Are You Improving LIFESPAN or HEALTHSPAN?

Exercise and nutrition have officially become standard practice (or, at the very least, standard conversation) for improving health and fitness. We know that having a regular exercise routine will improve our fitness, and we agree the better nutrition will optimize our health.

Ironically, though, when most of set out on a health and fitness journey, the main focus is not necessarily on the bigger picture of living a loooong HEALTHY life.

In fact, most of our actions are brought about by improving our current circumstances and, possibly, living a slightly longer life if we can.

The difference between these 2 ideas is small, but understanding the nuance can change your perspective and possibly change your life.

To help clarify what I’m talking about, let’s put a name to these to trains of thought and create some understanding around the strategies that surround each train in particular…

LIFESPAN verses HEALTHSPAN. Which One Are YOU After?
As you may have guessed, lifespan is the term used to define how long you live. In other words, if you live until the age of 99, then 99 is your lifespan.

Healthspan, on the other hand, is the term used to define the number of years you live in health without a chronic disease hindering your life.

For instance, the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes happens on average around the age of 45-50 (although this is getting lower and lower). If a person is diagnosed with diabetes at age 50, does nothing to actively improve it, and lives until age 80, then their lifespan was 80, but their HEALTHSPAN was 50.

The other 30 years of this person’s life is known in medical parlance as living in a state of morbidity.

What Decreases Your HEALTHSPAN?
To understand what it looks like to live in a state of morbidity, take a second to think about someone you know who is at or beyond the age of 50, takes numerous medications, has trouble getting around, and is constantly blaming all of their ailments on their aging body.

This is what it means to live in a state of morbidity.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “well JERRY, isn’t that NORMAL for someone older than 50?! Don’t we ALL get on medications and develop chronic disease as we age?!”

While the healthcare and medical systems may lead you to believe this to be the case, the truth of the matter is, age has very little to do with your HEALTHSPAN.

While there are some mechanisms in the body that slow down and deteriorate naturally as we age, the VAST majority of our morbidity issues can be resolved by improving one simple factor: activity.

That’s right. If you want to SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the likelihood of developing a chronic disease at any age, or even reversing the effects of your current diseased state (yes, you can REVERSE the impact of chronic diseases), then all you have to do is increase your level of activity.

To help wrap your head around this idea, let me share an image. This image shows the results of a study between modern hunter-gatherer tribes and westernized people and their healthspan and lifespan relative to how active they are throughout their lives.

The top chart shows the healthspan of a modern hunter-gatherer relative to their functional capacity (how active they are throughout their lives). As you can see, they working at close to 100% capacity up to almost 70 years, have a short span of morbidity of about 5-7 years, then die at around 75.

Westernized people (American’s especially) are quite the opposite. In the bottom graph, you can see that physically inactive people (about 80% of Americans) work at 100% capacity until about 45 or 50, at which time they may be diagnosed with a disease, and also start to slow down and reduce the amount of work (activity) they do.

This slow down and lack of activity leads to 30 years of morbidity, leading the inactive individual dying at around 80 having spent the previous 10 years of their life in a nursing home.

How to INCREASE Your Activity for Longer HEALTHSPAN…
Most of our efforts are set to improve lifespan. Of course, this is important because we all want to live as long as possible to enjoy our lives, relationships, and see the world.

However, it’s much harder to enjoy our lives, improve relationships, and especially see the world if we don’t have the proper HEALTHSPAN to go with that lifespan.

So, how do we increase our activity so that we can reduce the likelihood of morbidity and, thereby, increase our healthspan?

The first and most obvious answer is exercise.

Since I’ve written about this extensively, I’ll keep this part short. You need to exercise at least 3-4 days a week for at least 45 minutes at a time. While I’m a little bias, I believe that weight training is the best form of exercise you can utilize during this time.

The second answer, which is also obvious but generally harder to do, is to improve your NEAT.

NEAT is an acronym that stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In short, this is activity that you do throughout the day that is NOT exercise.

The easiest way to increase your NEAT is by building a Movement Hygiene Practice. Here are 3 easy steps to create your own MHP:

#1) Set a revolving timer to go off every 25 minutes

#2) When the timer goes off, get up and MOVE for AT LEAST 100 seconds.

#3) REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

Yes, it’s that simple. But what’s simple isn’t always easy. So you have to make this practice a regular part of your life.

And if you build this into your routine, you will significantly reduce your likelihood of disease, increase you healthspan, and probably lose weight along the way,

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