Lifespan or Healthspan?
What if you knew that you were going to live, say, until the age of 90? How much of that time would you like to live as healthy and contented with your life as possible?
Most of us would likely shout, “Are you kidding? All of it, of course!”
What you are asking for is the longest “healthspan” possible. “Healthspan” is a word that’s been coined relatively recently. “Lifespan” refers to the period between birth and death; “healthspan” is the number of years you live in the best health possible. And if you possess reasonably good health, you will be able to pursue activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to you.
I love the concept of “healthspan.” It’s a great way to think about what actions your “future self” might appreciate. For example, I've decided that my future self would appreciate frequent visits to my daughter and her family, so my goal is to be fit enough to withstand the rigors of traveling. (See this blog for more details.)
This year, for your New Year’s resolution, figure out one thing you could do to extend your healthspan. What actions could keep you healthier and stronger, both mentally and physically, until your last days on earth? By the end of this blog, you’ll have some ideas for goals that could enrich your life right now while ensuring a better future.
First, a little more about healthspan…
If your healthspan equals your lifespan, you will be healthy and functional up until the moment of death. This is actually possible! For example, the father of a friend, a man in his late 80’s, went out one morning to play tennis with his buddies. When he returned, he said, “It was a great game! I feel a little tired though, so I think I’ll take a nap.” He died during the nap. Then there was my 95-year-old aunt. One day she felt sick. “I’m going to cancel my bridge game,” she told her home-health nurse. Then she fell into a coma and died later that day. Her lifespan was only 8 hours longer than her healthspan.
Sadly, these two stories are the exception rather than the rule. Most of us will probably suffer through some period of ill health before we die, hopefully just weeks not years. Some will have chronic illnesses that could greatly impair their lives. And even if you are a health nut, your life could be disrupted by things that you cannot control—accidents, bad luck, and sudden illness. (That said, there are many ways to live well under less-than-ideal circumstances, as PT blogger Toni Bernard points out in her new book, How to Live Well With Chronic Pain and Illness.)
Fortunately, we do have some power to increase our healthspan so that the time between healthy life and death is as short as possible.
Thought Experiment: Healthspan Habit Changes
Here’s a little thought experiment that could help you decide on a healthspan resolution. Ask yourself this question: What activities make life worth living for me right now? You might come up with 1-4 ideas. Choose one to focus on. Got it? Then fill in the blank below.
For the rest of my life, I would like to be able to _____________________. In order to do this, I will need to take at least one of the following action steps:
Choose just one action step to work on right now so you can focus your willpower. If your action step seems too daunting, shrink it into a step that feels easy and doable.
Here are two examples of healthspan goals and action steps:
Healthspan Goal: Stay mentally sharp. Possible action steps:
Decide on one option and make a plan to follow through. For example, if you want to exercise more, you could write exercise times in your schedule, aiming eventually for 150 minutes/week.
Healthspan Goal: Maintain friendships. Possible mini-goals:
Remember, you are working toward a longer healthspan, and your efforts will pay off not only today but also in the end--literally.
No one is immune to the ups and downs of life. But the good news is that disease and disability are not an inevitable part of aging, especially with a little luck and planning. For a long and happy healthspan, take good care of yourself now. Your future self will thank you.
© Meg Selig, 2015
Want more specifics on successful New Year’s resolutions? Blogs to help:
Note to Readers: Thank you for your support throughout the year! May 2016 be a wonderful year for you, filled with happiness, health, friendship, and love!