When people have conversations about healthy aging and extending the longevity of their lives, lifespan is often their main focus. However, there is another term people should be more aware of when thinking of their overall life and life expectancy: healthspan.
This is a term that is growing in popularity when having conversations about biological aging and curating a high quality of life. Medical professionals and mental health experts are eager to take a nuanced look at how we age, balancing how long we age with the quality of life and health we have as we do it.
When we prioritize our healthspan, we are committing to a higher quality of life during the biological aging process. By understanding what it means and employing strategies to optimize it, we can all lead longer, happier lives.
Before I dig deep into ways to maximize your healthspan, it’s important to cover the basics. What exactly is a person’s healthspan? And what are the factors that influence it?
What Is Healthspan?
To best understand what healthspan is, let’s compare it to the more commonly used term lifespan.
A person’s lifespan refers to the overall longevity of a person’s life, looking at the age they can expect to reach in life. Healthspan is also concerned with how we age but takes a more nuanced approach. When we talk about a person’s healthspan, we look at the length of life spent in a period of good health, free from the negative impacts of things like age-related disease.
What do you see when you picture yourself moving through the aging process? For many, they wish to see themselves living a long life with good health, where they can continue living to the fullest even in old age.
I wish for everyone to live a long, happy, healthy life. This is why I encourage people to make increasing their healthspan an important part of their life when planning for a healthy life expectancy.
What Factors Influence Healthspan?
From our emotional relationships to our physical health, many different things can influence our healthspan. When we become aware of these influences and take measures to improve wellness by acknowledging them, it can do wonders to improve our health.
The chart below highlights this. Focusing on healthspan can pair our increasing lifespan with increasing healthspan, ensuring that even in our older years, we still have our health and wellness.
So what kinds of things influence our healthspan? A variety of health and lifestyle factors, including:
- Physical health and lifestyle choices (Ex/ A healthy diet, proper sleep, substance use)
- Mental health
- Emotional health and well-being
- Chronic disease and disease prevention
- Social Connections
How to Maximize Healthspan
Now that you know all about what healthspan is and the factors that influence it, I’m positive you’re gearing up to find ways to improve your own. Or maybe I’m off base, and the idea of taking care of yourself to increase your healthspan feels overwhelming and daunting.
I want to assure you that you don’t have to feel that way! Making life changes to prioritize healthspan can be easily done with the right tools and motivations. (And if creating life goals and executing them is something you struggle with, you should contact me, as a life coach like me might be just what you need.)
If you want to improve your healthspan, I have some tips and tricks for you to try. These will be in three key areas: healthy lifestyle practices, preventive healthcare measures, and prioritizing your mental and emotional health.
Employing Healthy Lifestyle Practices
If you want to work on maximizing your healthspan, a healthy lifestyle is a good place to start. Taking the time and care to prioritize physical health can do a lot to improve your overall well-being.
But where to begin, that is the question. When looking at creating a healthier lifestyle, I recommend you try the following three things:
- A Nutritious Diet: A healthy human body needs to be fuelled by healthy food! To improve health, try to eat a healthy, nutrition-focused diet.
- Regular Exercise: It’s also important to keep your body moving. Try to stay active to keep your body mobile and healthy. This can mean anything from weight strength training to daily yoga to walks around the neighborhood.
- Prioritize Sleep: Humans vastly underestimate just how important sleep is for our health, but it really is. The National Institute of Health tells us that poor sleep can cause issues like poor mental health or even physical health issues like poor immune system function and cardiovascular health issues. Try to prioritize getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep a night for optimum health.
Taking Preventative Health Measures
It’s also a good idea to employ preventive health measures when prioritizing a long healthspan.
Preventive healthcare can help you identify health concerns as they happen, helping you manage the diseases and conditions that can come with aging. Everyone in early adulthood to older adults should look to preventative healthcare to help them maintain optimal health.
Try to make the following a regular part of taking care of your health:
- Regular Check-Ups: To ensure you’re not encountering health issues, seeing a doctor regularly is a great idea. Tests like routine physicals, cancer screenings, blood work, and more can work to identify potential health concerns and help you manage conditions you may already have.
- Update Immunizations: You should also follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for regular vaccinations. Preventing diseases like influenza, HPV, and hepatitis is an easy and efficient way to prevent future health issues.
- Manage Chronic Disease: Some people out there may already be living with a chronic disease or are at risk of developing one as they age. In these cases, you should prioritize disease management with your doctor, creating a plan for regular check-ups, medication, and lifestyle changes needed to improve health.
Prioritizing Emotions and Mental Health
Our emotions and mental health can also hold a big impact on how we age and our overall healthspan. This encompasses both our dealings with mental health and mental illness, as well as our emotional health and social connections.
It’s important to take care of these things when focusing on longevity. Research from Oxford tells us mental illness can have a massive impact on our life expectancy, reducing it by 10-20 years in some cases. We also have research that tells us that loneliness and a lack of socialization can lead to poor health and negatively impact mortality.
If you want to take steps to prioritize emotional and mental health, I recommend the following:
- Prioritize Mental Health: Building mental health resilience can do a ton to improve mental health, reducing issues like stress and anxiety. This can be done through things like practicing self-care, exploring mindfulness practices, and seeking the support of mental health professionals.
- Find Social Connection: Maintaining healthy relationships is key to our emotional well-being. I always encourage people looking to improve emotional health to seek social support by connecting with family, friends, or the community. Try discussing feelings with loved ones or even engage in community work to create a sense of purpose and belonging.
- Stimulate Brain Health: A focus on cognitive health becomes super important as we age. The National Institute of Aging points out that keeping an active mind can help older adults reduce cognitive decline, improving things like memory. This can be done with things that stimulate the brain through hobbies like music, brain games, puzzles, reading, and other forms of mental stimulation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
To ensure I’ve covered all the basics, here are the questions most folks have when it comes to the topic of healthspan:
Is healthspan solely determined by genetics?
While healthspan can be influenced by genetics (with some individuals predisposed to genetic conditions like heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease ), it is not the sole factor of influence. Other factors, like lifestyle choices, healthy habits, your environment, and preventive healthcare, can all be of influence on healthspan and vary from person to person.
Can healthspan be improved even in older age?
A person can work on improving their healthspan at any time in life, young or old! It is never too late to adopt healthy practices and make positive changes to improve overall health.
How does healthspan differ from healthy aging?
The terms healthspan and healthy aging are similar, with healthy aging being a part of what helps a person have a longer healthspan.
Healthspan is a term that defines the set period of life where a person has good health and where full health function is maintained as long as possible. In comparison, healthy aging is a term that refers to maintaining optimal health throughout the natural biological aging process.
Are there specific diets or supplements that enhance healthspan?
When it comes to enhancing healthspan, no single supplement or diet will ensure longevity. It will always vary, depending on an individual and their unique health issues. However,m adopting an overall healthy diet, and supplementing with things like vitamins and nutrients when needed, can do wonders to improve overall health and improve your healthspan.
Need Help Creating Goals to Improve Healthspan?
Now that you’re an expert in what a healthspan is and why it’s important to prioritize, you’re hopefully ready to make changes in your own life to improve it.
Improving your healthspan can do wonders to help you improve your overall quality of life as you age. But I know making the lifestyle changes to do it can be intimidating to start on your own.
Lucky for you, when people are struggling to change and don’t know where to start, that’s when it’s my time to shine! As a life coach, my goal is to help you level up your life, helping you with goal setting and accountability to reach the desired outcome you’re looking for.
We all have goals we want to reach, and there’s no shame if improving your healthspan is one of them! If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you as a life coach, click here to get started.