Lifespan vs Healthspan: Should We Pursue Longer Or Healthier Lives?

- By Lofta
Lifespan vs Healthspan: Should We Pursue Longer Or Healthier Lives?
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By Lofta
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Is living longer really the best measure?

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People often talk about the average lifespan, which hovers around 76 years in the United States. Part of the reason for our fixation on lifespan is because people have pursued longer lives for centuries. This isn’t all that surprising since the average lifespan was less than 40 years in the 1860s

Advances in preventive health, hygiene, and medicine extended our lifespans by several decades. Effective treatments help people hang on even as their quality of life declines. But is living longer really the best measure of the life you’ve lived if you’re suffering?

New perspectives on life and death have led to a new term that sheds light on this decades old discourse: healthspan. It’s a novel concept that’s shifting the way we think about living. 

Lifespan VS Healthspan: What's the Difference? 

When we talk about lifespan, we’re solely discussing the length of time a person is expected to live. In many countries, lifespans have increased at a steady pace. Americans were also experiencing increasing lifespans, but at a slower rate than many other first world countries. While many of the wealthiest countries’ lifespans grew to exceed 80 years, the lifespan of Americans began declining in 2020.

But living longer doesn’t always equate to a healthier life. In fact, your odds of developing a chronic illness increases dramatically as you get older. Almost 95% of older adults have at least one chronic illness. And nearly 80% of older adults have two chronic illnesses,. 

These statistics are sobering because chronic illnesses decrease quality of life. People coping with these conditions often take multiple prescription medications. They might also struggle with pain and other physical limitations. Medical treatments make it easier to live longer, but shifting our focus from lengthening our lifespans to maximizing our healthspan might be a better approach. 

Healthspan describes the period of time you're alive and healthy. But Tim Peterson, an assistant professor at the Institute of Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis, makes a significant distinction: healthy doesn’t have to mean that you don’t have any sort of health condition. Instead, we can define healthspan as the period of time that you don’t have a disease that’s a leading cause of death. 

By this definition, the onset of serious illnesses like heart disease and diabetes cut your healthspan short. And since COVID-19 can cause serious illness and is currently the third leading cause of death in the United States, it can also cut your healthspan short—especially if you develop a severe case of long covid. 

Less serious conditions that are manageable with medical interventions but aren’t among the leading causes of death might not shorten your healthspan, depending on who you ask. However, some minor conditions can increase your risk for some of these more serious health conditions. 

Increased Risk for Illness

If you don’t currently have a chronic illness that decreases your quality of life and shortens your healthspan, that’s only half the battle. Some health conditions and unhealthy behaviors increase your risk for chronic illnesses. 

Smoking cigarettes, drinking excessive alcohol, and using drugs increases your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and several different forms of cancer. And these diseases independently shorten your healthspan. 

Health conditions that don’t shorten your healthspan on their own can also increase your risk for serious chronic illness. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are among these risk factors, and conditions like sleep apnea also increase your risk. 

Obstructive sleep apnea puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious illnesses. Diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea and other conditions should be a priority for people who want to maximize their healthspan. 

Maximize Your Healthspan

Getting a diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea is easy and convenient with Lofta. Our home sleep tests allow us to collect data about your sleep quality from the comfort of your home. Simply schedule a virtual appointment with one of our skilled healthcare providerss and they’ll determine if you need a home sleep test. 

Wear your sleep test around your wrist for one night and toss it the next morning. We’ll follow up with your test results and if you have sleep apnea, our healthcare providers can develop a treatment plan for you. If you need a CPAP, BiPAP, or other device to treat your sleep apnea, you can purchase it right on our website. 

Get the sleep you’ve been missing—let Lofta help you today.