In the first week of the workshop, Movement, Meditation and Conversations on Aging, we draw from the work of Laura Carstensen, PhD, Director, Stanford Center on Longevity. In her TED Talk, The New Culture of Aging, Carstensen talks about how in a short period of time, from the early 1900’s till current day, our life span has increased by approximately thirty years.
Never in human history have we experienced a life expectancy increase near that magnitude.
Recently, the Stanford Center on Longevity, under Carstensen's direction, published a white paper entitled, The New Map of Life. The paper has generated significant media attention and Dr. Carstensen has appeared on a variety of shows and podcasts. In Carstensen’s signature style of condensing complex concepts into powerful short statements, the paper opens with heading, “The 100-year life* is here. We’re not ready.” The paper is geared toward policy makers and thought leaders and argues that the new longevity is a profound transformation of the human experience which demands equally momentous societal, cultural and policy changes to help support 100 years of life.
The white paper draws a distinction between health span and life span and emphasizes that our health span has not kept pace with our life span. Health span is defined as the years in which we are healthy, mobile, mentally sharp, and free of pain. Said differently, yes, we’re living longer but for too many of us those years are marked with chronic illness that can diminish our quality of life.
As Carstensen notes, we are not ready for the 100-year life because culture is slow to change and has not yet caught up with the new longevity. The societal changes Carstensen seeks are not likely to take place during our lifetime.
Nonetheless, we can make conscious choices right now on an individual basis to help improve our health span and enjoy a healthy, meaning-filled life in the thirty extra years of living that many of us are likely to experience.
When contemplating topics such as longevity, health span, life span, etc., it helps to remind myself - repeatedly - that making smart healthy choices is important but ultimately the control I have over my life and health is finite. That notion is reflected in a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, “We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less and enjoy life more.” That premise is at the heart of the workshop, Movement, Meditation and Conversations on Aging. If we acknowledge life’s impermanence and at the same time strive to make choices that positively impact our health span, both will enable us to live more deeply, suffer less and enjoy life more.
*The "100-year life" refers to individuals who are currently five years old and younger - a good portion of whom could live to 100 years.