Where 76 is the New 65

Six graphics show how dramatically the world is aging, and which countries are aging healthier.

By 2050, the percentage of the elderly is expected to double globally compared to today, as people live longer and an ever-higher percentage of the population is beyond their retirement years, according to the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, conventional measures of longevity don’t reflect the quality of extended time on this Earth.

A new study took a sideways look at aging, health and mortality by analyzing at what age people in a country actually feel like 65-year-olds, as defined by experiencing the health problems of the average 65-year old globally.

The study considered 92 diseases and conditions in 195 countries and territories. The results are a window into both longevity and health status, revealing how well people age, or how poorly, the researchers report this month in the journal Lancet Public Health.

The findings “show that increased life expectancy at older ages can either be an opportunity or a threat to the overall welfare of populations, depending on the aging-related health problems the population experiences regardless of chronological age.” said Dr. Angela Y. Chang, lead author of the study from the Center for Health Trends and Forecasts at the University of Washington.

“Age-related health problems can lead to early retirement, a smaller workforce, and higher health spending,” Chang said. “Government leaders and other stakeholders influencing health systems need to consider when people begin suffering the negative effects of aging.”

Growing Old: The Numbers

Globally, life expectancy at birth, measured from 2005 to 2015, rose from 65 years for men and 69 years for women to 69 years for men and 73 years for women, according to the United Nations.

Interestingly, while gains in life expectancy have leveled off in recent years in the United States, improvements over the past couple decades have been greatest in Africa. Yet there remain significant regional differences.

In the future, there will be a lot more elderly people:

The change will be particularly dramatic among the oldest people on the planet:

But as people live longer, life isn’t always a bowl of cherries. Living longer and healthier is the trick. Barring breakthroughs in healthcare, more old people could mean more mental illness and more physical ails, putting tremendous strain on society and its systems.

Other than picking good genes, how can you up the odds of living longer and healthier (and maybe, just maybe, being happier)?

The evidence is clear, and you likely didn’t hear it here first: Eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly, stimulate your mind with engaging, challenging activities and, importantly—especially as you get older: Avoid loneliness by making and keeping a strong circle of friends. It’s either that or move to Japan.

Independent health and science journalist, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, writing about how we age and how to optimize your mind and body through time.

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