Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lifespan vs Healthspan

Most people - and governments, healthcare providers and charitable organizations - are focused on extending our lives. Our Lifespan. This is hardly surprising. When I ask a room full of people, "Who wants to live a long life?", about 100% of the hands go up. But as I make the question more specific, and more real - "Who wants to live a long life confined to a long term care facility? On medication to manage disease and chronic pain? Tethered to an oxygen tank? Bedridden?" - I am usually left with very few, if any, hands in the air. And this illuminates an important issue.

When we think about a long life, we rarely think of ourselves as infirm. Rather we picture good health, mobility, activity, interaction with family and friends. In other words, we picture ourselves healthy, not simply alive. "We need to adjust our thinking and aim for 'healthspan'," says Prof. Michael Thorner, an endocrinologist at the University of Virginia. "Improving how long we have a robust and functional life."

In the United States (2009 data), the average lifespan for a male is 75 years (81 years for a female). This is up from 66 years in 1960, quite an impressive improvement. But after age 50, 1 in 4 of us is diabetic. By the time we reach age 60, 60% of us will have hypertension. At age 65, 41% of us will have cancer - 21% fatally. Our Lifespan is exceeding our Healthspan by 25 - 30 years! This is fantastic news if you are a healthcare provider or a pharmaceutical company. For the rest of us, no so much.

And what do you think is the #1 thing that anyone can do to increase their Healthspan? If you said "lose weight" you'd be correct. The consequences of being overweight, let alone obese, are well known and significant. Carrying extra pounds makes you far more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis and other chronic problems. Coincidentally, these are the very things that kill us, and drain an approximate $215B out of our economy annually.

Here is a wonderful, simple to remember and simple to use formula that you can use to regain control of your Healthspan: Eat Less CRAP; Eat More FOOD.

C - Carbonated drinks                           F - Fruits and vegetables
R - Refined sugar                                 O - Organic lean proteins
A - Artificial colors and sweeteners        O - Omega3 fatty acids
P - Processed foods                              D - Drink lots of water

Losing weight is not about dieting. In fact the "weight loss industry" grows apace with our waistlines. It is about making lifestyle choices that will keep you not only alive but healthy. A better diet, better nutrition, more exercise, a positive attitude. None of these things are beyond the means or ability of anyone.

So what will it be? A long life? Or a long, healthy life? It's your choice.