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  • Writer's pictureRT Drake

Why living longer doesn't mean a better life

In fitness there is so much talk about how we can improve longevity.  With healthy habits we can deter bad things happening to us as we age.  You can reverse diabetes, you can fight off infections more easily as you improve your health.


However, is just living longer enough for you?


Today, I want to discuss what I see as the main difference between lifespan and healthspan.  Healthspan will be defined as aging in a way that helps keep you doing the things you enjoy, whereas lifespan can be extended with machines and medications.





Why is this important?


For the first 7 years of my training career I would tell people that I want to help them live as long as possible.  I want them to see their grandkids, and great grandkids grow up!  What a treat that would be, I thought.  


If someone can outlast any major negative health outcome, then surely this is a good thing.  Extending life is a noble thing, I thought.


Why am I questioning this thought now?  


It’s because it’s a very big shift in mindset.  It’s not just about living longer.  It’s about living BETTER.


This difference is important because when you go to a doctor to get your medications, take bloodwork and the whole work up…they are just looking for you to be neutral.  Not amazing, but just good enough to stay alive, to stay healthy enough to be around for your family.


So with this new knowledge of what healthspan really is, there’s no question to me that we want to help our clients increase their HEALTHSPAN.  Not just lifespan.  


What is healthspan?


Think back 10 years ago.  How did you feel?  What types of activities did you do?


Were you able to “hop” out of bed, ready to take on the day?  


Were you able to go for a walk on whim, able to go on a bike ride, able to get up and down from the floor easily as your kids or grandkids were growing up?





Now back to today - what has changed?  Do you feel that you aren’t able to do the same things that you once did?


This is how healthspan changes…we aren’t able to enjoy the same activities throughout the life course because of various reasons.  


Maybe you have a lingering injury that doesn’t seem to get any better.  Maybe you have a hard time increasing your heart rate and feel very out of breath even after a short walk.  


Now you can take this 2 ways:


You can say “Oh this is just what getting old is like.  I need to slow down.  It’s okay if I spend my golden years on a couch watching TV and movies!”


OR


You can say “I want to do the things I like to do, and will do whatever I can to make that happen!”


This is when the consideration for HEALTHSPAN is so vital.  This seems clear to me that we must then focus on having QUALITY life rather than QUANTITY.  


How can we increase our health span?


I’m glad you asked…


Healthspan is about doing the things you want to do with your life.  So with that being said, there are a few markers of good health that can lead us to enjoying life even as we get older.  Getting older doesn’t need to mean that we are rotting away and not able to do things.


So then, what can you do right now to help improve your health span.


Step 1: Take a good look at where you are at right now, today.


What types of lingering pains and discomforts do you deal with?  Are these diagnosed?  Has your back been bothering you for 5 years but you’ve never really attempted to fix it?


Do you feel sluggish when asked about going for a walk, or do you feel so out of breath when you walk up the steps?


It may not be such a big deal when you are 40 years old…but when we hit the 60 mark I’ve seen many people take two significant routes.  Do you settle for being “old” or do  you work against that and improve your life.


Be honest with yourself.


Step 2: Ask yourself WHY you want to live a quality life in the golden years of 60+.  


Do you have grandchildren that you want to play with and enjoy?  This requires a ton of energy and ability to get on and off the floor! (Even as a 35 year old with a 2 year old…getting on and off the floor gets tiring!!)





Are you looking forward to more golf, tennis, pickleball, hiking, biking etc…?


How about those vacations you’ve always wanted to take?  Being able to walk and move around and have the energy to fully embrace a new culture / place will be vital in your experience of these new adventures.  


Find your why and remind yourself of this when things get tough.


Step 3: Figure out a plan of attack


I hate to be the bearer of …bad news?  But the sooner you commit to a plan the more changes you can make, the better you’ll set yourself up for in the future.  Time is of the essence.  


So what kind of plan does this look like?


Of course doing strength training 2-3x a week is my go-to bread and butter.  The impact on joints, muscle growth, bone density, flexibility and weight loss cannot be understated.  It is the single most impactful thing you can do as you get older.  


I’m very happy that doctors now will encourage their patients to do strength training.  This is such a shift from when I first started in this field.  Knees feeling weak?  Let’s get you to do some squats.  Shoulders bother you from years of sitting at a desk?  Let’s get you doing some Rows, and upper back work!


We can revert and improve muscle functionality as well as joint health with progressive overload, doing compound movements.  


I’ve seen it so many times in the gym - my clients are getting older yet they are getting stronger, feeling better and having a higher quality of life.  


If strength training wasn’t on your mind and you are approaching the 60+ years of your life…this is your wake up call.


Final thoughts


Look, I want you to age gracefully.  To me, that means staying up on being able to do the things you enjoy doing for the rest of your life. 

 

Quality life to me isn’t sitting around, feeling “old” with injuries, discomfort, and being stuck on a couch.  We are the masters of our destiny.


You get to make the choice every single day what path you will go down.  Let me help you make the RIGHT path easier.





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