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  • Writer's pictureErin Stefanacci

Healthspan vs. Lifespan

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Quality over Quantity

How many people want to live as long as they can? Lots of people.

Now, ask yourself this question.... If you could live into your eighties or nineties but you were chronically ill even to the point of being immobile, would you still want to live that long?

LIFESPAN: Just a number

When we think of age, we often think of a number and we might ask questions like how long do you want to live or at what age did your relatives live to? That is because we think of age in terms of lifespan — or maximum number of years a person can live. This is often referred to as "Lifespan," the average number of years a person lives.

In the US, the lifespan in 2015 was 81.6 years for women and 76.9 for men. You can see the full list by country, here.

HEALTHSPAN: Quality of Life

While number of years a person can live is an important aspect of life, we may be overlooking something even more important — healthspan. Healthspan is the number of healthy, functional years a person lives or quality of life. Just because the average lifespan may be 81, it doesn't mean we live those entire 81 years healthy and functional.

There are surveys that suggest most people would be content with the current lifespan (living to 81 or 79) if healthspan was improved. Maybe you feel this way too?

This is because improving healthspan adds value to our lives given the pervasiveness of chronic disease.


Chronic disease is anything ongoing and is generally incurable. Examples are cardiovascular disease, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, stroke, dementia, and asthma. The CDC states that 6 in 10 people in America have at least one chronic disease and 4 in 10 people have two or more.

So why do so many people have chronic disease?

There are key lifestyle factors that contribute to chronic disease such as lack of physical activity, excessive drinking, and tobacco use. But could we develop chronic disease simply from aging. The answer is YES! I know that sounds ominous but hear me out - there is now research surrounding the changes that take place on a cellular level as we age.

We’ve all heard someone say, “ah, I’m just getting old.” And there is some truth to that. As we age, changes happen on a cellular level and scientists have put these changes into categories. I will just mention a few of these categories — DNA damage, nutrient sensing, and telomere shortening (the end of a chromosome — that protects your genetic information).

If we can develop chronic disease just by aging or by unhealthy lifestyles, then what can a person do to improve their healthspan during their lifespan?

As I mentioned, a lot has to do with current lifestyle so —

  • Diet matters. Make healthy choices as often as you can. Drink fluids and incorporate plenty of vegetables and healthy fats (i.e. avocado, coconut meat, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.) into your meals. Not only will this help your waistline but it will help your brain!

  • Get moving. It's possible that you may not have time to hit the gym every day, but try to incorporate a walk or some simple stretches in the morning. Find an activity you enjoy and make it part of your daily routine.

  • Reset your clock. Sleep matters, so make sure you’re getting enough of it! Invest in your rest so your body has time to reset itself each day.

  • Discover gratitude. Sometimes life can be challenging. When it is, try to focus on the small things with a “glass half full” mentality. Write down what you're grateful for and don’t be afraid to express your feelings.

  • Have fun. Take up a new hobby or find more time to enjoy an activity you love. Sign up for a class or learn a new skill (like cooking or a foreign language).

  • Get together. Carve out time to be with friends and family, expand your social circle, volunteer, and join groups with common interests.

  • Maintain your brain. Keep your mind sharp with simple mental exercises like crossword puzzles and reading. Anyone familiar with Sudoku?

  • Time-Restricted Feeding. Or fasting. Limiting the window of time we eat. This has been shown to actually reverse cellular aging. Keeping in mind before doing this type of thing, check with your healthcare provider to make sure it's right for you.

Don't know where to start? Or maybe you are looking for more personal recommendations based on what is going on in your body specifically? If this sounds like you, I suggest finding a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath that can partner with you. Together you discover the right choices for your body and find optimal wellness.

In health and happiness,

Dr. Erin Stefanacci

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