Ageing is a natural and unavoidable part of life. While the idea of living to blow out 100 candles on your birthday cake is appealing, it is important to differentiate between healthspan and lifespan. Because a long life without some degree of vitality, autonomy and health is not as appealing as one filled with vigour.
What is healthspan?
Most of us are familiar with the term lifespan: the length of time a person lives. Healthspan, however, refers to the proportion of a person’s life during which they are generally in good health. In other words, your healthspan is the length of time you’re healthy – not just alive.
Genes or genetics?
A person’s lifespan is largely determined by the combined effects of genetics and environmental factors. Studies based on identical sets of twins yielded unexpected results: genetics only account for approximately 20 to 30% of an individual’s chance of living to age 85. This means that how we will age in terms of health is largely in our control and by making some very simple shifts in our life routines, it is estimated one can live 14 years longer than someone who is not following the same levels of health hygiene.
The topic of lifespan and ageing is something that greatly interests me and Dr David Sinclair’s book, ‘Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To’ is a must-read. Sinclair is a professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Ageing at Harvard Medical School, where he and his colleagues study the molecular causes of ageing and how to improve healthspan and lifespan by slowing its effects. In this groundbreaking book, Sinclair reveals a bold new theory for why we age and I quote, “Ageing is a disease, and that disease is treatable.”
How you can increase your healthspan
1. Embrace the restorative power of sleep
Sleep is the great healer of all and is an essential part of a healthspan routine. Without sufficient quantities of adequate sleep, it can cause:
- Reduced testosterone levels in men.
- A reduction in critical anti-cancer-fighting cells.
- A greater risk for chronic disease.
- People to eat more. As an example, those who only get 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night will eat between 200 to 300 extra calories each day. This adds up to 70 000 additional calories a year, which translates to 4 to 7 kilograms of extra body mass.
2. Get your nutritional timing right
Follow the ‘What not to eat, what to eat, when to eat’ rule:
- Limit your eating to between 8 and 12 hours each day.
- Practice intermittent fasting (with your doctor’s approval), which activates several cellular longevity pathways such as autophagy – a crucial upregulation process critical for cells to stay healthy. During a fast period, cells can break down proteins and nonessential components and reuse them for energy, they can also use autophagy to destroy invading viruses and bacteria and get rid of damaged structures.
- As a guideline: let 4 to 6 hours elapse between meals and 14 to 16 hours between your last meal and your morning meal.
3. Eat nutritious whole organic foods
- Eat as many dark/leafy greens as possible.
- Include fibrous fruits such as berries and apples in your diet.
- Good snack foods (not to be confused with snacking) include raw nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds.
- Eat organic, grass-fed meat protein.
- Add healthy oils such as organic, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive and avocado oil into your nutritional mix.
4. Exercise (you know it!)
- Exercise is the quickest anti-ageing formula. It keeps the brain ‘young’ through the creation of new neurons and synapses.
- Strength training goes a long way to prevent muscle atrophy.
- Resistance training can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Lifting weights enables your muscles to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and lower your overall blood glucose levels.
- Speeds up the body’s metabolism and burns more calories.
5. Take boosting supplements
- NAD+ activates Sirtuins, which are also known as “the longevity genes”. Sirtuins are a family of protein enzymes that are in charge of cellular control systems such as the regulation of reproduction and DNA repair. Boosting Sirtuins mimics the benefits of fasting or calorie restriction (autophagy) without the need to reduce calories.
- AMPK Activator Berberine is a natural plant-based compound found in several different plants that may also work at slowing a metabolic pathway that causes inflammation, which has been linked to several age-related diseases, including diabetes. Coyne Healthcare’s Bio-Berberine™ Advanced is my go-to boost product of choice.
The concept of healthspan is one that is very close to my heart. All I have to do is look to my mother, Maria. She is an internationally renowned health and wellness expert, natural health pioneer who has always taken care of herself with a healthy lifestyle, nutrition and key supplements to support – and has perfected the art of ageing gracefully. Having her as my living role model and armed with the knowledge that our health is in our hands, fills me with gratitude and joy.