Healthspan vs. Lifespan - Lakeside Natural Medicine

Natural Health and Wellness for the Whole Family

Healthspan vs. Lifespan

BySarah Axtell, ND March 17, 2024

In our pursuit of living longer, happier, healthier lives, we often encounter terms like “lifespan” and “healthspan.” What’s the difference?

Live Longer: Lifespan

Lifespan refers to the total number of years a person lives from birth to death, or in essence, the duration of life. With the advances of modern medicine, we’ve doubled our life expectancy over the past 100 years. People are living longer as we no longer readily die of acute infections and trauma. It is possible to live to be 100, but for many people, cognitive and physical function is poor. Humans are living longer but are plagued of neurological diseases, metabolic diseases (ie. diabetes, obesity), cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This is the difference between lifespan (how long we live) and healthspan (quality of life).

Live Healthier: Healthspan

While lifespan quantifies the duration of life, healthspan refers to the quality of those years lived. If one is past their healthspan, however, it means they are chronically ill with a poorer quality of life. Living longer does not always translate to living better.

How to Improve Your Healthspan

When you increase your healthspan, you by default increase your lifespan. Maintaining a high level of healthspan involves various factors, including genetics, diet, exercise, stress management, community engagement, environmental influences, and access to healthcare.

Research shows that nutrition may be one of the most important lifestyle modifications any one of us can make to not only prevent chronic and degenerative diseases but to also increase our healthspan. A common denominator among the Blue Zone regions (longevity hotspots around the world) is a diet rich in plants. Plants provide vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting chemicals, such as polyphenols and antioxidants, to reduce inflammation, regulate our immune systems, and optimize cognitive function. This means strong bones, minimal pain, healthy weight, good memory, mood, and energy…all of which contribute to our healthspan.

In addition to nutrition, community involvement plays a vital role in this pursuit. Take Finland, for example, which has ranked the happiest place in the world for 6 years straight thanks to their strong social safety net. And the mere act of being happy extends life expectancy.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is increasingly being acknowledged as a significant risk factor for poor health outcomes. Some studies suggest that chronic loneliness can be as detrimental to health as smoking cigarettes. Whether through volunteer work, participation in book clubs, or simply spending time with loved ones, fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness contributes significantly to our healthspan.

Eating a colorful diet rich in plants, walking daily (walking is the #1 exercise associated with longevity!), investing in preventive healthcare such as naturopathic medicine, and nurturing community connections are essential steps toward to not only prolong your life but to also improve your overall quality of those years lived. This is optimal aging.

Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

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