Lifespan is a concept that most of us are familiar with. Your lifespan is the length of time between birth and death, which for the average human these days is 78 years. In the near future, for wealthy nations, that number will start to push into the 90’s.
A less-known, but more significant concept is healthspan.
Your healthspan is the number of years spent without chronic disease, dementia and infirmity. Or in other words, living a full and engaged life with complete control of your mind and body right up until the end!
While we all want a long life – it is the quality of your life in your later years that matters.
So what impacts our lifespan? The genes we inherit from our parents play an important role (can you imagine the genetic potential of Freyja Frederiksdottir, daughter to Annie Thorisdottir and Frederik Aegidius?). However, it is the way those genes are expressed (the science of epigenetics) that will impact the quality of your life in the long term.
In other words, the genetic material you are born with is either switched on or switched off as a result of your lifestyle and nutrition. So while you may not have inherited the genes of Annie and Frederik, you can make the most of the genes that you do have by optimizing factors that influence how your genes express themselves. This also applies to inhibiting the expression of less than favorable genes – if your family history includes diseases like diabetes, you can reduce your chances of a similar diagnosis by incorporating protective measures such as the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, cutting out refined sugars, incorporating weight training and monitoring your calorie intake.
Lifestyle and environmental factors that influence how your genes express themselves:
Your nutrition should be tailored to what works for you and what you can apply consistently. A good start is to remove the sugar and add in abundant vegetables, some good fats and carbohydrates, and enough protein to meet your training and lifestyle needs.
Some stress is good, but chronic stress creates an imbalance in your cortisol and other hormone levels causing a cascade of negative health effects and long-term damage. It is important to address chronic stress by incorporating activities that bring your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance. These could include meditation, yoga, dance, being outside, reading, listening to music or whatever brings a sense of calm and order to your life.
- Physical activity
While smashing the WoD every day is a good place to start, you don’t always have to leaderboard to get the benefit of physical activity. Too much of a good thing is not such a good thing and it is important to find balance in your training. Push when you need to but learn to listen to your body and reduce the intensity when it’s required. Non-exercise activity such as taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking the dogs or chasing after your kids is just as important – your body is designed to move and not sit behind a desk (or on the couch) all day!
- Purpose and meaning
Research shows that having a sense of purpose can lead to living a longer and more fulfilling life. It is important to understand what your purpose and calling in life is and to be able to share your unique gifts and quirks with a community in which you feel part of (some of you are very strange and quirky though – but we nevertheless appreciate everyone’s weirdness).
- Environmental toxins
Living in the city we are exposed to increased levels of pollution and environmental toxins. Often, the personal care products we use can potentially add to our body’s toxic load. And then smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating too many processed and refined foods contributes to this burden. Your body is great at clearing out the junk though, but sometimes it needs help with a good diet including vegetables, sufficient clean water (coffee does not count), rest, relaxation and enough sleep, and one or two less beers over the weekend.
These are easy modifications you can implement to address your healthspan. There is a lot more research being done on additional factors like the microbiome, calorie restriction, mitochondrial health and specific supplements but the big wins come from regular training, mobility sessions and the healthy lifestyle modifications we recommend at CFJ Lifestyle Fitness.