Life Span vs. Health Span – You may have heard of these two terms and wonder what the difference is. Living well and long: Are they the same? Can we do both?
Living a longer life does not necessarily mean a better life. New research has changed our concept of aging. Instead of worrying about how long we live – our life span – we now place emphasis on our “health span.”
Ideally our health span (that functional, disease-free period of physical, mental and emotional health) should equal our life span. But, statistics show our health has steadily declined since World War II with over 50 percent of adults suffering one chronic illness or condition while others suffer multiple conditions.
It’s obvious that advancements in medicine and technology have increased overall lifespan, but the achievement of extending our health span is still lagging.
For example, let’s look at the villain cancer, the second leading cause of death in the world. Even though billions of dollars has been spent on research cancer is just as deadly now as it was 20, 30 or even 50 years ago.
The average person has a one-in-two chance of getting cancer and a one-in-three chance of dying from it. Three quarters of the population find themselves in this category already and sadly these figures are expected to soar as the number of overweight and obese people climbs to unprecedented levels.
The reality is, even with more drugs, more hospitals and more nursing homes available many people still suffer more than their parents did at a similar age.
To live with a life span that does not match one’s health span is very expensive and a much less attractive option. If along with those extra years of life, life to years is to be added, experts agree the next chapter in medical advancement will need to be as much about “lifestyle as medicine”
This is wonderful news as it means we do have a lot of control and can structure our lifestyle to ensure our health span does indeed match our life span.
A huge part of being healthy is about removing the risk around getting these killers. To lower the likelihood of developing modern “lifestyle chronic diseases” like diabetes, heart disease and cancer along with many hundreds of others, a healthy lifestyle should start in childhood and last throughout adulthood
So, what can we do to increase our health span?
It is now becoming evident that adherence to healthy lifestyle choices like proper exercise, healthy eating (REAL food) and other healthy lifestyle elements like stress management, quality sleep and healthy doses of sunlight is the formula necessary to obtain a comparable increase in “health span.”
A focus on lean body mass which is the amount of lean muscle tissue we have is vitally important and many of us fail to understand that our muscles go far beyond mobility.
Increased muscle mass helps slow the aging process, improve our functionality, and enhance our quality of life. Unfortunately, our modern increasingly sedentary world does not offer enough “work” for our muscles to remain strong. We literally sit for most of the day and do not get enough muscle- building and maintaining activity.
The only way to assure we do get enough of the right activity is to add intentional strengthening exercise into our lives and never stop doing them no matter how old we are, or we get.
Muscle health protects against metabolic and hormonal decline, insulin resistance, obesity and increased risk of fractures. When neglected it will limit health span.
Lean body mass is the MOST important biomarker because it hugely influences many other biomarkers such as basil metabolic rate, overall body strength, bone density and brain health.
If we ignore these issues and do nothing about them, sarcopenia – the serious loss of muscle mass and strength – sets in.
Toned, strong muscles maintain optimum blood sugar levels, boost heart strength and immune system health, keeps bones and joints healthy, and enhances cognitive function while slowing the aging process.
Given the metabolic and biological importance of healthy muscle mass, allowing degradation of this system through inactivity particularly as we get older can set the stage for a significant health crisis.
In short, once muscle tissue loss sets in, health is on a slippery downhill slope, triggering unhealthy body composition (muscle/fat ratio) changes, loss of physical energy and vitality, increased tendency to gain excess weight, increased vulnerability to disease and accelerating the aging process.
When strength is lost, the loss of independence also disappears and we become too frail to move around unassisted in order to take care of ourselves. A condition many of us have seen with our parents and grandparents.
Partaking in strengthening exercise (not cardio-type activity) defined as slow, direct controlled loading of the muscles through their ranges of movement under with adequate resistance is the key to rebuilding lost muscle mass and strengthening or maintaining it.
Moral of the story: Every lifestyle choice we make has a direct impact on our health now, and in the future.
Decide today to become passionate about increasing your own health span for a long AND healthy life.
It’s not so much about years of life, but about life in years. A long life with a high burden of chronic disease is not a good thing if it means more time is spent living with illness and disability.