More and more people are living to age 100. The average life expectancy at birth in the United States is about 76 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But although we’re likely to live to an older age than our grandparents’ generation, that doesn’t mean we’re any healthier than they are.
“It’s between four and eight years that we live longer than our grandparents,” on average, says Greg Macpherson, cellular health expert and founder of SRW Laboratories, a biotechnology company.
“People are generally living longer, and we’re generally losing less people earlier. And those two things work together to bring [lifespan] up.”
Macpherson is also the author of the book “Harnessing the Nine Hallmarks of Aging.”
It turns out that our “healthspans” just aren’t keeping up with our “lifespans”, Macpherson adds.
Lifespan is the number of years you lived between your birth and death, while healthspan is how long you’re living in good health without any issues.
“We’re living longer, but we’re kind of grinding our way through the last maybe 25% of our life with some form of health condition,” Macpherson says.
About 65% of people over the age of 60 are living with multiple health issues, he adds.
Here’s why Macpherson says our health span isn’t increasing at the same rate as our lifespan. Plus, seven ways you can help lengthen the healthiest years of your life.
The American healthcare system has a ‘break-fix model’
The biggest problem for our health spans is the reliance on medicine to fix health problems after they’ve already occurred, rather than prioritizing prevention, says Macpherson.
Our healthcare system has “a break-fix model, where you get sick [and] you go to the doctor,” he says.
“But what people are realizing now is just like we take our cars to get service every six months, because if we don’t it’s dangerous and it can be really expensive, what we’ve gotta flip to is preventive healthcare.”
Lifespan is increasing because we have newer and more advanced technology and medicine than what was available when our grandparents were our age, Macpherson added.
“If a quarter of the world’s population turns up in 2050 over the age of 60, and we’re all ailing, it’s going to be really expensive,” he says. “Hopefully things will change, but right now we don’t have the capacity to deal with it.”
7 ways to help extend the healthy years of your life
Here are a few practices Macpherson encourages to add more years to your health span.
- Don’t skip catching up with your doctor. Regularly check in and get blood tests annually to catch any potential health issues.
- Ditch sugar. “We cause our body a lot of problems when it has to deal with too much sugar, and it ages us and affects our health span,” he says.
- maintain a healthy diet. Stick to a Mediterranean diet or a plant-based diet, with occasional meat for extra protein.
- Sit less: “Sitting is bad, standing is good,” so consider a standing desk while you work, he suggests.
- Exercise often. Walk every day if that’s all you can manage, but aim to exercise 30 minutes a day.
- Remember to hydrate. “Generally healthy people” should drink four to six glasses of water per day, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Consult your doctor if you are not sure how much water you should drink daily.
- Practice gratitude and mindfulness. “Gratitude, mindfulness and a great social circle, I think, can add years, if not a decade to your life,” says Macpherson.
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