For years now, there’s been no shortage of talk about increasing lifespan, boosting longevity, and living to a ripe old age. And that’s all well and good. But what I believe we should really be focusing on is increasing our healthspan – as in, the length of time you’re able to remain healthy and vital or, at a minimum, are able to do the things you want to do in your senior years. Because what good is living for 100 years if you’re sick for half of them?
Aging is unavoidable; it’s something we do from the day we’re born. As the years pile up, so does our risk of developing disease. By the time we hit 65 or so, it’s not unusual in our culture, to have accumulated multiple health problems like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, neurological issues and so on. The cumulative effects of cellular mutations, toxins and the wear and tear of day-to-day living all take their toll, in effect making those longer life spans a significant ‘risk factor’ for getting ill.
Since so many of us are living far longer than our ancestors did, the question is, how can we add more wellness to all these years we now have. In my opinion, the key to lengthening healthspan is to incorporate as many health-supportive behaviors as possible now, so you can live better, longer into the future.
With this in mind, I’ve put together my favorite Healthspan Habits to start you on your way. Your mission? To put these ideas into practice to help your body and mind flourish for as many years as possible, health intact.
Your lifestyle really, really matters.
I tell all my patients to take the multi-pronged approach, and do it at the pace you are most comfortable with, but just be sure to cover all the bases, including the physical, psychological and emotional/spiritual for maximum effect. (In other words, being a rotten person who eats really well probably won’t cut it!)
Connect the health dots.
When it comes to your body, everything’s interconnected. Abuse one system, you abuse them all. For example, regularly drinking too much gives you more than just the obvious pain of a hangover the next day – it negatively impacts your brain, liver, heart, blood sugar, muscles and much more. Same holds true for an ongoing poor diet, too much stress and not moving enough. No system is an island, and although you many not ‘feel’ the effects of a poor diet quite as pointedly as a hangover, rest assured, over time damage is being done. However, the good news is, the opposite is true as well. When you love up your body with healthy habits like eating well, prioritizing sleep, moving regularly throughout the day, keeping a lid on stress, you are bestowing massive benefits on billions of cells and multiple physiological systems. Keep up those healthy habits and your healthspan grows too.
Put the breaks on inflammation.
One of the most essential steps to extending ‘healthspan’ is tamping down inflammation which, left unchecked, speeds the aging process and is a major contributor to disease. To keep inflammation at bay, make it a habit to minimize exposure to the substances that, yes, inflame your system. Among the classics to avoid: sugar, processed foods, household chemicals, environmental toxins and a lack of sleep, exercise and stress management.
Give yourself a fresh, flame-free start.
To jump-start the ‘flame-taming” process, hit the reset button with a healthy, one or two-week food-based cleanse that includes supportive nutrients to help repair ‘leaky gut’ and restore the body’s optimal bacterial balance. It’s a great entry point into healthy eating and living. Ultimately boosting healthspan is about finding a way of eating that is sustainable for you, knowing that too much of the wrong kinds of food can inflame, aggravate, and exhaust you, and decrease the length of time you remain healthy.
Remember the essentials.
So what are the rules to live by? Number one: Be kind to your body, handle it with care. Support it, like you would a child, a good friend or even a beloved pet. Show yourself the same love you show them everyday. Next, if you’re still smoking, stop. Now. No excuses. Drink too much? Cut back. A lot. The less you do, the better. An occasional glass of wine is fine, but a nightly bottle of pinot isn’t, despite all that resveratrol. Add to that, my six-point formula for a Happy Healthspan:
EAT …green vegetables like your life depends on it – raw, steamed, roasted, sprouted. Nosh on fiber and nutrient-rich veggies at every meal, even breakfast. Eat real, whole foods, the less altered, manipulated and processed, the better. Think as ‘close to the vine’ as possible, buying either organic or farmer’s market products for maximum freshness, nutrients and medicinal benefit. Enjoy moderate amounts of organic, pasture-raised animals and small, oily fish or pole-caught fish, plus healthy fats found in avocados, coconuts and extra virgin olive oil.
SLEEP…reprioritize it, and restore your body with this fundamental, health-sustaining activity. It’s not an empty, unproductive time—your brain and body are actually very active during sleep. It’s when your body repairs, recharges — and clears out the cellular detritus from your brain, a process essential to maintaining both short and long-term cognitive function. If you feel like you’ve forgotten how to sleep well, try these sleep-inducing tips
MOVE… as much as possible every day, and throughout the day, to combat the effects of sedentary office life, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. Walk, stretch, shake it out, dance around your living room – do whatever you enjoy. Ask yourself, upon waking, “How can I move more today?” The point is, your body was designed to move, it needs to move, and it gets healthier every time you do, so don’t stop!
PROTECT…your body from harm, as in, minimize your exposure to the invisible assaults of everyday toxins. Make your own or buy only the healthiest, cleanest, and/or organic options when it comes to frequently used items like household products, personal care products, and add organic, non-toxic bedding to your must-have list. And if you want to “up the ante”….explore adding CoQ10 to your routine. CoQ10 is an antioxidant, that our bodies make continuously and is present in every cell. Unfortunately, as we age we tend to produce less and less of it.
UNWIND…every day. It’s essential to carve out small moments to relax, restore, and just “be.” Consciously switch off to allow for complete mental and physiological reprieve. Try unwinding with meditation, restorative yoga, or relaxing in a hot bath, sauna or steam room. Doing so will help lower blood pressure, take the edge off stress, and calm your autonomic nervous system, all of which will encourage better sleep as well.
CONNECT…awaken and enhance a sense of belonging and meaning in your life. No matter what your age, work on developing new relationships and maintaining old ones, regularly, in person (not just on social media!). Avoid isolation which has a negative impact on mood and mental health as well as on overall physical health. Enhance your sense of connection to the larger world by taking a moment every day to truly experience gratitude and express gratitude. It’s one of those simple acts you’ll never regret.
Here’s to a wonderful healthspan!