The Vail Living Well Summit returns Sept. 11-14
The ForumX Talks at a glance
“The Beauty of the Sleeping Brain” – Robert Stickgold, director of Harvard’s Center for Sleep and Cognition, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical
“Lessons from Psychological and Behavioral Science for Skillful Aging” – Firdaus Dhabhar, director of research at Stanford Center on Stress and Health
“Living the Good Life: Healthy Aging through Physical Activity” – Anne Friedlander, consulting professor for program in human biology at Stanford University
“From Pathetic to Podium: Useful Lessons Learned from Falling and Getting Up in a World of Perfection” Paul Wylie, U.S. figure skater and 1992 Olympic silver medalist
The ForumX Talks are held on Friday, Sept. 12, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail. Each 15-minute presentation is free and open to the public. For more info and a complete summit schedule, see the Vail Living Well website at http://www.vaillivingwell.org.
Well-being is a lifestyle — pass it on.
It’s the seductively simple rallying cry behind the upcoming Vail Living Well Forum for Optimum Health, an annual health and wellness summit hosted by longtime locals John and Jamie Stone. As founders of DiscoverWell, a nonprofit with statewide reach, the Stones have kept a close eye on the ever-evolving health industry during the past few decades. They’ve seen countless fads come and go such as extreme diets, die-hard fitness plans and vibrating belts to jiggle away belly fat.
But there’s a problem with fads. No matter how enticing they may be, they often balloon overnight and fade just as fast. The problem? Their wild claims are rarely backed by hard, scientific evidence. A few months after embracing the unknown — and the unlikely — hopeful wellness junkies have little to show for their trouble. Very little gets passed on, let alone better health.
The Stones know Vail Living Well can be much, much more than a fad. This year, their flagship forum is evolving in turn, but not to reflect flash-in-the-pan trends. Rather than expand, the Stones decided to whittle down the lineup of seminars and presentations. The Vail events have always championed education and outreach, but after talking with recipients of the nonprofit’s coveted health scholarship, Jamie Stone realized it was time for change.
“We’re very open to this evolving,” she said. “We want to scale down our size in order to scale up our reach and really have that ripple effect.”
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After all, the Stones believe health is a lifestyle choice, not a casual concern. The majority of summit sessions this year are limited to invited guests, but they hope the new format will feed into that ripple effect. By reaching out to movers and shakers in the health world — nutritionists, university researchers, private sector scientists, even community-garden founders — the health-forward insights will spread far beyond a weekend at the Sonnenalp Hotel. And the program lineup is tantalizingly eclectic, with motivation seminars by neuroscientists Dr. Walter Greenleaf, mindfulness talks by Buddhist monk Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi and more than 20 other sessions spread from Thursday to Sunday.
“From the very beginning, the heart of our vision was to activate health and well-being on a very large scale,” Jamie Stone said. “By convening these incredible researchers, our attendees found this very transformative. Now it’s time to take the next step and really reach the activators, the community agents for health and well-being.”
Health meets TEDx
The most noticeable change at this year’s summit is easily the format. In lieu of a jam-packed weekend for the public — past years saw outdoor yoga classes at Solaris and road biking with American pro Freddie Rodriguez — organizers brought together four health experts for an energetic, rapid-fire speaker series.
Dubbed ForumX Talks, the free hour-long block is held on Friday at the Sonnenalp Hotel and open to the public. The format is familiar to anyone who’s been sucked into a marathon of TED talks, given by everyone from David Gallo to Steve Jobs on everything from stunning ocean discoveries to “how to live before you die,” to borrow the title of Jobs’ wildly popular talk from 2005. The global series is known for big names, big ideas and big performances, with interactive slides and original music.
ForumX taps into the inherent power of passionate speakers. Along with free entry — a nice incentive for any speakers series, health or not — Jamie Stone hopes the Millennial-friendly talks will attract casual listeners who never considered the summit before. Like TED converts who blast out video clips via social media, once the hour ends, she wants attendees to help the ripple spread.
“So often people go to these events and are motivated for a day or two, then nothing happens,” Jamie Stone said. “This is a way to continue the engagement of everyone involved.”
In terms of thinkers, the ForumX lineup rivals the invite-only program series. The topics range from brain wellness to Olympic training, but each 15-minute presentation is tied together by an overarching theme: healthy aging.
‘ENGINEERING ACTIVITY BACK IN’
To kick off the series — and the theme — presenter Anne Friedlander begins with the basics. At Stanford, the consulting professor of human biology has delved into research on how the body ages. Her work looks at hundreds of factors, from diet to social groups, but her presentation will hone in on the quick, relatively simple ways that movement can affect aging.
“The fundamental point is that we have the capacity in ourselves to impact the way we age,” said Friedlander, who’s presenting at Vail Living Well for the first time. “Physical activity impacts everything and every system in our body, and it used to be thought that to make endurance adaptations, you needed higher volumes. But when you look at the molecular changes that happen with high-impact exercise, it’s almost like you’re tricking your body.”
For Friedlander, that body trick isn’t a quick fix — it’s a legitimate path to better health. New research shows that even five minutes of high-intensity exercise for older adults can spark a slew of positive changes, from physical to mental health. Along with intense exercise — say, running or at-home calisthenics — small changes such as taking the stairs or walking to the coffee shop are good for anyone of any age. They’re “common sense” changes, the professor admits, but they still add up over time. And there’s science to prove it.
“These little things provide a beautiful target for people to make manageable changes in their lives,” Friedlander said. “Those short bursts of activity are much more manageable than making time to run for 30 minutes.”
Beyond the basics, Friedlander is a proponent of sweeping health changes. She believes modern society has “engineered” activity out of day-to-day life, leading to a sedentary culture.
“Unfortunately, we’ve engineered activity out of our lives to make things easier,” Friedlander said. “Now, I sit at my desk and can do just about anything I want. So, as a society, we need to engineer activity back into our lives so we remove those choice points that allow people to be sedentary.”
And she’s already seen steps in the right direction, pun intended. Start-up workspaces such as Galvanize in Denver have in-house gyms, while movements such as Smart Growth America are creating small, self-sustaining urban communities with gardens, stores and homes in pedestrian-friendly clusters.
Friedlander’s talk pairs well with the other three, not to mention the Stones’ vision for Vail Living Well as a whole. Communities such as Smart Growth are prime examples of re-engineering society so health is not just a fad, but a lifestyle.
“It’s not easy; it’s not widespread, but people are making movements in that direction,” Friedlander said. “It’s really where we need to go.”