We all want to live long, healthy lives though many are not quite sure what that means. To truly understand the study and concept of longevity, you need to know the difference between lifespan and life expectancy. You need to understand that living long is not the same as living long and being healthy. Researchers and demographers use a range of terms and key concepts to capture all the aspects of longevity and healthy aging. Get familiar with a few of them here.
Longevity simply means “a longer than average life.” But how we can achieve longevity is more complicated. Aging is determined by many factors, such as genetics, hormones, and, of course, lifestyle. All of these factors together, along with some luck, determine a person’s longevity.
Life expectancy is a statistic for the average length of survival for a living thing. Life expectancy is often reported for a person at birth using statistics and demographics to answer the question, “how long can we expect this person to live?”
Many factors can alter life expectancy estimates. These factors often include age, gender, country, and sometimes ethnicity. Statistics also hold that as you live longer, your life expectancy increases because you have not died from accidents, diseases, or injuries.
Though sometimes confused with the concept of life expectancy, a lifespan is merely the current statistic for how long an individual of a certain species can live. The human lifespan is 122 years, thanks to Jeanne Calment of France who lived from 1875 to 1997. There are other claims, but Ms. Calment is the most well-documented and accepted case.
Blue zone is a term used to describe a geographical area that has a reputation for healthy aging and longevity. Many of the claims of blue zones extending the human lifespan have been greatly exaggerated, but lifestyle factors in blue zones have been shown to promote healthy aging. Discover some of the world’s most famous blue zones:
- The Abkhasians and Soviet Longevity Propaganda
- The Hunza Valley and Pakistani Longevity
- The Fountain of Youth and Searching for Longevity
- The Vilcambamba and Central American Longevity
- The Okinawans and Japanese Longevity
The term life extension generally is used in reference to techniques or methods that increase the lifespan of a species. Though most life extension techniques are only theories today, some involve sensible approaches that prevent illness and damage caused by aging while others rely on little to no scientific foundation and may even read like science fiction. Currently, there is no proven way to extend the lifespan of humans.
Senescence is a biological term that refers to the decline in a cell or organism due to aging. Senescence in humans encompasses the physical and physiological changes in our bodies due to aging.
There are many different theories to explain the effects of aging on the body. As we come to understand senescence, we can begin to take steps to counter its effects.
When a person dies young, they are said to have died prematurely. Premature deaths are taken into account when researchers and policymakers attempt to increase the life expectancy in a country. Using a measure that combines premature mortality and life expectancy, called Years of Potential Life Lost, studies can show the potential impact of interventions on the population.
Compression of Morbidity
One of the goals of longevity is to push all of a person’s age-related illness into as short a time as possible. This is called compression of morbidity. Through preventive medicine, healthy lifestyle changes, and other approaches, a person can not only stay alive but be healthy long into their old age.
Healthy Life Expectancy (HALEs)
Your healthy life expectancy (or HALE) is the number of years you can expect to live in full health, a much different statistic than pure life expectancy. With more and more seniors living well into old age with chronic disease thanks to modern medicine, this number allows a more in-depth comparison of different countries and groups than looking at life expectancy alone.
Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs)
Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) attempt to quantify the burden of a disease or health condition so that researchers can compare one disease to another. Health economists create formulas for determining the comparative burden of, say, blindness to infant mortality (for example). The goal of these calculations is to help make decisions about which health conditions to focus resources on.