Treasurer Joe Hockey recently said that we soon will be able to live 150 years. Now, before we dismiss this as ridiculous, we can agree that life expectancies have definitely increased. Average Australian life expectancies are now over 80, and the trend toward increased life spans is continuing. Whether it’s until 150 years or more we don’t know, but increase they will. So, let’s split the difference between the current average and Joe’s number, and say people will live until 115.
We hear that we can add any number of years to our lives by eating better, stopping smoking, exercising more, so 115 may not be so fanciful. The problem is the years are added on to the last years of life, which are not the same as our middle or younger years. All sorts of things will change or deteriorate: our body shapes, sex drives, skin, fitness, mobility and more. We may be able to add years to our lives, but would we be adding life to our years?
When I was a teenager I believed that if I stayed fit I would live well and longer. I kept in shape as an adult, mostly by running, but as the years went by, I endured niggling injuries which meant a frustrating week or more unable to run. I wondered, what good would old age be if I could no longer run at all, or do other things I love doing?
Well, I’m starting to find out. Although still able to work out at a gym regularly, I no longer run. I am increasingly aware that my body is definitely sagging here and there. I’ve been to the doctor for pre-skin cancer treatments and scans, and am diligent about having regular blood and other tests. I’ve avoided serious illness so far, but at any time the old body (and doctor) could tell me I’m not the healthy kid I once was.
But even if I avoid illness, the quality of my life will also decline with the inevitable change to my physical and, most likely, mental faculties. I love being active – will I love just sitting around watching television? I love socialising with friends, going out to dinner, sharing dinner parties with them. What will my life be like without my friends if they don’t live as long as I do? My wife and I love travelling, but living very long lives means we probably wouldn’t be able to fly overseas anymore. And yes, kids, we still have a healthy sex life, even now in our 60s, but what if that is no longer possible?
Last year Dr Zeke Emmanuel, 57, made waves in America when he said that he wants to die at 75. He is a physically fit hiker and mountain climber who can’t imagine living if he is unable to do what he loves. He does not advocate euthanasia, but he does force us to think about our end of life options. Is the cost of intensive, invasive and interminable medical treatment worth it just to keep us ‘alive’? If – or when – I fall ill, modern medicine, with all its hi-tech advances, may not necessarily provide me a healthy life but rather prolong the process of dying. For many elderly people, and some not so elderly, their bodies are alive, but are they really ‘living’? Will I want to prolong the inevitable if I have an extremely diminished quality of life?
On the other hand, I know a number of people in their late 80s and early 90s who drive, socialise and still have meaningful lives. They are on Facebook, use the internet and are fully aware of their world. If I could know now that I could live like they do, I probably would want to, for as long as possible, to whatever age. But no one knows what the future holds.
So if Joe Hockey is right, maybe you and I will make it to 100, 115 or beyond. I fear, like Doctor Zeke, that my body will be alive – just – and that the pleasure, meaning and satisfaction I experience now in my life will be but a distant memory. So: what to do?
Well, I’ll keep living each day as fully as I can. I’ll try to keep fit, active and connected to others as much as, and as long as, I can. It may not add years to my life, but more importantly it will mean good, quality years now.
And if at the end all I can do is recall good memories of a life well lived, perhaps that will be reason enough to keep on living.
Would you like to live until 115? What do you think your quality of life would be like? Tell us below.