As life expectancy continues to rise, so too does the retirement age for many people. Governments are deciding that, as we are living longer, we can therefore work longer. If we look at the UK for a moment, between 2015 and 2025 the number of people aged 65 years and older in England and Wales will increase by 19.4% (Guzman-Castillo, 2017). To support an ageing population, we will be expected to retire later. The Office of National Statistics predicts that a 24-year-old female can expect to live to 90 on average, and receive their state pension at 68 (ONS, 2019).
But a longer life expectancy does not necessarily mean more years in good health. The number of people living with disability is predicted to increase by 25.0% by 2025 (Guzman-Castillo, 2017).
Let’s look at Japan for inspiration. Japan is the country with the current highest life expectancy. In Japan, women live to an average of 87 years, and men to 81 (WHO, 2016). Japan also leads the healthy life expectancy table. They can expect to live 75 years in good health, without disability (WHO HALE, 2016).
An example of an older, happy, healthy workforce in Japan is the Ama Divers. They dive to collect seafood off the Ise-shima Peninsula. Known as the ‘women of the sea’, many of these traditional freediving women are in their eighties! But what is it about the Ama Divers that keeps them happy, healthy and working into old age?
In a recent BBC documentary, when asked “what is the secret to living so long?”, the Ama Divers responded: ‘We don’t worry too much. We are not stressed. It’s also good to have friends around. If you’re friends with those who are around you, you’re much more relaxed.’
We believe the key take away from the Ama Divers’ response is the importance of investing in our own and others’ wellbeing. Furthermore, this anecdotal evidence can be backed by scientific research. Individuals with high levels of subjective wellbeing can expect to live 4-10 years longer (Diener & Chan, 2011).
Invest in our relationships. The Ama Divers have a strong sense of community and social connection with each other. The importance of quality social connections has also been backed by research. The Harvard study of adult development followed 724 men for 75 years and found the quality of social connections could predict future happiness, health and longevity (Simington, 2017). Furthermore, happiness spreads through our social networks; research has found that having a nearby friend who becomes happy increases your probability of becoming happy by 63% (Fowler, & Christakis, 2008)!
So, call instead of email, share a lift to work, ask a colleague how they are doing. Invest in the quality of your relationships, inside and outside of work.
Incorporate physical activity. Our jobs may not be as active as freediving, but there are still things we can do to break up the periods of inactivity and reduce stress. For example, build a stretching routine at your desk, take a lunch time walk, arrange a walking meeting or plan an active commute.
Regular physical activity is associated with higher levels of wellbeing, and lower rates of depression and anxiety (Biddle & Ekkekakis, 2005, Callaghan, 2004).
In 2025 we will be living and working longer. As a result, it’s more important than ever to invest in our long-term health. A great way to do this is to prioritise wellbeing.