The key to longevity is lifestyle habits
- Continued learning – take a class about something you are interested in or watch a program about something you would like to learn about.
- Stay social – interacting with people helps our mental state.
- Read books or do activities like crossword puzzles or sudoku.
- Keep working or volunteering, in order to maintain a sense of purpose.
While there’s no foolproof way to ensure a long life, our choices along the way have a lot to do with it
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Colorado mountain resort communities have some of the highest life expectancies in the nation, but it’s likely not the beautiful mountains that keep people living longer.
The lifestyles of those who live here have more to do with longevity than geography, according to research on what’s known as Blue Zones — regions in the world with the most centenarians. Their lifestyle choices are what they all have in common.
“Being able to consistently eat healthy and exercise regularly has been shown to maintain health as we age,” said Dr. Jeannine Benson, Internal Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices. “These lifestyle changes can prevent diabetes, heart diseases, strokes, cancer and many other health issues. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle can also keep joints and muscles healthy, which improves mobility as we age.”
The elders in Blue Zones have nine common lifestyle habits, including moving their bodies regularly, eating plenty of vegetables, winding down from stress and never overeating. They value family, feel a sense of purpose and belonging, and surround themselves with friends who also practice these habits. They also enjoy a glass of wine or two a day, according to the research.
These lifestyle choices can have major impacts on overall health, but Venable said there’s no surefire way to ensure longevity.
“Prevention is one of the key aspects of medical care,” said Dr. Carol Venable, Internal Medicine Physician with Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices. “Certainly not everything is preventable, but it is important to prevent the diseases we can. Vaccinations, healthy lifestyle choices, avoidance of substances that are deleterious to health, screening for those cancers for which we have good data for screening, testing for treatable diseases — like diabetes, hypertension, hepatitis C, HIV, etc. — and control of chronic medical conditions are all important.”
Preventative care for the body, mind
Younger, healthier people might not need to see a doctor annually, but annual checkups do become more important with age, Benson said.
“It is important to have regular checkups with your doctor and make sure that you are up to date on age and gender appropriate cancer screenings. It is also important to find activities that can help keep your brain active. This is just as important as keeping your body active,” Benson said. “Mental Health is also important as we age. With aging, issues like depression and anxiety can come up. These things are important to address with your doctor as well.”
This proactive approach to personal medical care goes hand in hand with healthy lifestyle habits. Benson said brain exercises include social interaction, reading books or doing puzzles, continued learning such as taking a class or watching an educational program, and volunteering or working in order to feel a sense of purpose.
“Having a purpose and something to contribute to the community is very enriching,” she said.
The amount of physical exercise that’s right for a person varies. Venable said exercise plans are not “one size fits all.” She said patients should create an exercise plan with their primary care physician.
For those who may hate a gym environment, Venable said to look to outdoor exercises that are popular in the mountains such as skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, yoga and other activities. Even activities such as gardening can be a good way to move the body without going to a gym, Benson added.
“Find something that you like to do, but also involves exercise,” she said. “It is also helpful to have a friend or a group of friends join you. This can help keep you motivated and you can cheer each other on.”
As people age, spending time indoors tends to become more common, but research shows that could be detrimental to the various aspects of overall physical and mental health.
“I think it is important for folks to attempt to get out of the home, interact with people and be active in the community,” Benson said. “Isolation tends to lead to a sedentary life. We know that keeping the body active helps the mind stay healthy, as well.”