The Surprising Key to Longevity, Health and Happiness
Hint: It is not lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol
Ric Edelman: It's Thursday, March 2nd. Today, I'm speaking at the Future of Digital Assets Symposium in Washington, DC. The event is hosted by the Milken Institute in collaboration with UNC and Duke University. My topic is digital innovation and security. It's an invitation-only event. Pretty impressive roster of attendees, so I'm excited to be among the speakers doing gigs like this and consulting in the financial services field, focusing on digital assets. It's part of my reinvention of myself.
Back in 2021, after 37 years of building and running Edelman Financial, what became the largest advisory firm in the country, my wife Jean and I left the company and we have then found ourselves faced with a question of, well, now what? So we've been working hard to create our next chapter for ourselves. I talked about our transition a few months ago on this podcast. It caused one of my listeners, John, to send me an email.
He wrote, "Ric, I was moved by your scintillating commentary about what you discovered when you left your company after 37 years. I can very much relate to all of this. I'm 70 and I retired from my 10-hour a day position as a psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration. Like you, I was poorly prepared for losing 90% of my most meaningful relationships because they were occupationally attached. And there's another inevitable phenomenon that you did not mention on your podcast. If you live long enough, you will lose many of your relationships because they will die or move away and you'll lose half of your relationships because they will develop dementia. So it's important that we always cultivate new relationships while we hold on to our current ones".
John, thank you very much for your email. If you'd like to hear the podcast that John is referring to and what this whole topic was about, my experience, what it was like when Jean and I left Edelman Financial, we've got the link to that show in today's show notes for you. And yeah, John, you're on to something.
Harvard's been studying adult development since 1938. They've been following both Harvard grads and inner-city residents of Boston and their descendants. This study has been going on for 85 years. The goal is to predict longevity, health and happiness. And after collecting data for 85 years, guess what they have found out? The key to longevity and health and happiness is not lowering your cholesterol or your blood pressure, it's the quality of your relationships and whether or not you have a sense of purpose. If you have good relationships and a sense of purpose, you're at lower risk of Alzheimer's and stroke. But you've got to work at it.
They say it takes 200 hours over four months to build a close friendship. You don't have to find new friends, though. You can reach out to old ones. You've got old friends, people you haven't seen or talked to since high school or college. But you hesitate to reach out to them, don't you?
The study found that people fear contacting old friends. They exaggerate the risks of doing so. You fear that it'll be awkward, that you'll get rejected and you underestimate the pleasures of reconnecting. Go on, give it a try. And we really need to. Americans 55 to 64 are far less socially engaged than people that age were 20 years ago. In 1960, only 13% of us lived alone. Today, 36% do - a threefold increase. We're talking 26 million Americans over the age of 50 living alone, and more than half of them are women.
And guess what? New research says that people who live alone are lonelier than those who live with others. One big source of companionship are children. But 16% of the over 55 crowd don't have any kids. When we leave work with no kids to talk to, to replace the chat we used to have with colleagues, wow, that's an issue. Not only do child-free people lose socializing opportunities, but there are also questions about who will help them in retirement. Who's going to help you maintain your house, provide you with elder care? After all, 85% of elder care is provided by a spouse or children. If you don't have one of those, it's a challenge.
So here are some questions from that Harvard study that you need to ask yourself. Who would you call if you woke up scared in the middle of the night? Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis? Who encourages you to try new things, take chances, pursue your life's goals? Who knows everything about you? Who can you call on when you're feeling low and be honest with about how you're feeling? Is there someone in your life who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are? Do you feel satisfied with the amount of romantic intimacy in your life? Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem like planting a tree or fixing your Wi-Fi? And who makes you laugh? Who do you call to see a movie or to go on a trip with? Who makes you feel connected and at ease?
These questions don't need to scare you. They should uplift you. Your future is bright and can be the brightest part of your life. We all know that Tom Brady quit this year as the oldest starting quarterback in pro football. He's 45 years old. Most quarterbacks last four seasons. Brady played for 23, but he's not the only person to last so long in a career. There's a neat profile of older workers recently and they highlighted a bunch of folks. Helen Fletcher, 83, a baker. Lillian Thomas Burwell, age 95, an artist. Dion Nielsen Price, 88, a composer. Harvey Davidson at 84 is a tour guide. Maria Elena Zavala, 72, is a biologist. Earle Pollack at 82 is a logger. Diane McIntyre, 76, is a dancer. Lewis Kaplan, age 85, is a physician. And Angela Alvarez, age 95, just won the Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
And then there's Joan Donovan, age 89, and a great grandmother. She just got an advanced college degree in English and creative writing online from Southern New Hampshire University. And Rita Malone, age 93, just became an inventor. She uses a walker and decided she needed something to motivate her to remind her to use it. So she invented the Walker Squawker, a realistic bird that sits on a walker. It sings and plays songs as you move, serves as a companion for anybody using a mobility device.
Clearly, we can reinvent ourselves as we age, and that partly means building and developing new relationships with other people. One area that's popular - sports. More and more people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s are engaging in extreme sports. 13,000 people over the age of 60 registered for Iron Man's 140-mile triathlon last year. The average age of the participants in the Iditarod is now 46. Many endurance athletes say their performance has improved as they've gotten older. Diana Nyad, she's an ultra-endurance swimmer. She's 73 years old and says she was better at 64 than when she was 28.
Colleges are getting in on this, too. We've got a birth dearth. Too few babies are being born and that's who goes to college, right? Those 18-year-olds. Well, college enrollment is at a 20-year low. So colleges who used to help people at the start of their careers are now creating programs to help people at the end of their careers. Harvard, Stanford, Notre Dame, UT Austin, University of Chicago all have one-year programs, lectures on ageism, entrepreneurship, courses that help students - 60-year-old students, chart their next steps. These classes cost $50,000 or $60,000, but at the University of Colorado, it's only $3,200 for a one semester program. You audit courses, you interact with professors, you attend dinners and campus events. They help students provide consulting to faculty, students and staff. Some students donate. Others mentor other people who have joined the program following them.
And at Arizona State, they've opened a senior citizens housing complex. You've got to be over 62 to live there. They cost $400,000 to $1 million to enter. $4,008 a month includes classes and meals, 260 residents. Yeah, there are lots of solutions to social isolation.
Let me mention a few more. Virtual reality AI and robotic pets. They can reduce loneliness and depression and improve your well-being. Rendever provides VR to people who are living in assisted living. Users meet avatars of loved ones in a virtual home. You can play chess together or sit on a porch looking at butterflies. You can even go on virtual excursions like a bus ride in Paris. There's a free home version of this called Alcove, which was created in partnership with AARP.
At Intuition Robotics, they launched a companion bot for older adults. It's small, looks like a desk lamp, sits on a countertop and it starts conversations, learns about the people it lives with, and tailors recommendations for food and exercise and music. It only costs $250 plus $40 a month for the subscription. And you might remember a couple of months ago, back in January, I had Tom Stephens on the show, the founder of Tombot, a company I've invested in. He's building Jenny, a robotic Labrador retriever puppy. Tombot worked with Jim Henson's Creature Shop to make Jenny look and act like a real dog. Jenny will be out in 2024. She costs about $1,500 and she's meant to serve people with Alzheimer's and dementia. The Wall Street Journal reviewed Jenny and said the tech's easy to use because there's no setup. And the reporter said, "every time it gazed up at me, I found myself reaching out to stroke its head".
Yeah, we need to reinvent ourselves because our future is not going to be like our past. We need to engage in new activities and to do it with new people that we'll introduce into our lives. The future can be the best part of our lives yet to be.
And if you want to find an investment opportunity to capitalize on all of this, I suggest you take a look at the Global X Aging Population ETF. The symbol is AGNG. Aging invests in companies that serve the world's growing senior population: healthcare, pharmaceuticals, senior living facilities and other sectors of the market that contribute to increasing lifespans and extending quality of life and advanced age.
And if you want to enjoy better health and overall fulfillment, be sure to listen to Jean's podcast every Thursday, Self-Care with Jean Edelman, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Links to Jean's social pages are in today's show notes and be sure you're following me on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You can follow, share, like and comment. Let's keep these daily conversations going after each podcast.