Most people want to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, many often only appreciate this once their health has started to fade. Here, we take a closer look at what longevity is, breaking it down to show the relationship between life span and healthspan, so you can become more aware of how your decisions today will affect your health tomorrow.
What is longevity?
Human longevity refers to the length of a person's life or the ability to live a long and healthy life. It is often measured by life expectancy, the average number of years a person is expected to live based on current mortality rates. Life expectancy clearly indicates a person's expected life span, but it doesn’t factor in health span to the same degree.
What is healthspan?
Healthspan refers to the length of time a person can live in good health without disability or chronic illness. It is not only about extending the number of years of life but also ensuring that people can live those years in good health and with the ability to perform activities of daily living.
Healthspan vs life span
An insightful way to represent longevity is to show the relationship between healthspan and life span. The way to do this most easily is to show the age-dependent drivers of healthspan, cognition and physical performance on a vertical axis whilst considering life span on the horizontal axis.
The white line represents what happens without much intervention as a person ages. As a person lives, they gain chronological years, but the quality of life declines. When the line meets the horizontal axis, a person's life has ended.
The blue line best represents what current medicine has to offer. It closely follows the white line, but just as you near the end of life, medicine is often used to delay death for some period, but often without any improvement in the quality of life.
The red line shows an increase in life span, although not logarithmically. What stands out most is how it reduces the decline of health span and compresses the period of decline.
With this graphically illustrated, it’s then thought-provoking to ask how much of a person’s life is spent below the 50th percentile of quality of life.
The dotted line represents the 50th percentile of quality of life, assuming where the line meets the vertical access is the 100th percentile.
Gap one represents the period a person spends beneath the 50th percentile, where their quality of life is significantly reduced.
Gap two represents this for a person with current medical intervention. In contrast, gap three is where we want to be, not just because we're living longer but spending a far narrower fraction of our life in the final stages of decline.
In an ideal world, the red curve would be a straight line that drops vertically at the end of a person’s life.
The good news is your curve is not set in stone but is malleable. Several key factors have been linked to an increased health span, such as regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and not smoking. Other factors include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. There’s no magic bullet solution; it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
However, Radix Nutrition can help by making the healthy dieting component easy. Our products have been designed to optimise your metabolic health beyond what most could realistically achieve. Applying the latest nutritional science, we’ve developed a range of nutritionally complete meals that you can eat anywhere with only five minutes of preparation time required.
This article is based on What is Longevity? by Peter Attia, M.D.