If you’re planning on being one of the 1 million centenarians projected to be living in the U.S. in 2050, you might want to take your lifestyle cues from Stamatis Moraitis, a Greek veteran of World War II.
Diagnosed with lung cancer while living in the U.S. in the 1960s, Moraitis forewent chemotherapy and drugs and, still more, the entire Western diet and lifestyle and moved to the Greek island of Ikaria, his birthplace.
Living the simple life of the Ikarians, who reach the age of 90 at two-and-a-half times the rate of Americans, Moraitis lived another 45 years cancer-free — outliving his doctors, who gave him just nine months to live.
A new report titled “The Four Keys to Longevity” produced by BMO Wealth Institute for clients of BMO Harris Financial Advisors cites a study of these long-living Ikarians, combined with its own survey of 1,000 Americans on aging, to present a view of what might constitute successful longevity.
The first of those keys, what BMO calls the “master key,” is the body. Observing that “stress factors such as daily schedules don’t exist on Ikaria” and that “vigorous activities [are] never considered exercise,” the BMO report finds that most Americans (89 percent) have taken steps to help them live longer.
The most common initiative is healthy eating (53 percent), though Americans may have a way to go before reaching the Ikarian diet of “fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices and local honey, which are all products of weekly harvests that every citizen contributes to and benefits from.”
The second key, which BMO dubs “the fundamental key,” is the mind. BMO’s survey found that “the loss of mental ability was the biggest concern that respondents had about living to 100 and beyond.”
The report cited research that aerobic exercise and not smoking were related to cognitive function and stressed the importance of maintaining an active mind through memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing training, as well as engagement in social networks through work or volunteer activities.
The third key, dubbed “the key to enjoying life” in the BMO report, is social. Citing research that found “retirement to be associated with a significant increase in clinical depression and a decline in self-assessed health,” the report looked at social connectedness as a means to avoiding these risks.
Survey respondents expressed a number activities they desired in retirement to achieve this aim, with spending more time on hobbies leading the pack (62 percent), followed by taking on a part-time job (25 percent).
The BMO report cited as a demonstration of the link between work and longevity the example of the Italian wine-growing region of Chianti:
“While the elders may leave the more taxing jobs to the youngsters, they never fully retire. The older members of the family continue to walk the rows of vines to make sure the grapes are in good condition and participate in tastings to ensure the quality of the wine, and they remain involved in important business decisions. Many locals claim it’s their ongoing daily involvement that is responsible for their exceptionally long and healthy lives.”
While social connections foster health and happiness, the report cites University of Chicago research indicating that its absence is related to “increases in stress, hardening of the arteries and inflammation in the body” as well as diminution of “the brain’s executive function, learning and memory.”
Survey respondents cited a number social activities they expect during retirement, led by spending their time with family (57 percent). Asked what the most important factors for an ideal retirement lifestyle, staying in contact with family again was the most cited (36 percent), followed by financial security (23 percent).
And indeed, financial security is the report’s fourth key to longevity, what it calls the “key to success.” The report noted that women valued this lifestyle factor more than men (27 percent vs. 19 percent), suggesting that women’s higher relative longevity might be the reason.
Other variables in the importance placed on finances are age and wealth. Those who have higher levels of either are more concerned about financial security, the report finds.
Survey respondents expected to spend, on average, $5,822 a year on out-of-pocket health costs — a figure the report says squares with an independent study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). Crunching the numbers based on Medicare reimbursement rates and expected out-of-pocket costs, EBRI estimates that a 65-year-old couple would need $283,000 to fund 25 years worth of future health care expenses (not including long-term care).
The BMO report stresses the value of a financial advisor in assuring this fourth component of well-being in old age and says only a minority of Americans have availed themselves of the opportunity (with just one-third of pre-retirees having a retirement plan.)
The survey found that respondents with greater confidence in their future financial security were more likely to have a financial plan (27 percent of them did) versus those lacking that confidence, just 8% of whom have a plan.
The report concludes that “the need for all of us to have a better overall plan when it comes to the four key components of longevity” are among the “lessons to learn from the resiliency found in the people of Ikaria.”