16 / 05 / 22

Healthspan: what it is, and how The Big Five can influence it

If you haven’t already heard the word “healthspan”, then you soon will. And more and more often too.

Your healthspan is the number of years you live in good health before you start to be affected or impacted by debilitating diseases or conditions that stop you living at least to the best you can expect for your age before your state of health starts to get in the way.

In the past decade or so, scientists have started to look harder and harder at the different lengths of healthspan various global populations could expect. Broadly, the likes of healthy-living Japanese and Scandinavians seemed to have amongst the world’s longest healthspans, sometimes as much as 20 years longer than some nations.

UK “healthspan” around ten years less than Sweden.

If we take Europe, then the UK is nowhere near the top of the list. Various studies conducted by universities and healthcare & medical institutions suggest that the UK population’s typical healthspan of around 65 years is around ten years less than pace-setter Sweden, with several Mediterranean countries – with their famed healthy diets – ahead of us.

There’s obviously a great number of variables to take into consideration – some people are from genetically longer-living families, then there’s the demographics to consider, personal lifestyle choices and the sometimes random issue of illnesses – but what science does tell us is that there’s a handful of influences, which anybody can adopt, which can have a positive and lengthening effect upon healthspan.

Healthspan positives: The Big Five.

Scientists generally agree there’s a “big five”: alcohol, smoking, weight, exercise, and food. Even past age 50, taking action on any of those fronts can extend your healthspan.

Alcohol: life can be fun, and has to be, and alcohol in moderation rather than to excess is one plus for your healthspan.

Smoking: it couldn’t be more simple – stop if you do, don’t start (or return to it) if you don’t. One in three cancers are smoking-related.

Weight: If you don’t know how, find out how to calculate your body mass index (BMI) here. Between 18.5 and 25 is a healthy BMI.

Exercise: Broadly, aim for around 30 minutes exercise a day to positively influence your healthspan. That could be as unintrusive as walking or gardening, or for the more committed, jogging or gym. But do something… If you’re active enough during your exercise period to get a sweat on, or find you can’t sing out loud, then all the better. And the older you are, the more important it is to do something involving weights, even if it’s just hefting bags of potatoes around.

Check with your GP – they’ll be delighted to see you less.

But whatever you’re planning check with your GP that what you intend to do is safe for you to do if you have any sort of medical condition. They’ll likely be delighted that you’re making the effort, because it means they’ll quite possibly see you less often.


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