Lifespan vs. Healthspan
Written by Dr. Dane Donohue, Co-Founder of 8WW
Last week I had a new patient come into the office. Let’s call her Rose even though that wasn’t her name. She was frustrated and upset. At 64 years old, she wasn’t living the life she imagined or wanted. She had back pain, knee pain, she was pre-diabetic and over-weight, her energy was lagging and she just couldn’t keep up with all the things that life was demanding of her. She has grand-children and can’t get on the floor to play with them as she would like. She wants to travel with her husband but doesn’t know if she can enjoy it because she can’t walk upstairs or lift suitcases without pain. I could feel her frustrations as she shared with me her story. How did this happen? I hear this story more times than I would like. Health is the foundation of our life and without it, life becomes a struggle. As I have always said, “blessing or burden”. You will become one as you age. Which one will you become? Your finances, your relationships, your energy, your contributions but most of all, your health will speak volumes about how you live out the “golden” years? The average American woman lives to 81 and the average American man lives to 76. Those lucky women get to experience the joys of live an average of 5 years longer. That’s awesome, or is it? Although this is the average lifespan for men and women, the average healthspan is much shorter. What is healthspan you ask and how is that different from lifespan? Lifespan is how long you live (quantity years), where healthspan is how WELL you live (quality years). The average healthspan in America is 63 years, meaning we live 63 years until we start to experience chronic, debilitating disease. I hear and see so many people who are suffering in their late 60’s and 70’s. Struggling with a variety of health problems and the biggest one is MOVEMENT. They just can’t move and do the things they want to or they use to do. If you can’t move properly, you can’t enjoy life.
How do you know that you are at the fork in the road of your health? When you say to yourself “I can’t continue on this way”. That’s usually when people call me. When they have either lost hope or have become extremely frustrated with their quality of life. Your health is a continuum or a road if you will. Where you are and how fast it’s taken you to get there has a lot to do with multiple factors. These include genetics, your previous upbringing, and your current environment. Your environment above all helps shape the choices you make. If you live with someone who eats healthy, exercises, and knows how to manage stressful situations, you should thank your lucky stars. The likelihood of successful healthy aging in this situation is SO much greater than if you live with someone who doesn’t practice healthy habits. If you wanted to be a good tennis player, then I would suggest having a good coach, hanging out, and playing with good tennis players as much as possible. If you want to be healthy into older age, I would suggest having a good coach, hanging out with good healthy people who have great energy, move well, and look younger than they are as much as possible. The bottom line, you become like the people you hang out with most of the time. When I speak with people like Rose, I ask them “what’s the underlying issue or the cause of your problem?” Most people honestly don’t know. This IS the problem. If you don’t know where you’re going with your health or how you got to where you are with your health, how can you possibly change it? We live a quick-fix, give-me-a-pill society. We paint over our health problems or ignore them earlier in life and pretend they went away. They didn’t. They have come back to bite you in the ass. Make-up, nice clothes, and photoshop will only cover up so much. Want a good look at your health and how you are aging? Take off all your clothes and make-up and take a long look in the mirror. Your health or lack thereof is staring right back at you. I'm a doctor. I know you don't like me right now. But my job is to tell you what you need to hear, NOT what you want to hear. Don’t be discouraged. The body has a remarkable ability to adapt and change. Even though things may seem discouraging, our ability to heal is remarkable. There is a term that has become popular in the past year called “Covid long-haulers”, which is people who have had Covid disease, gotten better, and yet continue to suffer residual symptoms over a long period of time. Well, when it comes to your health, are you a long-hauler, or do you look for the quick-fix pill or diet? Brushing and flossing your teeth isn’t sexy and isn’t a quick-fix but I can promise if you do it for the “long-haul”, you’ll have a much better chance of having a good smile when you are in your 70’s and 80’s. Ever notice how many assisted living facilities we have now in America? It’s a billion-dollar industry and it’s growing rapidly. Certainly, it’s ok to get assistance when we need it. However, getting older and needing assistance physically or mentally hasn’t become the exception in our society, it’s become the NORM. Think about your parents, are they aging gracefully without needing paid assistance to go about the normal daily activities? How many patients tell me, “I don’t want to become like my mother or father”. Why? Because their mother or father’s life doesn’t look like the golden years they wanted or expected. Well, if you are on the same road and don’t take the fork, how is your life or health going to be any different in the future?
Here is what I know in 2021, you better have 2 doctors. One in case you get sick as it can happen to any of us. However, you better have a second doctor to keep you well and on track with your health. If you are using symptoms as the barometer for whether you will invest in change or in healthy habits, you’re exactly who I’m talking to. Eating well, taking your supplements, exercising properly and often, meditating and praying, drinking clean water, loving and being loved, getting a good adjustment, and getting a massage. These are all things that should be a regular part of your health routine. Success leaves clues and I’m here to tell you that this isn’t ALL or mostly luck. People who are healthy and move well, who enjoy a high quality of life have made the deposits required. It’s never too late to stop making withdrawals to your health and start making deposits. There is a reason that God didn’t put eyes in the back of our heads and that’s because we aren’t supposed to look behind us. Start moving forward and have faith that you can and will prevail and enjoy all the blessings that life has to offer every day. Best in Health, Dr. Dane