Researchers have devised a calculator that predicts how many healthy years you have left in life. It also predicts how many unhealthy years you’re likely to live before you die.
The Healthy Life Expectancy Calculator assesses your health and lifestyle factors to predict the total future years you’re expected to live. The calculator also recommends specific lifestyle changes to help you to increase your number of healthy years.
The overall estimate includes both your healthy life expectancy and your unhealthy life expectancy—which is the severe, unhealthy state of disablement before you die, explained the lead developer of the calculator, Jay Vadiveloo, PhD, CFA, director, Janet and Mark L. Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.
“As the saying goes, ‘In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years,’” Dr. Vadiveloo wrote.
The hope is that people will use the calculator to make better lifestyle choices in order to extend their healthy life expectancy and minimize their unhealthy life expectancy, he indicated.
Calculator or crystal ball?
Why develop such a calculator?
“Imagine a healthy 60-year-old male who exercises regularly, has a healthy diet and healthy body mass index, and sleeps at least eight hours a night,” Dr. Vadiveloo suggested. “By our estimate, he could have an additional 13 years of healthy living compared to his unhealthy counterpart. That’s 13 more years of quality living with family and loved ones [than a similar less healthy person].”
He added: “This is quite a startling revelation, not only because of the significant difference in healthy life expectancy between these two individuals, but also because this difference is driven by lifestyle choices within the individual’s control.”
Lifestyle factors built into the calculator include diet, exercise, and sleep—all of which impact life expectancy. Other lifestyle factors that Dr. Vadiveloo’s team incorporated into the calculator are educational level, income level, perception of one’s own state of health, alcohol intake, smoking status, and presence or absence of type 2 diabetes.
“The higher the level of education and income, the higher your healthy life expectancy. Having a positive perception of your state of health helps, too,” Dr. Vadiveloo noted.
Two additional factors, not related to lifestyle, were also included: age and sex.
“All other things being equal, healthy life expectancy decreases with age,” he added. “Women have a longer healthy life expectancy compared to men.”
How many years do you have left?
The Healthy Life Expectancy Calculator is currently available free online. Try it yourself to calculate your healthy, unhealthy, and total life expectancy.
Dr. Vadiveloo acknowledged that it’s a work in progress, but he also points out that it’s the first such measurement tool to be developed.
“While it’s too early to validate the accuracy of our calculations with actual data, we have been careful to ensure that the model assumptions are based on established actuarial sources and the modeling results are logical and consistent,” he noted.
However, the calculator can’t account for all factors.
“Unforeseen incidents—like being hit by a truck—could render this estimate invalid, no matter how well you manage lifestyle habits,” Dr. Vadiveloo pointed out. “Also, there could be other non-measurable factors impacting healthy life expectancy that we have not included in our model, like level of stress, a positive attitude to life or social connections.”
The calculator is useful not only for individuals, but also for public health, government, and business sectors.
“Everyone understands the benefits of living a long healthy life, but this also has implications for industry and society,” Dr. Vadiveloo explained. “Medical costs, financial planning, and health support services are directly related to the state of health of an individual or community.”
Healthy life expectancy can help with retirement planning, for instance, so that people can plan to spend their retirement dollars during their healthy years—or to put aside more money for their unhealthy years.
“We hope that other researchers and practitioners will continue to build on this. Then society could focus on not just prolonging life, but prolonging quality of life using our model,” Dr. Vadiveloo said.