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Living and working in the age of longevity

  • Life expectancy is increasing across the globe by almost two years for every decade we live.
  • How do you respond to idea of living to one hundred?
  • How will these changing demographics impact your career and your workplace?

‘What will your 100-year life look like?’1

We are living longer and global advances in health have delivered increases in average life expectancy across the globe by almost two years for every decade we live. Current projections of some first world countries (like Japan) have a child born in 2007 having a 50 per cent chance of living to 105! Already we have examples of the longevity with the French woman Jeanne Calment of France (1875–1997), who lived to the age of 122 years. But a longer life is not the only consideration as we need to also factor in the quality of that longer life.

So how are our lives likely to change as we live longer? According to Lynda Gratton from London Business School life’s three stages of: full-time work and full-time retirement is likely to be redesigned and reflect a multistage life with less defined periods.

With growing longevity we will have more time and it is likely is that we will continue to work longer whether paid or unpaid. The institutions where we spend most of our time affect our health, and because we spend almost a third of our lives at work it is a key influence. Work is more than money and it’s also good for our cognitive health providing things like purpose and the social connections allowing us to thrive. As we live longer we will need to ensure we continually develop ourselves, considering those who live to 100 have about 100,000 extra productive hours than those who only live to 70.

So what kinds of wellbeing elements will we need in the future?


As we live longer our health will become increasingly important to allow us to keep participating in both work and life and although our life spans are elongating our healthy life spans are not. The world, and our lifestyles have changed significantly over the past two decades, and as a result, we are simply no longer inheriting longevity. For the first time in human history, most of the leading causes of human illness are lifestyle based, and are largely preventable.

Consider how work is changing. The changes in the physical demands of work and increased use of computers with knowledge workers have led to many people now employed in professions that are sedimentary in nature. Occupations that involved moderate physical activity have decreased from 48 per cent in 1960 to 20 per cent in 2008 and it is estimated that we are now sitting for almost ten hours a day.2 It’s hard to believe that physical inactivity is now the fourth largest killer of people globally. Health agencies recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week but many of our us are not getting anywhere near this3 with 40 per cent of the Australian populations getting less than 30 minutes per week.

If you think that 30 minutes per day is unachievable from where you are currently then the good news is that small ‘steps’ matter. You don’t necessarily need a formal exercise routine to meet increase movement requirement and you can just add these into your every day in small chunks as the 30 minutes can be accumulated during the course of the day. It’s relatively easy to increase your range of movements for example by making your commute more dynamic (cycle, walk or run), taking the stairs in lieu of escalators, introducing a daily walk or walking meetings. Most of these elements will not only make you healthier through increased cardio vascular fitness, but improve your productivity at work we know for example that walking meetings increase divergent thinking outcomes by 60 per cent4 and that walking in natural setting helps with problem solving and increases your ability to focus.5

As we live longer we will need to ensure we continually develop ourselves, considering those who live to 100 have about 100,000 extra productive hours than those who only live to 70.


In our always on world how we recovery each day is becoming increasingly important. We already know that a good sleep is key to performance and the focus on sleep and its restorative benefits will only increase in the future. We already know that for optimal performance that adults need between seven to nine hours sleep each day but many people are experimenting with real world sleep deprivation, in the laboratory sleep deprivation experiments (less than six hours sleep) show impacts on short term memory, reduced cognitive function and mood control, all important elements for today’s knowledge workers. Even if you are getting the recommended time-in-bed improvements to sleep efficacy and quality can make a big difference and sleep routines can help with this. Establishing a routine can help with new research suggesting that a consistent bedtime can increased sleep by 35 minutes per night6, also what you do before bed matters and limited device time, lowering lighting levels and setting bedroom temperatures can all make a big difference.

Recovery is not only about sleep as there are multiple opportunities create daytime restoration. The obvious one is napping and there is good evidence to suggest that daytime naps reduce drowsiness and increase energy but even introducing breaks, such as, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea can help you reset your focus for the tasks that lay ahead. Daniel Pink (author of When) recommends that for peak performance daytime breaks should ideally consist of 20 minute duration, and involve movement, outdoors and in company with others. The time in nature is especially important and according to attention restoration theory spending time outdoors can improve your ability to concentrate.7


Learning never stops — as the world of work continues to change life-long learning is more critical now than ever. Don’t limit this to formal education or professional development courses, as self-directed and on-the-job learning are a vital part of continuous learning. Research demonstrates that we only transfer about 30 percent of what we learn in courses into our workplace. That means about 70 percent of learning can come from applying our knowledge, drawing on our experiences, trials and errors, and interactions with others.

Social connections

Social connections matter. With the help of technology we have never been so connected but for so many people this is the age of loneliness, with more and more people are being alone, working remotely, freelancing or working in the gig economy. This is compounding social isolation. Meta-analysis by Julianne Holt-Lunstad linked health and loneliness to increased cardio-vascular disease (CVD) and some estimates equate it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.8

Creating and maintaining social networks are not only good for us but also good for our work. The ability to form and maintain social networks will help us grow because much of the learning in the future may be from tacit knowledge, which is the kind of knowledge you develop by working with others in teams.

We all agree that enhanced wellbeing is good for us and everyone aspires to thrive in life. But the reality is that it is harder than it looks. Luckily most change happens incrementally and small changes can make a big impact over time. A move to a healthier you is more likely to change if we can shrink the challenge and reduce the friction for change. According to Daniel Kahneman, this is where nudge theory can help you find ‘nano-sized investments’ that lead to ‘medium-sized gains’.

So what nano-size investment will you invest in to improve your wellbeing and help you thrive in both work and life?

  1. Gratton L and Scott A, 2016, The 100-year life: living and working in an age of longevity, Bloomsbury Information.
  2. Sitting. Australian’s sit for almost 10 hours each day.
  3. 40 per cent of the Australian populations getting less than 30 minutes per week. Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018, Australia’s health 2018: In brief.
  4. OOppezzo M & Schwartz DL, 2014, ‘Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative Thinking‘, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2014, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1142–1152.
  5. Newport C, 2016, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Grand Central Publishing.
  6. Consistent bedtime can have increased sleep by 35 minutes per nights. Connor Heneghan. Fitbit Sydney conference 2018.
  7. ART. Attention Restoration Theory. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature. Marc Berman Journal of Psychological Science. 2008
  8. Loneliness. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for CVD. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, 2015.

Duncan Young can be contacted on 0477 388 853 or by email at

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.

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