Looking for the Longevity Pill

Last Updated Feb 19, 2010 1:18 PM EST

The cover article of this week's Time magazine is titled The Science of Living Longer, and it describes fascinating research by scientists who may someday develop the elusive, fountain-of-youth, longevity pill. For most of us, the operative word here is "someday" because most likely it will take decades to develop, if ever, and it'll be too late for us.

The article does, however, describe a way to extend your lifespan and "healthspan" (that's the length of time that you're still vital and healthy). It's a solution that's been around a long time, has been confirmed by modern science, is quite inexpensive, and is something we can use right now. So just what is this "too good to be true" method? It's the lifestyle solution. The Time article states that for most people, 30 percent of the aging process is genetically-based, leaving 70 percent to be determined by our lifestyle choices. These lifestyle choices are easy to say, harder to do, but if you're truly motivated, these steps can help you live a longer, healthier life:
  • Eat the right amounts and kinds of food
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have a robust social life
  • Get enough sleep
  • Don't smoke or abuse alcohol
  • Have a positive outlook on life
Make the above choices, and on average, you'll add five to seven healthy years to your expected lifespan. You'll also spend a lot less money on health care bills over your lifetime--possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars less. (I'll show you why I make these statements in future blogs.) And a wonderful side effect is that you'll look and feel better now.

Yet few Americans are making these healthy lifestyle choices. In fact, many are making choices that actually reduce their lifespan and healthspan by several years, and are collectively costing our nation billions of dollars in medical and long-term care expenses.

Maybe some day scientists will develop the elusive longevity pill. If they do, it's not too hard to imagine that everybody would be clamoring for it, politicians would immediately subsidize it in Medicare at a huge cost to taxpayers, and pharmaceutical companies would be pocketing billions of dollars.

But we don't need to wait for that day; we can take action now.

So what choices are you making?

P.S. If you use the lifestyle solution, you'll need more money to fund a longer retirement (see my previous post on How Much Retirement Savings Do You Need?). That's a challenge I encourage you to take on.
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    For more than 35 years, consulting actuary Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs. Now he's a Research Scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct, and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He also delivers retirement planning workshops and has authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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