·        Treating anti-aging directly, instead of targeting specific individual diseases, puts more money in people’s pockets, improving the economy.
·        Expanding the number of healthy years we live (healthspan) while compressing years in poor health dealing with disease can inject trillions of dollars into the US economy.

As our life expectancy continues to increase, the proportion of life lived in good health has stayed mostly constant. This means that although we’re living longer, we’re also living more years in poor health. Therefore, scientists have emphasized researching healthy aging and maximizing years lived without disease compared to traditional research on individual diseases. What’s been unclear is what broad economic benefits may come from focusing research on healthy aging.

Harvard-based aging expert David Sinclair teamed up with economists Andrew J. Scott from London Business School and Martin Ellison from the University of Oxford to evaluate the economic benefits of treating aging in Nature Aging. The group showed that expanding the number of healthy years (healthspan) and diminishing later years lived with disease provides more value than simply extending life expectancy — it has major economic impacts. Sinclair, Scott, and Ellison also project that targeting aging with pharmaceuticals may provide larger economic gains than treating individual diseases. This economic analysis enormously boosts the rationale for allocating resources toward healthy aging research.

Extending Healthspan Stimulates Consumer Spending

Sinclair, Scott, and Ellison generated an economic model based on how individuals make consumer choices, the number of hours they work, and the time and money they spend on leisure. Using the model, this expert team compared the economic benefits of increasing healthspan against simply extending lifespan. They found that increasing lifespan but not necessarily maximizing it while substantially improving healthspan results in the most significant economic societal gains. The team of experts projected that extending healthspan during older ages gives older individuals a better chance to make consumer choices that drive the economy.

(Scott et al., 2021 | Nature Aging) Expanding healthspan to minimize the number of years lived with disease provides optimal economic societal gains. The orange line illustrates the current societal age trajectory for survival rates. The yellow line shows the age trajectory if we therapeutically target only lifespan extension, while the blue line gives the trajectory for enhancing healthspan over longer periods. An economic model based on the ability to pay as a consumer showed that therapeutically targeting healthspan provides the best strategy for economic benefits.

The Impact of Anti-Aging Pharmaceuticals 

To show how combating aging compares to targeting individual age-related diseases, Sinclair, Scott, and Ellison researched the diabetes-treating pharmaceutical metformin. Metformin has been shown to increase lifespan significantly, at least in diabetic patients. When people with diabetes start taking metformin at age 75, their lifespan increases by an average of 2.9 years, and these additional years lived in good health average from 1.7 to 2.5 years.

With metformin expanding the number of healthy years people live, individuals’ contribution to the economy improves. So, Sinclair, Scott, and Ellison compared the economic benefits of taking metformin to eradicate individual diseases. Starting metformin treatment at age 75 more than doubled individuals’ value to the economy as measured by their ability to spend as consumers (willingness to pay [WTP]). They compared the metformin-related WTP elevations to reducing symptoms from diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and depression, none of which came close to the benefits from metformin. 

A whole other arena of anti-aging therapeutics focuses on nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+). As levels of this crucial bioenergetic molecule decline with age and are linked to age-related diseases, the anti-aging field has placed a lot of attention on boosting NAD+ levels. Supplements like nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN) look promising, with recent research showing that this NAD+ precursor improves muscle performance and insulin sensitivity in aged adults. So, the benefits of anti-aging NAD+ supplements could provide another way to extend the number of healthy years we live to drive the economy.

(Scott et al., 2021 | Nature Aging) The ability to pay as a consumer (WTP) more than doubles with taking metformin compared to reducing the symptoms for individual age-related diseases. Taking metformin (dark blue line) more than doubles the ability to pay as a consumer compared to reducing cancer (blue line), reducing cardiovascular disease (gray line), reducing depression (light blue line), reducing dementia (orange line), and reducing frailty (yellow line). This finding provides compelling support to therapeutically targeting aging as opposed to individual age-related diseases.

Healthy Lifespan Extension Boosts the Economy

The economic gains from slowing aging and inducing a one-year increase in life expectancy is a combined WTP of $37.6 trillion for the US economy. The corresponding value for a 10-year increase in life expectancy is $366.8 trillion, translating to 33.6% of the 2019 GDP. These numbers illustrate the drastic economic benefits that could come from therapeutically targeting aging to enhance our lifespans and the number of years we live in health.

Making Anti-Aging Therapies Accessible 

 “Our estimates suggest that treatments that target aging are extremely valuable,” said Sinclair and colleagues.

But to reap the widespread economic benefits of treatments that target aging, the costs of these treatments must remain affordable. Maintaining access to valuable yet affordable anti-aging therapies will also be crucial to avoid future inequalities and disparities in health. Once scientists develop useful anti-aging therapeutics, we need to find ways to make sure everyone can access them.