CULTIVATING YOUR HEALTH SPAN IS EASIER THAN EVER
I have some wonderful news. It is good for us to focus on the positive when we can.
Do you know that the life areas that bring you happiness, like good relationships, are the very same ones that contribute to your “health span”? Plus, you can begin any time to enhance your happiness and make a difference in the long-term vitality of your life. The earlier the better, of course, and you can make an impact for yourself in your 70s, 80s and beyond. So, let me explain.
What Is Health Span?
In December I attended the Century Summit hosted by The Stanford Center on Longevity and the Longevity Project. In the last few years, there is increasing attention to the fact that we are living longer, for the most part, in developed nations.
This impacts our society on several levels, from health care to the workplace, to how older adults are valued across generations and expansion of the role of the elder adult in society. One of the terms I learned at the Summit is the focus on “health span” rather than life span when focusing on our aging population.
Health span refers to us living longer with vitality rather than with the dependence and decline historically associated with aging. As we age with vitality, we are then faced with issues for society, such as ending ageism in health care, and organizations providing opportunities for older people to contribute.
This Awareness Is Overdue
We are the ones to navigate the bridge between the old paradigm of 65 being “old” and the new one where we are vital and contributing into our 80s and beyond.
So, let’s do this! I am interested in what each of us can do to extend our health span. Isn’t that what we want as we age? Plus, it benefits our society in many ways. We are the ones to help society adjust through our continued contributions, being role models, and even through our individual relationships with health care and other institutions.
This led me to a review of recent publications about healthy aging. When I put my notes together, I came up with the Vitality Domains described below. I think we can use this structure to more mindfully take charge of the quality of our aging.
Rather than try to impact every domain at once, pick one or two that you know will have, in your wisdom, impact on your health span and bring more fulfillment into your life too.
The Vitality Domains
Of course, to some degree, making improvements in one area may well spill over into others. For example, enriching your relationships may enhance your sense of meaning and impact your mindset. The point is to start somewhere.
We all have areas to improve. My current focus is contribution, and I am mixing in a little mindfulness to help me stay connected with my own wisdom.
I will briefly describe each domain for now. In future articles I will use my review of research to explore each in more detail so you can explore in your life more deeply.
For now, if you want to begin to reflect on these areas in your own life, you can use a fillable form I have on my website. Look for the one about “flourishing.” Make it a work in progress so you can adjust as we look at each area in future articles.
Health, Well-being, and Energy
This area is all about the basics of a healthy life that we all know – staying active, eating healthy whole foods, moderating smoking and alcohol, and taking time for self-care. What you may not realize is the huge importance of managing daily stress and bringing play into your life.
Did you know that people who practice Transcendental Meditation over five years can have a physiological age 12 years younger than their chronological age? Reducing stress can do amazing things for your overall health!
Play is included because some games can help maintain cognitive function and laughter reduces stress as well as improves immunity. I’ve found Improv to cover many of the positives associated with play.
Mindset: Beliefs About Aging, Optimism and Mindfulness
This area relates to the idea that your assumptions about life become your reality. Do you know anyone who acts “old” at 60 because they believe they are? It is time to talk back! I can’t wait to write more about this area. For now, notice your own thoughts about aging. Believe in yourself and the goodness of your life. Happily, my friend and colleague Sally Fox just published an article about this recently.
A few of us are starting a book group about positive aging and becoming aware of ageism on Facebook. Let me know if you are interested at [email protected]. It is a private group by invitation only, so I will offer individual invitations.
Contribution and Creativity – Sense of Meaning/Purpose, Talent to Share, Who You Are Being in the World, Hobbies, Using Gifts
A sense of meaning, however that manifests for you, is essential to quality of life. Some of us have long yearned to do something, from writing to painting to adventure, but have not. Now is the time! This area is one where you might even make some income if that is part of your intention.
Relationships and Love – Community, Social Connections, Trust, Intimacy, Loving Yourself, Romantic Love
This is absolutely the most important area related to your happiness! Be ready to share your personal stories about how you have grown love in your life and the difference that has made for you.
Our first book for our book group is The Good Life (2023) by Waldinger and Schulz. Bottom line – a life lived in relationships leads to a happy life. The book combines science and personal stories from the world’s longest study of happiness to “show how connections and others build a foundation for our well-being.” Belonging to a book group is one way!
Let’s Have a Conversation:
What is the state of your health span? What have you done to create a more vital life? What domains offer you opportunities to lead a richer, healthier life? Are you surprised by the link between happiness/fulfillment and health span?