Episode 18: Three Simple Rules Anyone Can Implement to Increase the Healthspan

Transcript

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuhu, 

Welcome to the Best Versions Podcast, where I help you unlock your fullest potential to move from average to excellence in Worship, Energy, Love and Legacy.  

I’m your Host, Rushdhi Ismail. A computer engineer turned nutrition and life coach. I’m going to use my experience of over 25 years in the personal and spiritual development field to provide you with practical tools to move from average to excellence, bi’idnillah

Alhamdulillah, I’m very excited to talk to you again in episode 18! 

In the last couple of episodes, we talked about a few things to move from average to excellence in our marriage. 

So today, I’ve decided to shed some light on our health. 

This podcast is designed to help you optimise your life so that you can go from average to excellence in Worship, Energy, Love and Legacy. 

Part of taking care of our energy is taking care of our health. So let’s spend some time discussing three simple rules anyone can implement to increase their healthspan. 

Before we talk about these three simple rules, we need to clarify what healthspan is and why these three rules are particularly effective in increasing our healthspan.  

I’m sure you know what lifespan means. It’s the number of years Allah subuhanawuta’la has given us to live in this world. It’s basically the period that defines one’s lifetime in this world, from birth to death. 

Some billionaires and biohackers try everything they can to increase their lifespan. But the truth about lifespan is that we do not have much control over it. That’s in the hands of Allah subuhanawuta’la.

50’000 years before we were created, our rizq and with that our lifespan is determined. When the time for death comes, we’ll die without even a millisecond delay.

However, contrary to lifespan, healthspan is something we have a lot of control over.

So what is healthspan, and what is the difference between lifespan and healthspan? 

You can define “healthspan” as the period of time when you are relatively healthy. 

For instance, if a person lives up to 70 years old, that’s his lifespan. However, if he is chronically sick from 60 years until his death, his healthspan is just 60 years. 

Statistics show that most people spend a whopping 20% of their lifetime in chronic diseases that lead to death. On average, if someone lives up to 70 years, they become sick with the chronic illness around 61 years old. 

In other words, they spend their last nine years of life treating that chronic disease, eventually leading to death.  

So the goal of increasing the healthspan is to shorten the period that you chronically become sick and enjoy a relatively disease-free period on the eve of your life. 

Going back to the definition of healthspan, I said it is the period when you are healthy. But then, the question would arise, what does being healthy mean? Because being healthy means different things to different people.

Fortunately, we don’t need to define what it is. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, i.e. physical or mental weakness“.

So being healthy means enjoying complete physical, mental and social well-being without being sick or weak. 

Interestingly enough, the World Health Organisation has also developed an indicator to measure our healthspan. They call it “HALE” – healthy life expectancy.

According to WHO, life expectancy has increased by three decades since the mid-twentieth century. In 1800, average life expectancy was as low as 45 years. Now, it’s almost 70 years. 

However, our healthspan has not increased in this time period. In other words, we live longer than we ever did, but not necessarily healthier. 

Now, what are the reasons for the lack of increase in our healthspan? 

Scientists mention many reasons. However, the most notable reasons are high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, high blood sugar and environmental risk factors, including air pollution. 

So these reasons reduce our healthspan and lead us to premature death. “Premature death” is the term to mean that death takes place before the average age of death in a certain population. For example, if you die at 50, but your country’s average age of death is 75, then it’s considered premature death. 

In fact, according to studies reviewed in a new National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report, up to half of all early deaths in the United States are due to behavioural and other preventable factors—including modifiable habits such as tobacco use, poor diet, and lack of exercise. 

So think about that. Half of the premature death is due to some behavioural and preventable factors. 

So this and many other research studies show that by changing a few behavioural aspects in our lives, we can insha Allah increase our healthspan! 

As I said before, we don’t have much control over extending our lifespan. However, we’ve much control over increasing our healthspan. 

And increasing our healthspan is particularly important on the eve of our life because that’s when we’ve all the time we always wanted. 

So it’s in the late part of our life when we have more time to connect with Allah, with others and with ourselves. 

Hence, it becomes more important than ever that we do everything possible to maintain good health during that time. When we are old, we don’t want to depend on others to do our daily chores. At least we should try our best to decrease the chance of dependability. 

Instead of being a burden to our children, we want to be a blessing to our children as much as we can.

Now that requires us to take care of our health today! 

If we want to increase our healthspan, there are many things we can do in our life. However, today I want you to focus on the “controllables”. 

I say “control the controllables”. 

Because there are things in life you have no control over, you can’t control the weather, temperature, politics and many other things. 

So instead of fretting over the “uncontrollables”, shed your focus on the things you can control, such as what you put in your mouth, how much you move, your attitude, your motivation, etc. 

In other words, if you can take care of these controllable things, you can insha Allah positively impact your healthspan in the later years of life. 

So my goal in this episode is to provide you with three simple rules that you can follow to increase your healthspan. 

Regardless of where you are in your life, I sincerely believe that the following three rules will be incredibly helpful for most people, bi’idnillah

So let’s start talking about those three rules. 

Are you ready? 

Rule #1: Reduce Eating Ultra-Processed Foods

Okay, one thing you have control over is what you put in your mouth. 

And what you put in your mouth greatly impacts your physical, mental and spiritual health.  

So take control over what you put in your mouth and reduce eating ultra-processed foods because the single most important way for many people to improve their health quickly is to subtract unhealthy foods.

Yes, that’s right! One of the fastest ways to improve your health is to reduce or entirely avoid unhealthy foods. 

You see, eating broccoli does not ‘cancel out’ devouring three doughnuts. 

If you want to improve your health most effectively, consider cutting down on things that harm you most. 

Because what you stop eating has far more impact on your health than what you start eating.

Think about that for a moment. 

If you were to eat a doughnut, you might immediately see its negative impact on your blood level. However, eating a serving of broccoli doesn’t show its positive effects immediately. 

Even a small amount of chemicals and food-like substances you find in ultra-processed foods can create havoc on your body. 

That’s why I suggest you reduce or quit eating ultra-processed foods! 

What are these ultra-processed foods? 

These are foods that are highly processed and beautifully packaged. They often include long ingredient lists and additives such as artificial flavours, added sugars, stabilisers, preservatives, and many more chemicals and food-like substances. 

All these substances are added to keep these products’ shelf-life longer and make these foods convenient for the customers. 

That’s why many of these products are ready-to-eat, require very little prep to be palatable, and are low in cost.

The list of ultra-processed foods is exceptionally long. Just to mention a few: 

  • Soft drinks
  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Ice cream
  • Many instant foods
  • Doughnuts and sugary pastries 
  • Energy bars
  • Breakfast cereals etc.

So, if you reduce or avoid these foods, you’ll see improvement in all levels of your health. 

That’s because these ultra-processed foods aren’t even foods. They are just edible food-like substances. Instead of nourishing us, they make us sick and even addicted. 

Besides a long list of ingredients, ultra-processed foods contain mostly one of these three main ingredients. 

  1. Sugar, 
  2. white flour and 
  3. vegetable oil. 

Take sugar, for instance. Most people think sugar is just empty calories. Well, the fact is, sugar is a kind of toxin for our body.  

Dr Robert Lustig is one of the foremost scientists’ who talks about sugar and its dangers. He wrote an incredible book called “Fat Chance”. In it, he argues why sugar isn’t just empty calories. 

His research says that “every additional 150 calories per person per day barely raised diabetes prevalence. But if those 150 calories were instead from a can of soda, the increase in diabetes rose sevenfold. Sugar is more dangerous than its calories. Sugar is a toxin. Plain and simple.

Another downside of sugar is that it impairs your brain function. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even worsening symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

Studies have found that high sugar intake hurts cognition, and it has also been implicated in hyperactivity and inattention in children and adolescents.

That’s why WHO says not to consume more than 25 grams of added sugar daily. That’s just five teaspoons of sugar a day. A 250 ml-can of Coke has more than 25 grams of sugar! 

So think about how quickly sugar can add up in our lives and shorten our healthspan. 

By the way, did you know that 58% of what we consume comes from ultra-processed foods? 

And do you know where it leads us to? Well, currently, there are 2 billion people who are overweight in the world. 

That’s why scientists say that the longer the shelf life of the food you consume, the shorter your life becomes. 

Rule #2: Eat More Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are nature’s medicine cabinets! 

A couple of dollars you spend on good quality vegetables will, insha Allah, save you ten dollars when it comes to your doctor’s bill. 

The benefits of eating more vegetables are simply way too many to count. For the sake of brevity, let me give you five solid reasons why increasing your vegetable intake will increase your healthspan. 

  1. Vegetables and fruits contain essential vitamins and minerals, plant chemicals, and antioxidants, which are crucial for a healthy body. If you want to improve your health in any form or shape, vegetables should be one of the first things you turn to. 
  2. Vegetable intake can dramatically reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. And as I said before, chronic diseases are one of the reasons for premature death. Research shows that increasing vegetable intake will reduce the chances of getting chronically sick.
  3. Vegetable intake helps you lose fat. Extreme overweight or obesity is another reason for decreased healthspan. 
  4. Vegetable intake protects you against certain types of cancers, bi’idnillah! One of the leading causes of premature death in the world is cancer. And one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of cancer is to increase your vegetable intake. 
  5. Vegetable intake can reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Again, this is the same thing I mentioned earlier. 

So, there is no denying that looking at all those benefits; vegetables are indeed nature’s medicine cabinet. 

Save your money on your doctor’s bill by increasing your vegetable intake. 

The benefits I’ve mentioned don’t happen automatically – instead, you have to eat at least five servings of vegetables every single day if you want to start seeing those results. 

You don’t have to stop at five – the more, the better when it comes to vegetables.

If counting servings are a hassle for you, then I’ve another super simple tip to increase your vegetable intake. 

Ensure that at least half of your plate is full of vegetables at every meal. 

That would increase your vegetable intake while improving your health noticeably, bi’idnillah

Okay, let’s move on to rule number three, where we will talk about movement. 

Rule #3: Move often  

Movement is incredibly important for a healthy body. 

That’s because our body is designed to move. Allah subuhanawuta’la created our body to move and not be inactive. 

Science says that almost all of our 15-70 Trillion cells have a little receptor tied to our level of movement. Or our lack thereof. 

So when we move, our bodies flourish. However, when we are sedentary for too long and too often, our bodies suffer! 

In all our human history, we’ve never spent so much time being sedentary. 

Around 200 years ago, we were moving 450 minutes daily, that’s approximately 7.5 hours every day. 

And today? 

Most of us move less than 45 minutes a day. 

Subhanallah

This inactivity has a significant negative impact on our health and well-being.

Dr John Vernikas is one of the world’s leading authorities on the subject of sedentary. She wrote an excellent book called “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals”. 

John Vernikas was the former director of NASA Life Sciences. Her job was to make sure that the astronauts were top fit. She was responsible for understanding how to optimise the health and well-being of NASA astronauts.

She says, when we don’t move enough, our body gets atrophied and dies. 

And she explains in her book how being sedentary impacts our health on a cellular level. 

She says that people with a sedentary lifestyle also have shorter telomeres. (Pronounced as tee-lo-meers)

Now, what are telomeres?

Telomeres are those little caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your DNA and allow healthy cell division. 

They become shorter with age, and therefore they have become a valuable indicator of your state of health. 

Short telomeres have been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, shorter lifespan, and early death.

So based on her research, she says that people with a sedentary lifestyle also have shorter telomeres.

If you don’t want to have that shorter telomeres, then increase your physical activity. A moderate level of physical activity helps keep those telomeres longer and improve your cellular health.

So find ways to move often. 

Since this subject requires more elaboration and practical guidance, I’ve decided to talk about movement in the upcoming episodes, insha Allah! 

So stay tuned; you’ll soon get everything you need to know about exercise in the best and the most practical form possible. 

That’s all from me for today. 

If you want to read the transcript of this podcast, you can find it at https://bestversions.me/podcasts/18.

Thanks so very much for listening to my podcast. I sincerely pray that this episode helps you go from average to excellence in worship, energy, love and legacy. 

And last but not least, please subscribe to my podcast, and share the podcast with your family and friends. I’m confident you can make a difference in others’ lives by sharing this information with them.

Until we meet in the next episode insha Allah next Friday, I pray that Allah subuhanawuta’la showers his choicest blessings on you and your family. 

Love you all! 

And let me end the podcast with the greetings of Jannah, Asssalamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuhu.