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Lifespan vs Healthspan

Is a piece of your health & fitness goals associated with longevity?

If not, I think it should be. If you are only exercising and eating well to look and feel good today without care for your long-term health, that is short-sighted.

That type of focus can also lead to unhealthy habits like starvation diets or consuming supplements with questionable health effects to help boost muscle or decrease body fat today.

Health and fitness are for a lifetime. Focusing on that long-term goal leads you to make different choices about what you do with your body today.

But even for those of us who are thinking about longevity, there is a crucial distinction that needs to be made.

Lifespan is different than healthspan.

It is not so much how long we live but how well.

And how healthfully.

As we get older, the goal should be to maintain our muscle mass, as well as our cardiovascular health and brain function … so we can stay sharp and continue doing all the activities we love as long as we are alive.

Some in the medical community refer to the final decade of one’s life as the ‘marginal decade.’ It is the decade of life when health declines more rapidly, and people require others to care for them.

When this happens, we can lose our independence, become more sedentary, and accelerate the decline.

Whether we live 70, 80, 90, 100 years, or more … the goal is to maintain our quality of life as long as possible.

How can we do this?

Fortunately, there are simple things you can do right now to improve your chances of maintaining health and function throughout your life.

I say they are simple because it is not rocket science. There is no “secret” to a healthy life. However, most fall short of their potential because they do not start to think about it early enough.

If you want to be strong, independent, and functional in your 80s, start working toward that goal decades in advance. Do not wait until you hit 70 to start thinking about it!

So, what are a few simple but impactful things you can start doing today to increase your healthspan? Check it out:

Exercise: We have known for decades that exercise improves metabolic and cardiovascular health, as well as lipid profiles, lean mass preservation as we age, and much more. More research is coming out to indicate that exercise can also enhance brain health and delay cognitive decline as we age. For a 1-2 punch of body health and brain health, exercise is by far the best drug on the market.

Be sure to engage WEEKLY in an exercise routine promoting functional strength & mobility training along with daily cardio exercise and frequent movement. 

No two weeks on, one week off types of training. That is not going to fly. If you want to be strong and physically fit into your later years, you need to make exercise and movement as much a part of your life as eating food.

Nutrition: What you feed your body fuels your body. It helps it to repair & rebuild and keeps it functioning well from the inside out. While you may need to learn more about what to fuel your body with for your specific situation or goals, you probably already know what is generally good for your body or not.

But we tend to fall into habits, particularly with what we eat. If it has been a while since you took inventory of what you put in your body, here is a simple exercise: 

Write down everything you eat for at least three days and rank it from healthiest to least supportive. Is each food or drink you consume super-healthy and nutrient-rich? Is it in the middle – not the best, but not too bad? Or is it just plain not good – loaded with sugar, sodium, or artificial ingredients?

This exercise can help you make more intentional choices about what you are feeding your body. It all matters.

Sleep: Sleep is one of the most underrated activities for overall health and vitality. We think that adults do not have a bedtime. We can stay up and do what we want! 

Many things in our modern world feed into late nights and a lack of sleep. But there is a reason we need 7-9 hours of quality sleep. It is one of the most crucial times for our body to restore brain function & health. It is also when our bodies peak hormones related to repair and recovery. 

Focus on creating good sleep habits like a consistent bedtime routine and a sleeping environment conducive to quality sleep.

Mental Health: There is much to touch on here, but I will not dive too far into this category today.

Suffice it to say that you must prioritize things that lead to good mental health your whole life. Things like:

  • Community
  • Relationships
  • Stress relieving activities
  • Pursuing purpose and meaning
  • Prayer/mindfulness/meditation

Together, all these activities will give your body what it needs to live a healthy and vital life.

So, if there is a category you are ignoring or weak in right now, make a plan to improve it.

Health and fitness are lifetime pursuits. Start focusing on your healthspan today to give your body what it needs to live a lifetime of health and vitality!