Why now is a better time than ever to be aging

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(MoneyWatch) Baby boomers face significant retirement challenges: lingering financial woes from the housing crash, ongoing volatility in capital markets, inadequate financial resources for most older workers, the decline of traditional retirement plans, and stress on Social Security and Medicare, to name just a few. Yet despite these challenges, it's a good time to be aging.

For starters, consider the tremendous cultural achievement our society has achieved in little more than a century. At the beginning of the 1900s, life expectancy in the U.S. was in the high 40s or low 50s. Now it's in the high 70s or low 80s. So if you're now in your 50s or beyond, you're much more likely to be on this side of the ground compared to 100 years ago. And if you've made it to your 60s, there's a very good chance you'll live to your mid 80s; again, a rarity a century ago.

There's plenty of scientific and medical research that shows us what we can do to improve our health and live to a ripe old age. Many long-term studies have been completed in recent years that demonstrate the significant health benefits of exercise, proper nutrition and a robust social life. And there are plenty of well-written books out there that explain the research. Here are my favorites:

There are also many robust, efficient financial products and services available, such as 401(k) plans and low-cost mutual funds. Online retirement planners are available for no charge; a few of my favorites are Fidelity's Retirement Income Planner and Choose to Save's Ballpark E$timate. And it's much easier to shop for the best products, with such websites as Morningstar for mutual funds, Income Solutions for immediate annuities and eHealthInsurance for health insurance.

Social Security and Medicare have proven to be effective safety net programs that have significantly reduced poverty among the elderly. These programs weren't available 100 years ago. And we have excellent books to explain these valuable programs to us, including:

The latest insights in investing have taught us that it doesn't need to be complicated. Investing in low-cost index funds and periodically re-balancing your portfolio to your target asset allocation has been shown by my fellow CBS MoneyWatch bloggers Allan Roth and Larry Swedroe to be the most effective investing strategy over the long run.

In addition, social research has shown what makes us happy and gives us meaning, particularly in our later years. These findings are explained in such popular books as:

There are also plenty of robust nonprofit organizations available that advocate for seniors and provide helpful resources, including AARP and Local Area Agencies on Aging. And all of these resources are at our fingertips because of the Internet.

Few of the above resources were available to our parents' generation, and none were available to our grandparents, so we've got a tremendous head start. It's just up to us to make the best of what we've got. What are you waiting for?

  • Steve Vernon On Twitter»

    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. 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's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and 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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