Healthspan: A New Way To Think About Aging

Can you imagine the shift in perspective if you reframed the way you thought about growing older?

What if you envisioned a future in which you didn’t focus on the length of your life but instead on the quality of years of your life?





REFERENCE LAB

July 15, 2020

01The case for aging better

While life expectancy has increased over the past century, in large part due to modern medicine, sanitation practices, and access to clean water¹, new schools of thought emphasize the importance of healthspan – commonly defined as the period of life spent in good health, free from chronic disease and disabilities of aging².

02Healthy life expectancy

Unlike lifespan, for which citizens in the United States can expect to live an average of 79.3 years, scientists haven’t established a figure that marks the population’s corresponding average healthspan. In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the HALE (Healthy Adjusted Life Expectancy) indicator to measure the average time a person can expect to live in good health from the time of birth³ – which is lower than lifespan because it doesn’t measure a person’s total life expectancy.

"As a species, we are living much longer than ever. But not much better. Not at all. Over the past century we have gained additional years, but not additional life—not life worth living anyway."
- David Sinclair

03Quality over quantity

As of 2015, the global HALE for men and women combined was 63.1 years, about 16 years lower than average human’s expected lifespan. The difference between expected lifespan and HALE suggests that we are living roughly up to 20% of our lives in poor health. This is a surprisingly high figure, especially considering the relentless pursuit of science and technology dedicated to increasing our lifespan. So, what if those same resources could be redeployed to increase a healthier quality of life instead?

Key Takeaways While we don’t have much control over our genetic risks, we can take charge of our lifestyle habits – which in turn are highly influential over our healthspan. We suggest the following recommendations as a general guide to kick off healthy habits: Abstain from smoking and excessive alcohol consumption Engage in regular physical movement Get enough sleep Consume a healthy diet composed largely of fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, fish and dairy Maintain strong social networks and have good psychological support systems

04Prolong health, not just life

Eileen Crimmins, Ph.D, of The Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, argues that in order to maximize our healthspan, scientists should focus on prolonging health rather than just preventing death. Dr. Crimmins suggests that because interventions take years to play out, clinical trials should begin at an early age when people don’t yet have a diagnosable disease, and continue over decades of a person’s life – changing the entire way that clinical studies are run. This shift would put prevention and delayed onset of disease at the center focus in an effort to improve healthspan4.

05Age gracefully, age healthfully

We’re at a crossroads when we consider the aging process. Modern medicine places significant importance on extension of lifespan, yet most individuals want to age gracefully and healthfully – suggesting quality of life is much more important.

Faced with this dilemma, longevity scientists (including us at the One Skin!) are dedicated to studying measures that can extend the healthy, high-quality portion of human life. The good news is that if you want to ensure a healthy AND high quality of life, research suggests that lifestyle factors play an integral role in impacting our healthspan (with an impact of 70-90% compared with genetics at 10-30%) – something which all of us can take into our own hands.

References
  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327735876_From_Lifespan_to_Healthspan
  2. https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/life_tables/hale_text/en/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4861644/
  4. https://www.jax.org/news-and-insights/2017/november/diet-and-longevity
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/relationships-boost-survival/