Ways to extend your healthy years, not just your life

Over the past century, the average life expectancy in developed countries has significantly increased, thanks to advancements in healthcare and public health measures. Vaccines, sanitation, antibiotics, and other medical breakthroughs have played a crucial role in saving lives and reducing mortality rates from infectious diseases. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the impact that infections can have on life expectancy, with the U.S. experiencing a drop in life expectancy by nearly three years.

While longer life spans are generally seen as a positive outcome, they have also given rise to a new challenge: the discrepancy between life expectancy and healthspan. Healthspan refers to the period of life free from chronic diseases or disabilities. Despite living longer, many individuals still face years of sickness and disease. Aging itself is a significant risk factor for conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia.

Traditionally, biomedical research and clinical practice have focused on treating individual diseases rather than addressing the underlying processes of aging. However, in recent years, there has been a shift towards a new approach known as geroscience, which focuses on understanding the biology of aging and its impact on healthspan.

In a field where the goal is to extend healthy life rather than just length of life, geroscientists are exploring various molecular and cellular processes that contribute to both life span and healthspan. These processes, often referred to as the “pillars of aging,” include DNA damage, cellular senescence, inflammation, and stress responses.

Assessing biological age is a complex task, but researchers are making progress in identifying molecular markers that can provide insights into an individual’s aging process. For example, computational biologist Morgan Levine suggests that analyzing chemical modifications to DNA can help determine whether cells exhibit patterns similar to those of younger individuals.

While there is currently no pill or treatment that can reverse the aging process, geroscientists are excited about potential interventions. One promising area of research involves senolytic drugs, which target senescent cells that accumulate in the body and contribute to various age-related diseases. By removing these “zombie cells,” researchers have been able to delay or alleviate multiple disorders in animal studies. Clinical trials are underway in humans, although it will be several years before conclusive results are available.

While waiting for scientific advancements, individuals can take steps to extend their healthspan through preventive maintenance. Regular checkups, monitoring cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and following guidelines for body fat percentage, lean body mass, and bone density are recommended. Additionally, common-sense practices such as maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and fostering social connections can modulate the biology of aging and potentially extend healthspan.

According to Matt Kaeberlein, a leading expert in healthy aging, these lifestyle factors can potentially add around ten years to an individual’s healthspan. While it may not be possible to completely halt the aging process, adopting these habits can significantly improve overall well-being and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

As we continue to explore the biology of aging and search for interventions to extend healthspan, it is essential to approach claims of “prolonging youth” with caution. Many popular wellness claims lack scientific evidence, and it is crucial to rely on reputable research and medical advice.

In conclusion, the increasing life expectancy in developed countries has created a gap between longevity and healthspan. Geroscience offers a new approach to address this gap by focusing on the biology of aging. While there are no definitive solutions yet, ongoing research and potential interventions such as senolytic drugs provide hope for extending healthspan. In the meantime, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their health through lifestyle choices and preventive measures.


  1. The U.S. Just Lost 26 Years’ Worth of Progress on Life Expectancy
  2. World Health Organization – Healthy Life Expectancy at Birth
  3. Does Aging Have an Off Switch?