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Lifespan Vs. Healthspan

Lifespan Vs. Healthspan

Understanding the differences for better health

Story by Brian Tully, MS, EP-C

Many of us have heard the term Lifespan, known as the length of living years, but most of you may not be familiar with the term Healthspan or be aware that this measurement may actually be more important than the number of years lived.

Healthspan refers to the number of years lived healthy; that is the years lived free from disease, illness, and injury. While we all want a long life, but a long life without our health is a much less desirable path. We want a high quality of life that allows us to travel, enjoy retirement, and run around with our grandkids without aches and pains; basically enjoying life with a solid body, sound mind, and strong heart. So how do we get our Healthspan to be more in sync with our Lifespan?

Of course there will always be factors out of our control, such as genetics, fixed environmental factors (pollution, behavior of others), past decisions, and family history. There are also a number of factors that we can control, such as nutrition, lifestyle, mindset, and social network.

Good nutrition and lifestyle habits will have the biggest impact overall on improving our Healthspan. This is not to say that eating right and exercise are going to make you invincible and live forever, but it will go a long way to contributing to your overall resiliency and improving how you age.

There are many characteristics that we identify with getting older.

Decreased Energy – weakened due to poor nutrition, low activity, and hormone changes

Diminished Cognition – caused by neurodegeneration, prescription medications, and poor nutrition

Weakened Immunity – increase of illness and infection due to decrease in antibodies and an increase in inflammation factors

Fragile Bones – caused by nutrient deficiencies, sedentary lifestyle, and hormonal changes

Slowed Metabolism – reduced appetite, decreased nutrient absorption, and poor blood sugar control

Poor Mobility – loss of strength, muscle mass, and flexibility due to lack of activity and poor nutrition

Hormonal Changes – changes in sex drive, mood, energy, and body composition due to drop off in body’s production of key hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone)

Many of these traits are accepted as part of the rite of passage into the unavoidable “old age” stage of life. We say things like, “I am not as young as used to be”, “the years are starting to catch up to me”, “that’s what happens when you get older”. But this doesn’t have to be the case. You can look at two 68 year olds and see two vastly different qualities of life if one has led an active life with good nutrition, and the other has not.

With a retirement plan, the earlier you start contributing the better off you are going to be at retirement. Your Healthspan works the same way, the earlier you start to make the right choices and continue to stay on the path of good nutrition with an active lifestyle the greater the dividends you will receive as the years go by. So maybe you are reading this and realize that you haven’t been very good to your body all these years. Should you throw in the towel? Absolutely not! Again, much like a retirement plan, there is also better late than never. Changes you begin to make this week will improve your next week. Start today and improve your tomorrows.

Hopefully I have inspired you to want to improve your Healthspan. Are you wondering where to begin? Here are 7 researched based habits that have been proven to help us age well.

1. Move Daily – try to spend at least 30 minutes per day being active; this can be as simple as taking a walk; you can start slow and gradually build up over time; it can even be broken up into 5 or 10 minute blocks if you are starting from square one.

2. Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks – if nutrition is lacking in important nutrients it will make your body more vulnerable to injury and illness; balance is key

3. Achieve a Healthy Weight – too thin or too heavy can be a challenge to the body making it more susceptible to injury and illness and also impact recovery

4. Getting Consistent Sleep – we may need less as we age but it is very important to get a steady daily dose for essential mind and body health

5. Quit Smoking – smoking has been identified to be directly connected to numerous negative health outcomes; it is never too late to quit, the body begins to regenerate immediately; take it slow and seek support

6. Moderate Alcohol Consumption – processing of alcohol takes the body away from its other duties of maintaining necessary bodily function and maintenance; there is no nutritional value in alcohol

7. Connect with Others – try to connect on a regular basis with family, friends, and community members; having people in your life to love and be loved by is important

These habits can and will make a difference no matter what your current age. So start today to implement them into your life and practice them consistently to increase your overall well-being, lower your rate of disease, and improve your mood. It is time to bring your Healthspan in line with your Lifespan.

If you have additional questions regarding this month’s article or have a topic you would like to see covered in future articles, please reach out to me via email.

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