Living to 100 - easy for the super-fit

Friday 23 April 2010

Living to 100 - easy for the super-fit

  • By 2059 there will be 300,000 centenarians
  • Rise in super-active 50s+ key to longer life
  • One in seven runners in the 2010 London Marathon will be over 50

A new study today revealed that the UK will be populated with more than 300,000 centenarians by 2059, a staggering twenty-six-fold increase compared with today. Saga’s report into changing attitudes to life expectancy forecasts that one in eight people turning fifty this year will live to the grand old age of 100.

Whilst advances in medical science contribute to the fact that people are living longer, the other factor is the changes we have seen in the attitudes and lifestyles of the over 0s.

The over 50s are not just actively concerned about health – they are doing something about maintaining it. For example one in seven of those running the London marathon this weekend will be aged 50 or over. Almost half of UK over-fifties (46%) say they are taking more exercise than they have ever done before. One in five (19%) 60 year olds say they have climbed a mountain in their fifties, and almost a quarter (23%) have run or jogged at least a mile in their fifties. In addition, around one in six (15%) seventy year olds are still claiming to have run more than a mile at some point during their sixties.

And it’s not only al-fresco pursuits that the over 50s are indulging in. Six in ten over 50s have had a go at brain-training’ computer games and one in eight men over fifty claim to have taken Viagra in the past five years.

Three quarters (76%) say they are more concerned about being healthy than they have ever been - by comparison with their parents’ generation, today’s over-fifties are less than half as likely to smoke cigarettes (40% in the mid 1970s, down to 15% now), four times more likely to take health supplements and vitamins (15.6% in the 70s, up to 56.9% today) and six times more likely to be on a low-fat or low cholesterol diet, with four out of five over-fifties (78%) saying they are now eating a healthier diet than they have ever eaten before in their lives.

Emma Soames editor-at-large, Saga Magazine commented: “Staying fit is about more than just diet and exercise – it is also about being psychologically and sexually active. In both health and appearance, we see reflections of a fascinating truth about the nation’s over-fifties – in many respects, it is older people who have changed most, who have proved most responsive to social changes in the past generation, who are most unlike their same-aged counterparts of the 1970s and 80s. When it comes to health, this generation’s willingness to change old habits is quite simply overwhelmingly positive – more so than we even realise.”

The highest proportions of ‘super-active’ fifty-somethings can be found in Scotland, the South West and Wales, where up to a quarter (25%) of people in their fifties are participating in vigorous activities such as jogging, running, or mountain climbing. We are least likely to find a super-fit over 50 in London and the West Midlands, where such enthusiastic forms of outdoor exercise are only participated in by around one in six (17%).

As a result of this change in attitude towards health and well being today’s fifty-somethings have a much higher chance of celebrating their 100th birthday than they realise. While only one in forty people in their early fifties (2.5%) expect to reach age one hundred, it is forecast that in fact, around one in eight people turning fifty during 2010 (12%) will become centenarians. This represents a huge change from previous generations – fewer than one percent of the fifty year-olds of 1959 have made it to this age. By the middle of this century, the total number in the UK is forecast to grow by 2600% to 312,000 from today’s 12,000.

Emma Soames concluded: “Healthy life expectancy is keeping pace with increases in overall lifespan, which means that infirmity in old age arrives later, and occupies an ever smaller portion of life after age 50. Today’s over 50s are defying their own expectations in terms of living and staying fit for longer – and the numbers of active people in this age group in the UK is growing rapidly.”



Data was collected using Saga’s Populus panel, which delivered a total sample of 10,803 people aged 50+. Using quotas established by the Government Actuaries’ Department and the National Readership Survey, a nationally representative sample of over-50s was derived from the Populus panel, with an effective sample size of 3,483 (having taken design effects into account). This sample is nationally representative of UK over-50s by age, gender, social grade, and (broadly) by mobility (reported ease of walking one mile or more, and climbing stairs). Mobility measures were repeated and checked against evidence from the same questions asked in the BHPS (2007/8) – this revealed that the (weighted) Populus panel sample is not significantly different from the UK population in terms of mobility, allowing a derivation of a robust indication of the health activities and attitudes prevalent in the UK 50+ population. Unless otherwise sourced, all data presented in this report is based upon this derived nationally representative sample.

Alongside the main source of original survey data, analysis of the Family Expenditure Survey and the British Household Panel Study was used to provide broader perspective and an insight into trends in health and over the past generation.

For more information please contact the Saga Press Office on 01304 771529

Share this page

Get In Touch

The Saga Group Communications Team only deal with enquiries from the media.

If you're not a journalist, visit our contact us page for a full list of telephone numbers.