Healthspan vs Lifespan: Understanding The Key Differences

Four people doing stretching exercises.

You’re probably already familiar with the concept of lifespan, which refers to how many years a person is alive. Your health span is a newer concept for many people referring to the number of healthy, disease-free years of life you experience.

It is possible to have a long lifespan but a short health span, and vice versa. Someone who lives to be 100, but who spent 40 years suffering from chronic disease or disability had a long lifespan and a short health span. A person who lived a disease-free life and died at 55 in a car accident had a short lifespan but a long health span. For most people, the ideal goal is to have a long lifespan and a long health span.

How Does Your Health Span Impact Your Lifespan?

Your overall health is the main determinant of your health span. If you maintain good health throughout your life, and thus a long health span, it may contribute to a longer lifespan. On the flip side, poor health can shorten your lifespan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cites chronic disease — also known as chronic illness, lifelong disease or non-communicable disease — as the cause of 74% of deaths that occur worldwide each year. That means that three out of four people worldwide die because of a chronic illness that potentially could have been prevented. Of the 10 leading causes of death globally, seven are attributed to chronic disease.

Factors That Improve Healthspan

Our health is determined by many factors and is not completely in our control. While a healthy lifestyle can improve symptoms of chronic diseases and lessen the risk of developing future illnesses, your genetics also play a role. But genes are not as influential on your health as you may think. Studies have shown that genetics only account for 10%-25% of our health, while our daily habits and lifestyle choices account for the majority.

Healthy lifestyle habits can even overcome certain genetic risks, like your risk of heart disease. One study found that people at the highest risk for heart disease can cut that risk in half by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One of the researchers of this study, Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, told the New York Times, “You do have control over the problem, even if you have been dealt a bad genetic hand.”

What is lifespan in terms of healthcare?

Currently, there is a significant gap between the average health span and the average lifespan. Although Americans are living an average of 26 years longer than they did in 1950, their quality of life suffers due to increased incidence of chronic disease.

These sobering statistics do not mean we are all doomed to suffer a shorter health span. There are many daily habits and lifestyle changes you can adopt to reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Seeing your doctor regularly can increase both your health span and lifespan. Preventive healthcare takes a proactive approach to reducing your chance of chronic disease by identifying risk factors for illnesses such as: 

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer 
  • Diabetes. 

Your doctor can help you assess things to identify your risk factors for common conditions like hear disease and diabetes, including your: 

  • Lifestyle
  • Weight
  • Blood pressure 
  • Family medical history 

You can also work with your doctor to develop a plan to address your health risks. This plan might involve things like starting an exercise routine, quitting smoking or losing weight. It may feel overwhelming to even think about making these changes, which is why partnering with your doctor is so important. You can work with your doctor to find the best choices for your unique needs, get answers to your questions or concerns and find support you as you move forward.

Lifestyle factors play a major role in determining your health span, since good health means a longer health span. Lifestyle choices that can negatively impact both your health span and lifespan include tobacco use, drug or alcohol abuse, poor sleep, an unhealthy diet and not getting enough exercise. Conversely, habits like good sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol and abstaining from tobacco use can all positively impact your health span.

What is the main difference between health span and lifespan?

Though lifespan and health span influence each other, they are not the same thing. The simplest way to differentiate between the two is to think about quality versus quantity. Your lifespan is the number of years you live, or quantity. Your health span is the quality of those years.


What is my lifespan versus life expectancy?

Your lifespan is a concrete number referring to the number of years between your birth and your death. We do not know anyone’s exact lifespan until their life ends.

Your life expectancy refers to the number of years you can expect to live. In other words, it’s an estimate of the average person’s lifespan. As of 2022, women in the U.S. have a life expectancy of 79.3 years, while men’s life expectancy is 73.5 years.

What is longevity?

To define longevity in the simplest terms, it means to live a long life. A long life is usually measured by life expectancy. That means a woman who lives longer than 79.3 years or a man who lives longer than 73.5 years can be said to have longevity.

How do I increase longevity?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to increase your own longevity. To work toward a healthier lifestyle, you can try doctor-recommended changes like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, managing stress, maintaining good sleep hygiene and avoiding alcohol.

To learn more about how the above steps can increase your longevity, check out this article about why doctors recommend making these changes. After, test your knowledge by taking MDVIP’s Longevity Quiz.

How are they related?

Our lifespans are heavily influenced by our health span. Chronic illnesses can shorten our lives, and taking healthy steps that lengthen our health spans — like getting exercise, eating a healthy diet and working with our primary care doctor — can also lengthen our lifespans.

 Even if you already have a chronic illness, you can extend your health span by working closely with your physician to manage that disease. For example, poor management of type 2 diabetes can cause complications that result in an early death — a shorter lifespan. But proper management can result in a lifespan that’s similar to people who do not have type 2 diabetes.

In order to live life to the fullest, our goals shouldn’t only be to live longer, but to live better.

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