6 mins read

What is Healthspan & Why is it Important?

December 8, 2023

Reviewed by: Dr Thom Phillips

General wellbeing

Man enjoying the sun

In our pursuit of a fulfilling and vibrant life, we often hear about lifespan. However, a relatively new concept called healthspan has emerged as a crucial measure of quality of life.  In this article, we will explore the concept of healthspan, delve into the key health factors that influence it, and discuss some valuable tests that can help predict future health risks.

What is the Difference Between Healthspan and Lifespan?

Healthspan refers to the period in which we can enjoy good health, free from debilitating diseases and physical limitations, whereas lifespan refers to the total number of years we live. A 90 year lifespan could have 10, 30 or even 60 years of healthspan.

Defining Healthspan

Healthspan is a term coined to emphasise the importance of maintaining health and vitality throughout our lives. It encompasses not just the absence of illness but also the presence of overall well-being, including physical, mental, and emotional health. Simply put, healthspan is about maximising the number of years we spend in good health, rather than merely focusing on increasing lifespan.

Key Factors Influencing Healthspan

Several key factors can significantly impact your healthspan. While some are beyond our control, such as genetics and age, others are modifiable through lifestyle choices. Here are some of the key factors that play into healthspan.

Genetics

Our genetic makeup contributes to our susceptibility to certain diseases. However, while we cannot alter our genes, we can adopt healthy habits to mitigate the impact of genetic predispositions.

Lifestyle Choices

Nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, and avoiding harmful habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are crucial elements that influence healthspan. A balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, and effective stress reduction techniques are all associated with improved health outcomes.

Chronic Disease Prevention

Chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers can significantly impact healthspan. Managing risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and maintaining a healthy weight are essential in preventing or delaying the onset of chronic conditions.

Mental and Emotional Well-being

Mental health plays a vital role in overall healthspan. Strategies like stress reduction, maintaining social connections, engaging in activities that bring joy, and seeking professional help when needed all contribute to mental and emotional well-being.

Tests for Predicting Future Health Risks

Advancements in medical science have enabled the development of tests that can help predict an individual’s future health risks. These tests allow for early identification of potential health issues, providing an opportunity for preventive measures and early interventions. 

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing can provide valuable insights into an individual’s susceptibility to certain diseases. It can identify genetic variations associated with conditions like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and neurological disorders. Armed with this knowledge, individuals can take proactive steps to mitigate risk factors or adopt preventive measures.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)

A CMP is a blood test that assesses various markers related to organ function, metabolism, and electrolyte balance. It can provide insights into liver and kidney health, blood sugar levels, electrolyte imbalances, and lipid profiles, enabling early detection and management of conditions like diabetes, liver disease, and kidney dysfunction.

Our Advanced and Ultimate health checks can help you understand your current and future health, by checking 39+ markers.

Cardiovascular Risk Assessment

Various tests, such as cholesterol panels, blood pressure monitoring, and electrocardiograms (ECGs), can help evaluate an individual’s cardiovascular health. These tests aid in the identification of risk factors for heart disease, enabling interventions like lifestyle modifications, medication, or further diagnostic tests as needed.

Bone Density Testing

Bone density tests, like dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), assess bone strength and can help detect osteoporosis or low bone mass. Early identification of bone density issues allows for appropriate interventions, such as lifestyle modifications, supplementation, and preventive measures to reduce the risk of fractures.

7 Ways to Improve Your Healthspan

Improving healthspan involves adopting habits and practices that not only enhance longevity but also ensure a high quality of life during those years. Here are ten ways you can improve your healthspan:

1. Watch what you eat

A balanced diet provides essential nutrients, supports immune function, reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. It enhances energy levels, improves mental health, promotes digestive health, and contributes to overall well-being and longevity.

  • Consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Limit processed foods, sugars, and excessive salt.

2. Stay active

Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, strengthens muscles and bones, enhances mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, boosts the immune system, and helps maintain a healthy weight. It also increases energy levels, enhances sleep quality, and promotes longevity and overall well-being.

  • Try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
  • Including strength training exercises at least twice a week to help strengthen your bones and muscles.

3. Prioritise sleep

Proper sleep enhances cognitive function, strengthens the immune system, supports hormone balance, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. It improves mood, mental health, and physical resilience, leading to better overall well-being and a higher quality of life.

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.

4. Manage stress

Proper stress management boosts mental health, lowers the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and hypertension, and enhances immune function. It improves sleep quality, promotes emotional stability, and supports overall well-being, leading to a healthier, more balanced life.

  • Practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.
  • Develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones.

5. Avoid alcohol & smoking

Quitting smoking and drinking alcohol reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and respiratory issues. It improves lung function, boosts the immune system, enhances mental health, and promotes overall longevity and quality of life. It also improves sleep and reduces the likelihood of addiction-related complications.

  • Refrain from smoking and limit alcohol consumption.

6. Stayed hydrated

Staying hydrated enhances physical performance, supports digestion, maintains skin health, and aids in nutrient transport. It helps regulate body temperature, improves cognitive function, and boosts energy levels. Proper hydration also reduces the risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, promoting overall well-being.

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Limit sugary drinks and caffeine intake.

7. Healthy Weight Maintenance

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. It enhances mobility, improves energy levels, supports mental health, and decreases the likelihood of joint issues. A healthy weight also promotes overall well-being and longevity.

  • Strive for a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
  • Monitor body composition and make adjustments as needed.

Conclusion

Healthspan represents a paradigm shift from simply aiming to live longer to actively striving for a life filled with good health and vitality. Understanding the key factors that influence healthspan and utilising predictive tests can empower individuals to make informed choices and take proactive steps towards optimising their well-being. By embracing a holistic approach to health, encompassing lifestyle modifications, early interventions, and preventive measures, we can unlock the potential to extend our healthspan and live life to the fullest.

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This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Thom Phillips

Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.

Dr Thom Phillips

Dr Thom Phillips

Head of Clinical Services