Healthspan: A New Measure Of Wellness And 5 Ways To Improve It

Healthspan: A New Measure Of Wellness And 5 Ways To Improve It

When we focus on the definition of good health, it’s good to ask the question, Where do my beliefs on health come from?

In our youth, most of us are full of energy and are not dealing with chronic health issues. Things like getting enough protein in a day or watching our sugar intake did not yet have any importance in our lives. 

Then as we move into adulthood, many of us choose to start families and we will then spend the next 18-20 years raising our children. This time of our lives is both a blessing and a lot of work, requiring us to personally sacrifice for the good of those who are completely dependent upon us. 

As our children become adults and independent of us, we reach our mid 40s and early 50s. While this could become a time of regeneration for us in life, many of us are in various stages of chronic disease, are overweight or obese, or are experiencing other debilitating health conditions. 

Advances in pharmacology, healthcare technology, and emergency response protocols have proven effective in keeping us alive in a chronic disease state.  

In the United States, life expectancy is about 77 years. Many pharmaceuticals, however, have side effects that can compromise the quality of life in and of themselves. To quote the late and rather unfiltered comedian George Carlin, “Life is tough. Then you die.” 

While there appears to be a great deal of truth to that statement, I would like to boldly challenge this assumption.  

Keep in mind that a hundred years ago we spent a greater portion of our life in good health; however, our life expectancy was much shorter. The culture promoted marrying at a younger age, much earlier in the reproductive time of life, and teenagers were expected to mature at a much younger age. Therefore, death in your 50s and 60s meant that you had lived a full life. 

If we are going to promote and celebrate an individual's lifespan as a measure of health success, though our timeline for maturity and raising a family is much different than it was, then shouldn't we reexamine the current healthcare system altogether? 

Do we need to redefine health as a culture?  

Can you feel empowered to not only add years to your life, but also life to your years? 

In some healthcare circles, the concept of healthspan is beginning to replace lifespan as an indicator of health success.  

Whereas lifespan refers to the total number of years alive, healthspan refers to how many years one remains healthy and free from disease or dysfunction.  

Specifically, we define healthspan as the period of life spent in good health, free from chronic diseases and disabilities of aging. 

healthspan chart

Because this is a relatively new paradigm in the healthcare world and in American culture, there is no absolute criteria for defining healthspan. But it is an idea whose time has come. 

While many factors influence healthy aging, food is probably the single lifestyle modification anyone can make to significantly increase healthspan. 

Here are five simple concepts to increase your healthspan—to live without disease for as long as possible.

1. Focus on Fiber


The Standard American diet is primarily meat, dairy, eggs, and processed carbohydrates. 

Processed carbohydrates (also known as simple carbohydrates) offer very little fiber.  

These foods are in the form of refined grains, such as white breads, pastas, and rice, as well as most candies, pastries, and other sweet snacks. 

Instead focus on eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown or black rice, oats, barley, quinoa, farro, and whole-grain cereals.  

Furthermore, animal products have no fiber whatsoever. 

Worried about protein? Let me ease your mind. Only about 3% of Americans are protein deficient. By contrast, only about 3% of Americans get the recommended daily amount of fiber.  

It seems like as a society we are so hyper-focused on protein that we are neglecting many other important nutrients. 

Why is fiber so important? Fiber helps prevent and reverse many health conditions that help you live a long and healthy life.  

Health benefits of fiber include:

       - enhanced digestive function

       - prevention of digestive system cancers

       - reduces cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL (bad cholesterol)

       - maintains blood sugar levels

       - creates sustained energy

       - promotes weight loss

2. Eat the Rainbow

And I am not talking about Skittles! 

Various colors of food promote a wide array of essential nutrients. 

Red plant foods are rich in lycopene, a nutrient that reduces free radicals that promote cancers. 

Orange and yellow plant foods provide beta carotene. Research indicates that these foods support intracellular communication, prevent vision impairment, and may help prevent heart disease.

Green plant foods are rich in cancer-blocking chemicals and also promote bone health, prevent insomnia, and may even help promote a positive mood.

Blue and purple plant foods have powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins that are believed to delay cellular aging and help the heart by blocking the formation of blood clots. Additionally, research indicates that anthocyanins help prevent type 2 diabetes and heart disease!

White and brown plant foods contain allicin and quercetin. These nutrients help reduce inflammation, reduce risk of chronic brain disorders, reduce blood pressure, and combat aging overall.

3. Get Moving

Regular physical activity, even in small amounts, can help prevent, treat, and sometimes even alleviate some of the most common chronic conditions we encounter, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, and some cancers.

Most major fitness organizations recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Working with a certified exercise specialist such as a kinesiologist, exercise physiologist, physical therapist, or certified personal trainer is the safest and most reliable way to begin an exercise program. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have a history of heart/cardiovascular problems, pulmonary issues, joint problems, or bodily injuries of any kind.


4. Go to Bed

Inadequate sleep can cause a host of physical and mental health issues, such as lower immune function, depressed mood, lack of focus, less energy, increased stress hormones, general cognitive decline, and even an increased risk of obesity, heart issues, and hypertension. 

Furthermore, a lack of sleep can result in a lack of motivation in planning healthy meals and committing to regular exercise. And consequently, exercise and healthy eating promote better sleep. 

Most sleep experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep nightly for adults. Tips for getting better sleep at night include:

       - establish a regular sleep schedule (same sleep and wake times)

       - increase daytime exposure to sunlight

       - move at least every hour during the day

       - eliminate nighttime caffeine and limit daytime caffeine

       - stay hydrated during the day

       - begin making your living environment darker and minimize physical activity 2 to 3 hours before going to bed


5. Become a Whole Harvest Subscriber

Whole Harvest meals are high in fiber, low in sodium, and full of color. Whole Harvest meals provide complete nutrition, extended satiation, and sustained energy, without harmful added oils, sugars, preservatives, and other substances that require your body to engage in stressful detoxification processes. 

Rethink health, but not in terms of the number of years; rather, think of it as the ability to look and feel your best in your 50s, 60s, and beyond.

Recommended reading:   The Healthspan Solution: How and What to Eat to Add Life to Your Years by Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT

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