5 ways to boost your healthspan (and why it’s more important than lifespan)

You only live once – and that’s all the more reason for making the most out of every lap around the sun. So how do you stay healthier, for longer?

There’s some debate over who actually said: “It’s not the years in your life that count, but the life in your years.”

It’s variously attributed to both 16th US president Abraham Lincoln or US doctor Edward Stieglitz, who wrote a book about ageing in the 1940s.

Whoever it was, they were on the money.

In 1920, the average woman could expect to live to 63 years old. One hundred years later, life expectancy is 85 years (two years less for men).

Advances in science and medical care mean many of us can now expect to skid right through our 80s and beyond.

And new research is showing that our “healthspan” is increasing along with our lifespan.

What does the research say about healthspan?

Lead author and Newcastle University research associate Dr Holly Bennett says healthspan is the portion of life you can live free from any disability.

“This measure combines length of life with quality of life, specifically the ability to live independently,” Dr Bennett says.

The research found the average number of health years is increasing in line with life expectancy.

Between 1991 and 2011, women in the study saw a boost in lifespan of 2.1 years, with their disability-free life expectancy or healthspan also jumping by two years.

Even those with long-term health conditions, including arthritis, coronary heart disease and diabetes, experienced an increase in the years they could expect to live without disability.

“This is likely due to the improvements in treatment, care and slowing down progression of conditions like stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory disease,” Dr Bennett says.

So, how can you improve your healthspan?

Living healthier for longer allows us to enjoy more time with loved ones and to move around independently. Here are five things you can do to support your own healthspan:

1. Move naturally

Exercise doesn’t have to mean sweating it out at the gym.

Research into the Blue Zones – five areas of the world where people live better for longer – found that effective exercise is built into daily lives through gardening, walking, cooking and other daily chores.

2. Eat like you’re in Italy or Spain

The Mediterranean way of eating consistently comes up trumps with nutritionists and in science.

Think whole foods and variety, with a focus on vegetables, fruits, seafood, olive oil and whole grains and legumes and eggs, poultry and dairy in moderation.

3. Stay connected with family and friends

“Connecting with friends and family fulfils a natural human need to belong, but is also proven to strengthen your immune system, and decrease anxiety and depression,” conscious connection expert Karina Chapman says.

4. Look after your brain health

Dementia Australia says there are lots of ways to look after your mind, including staying social, playing games (think puzzles, crossword and card games), learning a new language or a new hobby and simply varying your daily activities.

5. Find your purpose

The Japanese concept of ikigai combines the terms “iki” (alive or life) and “gai” (benefit or worth).

Essentially it’s the reason you get up in the morning and has been linked to improved health and wellbeing.

Written by Liz McGrath.