OLDER ADULTS APPEAR NOT ONLY TO BE LIVING LONGER but better too. Those are the conclusions of a new study from the United Kingdom. So many of us fear old age but embrace age if we are healthy. I am after a long healthspan, not simply longevity.
We begin with a nod to healthspan before turning to the new British study. Then we’ll pivot to five key ways (and one bonus one) you may achieve both longevity and a long healthspan.
Are you similar to me, focusing on how long you will be healthy (instead of simply looking at how many full years you have)?
What is healthspan?
It seems everyone I know is interested in longevity. I know I am: It’s my 59th birthday today, and we often become more reflective at ages 29, 39, 49, etc.
Awareness about healthspan seems to lag significantly behind knowledge about longevity. What does healthspan mean to you?
To me, healthspan is a life free from severe disease. I like that definition better than a healthy life, as we all have different definitions of being healthy.
Among Gallup’s 2021 survey respondents, the average retirement age was 62. The average age at which working respondents planned to retire was 64.
That leaves approximately 14 years for us to enjoy retirement, no? Not exactly. First, older adults are working longer. Approximately one in three men and women begin claiming Social Security at 62.
Another one-third begin collecting Social Security at full retirement age (65 or 66 years when researchers collected the data, and 67 for those born after 1960).
So how many good years do we have? The average healthspan in the United States is only 63 years (2017 calculation).
Life expectancy has increased by 30 years since the mid-twentieth century. Alas, healthspan expansion has not followed, in large part because of chronic diseases afflicting an enlarging older population.
If lifespan is the total number of years lived by an individual and healthspan is the number of disease-free years lived, we can calculate a healthspan-lifespan gap: Currently, the gap is about nine years.
These four conditions account for 80 percent of chronic disease-related deaths globally: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.
Now the good news. Researchers discovered that since the 1990s, British adults aged 65 and older have been enjoying more years living independently, free of disability.
The study authors speculate that older people are doing better because of improved treatments for chronic diseases. Management of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes has improved significantly. In addition, I like to believe that our lifestyles and environments are improving.
One more piece of good news: Dementia has become less common over time. By 2011, dementia was nearly one-third less prevalent among British seniors, compared with 1991.
Healthspan — Focus on lifestyle
I will end with a focus on my pillars of health, including:
- A balanced diet
- Adequate sleep
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- Avoiding tobacco
- Limiting the alcohol to no more than one standard drink daily (for women) and two (for men).
- Take care of your mental health. Having a community can help.
- Physical activity
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Finally, consider practicing mindfulness practices such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Thank you for joining me. Hopefully, good lifestyle habits will help you and me to age gracefully.