Living to a ripe old age has many meanings. For someone born 100 years ago, it most likely meant making it past 50. Over the years that have followed, that figure has jumped: someone born in 1940 could expect to live to 62, while someone born in 1961 could look forward to hitting 68. What? 68? It just so happens that quite a few of us who were born in either 1940 or 1961 expect to live much longer than that. So, what gives?

“Life expectancy has consistently risen in all industrialized countries over the past 100 years, such that a child born today in Canada has a life expectancy of approximately 81 years (78 for men and 83 for women),” says Zoomer contributing expert Dr. Zachary Levine. “The United Nations and other government organizations expect this trend to continue. As people live longer, they also remain vital and productive for many more years than previously.”

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According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Americans 85 and over are that country’s fastest growing group of older adults. Statistics Canada notes similar findings: in 2006, more than half a million Canadians were aged 85 and older, a 25 per cent increase from 2001. Moreover, 22 per cent more were hitting the 100-year mark than did five years earlier.

Researchers at Harvard found that among a test group of 2,357 men in their early 70s who were followed for 25 years or until death, about 40 per cent survived to age 90. The odds, once you’re a nonagenarian, are in your favour, with some scientists estimating a one-in-nine chance you’ll make the century mark. The U.S. Census Bureau says that by the time the boomer generation reaches 100, there will be more than four million centenarians in that country. And ladies? According to experts south of the border, at 95, the fairer sex’s life expectancy is 21 per cent higher than that of a man’s. The same trends have been found right here at home.

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