Everyone's Talking About 'Healthspan': Here's How to Focus on Yours - Mature Health Center

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Originally published January 6, 2020, last updated January 9, 2020

Everyone's Talking About 'Healthspan': Here's How to Focus on Yours

Everyone's Talking About 'Healthspan': Here's How to Focus on Yours

There’s a new way of thinking about aging, and it considers not just how long we live, but how vibrant we stay later in life.

The term “healthspan” is gaining traction. Whereas “lifespan” focuses on genes and how long you’ll live, “healthspan” looks at lifestyle, or what you can do to influence your health, and refers to the years that a person can expect to live in generally good health — free of chronic illnesses and cognitive decline that can emerge near life’s end. 

While advances in health have helped expand the average lifespan in the past century, the same can’t be said for healthspan. In other words, people are living longer, but they’re also staying sick longer.

So what can you do if you want to improve your healthspan?

Establish a Baseline

First, establish a health baseline, taking the status of your physical, mental and emotional health. Work with your primary care provider to receive the standard medical tests at your annual physical, including blood work and a physical exam with skin check. With your doctor, review your results to improve any specific issues that the exam and blood work revealed — such as high cholesterol or blood sugar — and to focus on preventative care.  

“Taking appropriate preventative health care steps can help you avoid the need for prescription medications, hospitalizations and procedures and can help ensure a longer, healthier life,” Mary James, an internal medicine physician at Stanford Medicine, told Stanford’s Scope blog.

The frequency of follow-up appointments vary depending on your health issues, from once every three years for individuals with few problems, to more frequently for those with more complex conditions, she said. Whatever the case, everyone needs to stay up on preventative services such as screenings (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.), immunizations and any lab testing indicated by an individual’s risk factors.

Eat for Healthspan

Dr. Kat Cotter, an A4M certified anti-aging practitioner, suggests these longevity diet tips:

  • Eat not just for you, but for all the inhabitants of your microbiome
  • Eat more probiotics including supplements and fermented foods
  • Eat more prebiotics such as sweet potato, taro, and yucca
  • Eat more greens, living foods, and fewer cooked foods
  • Try green drinks, as juicing and blending
  • Purchase organic products whenever possible
  • Eat less sweet fruits and stick mostly to berries
  • Include lots of olive oil, flaxseed, fish oil, krill oil, and coconut oil in your diet
  • Stay away from added sugar, artificial sweeteners, lectins, and vegetable oils such as corn and canola oil
  • Eat meals within a six-hour window of waking, with 18 hours of intermittent fasting after the last meal

Move More to Live Longer and Better

Expanding your healthspan goes beyond doctor visits and your diet, however. Even a little exercise can lengthen your life, according to new study by Norwegian researchers. The team analyzed data from eight studies that included more than 36,000 adults, ages 40 and older, who were followed for an average of almost six years. The researchers concluded that the amount of physical activity, regardless of intensity, was associated with a significantly lower risk of early death.  

Physical activity sets off a cascade of “signals,” which improve the function of our brain and body when repeated, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, reducing anxiety and enhancing concentration and attention.

Exercise for Brain Healthspan (and Physical Healthspan)

As we age, degeneration in the brain affects not only cognitive function but also areas that control weight, appetite, personality, mood and blood pressure. For brain health, you can play memory games or engage with other people, but more research points to exercise as key to brain health. Research shows that people who stay active and exercise their brain tend to be healthier and have better brain function because of the brain-body circuitry.  

“If you wait for someone to already have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, it’s too late,” Andreanna Haley told Life & Letters, a publication at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is an associate professor of psychology and researches brain vulnerability and interventions before cognitive function is impaired. “Those processes that led the brain to clinical symptoms have been going on for decades.”

The exact mechanisms are not yet known, but things like clogged arteries delivering insufficient blood to the brain could be to blame for cognitive decline. And because exercise can help prevent or delay cardiovascular disease, it could also be how you can protect your brain health.