Who better to ask for longevity advice than a geriatrician still active into his ninth decade of life? Richard Besdine MD, professor of medicine and of health services, policy and practice, has devoted his career to the study and advancement of geriatrics.
1. Get enough physical activity
We all know that a physically active lifestyle promotes heart health and increases longevity. The key, Dr. Besdine says, is to find heart rate-increasing and, optimally, weight-bearing activities that you actually enjoy. Think walking a dog, gardening, or dancing. “I play squash,” Besdine said. “I don’t hit a squash ball as hard as I did 10 years ago, never mind 30 or 40 years ago, but I still enjoy playing squash. I played yesterday with a medical student.”
2. East a healthy diet
As with exercise, eating well, Besdine says, should be a joyous activity. He recommends a Mediterranean-inspired diet that is fundamentally plant-based and loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables of all colors. “All the nuts and fish you want, extra-virgin olive oil, soy, pasta, bread, and even lean meats are okay,” Besdine said. Do try to avoid red meat, dairy, white flour, and processed foods, he says, but if you LOVE steak, for example, enjoy it, but not more than monthly. Again, the key to sustaining a healthful diet lies in finding ways to eat that are healthful and delicious, and “eating a Mediterranean diet is fun!” Besdine says.
3. Receive regular preventative care & health screenings*
Dr. Besdine stresses the importance of regular primary care visits and preventative health screenings and interventions as the first line of defense in improving the length and quality of life. Unfortunately, the use of preventative healthcare has fallen sharply due to fears of COVID-19. “The pandemic has caused utilization for virtually everything, not just preventative services, to fall off a cliff,” Besdine said. “Even for serious events, admissions went down. So, there are people staying home with heart attacks.”
*Vaccination, boosting, and masking are the primary preventative measures to be taken at this time, of course!
4. Get enough sleep
Everyone needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day. Period. Like diet and exercise, Dr. Besdine says getting enough sleep is beneficial for physical and mental health.
5. Partner with people who bring joy
According to Dr. Besdine, having joyous relationships is fundamental to physical and mental wellbeing. While he credits his happy marriage as a major factor in his own longevity, he says any close partnerships are protective. “The data show that talking to family may not be sufficient,” Besdine said. “Talking to friends is much more powerfully protective against bad outcomes and early death. This is heavy stuff. It’s not just occupying your time, it’s keeping you healthy.”
Dr. Besdine’s advice for achieving a long, healthy, and happy life is to find expressions of a healthy lifestyle that appeal uniquely to you and bring you joy.
“There are lots of people who are really old and unhealthy and not having any fun. The idea is to be able to savor life by enjoying your functional body as long as possible into old age. Don’t minimize the role of joy in human life. It’s nurturing. It’s refilling the tank that you’re continually at risk of draining. That’s the way I think about it.”