You may consider that you commonly hear confusing or contradictory information, about the benefits of exercise and diet, for example.
One day you are told to eat mainly protein, the next mainly carbohydrates. Some people say ‘walk a lot’ others say you need to practice high intensity work out, to make a difference.
The reality is however that when it comes to research into lifespan and healthspan, virtually anywhere in the world, the findings are remarkable and they are consistent.
There is no confusion.
Here are some of the facts and figures, and we can assure you, you won’t find reliable research anywhere that provides a contradictory position.
For what it’s worth, we can provide some top level figures about lifespan and healthspan looking at various countries around the World.
But beware lifespan and healthspan figures can be misleading in certain ways if you are considering your individual position (click here to understand why):
All figures sourced from World Health Organisation data tables, relating to 2019. We only reference the ‘both sexes’ figures for simplicity. In most regions, the figures for women will be slightly higher and for males slightly lower than those quoted.
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 83
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 70.9
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 25.6 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 19 years
(So the average Australian at age 60 can expect to live to 85.6, and 6.6 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 75.9
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 65.4
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 21.9 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 16.4 years
(So the average Brazilian at age 60 can expect to live to 81.9, and 5.5 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 82.5
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 72.1
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 25.3 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 19.7 years
(So the average French person at age 60 can expect to live to 85.3, and 5.6 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 66.1
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 57.7
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 17.6 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 13.1 years
(So the average Kenyan at age 60 can expect to live to 77.6, and 4.5 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 84.3
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 74.1
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 26.3 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 20.4 years
(So the average Japanese person at age 60 can expect to live to 86.3, and 5.9 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 73.2
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 64.2
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 19.9 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 15.0 years
(So the average Russian at age 60 can expect to live to 79.9, and 4.9 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 77.7
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 68.3
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 23.6 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 18.0 years
(So the average Thai at age 60 can expect to live to 83.6, and 5.6 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 78.5
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 66.1
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 23.1 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 16.4 years
(So the average American at age 60 can expect to live to 83.1, and 6.7 of these years will be in ill-health)
Life Expectancy at birth – Age 81.4
Healthy life expectancy at birth – Age 70.1
Life Expectancy at age 60 – 24.1 more years
Healthy life expectancy at age 60 – 18.3 years
(So the average Brit at age 60 can expect to live to 84.1, and 5.8 of these years will be in ill-health)
These figures are revealing in a couple of ways:
- There are significant geographical variations, but the general trend is similar.
- Virtually everywhere – there is an average of a multi-year ill-health expectation towards the end of life.
But, beyond this there is a further point which readers should consider.
The great work done by the WHO to bring these facts into the public domain, does not deal totally with the unsatisfactory nature of the problems defining “ill-health”.
If you consider the position shown above in the UK – then cross reference with other official work.
For example this from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) “Health state life expectancies, UK: 2017 to 2019 – The number of years people are expected to spend in different health states among local authority areas in the UK”, anomalies and inconsistencies start to appear.
The WHO figures suggest new born babies average at 70.1 years of HALE. However the ONS report has Healthy life expectancy of 62.9.
The ONS report does not deal with age 60, instead age 65, so we cannot compare like for like. For 65 year olds the ONS figures are – men 10.4 years, females 11.2 years. Overlaying life expectancy figures for these age groups suggests the ONS report is predicting more years in ill-health, which is consistent with their figures at birth.
The statistics from the European (EU) Commission for France produce similar findings, healthy life expectancy at birth are shown as 64.6 for females and 63.7 for men; compared to the WHO figures which are very much higher (73.1/71.1). The same 65 year old comparison is also showing more ‘ill-health’ years.
There is no need for us to spend too much time on the exact numbers or the inconsistencies. A simple conclusion is that it is tricky to measure health/ill-health expectations precisely, because of how much more difficult it is to define and measure health/ill-health than life/death.
The second conclusion is that there is ample evidence that on average people can expect to live and be in ill-health for a significant period of their later life. That is the important factor for all of us to ponder.
Ill-health amongst a population is spread across all age groups but the main prevalence is on the older age groups.
This is a depressing outcome, because it suggests that in any population there is an expectancy that as one ages the chances of living longer but in serious ill-health grows significantly.
What causes ill health in later life?
If we know from the research and findings that the following is true:
- The incredible increase in life expectancy over the past 100 years or so is down to BOTH advances in health intervention in later life AND significant reductions in infant mortality and;
- Life expectancy or life span improvements have not been mirrored by similar health span increases and;
- Therefore, more of those extra years alive will be in ill-health.
Then, what do we know about why this is and how this is caused?
The answer, based on the research, is not totally straightforward, but it is suffice to say that the reason is to do with chronic illness and how this interacts with ageing.
Basically, as you age, chronic illness becomes more likely, partly because many such illnesses take time to develop and because of lifestyle. Plus, immunity weakens, making many diseases (but not all) more threatening.
Combine these together and the older you get the more you become exposed to chronic illness or succumbing to an acute condition.
The precise mechanisms are still not fully understood and worldwide research continues into the relationships between inflammation, cellular and molecular factors which seem to provide the key link between how an individual ages and the development of chronic disease.
Put in layman’s terms, it appears the body and its functions start to break down and this leads to one or more of a series of outcomes which show up as what are referred to as diseases or illnesses.
Often these so-called diseases/illnesses are present in younger ages but they are dealt with by the body and/or have not progressed to a problem stage.
It appears that functionality has some time-related factors and/or tipping points where the disease/illness becomes a problem and this is generally (bit not always) when diagnosis occurs.
As the science evolves it is very likely that new interventions (e.g. medicines) will become available which will change the relationship between ageing and chronic illness, and will allow individuals to avoid such illnesses. Even if this is not uniform or universal it will work more often than it does currently, offering many more people ‘hope’ of living longer free of ill health.
Medicine comes in many forms, it is not just lab produced pills or tonics that one can inject into one’s own body. Food, for example can arguably be described as medicine in this context.
Put the right food into your body and you are fuelling it to continue its good work, the wrong food and you are either doing no good or even harming and contributing to your own speed of degeneration.
Likewise, your mind seems to play a medicinal role – a healthy mind contributes positively to making you ‘better’, an unhealthy mind to making you ‘worse’. Better means slower ageing, worse means faster ageing.
Currently, whilst some interventions are already possible and ‘on the market’ the science does have a good handle on the two key factors everyone needs to understand:
- Ageing is a biological process, that has no current prospect of being stopped; there is evidence it can be reversed for a period of time and most definitely slowed.
- Ageing does not occur at a uniform speed. This is probably the single most important aspect any individual can understand. The ageing process is broadly similar within a species (such as humans) but has enough variants that can make one individual age quicker than another within the species. Therefore, for example, two 60 year-old men can – and almost certainly will – be ageing at different speeds.
If you age slower your risk of suffering chronic illness will be lower.
This is slightly contentious, and is also a simplification, but one that we feel is fine to work on within the pages of this site.
The older you get the higher your risk of suffering such an illness, so if you age slower and keep your biological age below certain waterlines, you are less likely to suffer ill-health.
Being ‘fit’ and ‘well’ has the effect of helping, in some cases radically so, the speed with which you age.
This is one of the key reasons why we advocate and promote being fit in older ages. Not only will you be able to have a much more active and enjoyable life, you will change the odds of suffering a chronic illness.