Here's what young people think is key to a long and fulfilled life

A mulit-cultural group of young people
According to United Nations estimates, by 2050 there will be about 3.7 million centenarians.

The world population is getting older. Life expectancy has increased to 70 years or more in many countries and many people now live well into their 80s and 90s. There is also a rise in centenarians - people who are 100 years old or more. The global population is moving from a young population towards an ageing population where each new generation is expected to live longer than the last.

A child born today in a middle-high-income country has a more than 50% chance of living to be over 105, and half of the children born in the United States in 2000 could live to be 103 years old. According to United Nations estimates, by 2050 there will be about 3.7 million centenarians, a rise from 451,000 in 2015.

But while life expectancy, on average, is increasing, this is not the case for everyone. This is caused by several factors such as lack of access to basic healthcare, poor nutrition, poverty, sanitation, education, and discrimination. The inequities that support unequal gains must be addressed so that all people can benefit from the gift of longer life.

With this general demographic shift towards longevity, we just don’t want to live longer, but we want to age well and live healthier. Promoting a healthy lifespan brings more years of good health and the opportunity to have a fulfilled life.

It's been found that people who live longer and more fulfilled lives maintain this lifestyle by developing strong social support systems, cultivating rewarding relationships, being happy and content with who they are and what they have, adopting healthy diets, maintaining better mental and physical health, ensuring overall well-being, and being intellectually active.

A graph showing the ageing trajectory of populations around the world
By 2050 there will be about 3.7 million centenarians, a rise from 451,000 in 2015.
Image: World Health Organization

We asked members of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community to provide insight. Here’s what they said.

'Embrace social health'

Kasley Killam is the Founder of Social Health Labs

As our understanding of health has advanced over time, we’ve gone from focusing solely on the physical to include the mental and emotional. Now it’s time to also embrace the relational. Social health is the dimension of well-being that comes from connection and community, and it’s essential for a long, healthy, and fulfilling life. In fact, people with strong social relationships have a 50% increased likelihood of survival. In addition to eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, doing therapy, and practicing other conventional health habits, we can benefit tremendously from connecting with loved ones and participating in communities.

'Use your time wisely'

Nupur Ruchika Kohli is a healthcare leader, medical doctor and advisor with the largest healthcare insurance company in the Netherlands. She is a supervisory board member at UNICEF, Netherlands and is founder of the NRG Foundation, supporting research on climate, sustainability and health

These are my five takeaways for a healthy, long, and fulfilled life. First, take care of mind, body, and planet, all are interconnected. Meditate, exercise, and preserve our climate. Climate change affects our health. Second, build happy relationships and communicate your feelings. Third, develop self-respect, self-confidence, and self-love. Put your own oxygen masks on first to be strong to help others. Fourth, have realistic life expectations. Find satisfaction in what you do and who you are. Fifth, use your time wisely and meaningfully. Find happiness in giving back. Take responsibility for your actions. You only live once.

'Erase your expiry date'

Dianne McWilliam is a PhD student in Economics at the University of Michigan and a former management consultant, interested in the future of ageing and improving elderly wellbeing

We are surviving longer than before, but are we really living longer? For me, the keys to fulfilment today, at age 26, are the same as at 86. However, looking forward to my eighties, I’m faced with only a few doors. To achieve long-fulfilled lives we must erase our ‘expiry date’ and rewrite our story of what it means to grow old. I want more opportunities for fulfilment as I age – not fewer - whether that means looking after my grandkids or founding a start-up and learning to pole dance. By breaking down these barriers, we’ll make way for new sources of meaning, choice, contribution, and growth that will truly let us live longer than before.

'Humans need exercise'

Fatima Abdulkhaliq is a pharmacist and social media content creator. She is currently the Curator of the Erbil Hub in the Global Shapers Community

Exercise is the best way to increase life expectancy. If you exercise in nature that is a bonus because you will get more oxygen into your body when you are outdoors. Just as cars need gas to fuel up, humans need exercise to energize and keep going. Exercise is also a free combination drug that has all the good stuff; it releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which are known to relieve pain, increase motivation, and make you happier, respectively. Get a daily dose of 20 minutes and find your way to a long-fulfilled life!

'Pursue happiness'

Dhiren Govender is an impact and strategy consultant with an interest in environmental, social, and governance-related issues and how their integration can lead to long-term impact

The COVID-19 pandemic offset the traditional notions of what young people consider fulfilling in life. Through various lockdowns across the globe, young people have had to reassess many of their core beliefs on the purpose of life, from health and career to social status and family. However, through crisis, hope always emerges. Young people are beginning to say no to things that no longer serve to grow or enhance their happiness in all aspects of life. After all, if we are indeed going to live longer lives, what could be more fulfilling than the pursuit and protection of happiness?

'Connect communities'

Renard Siew is the Climate Change and Sustainability Adviser for CENT-GPS. He is also a Community Champion for the Global Shapers APAC Hubs

As life expectancy increases, it's important to ensure that we design our cities and built environment so that they are inclusive and age-friendly. Our current design excludes marginalized communities, for example, the urban poor, individuals living with disabilities and older persons. This limits their accessibility and participation in fostering connections, convenience, and safety. These were certainly top concerns that were validated through our social experiment - the living library - which seeks to connect communities through meaningful dialogues and to work towards finding co-solutions that allows for healthy ageing. Our built environment must be designed with all demographics in mind to ensure a sense of belonging and independence, and facilitate a fulfilled life.

5 essentials for healthy ageing
5 essentials for healthy ageing.
Image: Public Health England

'Relationships are important'

David Walcott is the Founder and Managing Partner at Novamed. He is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, who is committed to attracting world-class healthcare resources into emerging markets, and raising awareness on the importance of healthy ageing and longevity in the Caribbean.

Relationships and a sense of connection serve as the fuel for a long and fulfilled life. With the glamorization of the individual pursuit of material success, wealth and achievement, we face a global poverty of relationships and are a more lonely society than ever. A 75-year old study from Harvard affirms the importance of relationships as the most important factor in driving fulfilment and longevity. As science has given us the gift of additional years, let us build more ‘life into our years’ through embracing community, connection and camaraderie in the days to come.

'Self care and mental health'

Manisha Dutta is a public healthcare professional specializing in rural health and health systems design in India. She serves as the Curator of the Global Shapers Guwahati Hub

Healthcare determinants play a critical role in health outcomes and quality of life in a community. Therefore, self-care, good nutrition, clean water, good sanitation, good mental health, and timely and appropriate healthcare seeking, are important for well-being and fulfilment. In addition, health systems must be redesigned to be responsive to the needs of specific populations. From an individual perspective, improved awareness, availability and agency of choices are key for a healthier lifestyle.

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