20240108 pexels-andrea-piacquadio-3757957

Maximizing Our Healthspan


I am writing this weekly while walking on a mobile treadmill in our office. I have not been able to log many hours on the treadmill because it is in high demand. Some of my colleagues log 10,000 steps while working before the market even opens. As we start the new year and many people commit to a renewed focus on health and wellness, the importance of walking and regular movement cannot be understated as a key component to living a long and healthy life.

With the rising costs of long-term care and a progressively aging population, we are seeing a resurgence of interest in dietary and lifestyle changes that promote longevity, both in terms of lifespan and ‘healthspan’ (the number of years we live while remaining healthy). According to Genworth, 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 daily through 2030. It is estimated that seven in ten of them will require long-term care services at some point. As the need for long-term care services has increased, so has the cost of care. In their most recent survey, Genworth saw the highest year-over-year increase in home care service costs. Moreover, the cost of in-home care has increased at an average annual rate of 5.5% over the past five years.

While many Americans will need long-term care services in their lifetime, this is not the case everywhere. Researchers have identified longevity hotspots around the world called Blue Zones, where people are living longer without really trying. In his docuseries on Netflix, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner travels around the world to examine five unique Blue Zone communities. These communities include Icaria, Greece; the Ogliastra region of Sardinia in Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and Loma Linda in California.

These Blue Zone communities all have extremely high rates of nonagenarians and centenarians and many similarities in their diets, exercise habits, and social networks. Diets in Blue Zones generally have low levels of sugar and exclude processed foods and seed oils. They also have fewer calories than the standard American diet. Exercise is part of daily life in Blue Zones through walking, gardening, and daily chores. Many of the communities are tight-knit, with younger generations living with and caring for the older generations – long-term care facilities are almost non-existent. There is also an emphasis on religion and having a life purpose, with many Blue Zones lacking a word for retirement.

Research suggests that genetics only accounts for 20-30% of longevity, so building positive habits should have a real impact on physical health and financial health. As long-term care costs continue to rise, the financial implications for individuals and families that have not adequately planned for their long-term care needs can be acute. It can be daunting to consider the options when it comes to long-term care wishes and insurance options, but there is no time like the beginning of a new year to put a plan in place to increase not only our lifespan but also our healthspan.

Meghan Pearson