Lebensjahre vs. Gesundheitsjahre: Altern wir Gesund?

Years of Life vs. Years of Health: Are We Living Healthy?

Picture of Richard Staudner
Richard Staudner

The Optimizer

How long do we live in full health? What does this actually mean? Doesn't everyone get sick at some point in their lives? Until it is not so far, for example from midlife, when some things already start to become more burdensome, we hardly think about this topic. A young strong body forgives a lot and we rarely think about the late effects of our modern lifestyle. But an unhealthy diet, prolonged sitting, lack of exercise and above all stress damage our bodies in the long term and the bill often comes very late.

Today, however, we not only have influence on the length of our lives, we can even control how we will fare in terms of health, especially in old age.

Years of life vs. years of health: the subtle difference

To begin with, a definition of the term: years of life is the total number of years we live. Regardless of whether we are healthy or ill. In contrast, health years are the years of life that we actually spend in good health. In the absence of illness and general unwellness. So years of life and years of health are not the same thing!

Depending on the statistics you get your hands on, we spend between 8 and 20 years of our lives in sickness.

This means, for example, that we are dependent on devices such as a walker or wheelchair, a variety of medications and other factors that restrict freedom and life.

Why are we getting older today than in previous centuries?

Through modern interventions, we have solved many life-threatening problems of the last centuries, which is why we are getting much older today.... In our latitudes, we no longer have to worry much about succumbing to the dangers of prehistory. The risk of being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger when leaving the house is zero.

Even more relevant for our health: We have created enormously high hygiene standards that protect us from infections. We have developed a myriad of drugs and medical therapies for diseases. We have an incredibly large supply of food, which at least provides us with calories. Even in German-speaking countries, there are still people who have to go hungry, but the situation is no longer as extreme as it was a few hundred years ago. The infant mortality rate, which has a very strong effect on statistics, has also dropped dramatically.

With these and other measures, we are now managing to achieve an average life expectancy of over 80 years. In Austria, life expectancy is 81.3 years and in Germany 80.9 years.

Life Expectancy in Germany over the Centuries. Federal Statistical Office: https://www.destatis.de/DE/Themen/Querschnitt/Demografischer-Wandel/Aspekte/demografie-lebenserwartung.html

Years of life: How old do we earthlings actually become?

There are countless statistics from various countries on this subject. The average life expectancy depends on various factors. Among other things, it also depends on the year of birth. A woman born in 1960, for example, has a lower life expectancy than a girl born in 2021. One reason for this is medical progress, for example.

Here is the current ranking of life expectancy if you were born in 2022:

  1. Hong Kong: 85 years
  2. Japan: 85 years
  3. Macau: 85 years
  4. Switzerland: 84 years
  5. Singapore: 84 years

Germany and Austria are not to be found in this top 5 ranking. With just over 80 years of life (for both sexes), both countries are rather further down the ranking. And this is despite the fact that standards in medicine, hygiene, education, safety and care are enormously high. 

Unfortunately, there are still countries, especially in Africa, where life expectancy is shockingly low. In Central Africa and Nigeria, for example, life expectancy is just 55 years. In these countries, however, infectious diseases, lack of medicines and food are still sadly commonplace in many cases.

Life expectancy and sick leave: what is the trend?

Let's look at the Global Burden of Disease Study in terms of life expectancy and disease duration.

This global study shows the development of life expectancy and also sick leave from 1990 to 2013. This is now almost 10 years ago, but the volume of data collected was enormous and shows us an interesting trend.

A paper looking at the results of the Global Burden of Disease Study shows that from 1990 to 2013, global life expectancy increased by 6.2 years. That is an incredibly strong development.

But this global treasure trove of data reveals much more.

In fact, analysts also looked at 306 diseases from 188 countries and concluded that our international "time in illness" increased from 8.4 to 9.2 years.

At first glance, this looks like a good development, but it is only partly encouraging, because 9.2 years in sickness is also a very long and unpleasant time. Put simply, the trend in terms of life expectancy is therefore rather positive, but in terms of time spent in sickness it is rather negative. We still spend too much time in illness.

How high are life and health expectations in Germany and Austria?

Life and health expectancy in Germany

Let's look at the example of Germany. If someone was born in Germany in 2013, that person has an average life expectancy of 80.7 years. Quite impressive at first glance!

Unfortunately, however, the statistical average of health years is only 68.8 years. This is a difference of almost 12 years between the average life expectancy and the expected health years.

Life and Health Expectancy in Austria

According to Eurostat statistics from 2016, we Austrians spend 57 years in good health. And the rest? In sick leave or in illness.

This means that we Austrians spend almost 20 years in sickness. From a mild cold to serious illnesses.

Do you still think we have a healthy evolution in our expectation of life and health?

How does the WHO (World Health Organization) see the international development of our health?

The WHO uses the HALE Index (health-adjusted life expectancy) to assess and evaluate how high the health and well-being of people in a country is. The HALE Index shows "health-adjusted life expectancy" or, to put it another way, "The Lifetime spent in full health, unaffected by illness or injury."

This index combines all mortality and morbidity data. In other words, all data on diseases and reasons for death.

According to this data, cancer and cardiovascular diseases are still our primary problem. But too little attention is paid to those diseases that weaken us and make life difficult. Especially as we get older.

High up in the ranking of those diseases that can rob us of our zest for life as we age:

  • Diseases of the musculoskeletal system
  • Diabetes
  • mental and neurological diseases (depression, dementia, Parkinson's disease, etc.)
  • Addiction problems (medication)
  • Loss of vision or hearing

The tendency of these problems: Increasing!

In short, instead of enjoying life, we have to invest a lot of time and money for treatment and healing.

What are the triggers of many so-called "diseases of civilization"?

We have exchanged a lifestyle that we have been accustomed to for thousands of years for a modern and consumer-oriented variant. Of course, this does not only bring advantages: Today, our body is confronted with several hundred thousand chemical substances in its environment that did not even exist 250 years ago. Exhaust fumes, food additives, heavy metals, but above all chronic stress are increasingly affecting us.

Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking and incorrect medication are among the known triggers for many of these so-called diseases of civilization. The more factors come together, the more serious the problems become.

Preventive health measures and curative treatment

Furthermore, the preventive aspect of health has a shadowy existence: that is, preventing diseases before they occur. Instead, we rely too much on medications and curative forms of therapy. In other words, on healing after the disease has developed or been detected.

Theo Vos from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. says, "Now the challenge is to find more effective ways to address the major causes of disease and disability prevent Or treat them."

Preventing diseases would probably be the better approach! Preventing diseases not only means building up more years of health at the same time and thus getting more out of life, but of course also has an economic impact. Therapies are expensive and often not effective. This is also shown by a recent report in the magazine "Der Spiegel". Explosive increases in back problems and operations on the spine are proof that we as humans have moved far away from our evolutionary programming. On the one hand, these results show that we do not use our musculoskeletal system in a manner appropriate to our species, i.e. we move too little or put too much strain on our muscles, and on the other hand we sit too much. Furthermore, the decision in favor of a surgical intervention on the back is often made too hastily. This is an alarm signal!

Investing time and money in proper prevention is probably the greatest opportunity we have. Banal strength training, for example, could make a large number of operations unnecessary and bring the same or better success. At a much lower cost! The more muscle mass we preserve into old age, the better. Muscle supports our skeleton and also makes an important contribution to metabolism. It is therefore also relevant for diseases such as diabetes.

Taking responsibility for your own health

A figurative comparison: We currently behave too often like a passenger on a plane of our own health. We have given the rudder out of our hands and rely on the expertise of other people. We hope that they will guide us to health and satisfaction, but we ourselves remain in a largely passive attitude. Instead of taking responsibility ourselves, we allow ourselves to drift, and for this reason, among others, we too often end up in illness and a life full of burdens. In my opinion, however, this should not be the case.

It's time we became pilots in the cockpit of our own health and took the helm into our own hands. We have unbelievable possibilities, some of which do not even involve any additional costs. We should not wait until the first symptoms or even illness strike us, but take preventive measures to stay healthy.

In my opinion, the most important factors for taking the first steps toward more years of health are three very elementary skills: Curiosity, motivation and personal responsibility.

Healthy aging: What opportunities do we have?

A host of scientists, physicians, philanthropists and start-ups are dealing with the topic of "healthy aging" for various motives. I would like to give you a brief overview of what I see as the two central approaches here.

Faction 1: The modern biohackers

Some scientists, such as the American Dr. David Sinclair, are of the opinion that they can turn back the biological clock and thus rejuvenate us. In other words, they can slow down our cell aging, which according to Sinclair is the main problem. The main levers for this are lifestyle interventions such as fasting, exercise, heat and cold therapy, and the use of various supplements such as spermidine, NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), resveratrol, etc.   

Fraction 2: Medical approach

From a medical point of view, I have several chances to deal with a disease. I can research it in a very classical way and develop a form of therapy for it. If this system works out, I successfully fight every disease that confronts me in my life. The problem with this is that the disease has been successfully treated, but not prevented. So I lose valuable health years. Better would probably be reliable early detection or even knowing where my personal risk of disease lies. Genetic.

What if we knew in advance what we might get sick with in the course of our lives? At least which tendencies or which risk we have. This is now actually possible. And it is possible on the level of our genetics!

Every human being has an individual genetic coding, which partly differs from the norm (wild type). Thus, there are deviations or errors in the reading of our DNA. This can result in minor or major changes. From a reduced pain tolerance, or a faster breakdown of alcohol or caffeine, to an increased risk of migraine or heart disease. On the one hand, this knowledge can be frightening, or it can even be seen as an opportunity in prevention. After all, we have a very great influence on the development of diseases.

If I know my personal risk, I can make a valuable contribution to the all-important early detection through targeted regular diagnostics. I can use scientific findings, take measures and adapt my lifestyle. This increases my chances of cushioning or even avoiding the burden or disease in advance. Individual nutrition, healthy sleep, nutritional supplements, good stress management and much more are then even more important.

I'm making 2023 the "Year of Healthy Longevity!"

There is a long list of topics waiting for me to research, analyze, test and report on. From simple blood sugar biomarkers to in-depth individual genetic testing, which is already standard for many people in Silicon Valley.

I will work on my cells, metabolism and musculoskeletal system and try to provide direct rejuvenation. My goal is, among other things, to demonstrably reduce my risk with regard to the most well-known diseases of civilization.

In addition to my practical experience, I will rely on a sound scientific basis for this project. Ongoing medical and orthodox medical examinations during this time are of course also a part of the project.

I want to show you that a mindful lifestyle has much more impact on a healthy life course than you might think. We have a lot in our own hands! We just have to become active and take the helm in the cockpit of our body. Become captain:in our health!

You can read about the findings from my research and practical experiments during 2023 in my Blog and Podcast track 

You can also find this post as a podcast on Youtube or Spotify.

In my next post, I will give a detailed guideline of what topics I will cover in 2023 and how I will go about it.

I send you energetic greetings

Your optimizer
Richard Staudner

PS → You can also find this post in the Rich Headroom Podcasts at Spotify, Youtube, etc.

→ On Instagram I provide you with exciting biohacks about health, longevity and performance! Visit me there under richard_staudner

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Eurostat Archives:Statistics on healthy life years:  https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Archive:Statistiken_%C3%BCber_gesunde_Lebensjahre

Source Average age Africa: (cf.: https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/199607/umfrage/laender-mit-der-niedrigsten-lebenserwartung-weltweit-nach-geschleht/)



Survey on life expectancy worldwide: https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/199603/umfrage/laender-mit-der-hoechsten-lebenserwartung-weltweit/


Mokdad, A. H., Forouzanfar, M. H., Daoud, F., Mokdad, A. A., El Bcheraoui, C., Moradi-Lakeh, M., Kyu, H. H., Barber, R. M., Wagner, J., Cercy, K., Kravitz, H., Coggeshall, M., Chew, A., O'Rourke, K. F., Steiner, C., Tuffaha, M., Charara, R., Al-Ghamdi, E. A., Adi, Y., Afifi, R. A., ... Murray, C. J. (2016). Global burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors for young people's health during 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet (London, England)387(10036), 2383-2401. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00648-6



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