Life expectancy vs. healthy life expectancy. Can you close the gap?

Healthy Life Expectancy Last week along with three other Australian nutrition professionals and delegates from a number of Asian countries, I was lucky enough to be invited by Yakult Australia to go to Japan and visit their manufacturing plant, research institute and listen to the latest research on the role of probiotics in our diet and our health. Along with the intellectual food for thought, the culture and food we experienced was outstanding. I know that I must have a ton of goodness oozing from my pores with all the delicious sashimi, sushi, teppanyaki, fermented foods and probiotics that I consumed over the week! It’s hard to miss Yakult in the refrigerated section of the supermarket these days with its distinctive bottle design and red foil top.  This fermented milk drink contains a unique strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus Casei Shirota, named after the scientist who discovered it, Dr Minoru Shirota.  Dr Shirota then developed the beverage known as Yakult in 1935, meaning that 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of this Japanese institution. It is obvious when in Japan that people are very passionate about their health and well-being, particularly nutrition and exercise. Despite the focus on health and longevity, high blood pressure and smoking numbers continue to be high in Japan, although they are decreasing.  Their food is often praised (including by me) throughout the world, as traditional Japanese food is low in fat and often contains valuable seaweed based products, prebiotics and probiotics but on the downside it is also high in sodium (salt) and is low in nutrients from fruit, nuts and whole grains. It is true that Japan can boast the highest life expectancy in the world at 84 years.  Australia and five other countries come in second at 83 years respectively, with statistics consistently showing over many years that women have a higher life expectancy than men across the world. Based on this, it was interesting to hear that the scientists and researchers that I listened to while in Japan, most certainly did not gloat about this gold medal in life expectancy. These scientists and researchers are concerned about the gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.  Life expectancy minus the number of years spent afflicted by disease or disability is called healthy life expectancy. Japanese women enjoy healthy lives for 73.6 years and men for just 70.4 years, which means that most elderly Japanese are living with some kind of disease. Compare that to Australia and the figures are a little more blown out. In Australia, male babies born right now are expected to live 62.4 years without disability and female babies 64.5 years without disability. Considering that our average life expectancy sits at 83 years, the gap between the two markers is significant. Naturally, life and healthy life expectancy change slightly every year based on medical advances, technology and how we live our lives, so theoretically this gap should be closing. The factors that affect that gap are many but do include what we eat, how much we exercise, the amount of sleep we lock in and the burden of stress plus whatever our genes have brought with them. Sometimes it seems incredibly difficult to do the all the right things every single day to maximise your health and well-being, but of course, the cost of not looking after your body far outweighs the cost of putting in the effort now. What are you doing to close the gap and get more years in your healthy life?