Healthspan vs. Lifespan: What’s the Difference?

October 5, 2023

Lifespan is the total number of years we live whereas healthspan is how many of those years we remain healthy and free from disease.

Over the past 100 years, the global life expectancy has more than doubled (1). But, this hasn’t necessarily been accompanied by an equivalent increase in healthy life expectancy. People are living longer, but many of those years are burdened by chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. 

In this article, we explain the difference between healthspan and lifespan, the factors that influence them, and the steps you can take to live a longer and healthier life. 

How Does Healthspan Differ From Lifespan?

Lifespan and healthspan are two words that are often used in discussions about longevity and well-being, but what’s the difference? Healthspan is the period of life lived in generally good health without disease, whereas lifespan is simply the total number of years lived.

Lifespan has been increasing—with the average life expectancy now in the late 70s or early 80s for many countries—but healthspan has not. The increase in lifespan can be attributed to lower rates of childhood and late-life mortality and medical advances in the prevention and treatment of diseases. 

However, age-related illnesses and injuries persist, affecting healthspan during the later years of life (2, 3). So much so that researchers estimate one-fifth of a person’s life will be lived with a chronic health condition (2).

Factors That Influence Your Healthspan & Lifespan

A person's lifespan is largely determined by the combined effects of genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors.


Studies have shown that genetics account for approximately 20 to 30 percent of your chance of surviving to age 85 (4). 

Some people may inherit genes that make them more susceptible to certain diseases or conditions that can shorten their lifespan, while others may inherit genes that provide protection against such conditions. However, genetics is just one part of the equation.


Lifestyle factors that affect mortality include tobacco use, excessive use of alcohol, risky behaviors, food safety, workplace safety, and motor vehicle safety.

Two of the biggest lifestyle factors that influence lifespan are tobacco use and alcohol consumption. 

More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking and on average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers (5). And it’s estimated that more than 140,000 people (approximately 97,000 men and 43,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States (6).


Today, a major factor that affects lifespan is obesity. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (7).

Obesity is a threat to health because it affects the whole body. Its complications are associated with multiple medical complications, including (8):

  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Cancer
  • Coronary heart disease


Diet plays a significant role in influencing lifespan. A well-balanced diet provides essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are crucial for overall health. On the other hand, eating a diet high in calories, sugar, ultra-processed foods, and unhealthy fats can contribute to weight gain, inflammation, and nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to various health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Activity Level

Physical activity is one of the most important factors in determining someone’s lifespan (9). A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to many health issues including (10):

  • Metabolic dysregulation—including type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease 
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cancer
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Debilitating or deadly falls

In other words, exercise is associated with a lower risk of the conditions that kill the majority of US adults over the age of 40. 

5 Ways to Extend Your Lifespan & Healthspan

Rather than feeling powerless to aging, you can instead focus on daily lifestyle choices that may not only add years to your life, but vibrant, healthy and functional life to the years you live.

1. Exercising Regularly

Researchers found that people who followed the minimum guidelines for physical activity—150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity—reduced their risk of early death by as much as 21%. And people who exercised from two to four times the minimum were able to lower their risk by as much as 31% (11).

In the words of renowned longevity expert, Dr. Peter Attia, “Exercise might be the most potent “drug” we have for extending the quality and perhaps quantity of our years of life.”

2. Maintaining a Healthy Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is a cornerstone of increasing your healthspan. Nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats provide the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs to function optimally and ward off chronic diseases. A balanced diet supports a healthy weight, reduces the risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, and promotes overall well-being.

By choosing foods that fuel your body and limiting those that contribute to inflammation and excess weight gain, you not only extend your lifespan but also increase the number of vibrant, disease-free years you can enjoy. A healthy diet is about being mindful of the quality and quantity of your food.

3. Getting Adequate Sleep

Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night is essential for overall well-being and longevity. 

While you sleep, your brain and body:

  • Repair damaged cells and tissues
  • Re-balance hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Reorganize and process events and information from the previous day 

Inadequate sleep can impair cognitive function, mood, and mental health while increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems, weakened immune function, and metabolic issues (12, 13, 14). Additionally, it can accelerate the aging process, increase the risk of accidents, and elevate the chances of developing chronic diseases like cancer. 

Prioritizing healthy sleep habits, like reducing caffeine intake, limiting screen time before bed, and establishing a sleep schedule can help ensure you get the sleep your body needs.

4. Reducing Stress

When we think of extending our lifespans, we think a lot about our physical health—how well our bodies function. And that’s important, but just as important is our mental health. 

When stress arises, your body produces the hormone cortisol. 

Too much cortisol has been shown to lower immunity, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and slow digestion. When your body remains in a state of chronic stress, it can cause health conditions like high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, and cardiovascular diseases (15).

Some activities that may help reduce your stress levels are:

5. Keeping Up With Regular Health Screenings & Check-Ups

Scheduling regular health screenings and check-ups is a proactive approach to increasing your healthspan. These appointments provide valuable opportunities for early detection and prevention of health issues. By identifying and addressing potential problems at an early stage, you can often mitigate or manage them more effectively, preventing them from progressing into serious conditions that could significantly impact your healthspan. 

Additionally, routine check-ups allow your healthcare provider to monitor your overall health, provide guidance on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and offer preventive interventions. Overall, prioritizing health screenings and check-ups is a key strategy for promoting longevity and ensuring that you can enjoy a longer, healthier life.

Kat Kennedy
Article by

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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