5 Strategies for a longer healthspan

Living longer than our ancestors is commonplace, but maintaining a high quality of life throughout those additional years is challenging. Many of us face physical and mental health conditions that can make daily activities difficult. 

Improving the quality of our later years, known as healthspan, is a hot topic among biologists and longevity researchers. Healthspan refers to the years we live free from diseases that severely affect daily life, and we can actively work to improve it. 

According to longevity research, many of us will spend a decade or more struggling with health issues that hinder daily activities [1]. Here are five strategies to enhance your health span.

1. Prioritize a balanced diet

Eating well is essential for longevity. Research suggests that a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, especially the Mediterranean diet, is associated with reduced risks of major chronic diseases.

Harvard Medical School physician-scientist Sharon Inouye emphasizes the importance of a diet low in carbs and rich in fruits and vegetables, noting its significant benefits for brain health as reported in JAMA Internal Medicine [2].

Key tips:

  • Incorporate various plant-based foods, consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Choose whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains provide more nutrients and fiber.
  • Include healthy fats. Foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil are excellent sources.

2. Stay physically active

Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining a longer and healthier life. Exercise helps control weight, improve heart health, enhance mental well-being, and reduce chronic disease risks like diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis.

Effective exercises:

  • Aerobic exercises – Walking, running, swimming, or cycling improve cardiovascular health.
  • Strength training – Lifting weights or resistance bands helps build muscle mass and strength.
  • Flexibility and balance exercises – Yoga and tai chi can enhance flexibility and balance, which can help reduce the risk of falls, particularly in seniors.

3. Maintain mental and social engagement

Staying mentally and socially active is just as important as physical activity. Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities and maintaining strong social interactions help preserve cognitive function and reduce dementia risk

The National Institute on Aging highlights that social activities can lower the risk of several mental and physical conditions​ [3].

Mental and social activities:

  • Brain games and puzzles – Activities like Sudoku, crosswords, and chess stimulate the brain.
  • Learning new skills – Taking up new hobbies or learning a new language keeps the mind active.
  • Social interactions – Get involved in clubs, volunteer work, or spend time with friends and family to improve your emotional well-being.

4. Prioritize sleep

Good sleep is essential for overall health. Poor sleep increases the risk of several disorders, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as noted by the CDC [4]. 

Ensure you get enough restorative sleep each night for your body’s recovery and disease-prevention processes.

Sleep improvement tips:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Create a restful environment. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Limit screen time before bed. Exposure to screens can interfere with sleep quality.

5. Monitor and manage stress

Chronic stress negatively impacts physical and mental health. For better overall health, it’s important to find effective ways to manage stress, like practicing mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.

Matt Kaeberlein, a geroscientist, suggests that focusing on mindfulness and meditation can help improve personal well-being, even for those struggling with interpersonal relationships [5].

Stress management techniques:

  • Mindfulness meditation – Practices like deep breathing and meditation can reduce stress.
  • Exercise – Physical activity releases endorphins, which improve mood and reduce stress.
  • Social support – Talking to friends, family, or a therapist can help manage stress.

Enhance your health by making proactive lifestyle choices that promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

By prioritizing a balanced diet, staying active, maintaining mental and social engagement, getting enough sleep, and managing stress, you can improve the quality of your later years and enjoy a longer, healthier life. 

Start implementing these changes today to ensure your extra years are as fulfilling and healthy as possible.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ageing-and-health
[2] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2811803 
[3] https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks
[4] https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/php/toolkits/new-beginnings-sleep-health.html
[5] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/premium/article/live-better-longer-healthspan

Photograph: seventyfourimages/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.