Tips for a Longer Life

Geriatrician talks about ways we can extend our lives in a healthy way

By Arn J. Albertini

Since the 1960s, life expectancy has been increasing steadily.


And as people live longer, they’re staying more active, said physician Robert McCann, chief of the medicine department at Highland Hospital, who is board-certified in geriatrics and internal medicine

“We’re not just adding years to life, we’re adding life to years. Sixty today is not going to feel like 60 25 years ago.”

One of biggest reasons people are living longer is lifestyle changes, like people exercising more, said McCann.

“Exercise is absolutely essential.”

This includes cardiovascular activities like running or walking, as well as resistance training with weights, he said. It’s also important to incorporate activities that keep you flexible and help your balance, like yoga, McCann said.

Staying socially engaged can also help you live longer, said physician Richard Mittereder of Unity Hospital, board certified in geriatrics and family medicine.

“Some people are very active in their church or very active in volunteer groups or they find interests in clubs where they play games,” he said. “Any and all of those things seem to make a difference in aging gracefully.”

“We’re not just adding years to life, we’re adding life to years. Sixty today is not going to feel like 60 25 years ago.”
– Robert McCann, chief of the medicine department at Highland Hospital

For some, choosing to keep working and putting off retirement is a way to stay socially engaged, as much as it is a way to keep earning income, said McCann.

“For a lot of people, [retirement] is harder than they thought it would be because they don’t have a plan.”

Controlling your diet is also a key piece in prolonging your life, Mittereder said.


When it comes to what you eat, the Mediterranean diet, with a focus on fruits, vegetables and fish and not eating as much red meat, is a good model, he said.

“Most people at least know what to avoid, even if they sometimes don’t avoid [those foods].”

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in antioxidants, is also good for your brain, Mittereder said.

“If you can work to improve your nutrition you can do dramatic things to continue to help your brain stay healthy and active.”

You also want to keep your brain active by doing puzzles, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language or even playing video games, Mittereder said.

“Anything that stretches your brain function seems to help forestall brain deterioration.”

Spirituality, whether it be through involvement in an organized religion or other avenues, can also help prolong your life, Mittereder said.

“I do believe if you have some sort of spiritual attachment that does something to help. It doesn’t have to be religious and it doesn’t even mean a certain kind of god.”

Some studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can help satisfy that spiritual need, he said.

“It’s simply a matter of using ways to help your brain to stay calm and not get stressed. We don’t have the full answer to why that is. It may be in the limbic system where emotion plays a great role in how we respond to things.”

Quitting smoking and moderating how much alcohol you drink also goes a long way toward prolonging your life, said McCann.

“Smoking is probably the most preventable risk.”

Lifestyle changes are big part of the increase in life expectancy, but advances in medicine, like better medicines for blood pressure and cholesterol, better methods to manage those conditions and improved surgical practices also play a major role, said McCann.

“Those made a dramatic difference in terms of sudden death from a cardiac event. When I was a child, it was not uncommon for someone to just drop dead at their desk from a heart attack.”

Advances in bypass surgery, for example, help alleviate heart issues right away before they become serious and potentially fatal, he said.

“We have much better treatment to help people live longer.”

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