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Lifespan vs. healthspan: The human body was made to move

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The concept of adding years to one’s life is as old as time itself.

We’ve been searching for the proverbial fountain of youth for centuries, and while modern medicine has extended our life expectancy a great deal, it has not always added quality to our later decades.

Time for some definitions. While lifespan refers to the total number of trips around the sun, healthspan refers to the quality of life during those years.

According to the World Health Organization the average life expectancy is 79 years. They put the average healthspan, however, at 63 years old. To put it another way, the average person spends at least 20 percent of their life in poor health.

If you have at least a few friends or loved ones over 70, chances are that you’ve begun to notice a widening gap between those who are still out skiing every other day and those who need a few tries to stand from a chair.

In my physical therapy practice, I start to notice a change in my more sedentary clients around their mid-60s which accelerates into the 70s and 80s.

Getting down to brass-tacks, the human body was made to move. I like to borrow a phrase from Sir Isaac Newton when he described his first law of motion: “Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion…unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.”

In other words, if you don’t stay active, you’re going to find it increasingly difficult to do the things you like to do.

In your 20s-30s, this may mean no longer being able to participate in pick-up basketball or soccer. In your 40s-50s, you may have a hard time keeping up with your teenagers in their sport of choice.

Starting around your 50s and extending into your 80s-90s, you will likely find normal everyday activities are getting difficult. This may range from stiffness in your back for the first hour after waking to needing to give up golf because you just seem to keep getting injured.

Despite the wide range in activity and life stages outlined above, increasing or maintaining an active lifestyle is the common denominator that will improve your ability regardless of your age or level of intensity.

If you’re motivated to get on track or keep yourself moving, I’d encourage you to schedule an annual check-up with your physical therapist. We meet regularly with clients who have diverse needs.

Some may need help starting a daily walking program while others may be looking to improve their performance. Our job is to meet you where you’re at, work with you to outline a plan that fits your life, and help keep you accountable year to year.

Many people wait until Jan. 1 to start making changes that will improve their health.

How great would it be to give yourself a few month’s head-start this year?

Jeff Samyn is a Physical Therapist, board certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist, and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. He can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.

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Our Petoskey clinic is located within the Bay Street Orthopedic building, 4048 Cedar Bluff Drive. 231-347-9300 [map]

Our Petoskey East clinic is located on the corner of Mitchell & Division, 345 N. Division 231-348-7950.[map]

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Our Charlevoix clinic is located in the Kmart Plaza, at 06510 M-66, 231-547-0380 [map] 

Our Cheboygan clinic is located south of town, 9445 N Straits Hwy, 231-627-7201 [map]

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Our Harbor Springs clinic is located next the Harbor Springs airport, 8452 M-119 Harbor Plaza, 231-348-7002. [map]                                        

Our Indian River clinic is right in the heart of downtown, 3805 South Straits Hwy, 231-238-4880. [map]