My conversation with Maddy Dychtwald: What the longevity revolution means for women

Longevity is the buzzword. Women are already living on average six years longer than men and might easily make it past 100 — more than 8 in 10 centenarians are women.

But there’s a dark side, according to Maddy Dychtwald, author of the new book published by the Mayo Clinic Press: “Ageless Aging: A Woman’s Guide to Increasing Healthspan, Brainspan, and Lifespan.”

Women don’t do as well as their male counterparts when it comes to the number of healthy years they live. “On average in the United States, women spend the last 12 to 14 years in a cascade of poor health,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Here’s what Dychtwald recently told Yahoo Finance about why women need to take control for a longer and happier life, edited for length and clarity:

Read on Yahoo Finance

Maddy, why is this a women’s issue?

Women have really won the longevity lottery. That’s extra years to have purpose, joy, have vitality, energy, but you have to take control of your lifestyle and environment. Women have the capacity to change the narrative on aging and make it more positive, more empowering.

How do we do that?

It isn’t just about one thing. Science tells us that diet really matters, and exercise may be the silver bullet for living longer, better. But it’s also about your sleep and your hormones and the way you access the healthcare system, and, importantly, our finances, which most people don’t even think about when they think about living a healthy life.

These things all work together. They’re not in silos. If you don’t have your financial house in order, that creates stress, which creates health issues, which is going to send you down a rabbit hole in terms of your health and well-being. And you may not have the financial wherewithal to be able to afford the kind of healthcare you need.

If you don’t have your financial house in order, that creates stress, which creates health issues, which is going to send you down a rabbit hole in terms of your health and well-being. (Photo courtesy of Maddy Dychtwald) (Carl Timpone/

Can you dig a little deeper here on how financial angst can be a detriment to our health?

Any kind of worry can create anxiety and elevated levels of cortisol in our system, which attacks your system in a very negative way. We’ve all had the jitters, and we’ve seen our blood pressure go up, for instance, and maybe had heart palpitations. These are not good things for you when you’re worrying about anything, but in particular about money.

For women, it’s a huge issue because we haven’t done as good a job as men in terms of saving for retirement for a lot of reasons, the pay gap being one, and we usually retire a couple of years earlier than men.

Even women who are very affluent have a fear of ending up with no money at all at the end of their lives. And this fear gnaws at them and does, in fact, impact their health.

What can women do to tackle this?

The idea of gaining financial knowledge and really understanding the basics, which are available even online is a start. Finding a trusted adviser is important, which is less easy to do. And then taking that knowledge and really owning it so that you can feel confident in your financial decision-making.

By the way, when it comes to most tasks that women do in terms of finances, like budgeting, we’re great and we’re very confident, but when it comes to investing, we feel less confident.

Maddy, you have said that women would rather talk about their own death than money. Can you elaborate?

When it comes to talking about how much they make in terms of salary, what kinds of bonuses they’re looking for, what kinds of promotions and their investments, women are far less willing to share that information than men.

We need to open it up and talk about it very candidly because when we do, we can probably feel a little bit better about our own personal situation, and that can translate to wellness overall.

Ageless aging
Ageless aging (Mayo Clinic Press)

Wealth equals wellbeing is a theme in your book. How so?

The word wealth has received a bad rap. We think of wealth, and we think of entitlement, and we think of super wealthy, rich men who are out there just like throwing it around. But the word comes from the old English “weal,” which means “wealth, welfare, and wellbeing.” Money, in fact, is all about well-being.

You write about the different kinds of aging. Can you discuss?

One of them is chronological aging. It’s how many birthdays have you had? For instance, I’ve had 74, and that’s great. Then there’s emotional or psychological aging, and that’s the kind of aging we want to embrace. There are a few things that are on the increase as you get older. One of them is your levels of happiness and resilience. And by the way, our anxiety levels seem to lessen, although I haven’t discovered that yet. Those things actually improve. That’s the positive side of aging, or the upside of aging.

Then there’s biological aging. We can’t hold back the hands of time, but what we can do is we can impact some of the physical and biological changes that happen with aging by eating a healthier diet, by exercising, by sleeping better. By changing our attitude about aging, our own personal aging can add seven and a half years to our lives on average, according to a recent study. That’s kind of an amazing thing.

Could you talk a little bit about purpose and how work can help us discover our purpose?

Purpose is an essential ingredient to ageless aging. There’s no doubt about it. Marc Freedman, the founder of Cogenerate, told me, there is purpose with a big P and purpose with a little p. They’re both essential and very important. So purpose with a big P is if you’re going to start a nonprofit, or if you’re going to have a new career, or start a business — these are big purposes. So is volunteering your time to serve something that really matters to you, that you’re super passionate about.

Purpose with a little p is like you getting on your horse and having a ride every day or me walking my dog in the morning. In a study, we asked people where they get the most purpose. And the number one way was spending time with family.

How can work make our aging process a smoother and happier period of our life?

Working a little bit longer not only can bring you a strong sense of purpose, but it can also work on a lot of other levels. Having a little more income for a few more years can really make a difference in our lives, and it also gives us social connections. Loneliness is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s crazy.

Parting thoughts?

For women, the big message is that it’s never too late to own your health and well-being. That means everything from your finances to the way you eat and sleep and your exercise routine. Find an entry point. For me, it was exercise because I found that when I took a walk for 30 minutes a day, I felt so much better. It motivated me to eat a little bit healthier. And then my sleep improved. I began to spend more time with friends. I realized that I could exercise, do it outdoors, do it with friends, and best of all we can support each other in this process to live better longer.

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including “In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work” and “Never Too Old To Get Rich.” Follow her on X @kerryhannon.

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