The Longevity Toolkit
A Five-Step Guide to Aging Well
The search for longevity often begins with the lives of centenarians. In an excellent book titled “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer,” author Dan Buettner investigates regions of the world where people have an above-average chance of passing the 100-year mark. The communities in “The Blue Zones” don’t necessarily have access to the greatest health care — it would seem that medical science is now playing catch-up with the older citizens of places such as Okinawa, Japan, and Ikaria, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
Still, progress seems inevitable. As a species, we will acquire the knowledge to live longer. Along with piecing together the puzzle of achieving a long life, we must also solve the riddle of what it means to live well. The solution is likely to be found across disciplines: medicine to help us combat debilitating diseases, nutrition to help us remain healthy, the arts and religion to help us find meaning, and ecology to ensure a safe and sustaining environment. We will face ethical dilemmas if the benefits are reserved for a fortunate few.
After turning to the experts, I assembled a rough outline of what it means to age well. For an able-bodied person, it would look something like this:
1. The ability to safely stand up after falling down.
2. The capacity to learn and retain new information.
3. The strength to safely pick up a child or grandchild.
4. A resistance to, or freedom from, health issues connected to aging, such as dementia, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and certain mental illnesses.
Here are five steps you can take on the road to aging well. Of course, please speak with a doctor before making any significant lifestyle modifications or undertaking any physical training regimen.
To age well, lift weights.
Consider the evidence. Research published in 2018 by the American College of Cardiology makes a striking claim. As summarized by ScienceDaily.com, “New research found that while all physical activity is beneficial, static activities — such as strength training — were more strongly associated with reducing heart disease risks than dynamic activities like walking and cycling.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Strength training is better for your heart health than dynamic activities — which we would commonly refer to as “cardio.” It sounds like cardio needs a new name.
An enormous body of research indicates that weight training boosts everything from your mood to your libido. It helps control blood glucose levels and improves balance. According to an October 2017 paper published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, it increases bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis.
The big downside of strength training is that it can do more harm than good if it isn’t done correctly. Affordable training options abound in the Merrimack Valley. Find out what’s best for you by consulting your physician.
Put On Your Walking Shoes
In a story posted in the Telegraph UK on the benefits, or lack thereof, of longevity-promoting supplements, Sarah Lenz Lock, the executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health, was quoted as saying, “Rather than buying a dietary supplement, spend money on new walking shoes.”
The results of a long-term study on walking interventions were published this year in the journal PLOS Medicine. The conclusion? “Short-term primary care pedometer-based walking interventions can produce long-term health benefits and should be more widely used to help address the public health inactivity challenge.”
This is just one of many studies supporting the same idea: If you want to age well, get outside and walk. Walking outside gives your health a two-for-one, the physical benefits of walking plus the holistic benefits of being in nature.
In 2012, Outside magazine published a pioneering article titled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.” Author Florence Williams describes groundbreaking research on the salutary effects of simply being outside. Since its publication, researchers have continued to explore the benefits of forest bathing and woodland strolling. An Outside article published in 2019 notes the rise in doctors prescribing nature exposure “as the best possible treatment for a growing list of ailments, from anxiety and obesity to attention-deficit disorder and high blood pressure.”