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Healthy aging focus turns to ‘healthspan’

Healthy aging no longer only looks at lifespan (life expectancy), but also focuses on evaluating healthspan, the period of life spent in good health, free from chronic diseases and disabilities of aging.

Life expectancy has increased worldwide, and through advances in science and medicine, more than one-third of the population in high-income countries is expected to be ages 60 and above, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. This increase in life expectancy has led to a different way a growing portion of the world views healthy aging.

While interest in the topic of healthy aging is widespread, definitions and interpretations of the terms “successful aging” or “aging gracefully” differ among consumers. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of healthy aging—the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age—continues to be a driver of both scientific research and policy advancement on aging.

Regardless of which term or definition, healthy aging has evolved to include the intersection between avoiding and managing disease and disability, optimizing cognitive and physical functions, and engaging with life throughout the aging years. The interest in aging has progressed from understanding its origins, mechanisms and processes to studying how to reduce, delay or reverse its effects and, importantly, policy responses that address older adults’ needs and rights. Healthy aging no longer only looks at lifespan (life expectancy), but also focuses on evaluating healthspan, which is defined as the period of life spent in good health, free from chronic diseases and disabilities of aging (GeroScience. 2018 Aug; 40(4):361-364).

This has led to an entire new field of research, new public health initiatives, and health and wellness consumer products collectively under the category of “healthy aging.” Although once thought of as merely the absence of disability and chronic disease with longevity, the term “healthy aging” has evolved to mean more. Today, the term is meant to encompass social well-being and quality of life as well.

Read this full article to learn more about improving healthspans in INSIDER’s healthy aging digital magazine.

Jim Griffiths is the senior vice president, international and scientific affairs, of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry.

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