Veteran entertainer George Burns died in 1996, just weeks after his 100th birthday.
Carlos SCHIEBECK / AFP
Tonight Show host Johnny Carson once asked his 99-year-old guest, comedian and cigar aficionado George Burns, “Who would want to live to be 100?” Without missing a beat, the nonagenarian about to become a centenarian replied, “Someone who is 99!” The live studio audience erupted in laughter.Burns famously smoked cigars and shined a spotlight on the mystery of aging, that there is no magic pill or prescriptive lifestyle that guarantees longevity. There are many paths to 100. In fact, the over-100 market is the fastest-growing segment of the population. There are more seniors today than children, more people over 65 than under 15 years of age, and the business community is paying attention. The elderhood market is known as the silver economy and will have a dramatic impact on society, with tremendous business opportunities that emerge from this burgeoning demographic that is already changing purchasing trends, influencing the marketplace in previously unpredicted ways.The holy grail of the silver economy is the fountain of youth, spurring the growth of the science and business of longevity. This emerging market is a convergence of new developments in gerontologic life sciences, biotechnology, financial services and policy makers. The biology of aging space is peppered with scientists, thought leaders, innovators and disruptors who are accelerating research and development of new therapies for age-related diseases that stretch out the health span and human lifespan.The longevity movement brings with it both grand challenges and opportunities — from eliminating diseases associated with aging, and perhaps eradicating aging itself, to rethinking the future of care, reinventing retirement living, reassessing risk and longevity in the financial services industry, and the emerging commercial and business models that will lead to the shared benefits across society for this new age.Anti-aging therapeutics target the unsolved mysteries of human aging, researching multiple hypotheses to discover genetic biomarkers, cellular immortality with regenerative capacity, nutrition-related therapies that increase the lifespan toward the target of 100 and beyond. The longevity industry will grow at an exponential rate advancing biomedicine and preventative medicine generally.While we wait for a scientific discovery of a therapeutic solution that solves the pursuit of the fountain of youth, there is much that individuals can do to increase the possibilities of living a long and healthy life. The good news is that much is known today about healthy aging, to advance life expectancy toward the century gatepost while reaching the elusive milestone with a stronger sense of vitality.To realize an outlook of successful aging, reimagining what life might look at 100 is needed to consider changes to how we approach a new futuristic lifespan perspective in health, work-life balance, finance, relationships and rethinking aging.The traditional narrative of a three-stage linear life path of childhood years dominated with education, adulthood focused on work and family and elderhood motivated by retirement and withdrawal. A more circular life model creates options where gap years are not only taken post-high school, new skills and knowledge open up new options and possibilities such as living in different countries and exploring a variety of careers and callings.Taking personal responsibility for preventative measures appear to be key predictors of an extended lifespan. Diet and exercise and other health goals such as regular health monitoring proactively may delay or prevent the onset of age-related health conditions.Exploring passions through all stages of life and finding time to pursue unique experiences is important to increasing vitality and energy at any age. Engaging meaningfully with friends and family and connecting with more than one community through volunteering or hobbies and passions helps build bridges that strengthen resilience and guards against social isolation and loneliness.Proactively planning for financial health is needed as financial assets could need to last more than four decades of retirement. Relying on family inheritance or pensions plans may not be guarantees in the future and those who prepared for their own financial future will have more choices in how they spend their time throughout life.A diverse network of friends helps with a more positive outlook gained from the supportive relationships through the realities of aging. Professional groups assist in networking, finding role models, mentoring relationships and career opportunities across the life course.The traditional view of aging as something to fear is being overtaken with a new reality of opportunities. The aging phenomenon is a potential with possibilities, full of wisdom, emotional stability, passion and validation. With a strong sense of personal responsibility, elderhood can be a meaningful stage of life as consumers co-create their own lifestyle choices.The longevity revolution presents significant challenges and opportunities in the new economy with pension funds hedging on longer life spans and will need to forecast a more robust time horizon to continue to make payments to plan holders and beneficiaries. A growing knowledge of how such risks can be managed will be a focus along with social services organizations and government programs that support seniors for the stretched decades of living. Rethinking government policies in the way the current economics of the tax base supporting the recipients of such services will need re-imagination to continue to fund the growing costs of living longer.While healthy living lifestyles along with the longevity industry reshaping society, one thing is for certain. The longevity revolution will leave behind a lasting legacy that will be gifted to future generations who will surely live beyond the current life expectancy toward 100 and eventually stretch the life span beyond 120. The burning question to ask is: Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 164?Dan Levitt is executive-director of the assisted-living facility Tabor Village in Abbotsford, an adjunct professor of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, an adjunct professor in nursing at the University of B.C. and a board member of the Global Aging Network.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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