Healthspan vs Lifespan + 4 Helpful Tips To Maximize Your Healthspan

All our fitness and training resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Exercise Advice Guidelines.

Research surrounding the ways to maximize your healthspan falls under the umbrella of geroscience, a field of study that looks at biological aging.

But, what is healthspan exactly? And what is lifespan? What is the difference between the two and what are the best ways to increase your healthspan?

In this article, we will discuss healthspan vs lifespan, focusing on how healthspan is different than lifespan and what you can do to maximize your healthspan.

We will discuss the following:

  • What Is Lifespan?
  • What Is Healthspan?
  • Why Should You Try to Maximize Your Healthspan?
  • How Do You Measure Healthspan?
  • How Do You Increase Your Healthspan?

Let’s get started!

A word jumble with words regarding healthspan and longevity.

What Is Lifespan?

Lifespan refers to how long you live from birth until you die. It is measured in years, months, and days.

What Is Healthspan?

In a way, healthspan and lifespan are closely intertwined, but there is a key difference between healthspan vs lifespan.

While lifespan refers to how long you live before you die regardless of the quality of your life, healthspan is the duration of your life that is lived while you are in good health without chronic diseases or age-related degenerative conditions or disorders.

In this way, while healthspan and lifespan both deal with the duration of your life to some degree, the difference between lifespan vs healthspan is the sole emphasis on the quantity of that duration with lifespan vs the quality of that duration with healthspan.

As an exaggeration, imagine that someone lives to be 100 years old. This means that they have a lifespan of 100 years.

However, if they suffer from type two diabetes and metabolic syndrome developing around the age of 50, which impacts the quality of their life and overall health, energy, and vitality, their healthspan is only about 50 years.

Essentially, having a good healthspan means that you are able to maintain your physical and mental health along with your functional capacity and independence throughout the vast majority of your life.

A close-up of a person's face.

Why Should You Try to Maximize Your Healthspan?

The reason that you will want to maximize your healthspan is that doing so enables you to spend more years of your life enjoying the things that you love to do, feeling your best, and having a good life, not just a long life. 

Although it is important to distinguish that there is indeed a significant difference in the meaning of lifespan vs healthspan, there’s also plenty of overlap.

While we gave the simple example of someone living to be 100 and having a life span of 100 years but only a healthspan of 50 years due to metabolic disorders if your healthspan is particularly poor, it will likely compromise your lifespan as well.

To this end, in many ways, comparing healthspan vs lifespan has many parallels to comparing biological age vs chronological age.

If your biological age well exceeds your chronological age, you are physically, functionally, and cellularly older than your age would dictate based on the amount of time you’ve spent on earth.

Therefore, if your biological age significantly exceeds your chronological age, your lifespan, or the chronological age in which you pass away, will likely be compromised and fall short of the average life expectancy for your biological sex and region of the world.

Similarly, if you suffer from a lot of chronic health conditions and age-related disorders, you will have a poor healthspan, which will likely shorten your eventual lifespan unless you are able to get your conditions under control in a timely and effective manner.

A person smiling.

How Do You Measure Healthspan? 

It’s a lot easier to measure lifespan vs healthspan, as lifespan is simply the number of years and months that you live before you die.

That said, there are ways to measure healthspan, primarily via health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE). 

Calculating the healthspan of a population with a HALE score looks at factors such as the life expectancy of the population, the average e number of years lived with a chronic disease or disability, and the rate of premature death from disease.

In this context, the average healthspan of a population is often presented as a proportion of the life expectancy of someone in that population at birth as well as at 60 years of age.

The purpose of looking at the healthspan of a population is to investigate the health of the population at large as well as changes in the well-being of a population over time in either a positive or negative direction.

You can also calculate your healthspan on an individual basis by looking at the number of years you have been consistently physically active, cognitively fit, and physically and emotionally well without experiencing chronic disease or ongoing impairments. 

However, you can’t really calculate your healthspan until later years of your life, after which you may experience any of these issues (though hopefully not!).

A person's face smiling in the sun.

How Do You Increase Your Healthspan?

Hopefully, hearing the benefits of a long healthspan leads you to ask the question, “How can I increase my healthspan?”

Geroscience looks to get at the root causes of premature biological aging, the development of chronological diseases, and factors that impair your functional capacity to continue doing activities of daily living comfortably and independently.

Basically, geroscience research focuses on investigating ways to not only live longer but to live longer with good health and good quality of life.

Research that looks to slow down biological aging and increase your healthspan takes a global look at the fundamental mechanisms of aging rather than trying to address each individual age-related disease or chronic disease that might accelerate biological aging and shorten your healthspan and lifespan.

Over the past decade or so, scientists have discovered various mechanisms and biological signs of aging that occur at a cellular level.

Blocks with the word lifespan spelled out and a clock.

In other words, while we can see certain overt manifestations of aging in the outward appearance of the human body, such as wrinkled and saggy skin, graying and thinning hair, and a hunched or shrunken posture, there are actual signs of aging did occur at the cellular and microscopic level inside the body.

Some of the signs of aging at a biological and biochemical level include:

  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • The shortening of telomeres (the proteins at the ends of your chromosomes)
  • Chronic low-grade inflammation
  • Slow cell turnover
  • Cellular senescence (old and damaged cells become unable to divide properly)

By looking at ways to prevent and reverse these signs of biological aging, scientists can help test out strategies to increase healthspan and decrease biological age to maximize not only the quantity of your life but also the quality of your life, health, and functional capacity.

Researchers have found that the best way to increase your healthspan is not actually by addressing each chronic disease individually, but rather by addressing the underlying mechanisms of biological aging and implementing strategies to prevent premature aging.

Here are some tips to help maximize your healthspan:

Two people stretching.

#1: Get Consistent Exercise

Make sure that you are consistently meeting the physical activity recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the British Heart Foundation.

These state that you are to accumulate either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio exercise per week plus two full-body strength training workouts. 

Aerobic exercise helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation while improving cardiorespiratory fitness and function, blood sugar regulation, neuromuscular strength, and cognitive function.

These benefits of exercise can help reduce the risk of disease while enhancing functional capacity and independence, all of which increase your healthspan.

#2: Eat a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet can help prevent certain chronic diseases, including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants and polyphenols, which are potent plant-based compounds that have been found to confer a variety of health benefits.

a heart-shaped bowl surrounded by vegetables and fruits.

These include combating the oxidative damage induced by free radicals, protecting cardiovascular health, decreasing inflammation, supporting the immune system, and potentially protecting cells and chromosomal components such as telomeres from premature aging. 

Research shows that a Mediterranean or plant-based diet, eating foods rich in antioxidants, eating more fiber, and decreasing red meat consumption can all help reduce pro-aging hormones, chronic inflammation, and cellular senescence.

#3: Do Not Smoke

Smoking can cause premature aging and increases the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, lung cancer, and emphysema. 

#4: Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep helps decrease levels of cortisol and improves cellular health and function, aids neurodegenerative recovery, and improves energy levels.

Limiting alcohol consumption, taking vitamin D supplements, and decreasing stress can also help increase healthspan and slow biological aging.

For other tips to boost your energy and experience a “hard reset,” check out our guide for boosting energy and vitality here.

Post its that read good food, good health and good life.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.