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What We Learned About Healthspan in 2023

Medically reviewed by 
 
What We Learned About Healthspan in 2023

Key Takeaways: 

  • Healthspan was a major topic of conversation in 2023 — both in medical and wellness communities alike.
  • Looking back on 2023, there was a massive increase in investment in healthspan research. There was also a major scientific breakthrough in terms of life-extending drug development.
  • All of this is working toward the goal of closing the gap between lifespan and healthspan. 

When we look back at 2023, there’s one topic that seemed to dominate conversations in both the medical and wellness spaces — and that’s healthspan. 

While healthspan has been on the medical community’s radar since 2000, it’s only been in the last five years that the idea has gained significant traction. (1)

In 2023, momentum around the topic only seemed to build. We saw healthspan at the center of countless podcast conversations, as well as in books like Outlive by Dr. Peter Attia and articles from mainstream publications like The Wall Street Journal, TIME, National Geographic, and Fortune. (2, 3)

This rising interest points to an exciting trend: that people aren’t just interested in how to live longer, but also how to live well for longer. 

All of this begs the question: after so much attention given to this topic, have we learned anything new about healthspan in the past year?

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The Difference Between Healthspan and Lifespan

First, it’s important to make the distinction between lifespan and healthspan. While they’re related terms, they refer to slightly different things. 

According to Dr. Attia, the definition of lifespan is straightforward — it refers to the number of years you live. (4)

Healthspan, on the other hand, is a bit more nebulous. The broadly accepted definition in the medical community is “the period of life spent in good health, free from the chronic diseases and disabilities of aging.” However, Dr. Attia maintains that this definition isn’t comprehensive enough because it doesn’t take into account physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being, which tend to deteriorate as we age. (5)

So while there’s some ambiguity around the definition of healthspan, it can be generally understood that healthspan refers to the length of time in which a person is mentally, physically, and emotionally in good health. 

What We Learned About Healthspan in 2023

So what did we learn about healthspan in 2023? Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the past year: 

There’s a Growing Gap Between Lifespan and Healthspan in the U.S.

A new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2023 found that, as of 2022, the average number of years someone born in the United States can expect to live is around 77.5 — an increase of 1.1 years from 2021. (6)

But according to the latest data from WHO, the expected healthy life expectancy of someone born in the United States is 66.1 [7]. In other words, even though our lifespans are increasing, there’s still a significant gap with regard to healthspan. 

This gap can be attributed to the chronic diseases that come with aging, such as dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. According to the CDC, these are the nation’s leading drivers of illness, disability, death, and health care costs. (8)

However, it’s not all bad news. Various institutions are starting to pay more attention to this issue, leading to more initiatives targeted at figuring out how to close the lifespan-healthspan gap. 

Investments in Healthspan Research Only Continue to Increase

In November 2023, The XPRIZE Foundation — which is known for launching large-scale competitions to solve humanity’s greatest challenges — announced its biggest competition to date: XPRIZE Healthspan. 

This is a seven-year global competition, with $101 million in prizes, for researchers who can restore the function of an elderly person’s muscle, cognition, and immune system to a more youthful state. According to Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of XPRIZE, this is a way to directly tackle the issue of healthspan: 

“People around the world are living longer, but quality of life has not kept pace. By targeting aging with a single or combination of therapeutic treatments, it may be possible to restore function lost to age-related degradation of multiple organ systems. Converging exponential technologies such as AI, epigenetics, gene therapy, cellular medicine, and sensors are allowing us to understand why we age - it’s time to revolutionize the way we age. Working across all sectors, we can democratize health and create a future where healthy aging is accessible for everyone and full of potential.”

XPRIZE Healthspan is the first health-focused competition of its kind, which signals an exciting step forward in terms of healthspan research. 

Animal Studies Could Be The Pathway Into Increased Healthspan

In 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took a step toward granting conditional approval of a life-extending drug for canines developed by a biotech company called Loyal. This announcement comes with several exciting implications for future healthspan research. 

First, according to Loyal, this is the FDA’s first-ever formal acceptance that a drug can be developed and approved to extend lifespan. This signals that the FDA is open to considering drugs that target aging — opening up the door for more related research, development, and investments to be funneled into this subject matter. 

Also, while aging-related studies have been conducted in the past, they’ve primarily been done on mice. And research shows that, even though humans and mice share some of the same genes, they function differently — leading to different, often unpredictable outcomes. (9)

Dogs, on the other hand, are different. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that dogs provide a much better model of aging for humans because much of their environment, diet, chemical exposure, physiological, and developmental patterns are similar to ours. (10

In other words, whatever results we get in our efforts to extend healthspan in dogs has a higher chance of being applicable to humans as well. 

Looking Ahead to 2024

It’s clear that the topic of healthspan will continue to be of growing interest in the coming years. Between increased investments in research and breakthroughs in drug development, it seems that we’re at a tipping point when it comes to better understanding, and solving, the question of how we can all age better. 

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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References

  1. Kaeberlein, M. (2018). How healthy is the healthspan concept? GeroScience, 40(4), 361–364. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-018-0036-9
  2. Dr. Peter Attia: Improve Vitality, Emotional & Physical Health & Lifespan | Huberman Lab Podcast. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved November 13, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufsIA5NARIo
  3. Look & Feel Younger: How To Increase Lifespan & Healthspan With Age | Drs. Nathan Price & Lee Hood. (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved January 25, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoGAqgyb6H8
  4. How you move defines how you live. (2017, January 22). Peter Attia. https://peterattiamd.com/move-defines-live/
  5. ‌Kaeberlein, M. (2018). How healthy is the healthspan concept? GeroScience, 40(4), 361–364. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-018-0036-9
  6. Arias, E., Kochanek, K., Xu, J., & Tejada-Vera, B. (2023). Vital statistics rapid release provisional life expectancy estimates for 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/vsrr031.pdf
  7. Data.who.int.https://data.who.int/indicators/i/C64284D#:~:text=Worldwide%2C%20healthy%20life%20expectancy%20at
  8. Promoting Health for Older Adults | CDC. (2022, January 28). Www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/promoting-health-for-older-adults.htm#:~:text=Aging%20increases%20the%20risk%20of
  9. ‌Zimmerman, S. (2020, February 11). Why Drugs Tested in Mice Fail in Human Clinical Trials. Science in the News. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2020/why-drugs-tested-in-mice-fail-in-human-clinical-trials/
  10. NIH researchers reframe dog-to-human aging comparisons. (2020, July 9). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-researchers-reframe-dog-human-aging-comparisons
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