Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.

Lifespan vs. Healthspan

Everyone has heard of lifespan – the number of days, months, or years an organism lives. Globally, human life expectancy has doubled over the past 150 years. Currently, the estimated lifespan for the average American is about 76 years.

What is Healthspan?

Healthspan is the number of years that we live healthily. Nearly all of us can think of two people of the same age who look entirely different. Similarly, we’ve all seen young and vibrant-looking 70-year-olds or feeble-looking 50-year-olds.

Medical interventions have increased lifespan, but that does not necessarily mean that the people living longer are healthy. A recent science article based on research in England states that healthspan is increasing even for people with common conditions. The researchers found that disability-free years mostly increased for men and women but decreased for people with cognitive impairment.

It’s no secret that chronic diseases generally associated with aging are increasing. Healthspan can be hard to measure – is it based on visible disability, bloodwork results, or how a person feels?

A 2016 article exploring that concept states: “Healthspan is not one metric but a compilation of functional measures involving different organs and distinct disease mechanisms that may differ between different organisms. Certainly, more experimental studies are needed to better define the healthspan concept.” 

While science metrics and precise definitions are necessary to advance medicine, what seems more relevant is how you feel today and what steps you take to start feeling better or ensure that you feel good in the future.

How To Extend Healthspan

The ultimate goal is to have a healthspan that matches your lifespan. Of course, you can’t always have a healthspan that perfectly matches your lifespan, but it can be as good as reasonably possible.

Too many people wake up stiff, aching, miserable, and exhausted. They chalk it up to stress or old age. When this happens in your 40s, that’s not old age! Unless a change is made, the aches and pains will only get worse over time.

The good news is that our genes dictate only about 20% of how long we live; the other 80% is primarily based on our lifestyles – something we can control!

The outward appearance of health (or poor health) reflects our internal cellular health. Think back to your high school biology days – we are all made up of billions of cells that allow us to function. Cellular health doesn’t always align with someone’s age, which is where healthspan comes in. The same things that we know make us look old on the outside make cells act old – and function poorly – on the inside. Lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, sleep deprivation, excessive stress, etc.) make a big difference.

There is no magic wand that will instantly improve your healthspan. It takes consistency and a commitment that you’re going to do better for yourself. For your kids. Your grandkids. Your family. Whatever drives you.

Here are some basic tips to you get started:

  • Focus on incorporating multiple little changes over time instead of making a huge change that may be too disruptive or not sustainable.
  • Encourage your family or friends to join you so you can support each other’s goals. Accountability helps!
  • Prioritize meal planning on the weekend (or on your day off) to make healthy food choices easier when you’re busy.
  • Start swapping one unhealthy drink for a glass of water, or drink a glass of water before you chug that soda.
  • Try getting to bed 15 minutes earlier if you routinely get less than 6 hours of sleep a night.
  • If you don’t have 30 minutes for a walk or strength training, do 2 or 3 10-minute sessions throughout the day

Disclaimer: This article should not replace individual clinical judgment or professional medical advice.

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