Over the last century Doctors and Scientists have been focused on extending the human lifespan. And it would be fair to say their time has been well spent.
Since 1890 life expectancy in Australia has risen from 49 years to 82.5 years.
This incredible improvement is largely thanks to advancements in treating infectious diseases. Things like flu, measles and tuberculosis. These types of problems had been holding back our average life expectancy for centuries.
While we can and should celebrate this success, there is always work to be done.
Because by extending the human lifespan we appear to have uncovered a new type of problem. A problem that did not affect humans 100 years ago.
What Is A Healthspan?
For the average human living today, there is around a 60% chance they will die from a chronic disease.
There are many definitions of chronic disease but largely these are conditions which might be considered preventable. Heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity all fall under this definition.
The chronic nature of these conditions means that their ill effects can be drawn out over many years.
So, while our average life expectancy might be growing, we are spending so much time feeling unwell that our additional years are not being enjoyed.
On average we spend the last 9 years of our lives just surviving. This is according to the WHO, based on the global average lifespan of 72 years.
That means we are only healthy for 63 years. It is only during these healthy years that we have the physical ability and mental capacity to do everything we want with our lives.
This time spent healthy, or at least not suffering, can be considered your healthspan.
Healthspan vs Lifespan
Interestingly healthspan may not increase directly with lifespan.
Statistics from the US show the national average healthspan is around 63 years. Roughly the same as the global figure presented by the WHO.
But the US average lifespan is much longer, around 79 years. So, rather than just 9 years of suffering, an average American is suffering for 16 years.
Let’s be clear, these statistics are based on different definitions of healthspan. Thus it’s impossible to draw any conclusions.
But it might not be unreasonable to suggest that although our average lifespan has been increasing, our relative healthspan may be decreasing.
That’s not to say living in the 1890s was 49 years of perfect health. I know when I would rather have been born.
But rather than accept that chronic disease is the burden of the modern healthspan, should we not tackle this problem like we did infectious disease?
Can we continue extending the average lifespan but also reduce the growing gap to our healthspan?
How To Extend Your Healthspan
The obvious question then is: how can we extend our healthspan? How do we get more time to do the things we want to do?
Fortunately, while we don’t always have control over our lifespan, we already have the ability and tools to influence our healthspan.
As the medical system continues to make amazing advancements in extending the average lifespan, there is one tried and true method to extend our healthspan.
It’s our lifestyle.
Healthspan is dictated by chronic disease, and the most common risk factor for chronic disease is lifestyle.
The not-so-secret system for extending your healthspan is living a healthy lifestyle.