Lifespan vs Healthspan

The Longevity Conundrum

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Posted on May 3, 2019 By Jamie Brenzel, CEO, Aha!
Reading Time: 4 minutes

When I used to hear the term ‘longevity’, I would shrug it off as that time 40+ years from now and I didn’t even think about something so far down the road. Now, I understand ‘longevity’ differently: maximizing both lifespan (age-at-death) and healthspan (quality-of-life).

The current (2016) average lifespan is almost 83 in Canada. Healthspan is the quality of life over time maximizing well-being in the following categories:

  • Mind & cognition (processing speed, short term memory)
  • Body (maintenance of muscle mass, functional movement, freedom from pain)
  • Distress tolerance (emotional pain, dealing with daily annoyances)
  • Sense of purpose & social support (meaning of life)
aha! Moment

When you look at the people who live to 100 and beyond, for the most part, they die of the exact same diseases as the rest of us. They just get them later. That’s really important. Because I think it offers an insight into longevity that is often overlooked.

Why 

This graph best illustrates the relationship between healthspan and lifespan. The y-axis is % of Healthspan and the x-axis is Age.

The red line shows today’s average person, maximizing healthspan around 40 years old, and slowly declining until death around 80. If you think about it, this decline in quality of life is someone who deteriorates in health becoming immobile with dementia needing costly assistance to survive – not preferable.

The desired line in blue shows the goal of maximizing longevity by pushing the whole curve to the right, maximizing the peak from 40 to 60 years, and making the healthspan decline as steep as possible. This is representative of the 90-year-old effortlessly mowing their yard and still witty as they were at age 40. Then to painlessly pass in their sleep of a heart attack at 100 – preferable. This is why implementing healthy behaviors, our maintenance plan is so beneficial and can halt the compounding degenerating effects of heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.

How

To maximize longevity, we need to account for our actions today to delay the onset of three largest killers of humans: cerebrovascular and cardiovascular, cancer, and neurodegenerative. These three causes of death will kill 75% of us.

  • Cerebrovascular and cardiovascular – strokes, aneurysms, heart attacks
  • Cancer – pancreatic, liver, brain, prostate, colon, and everything else under the sun (melanoma)
  • Neurodegenerative – brain and memory diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s.

Diseases are compounding, they ramp up over time and harder to stop later down the road. If you’ve ever owned an older-import car, you can understand the compounding troubles with each mile driven. For me, it was a 1974 MG. I encountered issues with rust, suspension, stuck window, and the list goes on as well as all the money down the drain. After buying a car for $2k and spending double that in maintenance costs over 4 years, you begin to grasp what good ownership and maintenance plan does to the longevity of the car.

Humans are prone to this same process, but with the deterioration of our own body. Our maintenance plan needs to focus on stopping or slowing the diseases’ harmful, painful and fatal compounding effects. This is why implementing healthy behaviors, our maintenance plan, is so beneficial and can halt the compounding degenerating effects of heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer.

To delay the onset, research shows there are five fundamental areas of concern that we must optimize:

  1. Low fasting blood glucose levels and limit postmeal glycemia (blood glucose spike)
  2. High mitochondria function/ flexibility – ability to effectively switch between fuel sources: fat and glucose (carbs/sugars)
  3. Least amount of protein you need to consume to build and maintain muscle mass
  4. Limit toxic exposure
  5. Low inflammation levels.

Tactically we can control these five via, you guessed it, food intake and physical exercise. There are intricacies to applying the following approach from person to person, but it’s a good place to start if this is the first time you’ve prioritized longevity. The following are respective to the five areas listed above:

  1. Limit sugary/sweet/refined carb foods. If you ingest a large carb load, burn it off with exercise.
  2. Only eat within a 10 hour window. Go on a 3 day fast.
  3. Focus on ingesting a 7:2:1 ratio of fats:proteins:carbs. It’s easier to flex metabolically when food sources are from healthy fats.
  4. Anything in extreme excess can be toxic. Avoid over-serving yourself at the bar. Watch out for over-sterilizing your home. Get adequate sleep, exercise, and sauna time to enable autophagy (recycling of cellular components) and clean yourself of any daily absorbed toxins you encounter.
  5. Adequate water intake and supplement help.

Does this seem like a lot? It might be… but I can tell you this: living to a ripe old age is one thing but I don’t want to just survive I want to thrive!

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