To the degree that rejuvenation therapies are successfully developed, retirement will become a thing of the past. It and all of its surrounding institutions and traditions exist because, in the environment of today's medical technology, everyone eventually becomes too frail to work and maintain their own lives. When health can be sustained for far longer, people will continue to work and engage with the world for far longer, but that longevity opens up many other options for lifestyle and planning besides simply working indefinitely. For example, saving and investment over much longer timeframes will ultimately allow anyone to take a few decades out of the normal flow of work here and there to do whatever it is that they desire before returning to gainful employment.
This article isn't a particularly deep or insightful discussion of the topic of retirement and longevity, and, given the source, isn't all that applicable to people of modest means and ordinary employment, but I point it out its existence as an indication of the degree to which the concepts of radical life extension are spreading in the media and the public at large. The more that people think about this sort of thing, and realize that the science makes it plausible for the near future, the more support we find for the necessary research and development.
While the new longevity Americans now savor seems to offer nothing but an upside - you're cheating death longer, right? - the downside of retirement, if it can be called that, is the absolute need to do more planning and budget in many more expenditures. And that's just for starters, because no one knows how long "longevity" will eventually extend, given the scientific world's ongoing research into stem cells. With stem cells, engineered tissues and organs may someday replace our disintegrating originals. "You could get an 'oil change,' an upgrade to your cells every few years. If, 20 or 30 years into the future, your heart is defective, maybe you can grow a new heart in a dish. The underlying biology and access to cells is getting there."
It's hard for anyone to put a number on it. Depending on whom you talk to, those estimated ages of longevity - again, 81.4 years for men and 84.3 for women, according to 2011 actuarial tables - may be just so much hokum. As the science of human longevity continues to accelerate, this will likely translate into improved life expectancy across the board.
Heart disease, cancer and other terminal illnesses can all be traced back to the natural wear and tear that comes with living. As we age, our bodies break down: Tissues and organs become defective and the likelihood increases that our cells will fail us. "Ninety percent of us will die of diseases that do not kill 20-year-olds," says George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Advances in medicine - which over the past century raised the average lifespan in the United States from 47 to 77 - simply delay the inevitable certainty that we will grow old and, eventually, die. But what if we could reverse aging? According to Church, "That's already happening." Remember those stem cells? Other body parts are figuring into the mix, too. To be clear, Church is talking about mice. Still, the research is compelling.
Such experiments, along with advancements in regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy and gene editing, mean that in a hazy but potentially not-too-distant future, we will no longer die from natural causes. Death, in other words, will be relegated to the realms outside age and disease. Plan to live longer than you expect to. After all, the anecdotal evidence out there supports it.