In Six Simple Rules for a Better Life, I opened the chapter on the 6th rule, “Be Healthy”, with quite a few thoughts on longevity—on the amazing medical advances that are extending longevity. In my speaking engagements, when I talk about being healthy, I also comment about longevity—about how fortunate we are to be living in this era: a time when there are treatments and cures for many formerly deadly ailments, as well as optimism about those conditions that have yet to be cured.
I then talk about the importance of doing our part—eating well, exercising, and knowing your numbers so you can get help for treatable conditions.
Lately, I’ve moved away from framing the discussion around longevity, shifting my focus from an increased lifespan, to an increased healthspan.
I didn’t make up the term healthspan. I’m not sure who made it up. Its meaning is pretty clear: if your lifespan is the length of your life, healthspan is the length, or duration, of your health.
Avoiding premature death is clearly a worthwhile goal. And in most cases a long lifespan will come along with a long healthspan. But, for the numerous people who have struggled with making changes for better health, thinking about healthspan instead of lifespan is helpful.
Perhaps because many of us know people who have lived quite a while despite bad eating habits, smoking, or no exercise, the end of life seems like something that can be dealt with later. But the end of health can come far sooner. The way we eat, an active or sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and other lifestyle choices are directly related to diabetes, some forms of cancer, hypertension, and other heart problems.
Those who make these changes will not regret it; those who don’t will regret the alternative. Quitting smoking is hard. Meeting the dual challenges of eating well and exercising is hard. But dealing with illness is harder.
Make the investment in your healthspan. Break down your large goals into little pieces. Start tomorrow with one, small piece. Work on it for the 21 days it takes to make it into a habit. Then work on another for the next 21 days, and so on. In three years, you’ll have made 52 small changes. That’s a lot of change, and a big impact on your healthspan.
What are you doing to increase your healthspan? Join the conversation with your comments…