Could healthspan be the key to living a long & strong life?
Who wants to live forever? Well, lots of people, actually. Extreme life extensionists are circling the prospect: Silicon Valley’s quest for immortality is well documented, and the non-profit, Coalition for Radical Life Extension, hopes to cure ageing with unlimited lifespans: “The deathist paradigm has to go,” they assert.
Despite elite Californian funding, eternal life is not yet upon us and longevity still has a ceiling. But new research shows we’re on our way to living longer lives, potentially maximising our mortality to the tune of 150 years.
What is the point of adding mileage, however, if there’s rust under the hood? Our collective health is in decline, and experts suggest without considering our healthspan, the pursuit for super longevity will likely be a fate worse than death.
What is a ‘healthspan’?
While our life expectancy has continued to increase over the years we will, on average, spend a significant part of our lives sick. “A relative worsening of population health is evidence that all is not well,” said Dr Lucinda Hiam, co-author of the latest analysis of global life expectancy rankings published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
As such, chronic illnesses are on the rise. Alzheimer’s and dementia were the leading cause of death in the UK in 2022. The British Heart Foundation state there are more than 160,000 cardiovascular deaths each year – that’s one every three minutes.
For the most part we treat health as binary: it’s seen as the absence or presence of illness. “We discuss, measure, and pay for healthcare based on whether you ‘have heart failure’ or don’t,” say the McKinsey Health Institute. Care only begins once a chronic illness is present – patients are treated to mitigate the circumstances, rather than pre-examined to stop them altogether.
“I realised that most health services are reactionary and as a result we’re always chasing illness.”
- Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Founder and Chief Medical Officer, Thyme.
Experts say we need to assess the implications ill health can have on our lives far before that illness occurs. This is known as focusing on our healthspan – not necessarily ensuring we live even longer, but that our quality of life is better in the years we do have. Increasing our healthspan means maximising our chances of preventing disease, therefore spending less of our life unwell.
Thyme is a healthcare practice that provides preventative and lifestyle medicine. “Increasingly, it’s become apparent to me that as a population that we don’t invest in our health or our longevity enough… I sought to create a healthcare service designed to enhance the portion of a person’s life spent in good health.”
How can we improve our healthspan?
Improving your healthspan means taking a holistic view of your body and its functions and questioning what can be done to ameliorate the standards in which it lives. Thyme’s approach is one that incorporates the following health services:
- Preventative: Early detection scanning, advanced blood and genetic analysis.
- Lifestyle: Expert advice on nutrition, sleep, and physical and mental health.
- Traditional: Reactionary access to private nurses and GPs when needed.
Genetic scanning is key to improving one’s healthspan as it warns us of our susceptibility to life-threatening conditions. Marvel fans may remember Chris Hemsworth receiving a genetic screening in his Disney Plus series Limitless; confronted with the news he carries two copies of a gene that spikes his chances of developing Alzheimer's, he took a break from acting in order to mitigate his chances of the disease developing.
Improving your healthspan means committing to the philosophy that you have agency over your own disease prevention. For those like Hemsworth who have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, for example, exercise is thought to be key in driving down those odds.
Alzheimer’s UK combined the results of 11 extensive studies and found regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease specifically by 45%.
Incorporating healthspan into our daily lives
Healthspan advocates want patients to be equipped with a “greater health literacy” so they can be agents of their own wellness. We can achieve this by arming them with the knowledge they need to maximise their health durability.
This is the fundamental principal Thyme works by: “Joining the dots with an individualised programme of care means they’re connected to leading doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts, personal coaches and world class scanning,” says Dr Di Cuffa. “This truly is bespoke care and health planning.”
The extension of life to beyond what we can currently comprehend speaks to our desire to remain exactly as we are forever. But that’s not what happens – we age and we get ill, and those illnesses devour larger and larger chunks of our lives.
If we can get to know our bodies and our minds better than we do right now, with clinical testing and key lifestyle changes, we may not make it to 150, but we’d certainly make the most of the years we do have.
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