meditative practice, may reduce multiple risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.
Everyone is talking about disengaging from technology: limiting screen time, deleting apps, and taking breaks from social media. But what if we approached these issues in a different way, thinking about how to create well-being while using technology?
Generalized financial advice and rules of thumb aren’t good enough. Your planning should include personal, existing wealth, family, and money experience dimensions. In other words, your wealth plan is one that is suitable only for you.
To eat well, do you have to obsess constantly about your food? When you make the program or plan that you’re following a big deal, it becomes THE THING you’re doing. And that sets you up to fail.
Does confronting death help you live an exceptional life? Trudi makes the case that it does below.
And in the Flashback, a song from 1985 by a balding English guy that sounds a whole lot like Prince’s 1999. Plus, it was a “personal favorite” of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
P.S. New to Further? Join us here.
Why Death is the Key to Your Best Life
By Trudi Roth
A couple of weeks ago, my family and I did something I’d been actively anticipating and also dreading: we helped our 14-year-old dog, Ginger Peaches, drop her body.
I chose those words purposefully, reflecting the Eastern bent I’ve acquired through study and practice. Also, putting any creature “down” sounds insulting.
As imagined, letting go of the live-action growth chart that aged along with my children from the time they were puppies was brutally hard. But there were also incredible moments of grace, thanks to some work I did to prepare to face the inevitable.
Death isn’t the bane of midlife existence. It’s actually the greatest teacher.
Don’t Fear the Reaper
Reflecting on mortality and using it to infuse life with meaning and purpose is a practice for the ages. The Stoics used Memento Mori (“remember you must die”), early Buddhists spoke of maraṇasati (“remember death”), while ancient Sufis hung out in graveyards and Mexicans continue to celebrate The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos).
According to Vedanta, there are three operator functions: creation (Brahma), maintenance (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva). The cycle between the three is continual and inescapable. To avoid suffering and live life fully, you must release your fear of the ultimate unknown — death.
Perhaps easier said than done, especially for modern Westerners. But thinking about death helps us more fully live.
A Good Death
In today’s world, mortality is a tricky subject. Esther Perel, an expert in frank discussions of taboo topics, urges us to invite openness and innovation into the conversation about grief and loss.
“Talking about death is talking about life — hopes, fears, uncertainty, imagination, legacy, connection, responsibility, love.”
With the help of Nurture.co, Perel initiated a conversation during the pandemic with her sons about her spouse’s and her wishes for end-of-life. She found proactive organization as calming and life-affirming, particularly in a chaotic time.
Similarly, I took great comfort reading Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande. His ruminations on what modern medicine misses about the realities of aging and death helped me face the impending loss of not just my pet, but also my parents.
As Perel points out and Gawande’s experience verifies, not being dead is not the same as being alive.
One of the things I worried about most was how I would know it was Ginger’s time. My friends assured me I’d just know, and it was true: her body gave out. Until that time, she was able to do pretty much everything she loved (including eating a steak for breakfast on that final day).
Holding Ginger as the vet euthanized her, I felt the unmistakable presence of joy and appreciation beneath my sadness. For love deeply felt and a life well-lived to the very end.
Dying like a dog, as it turns out, can be a beautiful thing.
What Death Can Teach Us About Life (Esther Perel)
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Amazon Associates)
Phil Collins – Sussudio
No Jacket Required, 1985
Sussudio was another number one hit in an impressive 80s’ run by Phil Collins. Not everyone enjoyed the song, though, with one critic calling it a “vapid funk workout.” I’ve always liked it, because a Prince knock-off is still better than most songs. (YouTube)
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