Why are we so focused on living longer instead of living better?

Deann Zampelli, Health Coach, M.A., HWC
4 min readMar 22, 2024


Photo by Marisa Howenstine on Unsplash

I admit it. I am an obit reader. I look at the photo first to see if I know them and then almost reflexively at their age. 89? Not bad. 76? Too early. 56? Damn. Too close to home. Of course, I then have to know how they died and if the cause of death isn’t mentioned I immediately expect foul play. I am not proud of this, but I can’t help it. The older I get the more obsessive I become about longevity and how it will play out for me and those I love. And I am not alone in my musings.

Recently I had a client who came to see me because she wanted to live the next chapter of her life on her own terms, not as her mother did in the last decade of life before dying at the age of 93; bed pans, caregivers, wheelchairs, numerous medications, memory loss and the utter decimation of her life savings.

This wasn’t going to be her fate, my client, “Lori” decided. “How do I avoid it?”, she asked.

“Health span” has become a big buzz term in the wellness community over the last few years and rightfully so; identifying the years during which we are living in optimal health rather than just our chronological age.

According to the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA), the American lifespan only just recently started to increase again after an unprecedented and steady decline (in part due to Covid, but largely due to the obesity epidemic) that hit the lowest it had been for twenty years. Now, the average American can expect to live to 77.5. That isn’t “old”, and it isn’t nearly long enough especially when over 40 countries routinely beat the United States in longevity by significant amounts. But it isn’t just lifespan that we are lagging in, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “The estimated average proportion of life spent in good health declined to 83.6%…” Let me do some quick math here (meaning, get out my calculator). If I live to 94 (as my daughter made me promise), that means that around age 78 I can expect the proverbial feces to hit the bed pan.

This brings us full circle back to my client’s vision of wanting to age on her own terms and the question, how can we avoid living the last 15–20% of our lives being sick? Not surprisingly, the answer is complicated. When seeking clarity, social media alone could give angina to a Buddhist monk. Intermittent fasting, resistance training, meditation, walking, being a vegan, not being a vegan, and the list goes on ad infinitum. While all these philosophies have merit, it seems that the common thread is prevention.

Instead of playing catch up after we get sick, address the root causes of many chronic illnesses before they happen. In a prior article, I mentioned how 90% of all chronic illnesses can be prevented with lifestyle modifications, this is the key component in regaining agency over your health span. For example, are you more sedentary than you should be? I read somewhere that sedentary lifestyles are the new cigarettes. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

With brevity in mind, I won’t cite all the research but almost every study I have read on longevity has a few commonalities:

  1. Regular exercise (which among other things has also been shown to significantly decrease the chance of dementia).
  2. Healthy diet (including lots of plants, healthy fats, and high in fiber).
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Reduce sugar consumption.
  5. Spend time outside.
  6. Adequate sleep.
  7. And here’s a big one-Human connections. Community. People relying on one another for support, a dinner dropped off when they are ill, a shoulder to cry on, community activism or a common cause, working together, cooking together and so much more.

In many cultures the elders are revered and live with their families until they die. They aren’t just included, they are needed, consulted, and cherished. Not surprisingly, these are often the same cultures that enjoy the healthiest and longest lives. Sadly, Americans are not among them.

So, Lori, while I don’t have a simple answer for you, I will say that knowing what you don’t want, is a powerful first step toward getting what you do.

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