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Living long vs. living healthy

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, July 22, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

Living long and living healthy are two different things.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, released data comparing overall life expectancy at age 65 with what it called "healthy life expectancy." It calculated that while the average person will live to be 84.1 years old overall, on average he or she will only be healthy for 78.9 of those years. That's a 5.2-year gap between the onset of declining health and death.

The CDC derived these estimates based on data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The calculations considered self-reported health status from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a CDC telephone survey. Those who rated their health "fair or poor" were categorized as "unhealthy." Those who said their health was "excellent, very good, or good" were rated "healthy." While the CDC notes that there may be inaccuracies in self-reported data, it says in the past such data has proven to be "a good predictor of future disability, hospitalization and mortality."

Where you live appears to have a significant impact on how long you remain healthy. The CDC notes that healthy life expectancy tends to be lower in the South, where poverty is greater and availability of good health care is lower.

Healthy life expectancy for 65-year-olds ranged from a low of 75.8 in Mississippi to a high of 81.2 in Hawaii. But the really eye-opening figure is the difference between overall life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. For instance, someone living in Mississippi can expect to live 6.7 years in ill health, compared to only 5.1 years for someone who lives in Hawaii.

Taking these variations into account suggests that all of us can expect to spend roughly five to almost seven years living with poor health. While we may not need or even qualify for formal long-term care, it's likely that once we reach that final half decade, we will need more retirement money than we previously spent for doctors, medicine and assistance because we just can't do the things we used to do.

It's a scary proposition and one that all of us should factor into our retirement planning. You can't take it with you, but you don't want to run out before you go.

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