Dr Mark Cobain and Dr Holly Whelan, founders of Younger Lives, write the latest Business Healthy feature in partnership with the City of London Corporation.
As we look to the future, it’s no surprise to see that we are likely to be working for longer. The retirement age looks set to be extended to 70 and the population as a whole is ageing.
By 2030, workers aged between 45 and 65 will be the only group that is increasing in size, while the number of younger workers will be in sharp decline.
There is a problem, however. Currently, one-third of British workers have to retire earlier than they’d like, due to ill-health. To be able to sustain an ageing – and working – population, we need to help keep this “mid-life” demographic as healthy, happy and productive as possible.
As it stands, the average worker in the City of London is between 30 and 39 years old, but this average age is likely to get older, in line with national trends.
In addition, smoking, stress and other risky lifestyle behaviours are well known to cause premature ageing and to increase the likelihood of health problems at an earlier age.
For example, smokers already have a health risk of someone five to 10 years older through this unhealthy habit.
Helping our employees ‘live younger’
Our lifestyles and mindset are vitally important. Eating right, moving more, moderating our drinking habits, not smoking, and being a healthy weight all help slow our rate of ageing.
However, so does being happy, reducing stress, having purpose in life and enjoying enough sleep. It’s this combination of physical health and emotional health that gives us energy and keeps us ‘younger’.
We call this ‘living a younger life’ i.e. living a lifestyle that makes us look, feel and have the health risks of someone younger than we are.
Staying younger is something everyone aspires to. However, it doesn’t have to be about spending all our time in the gym or eating raw food to chase the life elixir.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln we need to enjoy life and think about both “adding years to our life” and “life to our years”.
We are as young as we feel
Having a positive view of ageing is more than just vanity. A large research study called The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing showed that the age people thought they had ‘left middle age and entered old age’ predicted an earlier death.
So if you feel young for your age, the more likely you are to live longer! If we want our mid-life workforce to stay healthy and happy then it’s important we support them in feeling, looking and being ‘younger’.
Start by understanding if your lifestyle is ageing you
The first step to any change is awareness, and that means helping people understand whether their lifestyle and mindset is ageing them or keeping them young.
Younger Lives’ new Life Age test assesses how a person’s lifestyle and psychological state is ageing them.
It’s an online test that takes just eight minutes to complete, and gives the user not only their overall ‘Life Age’, but also a full 10-page breakdown of where their lifestyle is ageing or keeping them young, and why.
It is based on the best and most consistent scientific evidence available today and has been developed for more than a decade for use around the world.
An important conversation for employer and employee
It’s this insight that Life Age provides that can launch a powerful conversation starter between employee and employer.
Specifically for the mid-life employee, it helps them think about how they can maximise both their health and happiness to get the most out of life, and how their work can provide one of the platforms to do this.
At the same time the employer can use aggregated data reports to see issues within the company, and decide where they should focus their resources to ensure they can help their employees be at their best for as long as possible.
Ideally this approach needs to be considered across all elements of employee support, including wellbeing programmes, benefits, environment, and working practices.
This holistic approach helps create a powerful two-way dialogue and ultimately helps ensure that valuable mid-life employees stay healthy, happy, fulfilled and productive for as long as possible.
Younger Lives’ Life Age research with 45 to 65 year-olds supports this holistic approach, with the people who report low levels of life satisfaction being much less likely to be active, more likely to have weight problems, and eat badly.
Being healthy and happy at work can therefore play a huge factor in the difference between healthy and unhealthy ageing.
And that’s where the real action lies; companies who are genuinely looking to help this mid-life employee population today will see the benefit in the not-too-distant future.
To see if your lifestyle is ageing you, try Younger Lives’ free Life Age test at youngerlives.com.
This September, the Corporation’s Business Healthy team is hosting a breakfast conference on ‘An Ageing Workforce’ at Mansion House.
Business leaders from across the Square Mile and Canary Wharf will hear from experts who will unpick a range of issues within this wider topic, sharing best practice in how to support older workers.