Shining a light on longevity fitness

How living longer affects the health, wealth and social equity of your employees

What should people do to be well in the age of longer lives? Bank of America, in collaboration with The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), conducted in-depth research that explored the profound impact of longevity on equity in health, wealth and social connections. With carefully curated, highly respected sources and a diverse panel of experts, the resulting report, Longevity Fitness, Financial and Health Dimensions Across the Life Course, shines a light on the totality of wellness.

While life’s course isn’t always predictable, this research is building a knowledge base that shows people can take three steps to make the most of opportunities that come their way:

1 Social equity: Cultivating social relationships with friends and close relatives.
2 Health equity: Maintaining their health through prevention and lifestyle choices.
3 Wealth equity: Building wealth by living within their means and saving for the future.
Social, health and wealth equity all comprise total wellness.

“Longevity Fitness” describes how people can thrive—not just survive—through social, health and wealth equity.

Behind the scenes: how the research study took shape

James Appleby, chief executive officer of The Gerontological Society of America, says previous work with Bank of America inspired this new research. “We were reflecting on Longevity Economics research we had done in 2018, which touched a nerve, and we began to think about all the dimensions that go together in making up a life.”

Individuals, says Appleby, tend to compartmentalize. “We worry about our health,” he says, “how we keep our financial house in order and how we keep our family and friendships strong. But these are all part of the same picture—a continuum.”

“Wellness is a totality,” says Kevin Crain, head of Workplace Solutions, Bank of America. Plan sponsors, he says, are understanding this more and more. “We are starting to see movement by human resources teams toward organizing around employee life needs, taking a more holistic approach. Instead of health wellness, financial wellness and emotional wellness organized separately as single functions, we are seeing positive signs of human resources treating wellness in a centralized manner.”

The rationale is becoming clearer. Financial stress affects emotional health and eventually your physical health. “When we say to employers that we’re here to talk about the financial life journey of your employees, some are saying, ‘Yes, I can use this information in my wellness portal, or in my wellness communication plan.’” It’s a very positive and important trend in corporate America, says Crain.

Why it’s vital for plan sponsors to think holistically

Companies, says Crain, could be working with people who will have long financial lives with their organization. For their benefits programs to be effective, they need to know much more than whether or not an employee is participating in their 401(k).

“Employers are being held more responsible by employees and other entities,” says Crain. Plan sponsors need to be sure their benefits are being utilized, and determining the right benefits is getting more complicated. For example, caregiving is now prevalent across all generations—and that role has both financial and emotional impacts. “Caregiving is becoming the biggest issue in benefits,” says Applebee. “The population of caregivers is much larger than employers had expected.”

“When we began,” says Appleby, “we had a strong hunch that there were stories going untold. The two that really stood out to us through the research literature review, and input from our advisory panel, were the impact of social connection and caregiving.”

In a long life well-lived, being connected to other people is an intrinsic part of well-being

People regularly think about their finances, says Appleby, as well as their physical health. They might commit to eating better or exercising more. “What’s been missing from the conversation,” he says, “is the fact that people are rarely as thoughtful about their connectedness to others. Connections, or lack of them, matter greatly to your overall well-being, but we’re not generally proactive about connections across the course of our lives.”

Social equity is an important but often overlooked element as people move into older adulthood. People who lack connections or are socially isolated have less satisfaction with life in retirement and a greater sense of financial insecurity, studies have shown.

Everything is interrelated

“There’s so much that goes into the topic of benefits for your entire financial life,” says Crain. “It’s not just about retirement funds or health savings accounts. It’s about the immediate, intermediate and long-term financial concerns employees face throughout their working career.”

The report puts a spotlight on the financial dimension of every situation. In today’s environment, Appleby says, you’re missing the point if you don’t realize that everything is interrelated. “And how we feel about our financial well-being varies across a continuum. It depends on things such as our capacity to absorb financial shocks, and our ability to control day-to-day spending.”

Taking a universal view and developing better systems

Research like this, says Crain, supports the need to broaden our outlook and take a more universal view. In the past the industry looked at just a 401(k), took a few basic facts that we knew and we gave the employee a recommendation—but we didn’t know what else they were doing in their lives. Now it’s much more qualitative and quantitative. “This study truly helps inform the work Bank of America does to innovate our products and services,” he says.

Crain adds: “This work has enormous impact and we’re fortunate to have partners like GSA in our research. Bank of America organizes itself around communities; we want people to know that we’re thinking about things in ways that are much more humanistic. After all, we’re not just a business. We’re part of the community.”

Key takeaways

Download the Longevity Fitness, Financial and Health Dimensions Across the Life Course study.

Talk with your Bank of America representative about strategies to help infuse these insights in your company’s wellness programs.

Share the Longevity Checklist, which includes tips and links to resources, with employees age 50 or older.