Don't put off your retirement... you'll only end up sick! Living longer does not guarantee people will be fit enough to work into old age 

  • Life expectancy increased by 10.1 years worldwide from 1990 to 2015
  • But healthy life expectancy – the time people will live without illness or disability seriously affecting them – grew by an average of only 6.1 years
  • British women born in 2015 can expect to live 82.8 years on average and men 79 
  • Women, however, can expect to stay disability-free for only 72 years, while for men it is 69.9

The retirement age should not automatically rise as we live longer because people are spending more of their later years crippled by poor health, experts warn.

While life expectancy increased by 10.1 years worldwide between 1990 and 2015, healthy life expectancy – the time people will live without illness or disability seriously affecting them – grew by an average of only 6.1 years.

This means the average Briton born in 2015 will spend a decade of their retirement dogged by poor health, according to the authors of the Global Burden of Disease Study published in the Lancet last night.

The report, which analysed data from 127 countries, warned that living longer did not guarantee people would stay fit enough to work into old age. 

The retirement age should not automatically rise as we live longer because people are spending more of their later years crippled by poor health, experts warn. Posed by models

The retirement age should not automatically rise as we live longer because people are spending more of their later years crippled by poor health, experts warn. Posed by models

There was no sign we are any less likely to develop conditions, such as joint problems or mental illness, that could trigger early retirement – and continuing to work could worsen our health.

The researchers, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, found that unhealthy lifestyle choices are a major factor, triggering chronic problems such as heart disease, joint pain and diabetes that contribute to up to seven in ten deaths globally.

'The continued prevalence of these and other disorders associated with increasing age might limit the capacities of an older workforce,' they said.

'Since 1990, overall health has improved in most countries, with particularly large gains occurring in the past ten years. Although improved health means longer lifespans, it also translates to more years of functional health lost.'

British women born in 2015 can expect to live 82.8 years on average and men 79. But women can expect to stay disability-free for only 72 years, while for men it is 69.9, the study found.

The number one risk factor for illness or disability in western countries, including Britain and the US, was found to be smoking, followed by high blood pressure and being overweight. Stock image

The number one risk factor for illness or disability in western countries, including Britain and the US, was found to be smoking, followed by high blood pressure and being overweight. Stock image

Men can expect a healthy life of more than 70 years in only 14 countries, but the UK is one of 59 countries where women can expect more than 70 healthy years.

Since 2005, life expectancy in Britain has risen by 1.67 years for women and 2.3 years for men. 

Yet healthy life expectancy has grown by only 1.46 years and 2 years, respectively. 

For many years, the state pension age in the UK was 65 for men and 60 for women. 

But from 2020, the state pension age will be 66 for both sexes, rising to 67 between 2026 and 2028 and linked to life expectancy after that. 

Overall, the most common illnesses causing chronic health problems in the UK are heart disease, back and neck pain, and lung cancer. 

The most common non-fatal disabilities are back and neck pain, sensory disease – such as sight or hearing loss – and depression.

The number one risk factor for illness or disability in western countries, including Britain and the US, was found to be smoking, followed by high blood pressure and being overweight.

Globally, life expectancy has risen to 74.8 for women and 69 for men but the research found that the increases – achieved thanks to improvements in sanitation and immunisation – are being eroded by the global obesity crisis.

Healthy life expectancy is highest for women in Andorra (76.3 years) and for men in Singapore (72.3 years). It is lowest in Lesotho – 43.8 years for women and 39.1 for men. 

Poor diet, obesity and drug abuse now account for a far greater proportion of deaths and disabilities worldwide. 

More people than ever are living with chronic illnesses including sight loss, osteoarthritis, back and neck pain, depression and anaemia caused by a lack of iron.

Dr Christopher Murray, director of the research, said: 'Development drives, but does not determine health. 

'We see countries that have improved far faster than can be explained by income, education or fertility. And we also continue to see countries – including the US – that are far less healthy than they should be given their resources.'  

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