By 2050, 16% of the world’s population (1,5 billion) will be older than 65 years!
This demographic has significant implications for sustainable development. In developed countries, population ageing and healthcare costs are now a national concern. In fact, for sustainable development outcomes, fostering healthy ageing and social integration of the elderly is imperative. But how?
Modern life comes with a lot of advantages. Thanks to digitalisation, we don’t have to spend hours in conferences or libraries to get the information we want. We save a lot of time ordering the perfect meal/dress/movie/ride with a swipe of our fingertips on our favorite app. We can run a six-figure business without even getting out of our apartment. If we are feeling bored, sad or lonely, there are countless high-quality movies, clips, songs and games available online, most of the time, for free.
But these luxuries come at a price. While we have better access to high-quality medical treatments, the general health of developed countries is declining. The average human body is programmed to live up to 90 years, but even though life expectancy has been increasing this last century, it has started to decline in western countries for two consecutive years (e.g. USA: 76y).
We have eradicated many transmissible diseases, but the rate of non-transmissible diseases has never been so high. Cancer, blood pressure, obesity, malnutrition, posture issues, sexual impotency, stress, eyesight problems (at a very young age), social isolation, addictions, and don’t forget depression.
All these modern diseases are caused by our lifestyle (90%). Yes, genetics may predispose you to them, but it still has a minimal impact (10%) according to Dan Buettner, founder of the “Blue Zones”.
A look at the Blue Zones – and their keys to health and longevity
Researchers have been studying the lifestyle of the inhabitants in the Blue Zones – those 5 regions in the world with the highest rate of centenaries. These include the island of Sardinia in Italy, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Ikaria, an isolated Greek island, Loma Linda in California, and Okinawa in Japan. The people living here are very healthy, and share common lifestyle traits:
1. They have a good reason to wake up in the morning
This is what Okinawans call ikigai. They may have retired and let go of their past careers, but they continue to remain involved in their community, are active, maintain relationships, and have a goal in life.
2. They do exercise
Sardinians, for instance, live in vertical houses and use the stairs regularly. They don’t have any conveniences. There is no button to push to do yard work or housework. Men reach age 100 and keep doing daily tasks with extraordinary vigor. They even continue to ride their bike to work, chop wood, etc., at 102 years!
Okinawans have also been drawing particular attention. Many are past their mid-90s and they are still working! They are still throwing their nets in the ocean to feed their children and their great grand grandchildren. And most don’t suffer any form of chronic illnesses associated with ageing.
3. They have a healthy diet
The Sardinians and Okinawans have a completely different diet. However, their diet remains both healthy (Sardinians meals are balanced and based on good ingredients) and frugal (Okinawans stop eating after they are 80 percent full and they stick with a plant-tofu based diet).
So, are a good diet and exercise the only things I need to stay healthy?
No, studies have shown that social isolation could bear a more damaging effect on the brain than alcohol and cocaine combined. This is terrifying when we think of the number of seniors who live completely alone. But also uplifting, because now we know how to prevent mental health issues associated with age. And healthy ageing is essential to achieve sustainable development goals in cities.
Isn’t that a good thing? We don’t want seniors to live past their 100s. They are too expensive.
Yes, because they become dependent on healthcare and retirement nursing very early. And they become dependent because they get chronic diseases. And they get chronic diseases because they are not physically active, are socially isolated and stressed and didn’t have a good diet. In a nutshell, they don’t have ikigai.
Blue Zones lifestyle in big cities
Most of the people you were talking about are farmers and fisherfolk who live in the open air. Can you afford this kind of lifestyle in a metropolis like Singapore?
Oh yes, you can! No need to be a fisherman. I can assure you that you can live in the numerical age and still get out of your house to get involved and have fun. The most important part is to stay active and build relationships with people by helping them. This is how you find ikigai.
I am too old and useless. I can’t get involved in my community anymore. Nobody needs my help.
That’s what you think! But I can assure you that a lot of people would love to get mature hindsight on their problems. Kids nowadays are struggling to find purpose in their life and are terrified about their future. You’ve been through all of this already. You can explain to them the benefits of slowing down, of caring about what really matters and to stop worrying about everything all the time. Are they scared of getting involved in a project? With someone they love? Show them the value of commitment. Are they afraid to talk to people and make new friends? You have more experience with people than them. Go talk to them and help them relax.
But what if they had it? What if they tried to quit their sedentary lifestyle? What if they started to get involved in the city? They wouldn’t be a burden on the economy if they remained active and rarely got sick. Healthcare cost is the biggest issue the government is facing right now.
It is obvious that we must change our lifestyles. The priority should be to focus on people aged 50 and over.
At Ergapolis, we care about sustainable development along with the social and economic impact of healthy ageing. Contact us if you have any questions.
You can also visit our website to learn more about what we do.