Throughout the pandemic, you have likely spent more time at home by yourself than you ever expected or wanted to. You almost certainly have needed a lift at one time or another. Given all the discussion of precautions, illness, and death, you may have found yourself thinking more about your health, morbidity, and mortality. This is normal.
Depending on your age, experiences, and phase of life, mortality may mean something entirely different for you. Death may be the last thing on the mind of a single 23-year-old straight out of college. And it is at the forefront of a parent who has just lost their mother or father.
The average lifespan in the United States is 78.6 years (81.4 years in Belgium). Regardless of your age, retirement is something we all talk about, plan for, and hopefully have a chance to enjoy on our terms.
The definition of healthspan
Healthspan refers to the period of a person's life during which they are generally healthy and free from severe or chronic disease. This definition varies from the more traditional focus of medical community - 'life span' - which spans the entirety of a human life, including chronic illness.
5 ways to increase your healthspan
Now let's get into some actionable steps for not only improving the length of your healthspan:
1. Drink plenty of water
2. Get adequate sleep
3. Reduce time spent sitting
4. Do strength training
5. Build a community and support system
#1 Drink water
Our bodies are primarily composed of water, about 50-70% bodyweight. Water aids in ridding waste products, regulates temperatures, lubricates joints and tissues, and is so much better than Gatorade (not necessarily, but that's another discussion).
We need a significant amount of water regularly to maintain healthy functioning – eight glasses a day is a commonly used marker. Remember that we get fluids from the foods we eat as well. Simple ways of gauging your hydration include your thirst levels and the color of your urine. If you are rarely thirsty and your urine is colorless or light yellow, you are probably doing a good job.
#2 Get the right amount of quality sleep
Sleep is an essential time for our bodies and brains to recuperate: breathing, heart rate, and metabolism decrease. Memories are solidified. Tissues are repaired. Dreams are had. The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. If you fall far outside of this window, you may want to assess your sleep habits. Short sleepers (less than 7 hours) have a 12% greater risk of dying, while long sleepers (more than 8-9 hours) have a 30% greater risk of dying. Sufficient exercise may be one of the best sleep aids available on the market.
#3 Reduce time spent sitting
Too much time spent sitting is a health risk distinct from getting too little exercise. Yes, even if you are reaching the recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate-intensity activity, the amount of time you spend sitting down can decrease your quality of life and overall healthspan. Set yourself hourly (or more frequent) reminders to stand up and move your body. Even just the act of standing for a minute or two can do wonders for your health.
#4 Stress your system with strength training
Strength training is one of the most effective ways of improving health and wellness. Intentional and systematic application of physical stressors to your body (aka strength training) decreases the risk of injury while increasing your metabolism.
Not only does having more strength make everyday activities easier, but it increases your body's ability to withstand stress. Consistently applied stress develops a robust body capable of handling whatever life throws your way.
#5 Build a community
Perhaps one aspect that no one will overlook after this year is the value of a solid community. Social support is a key component for the adoption and maintenance of healthy habits such as exercise.
Maintaining healthy supportive relationships has a protective effect on our healthspan. Athletes have a greater risk of injury and depression when they do not feel supported properly.
Divorced individuals experience a 23% higher risk of dying early. And there is strong evidence linking social isolation, depression, and a higher risk of falls in older adults.
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