How to boost your ‘health span’

Live a little. (Shutterstock)


By Morey Stettner

Some seniors joke that they don’t buy green bananas. Gloomy about aging, they refrain from thinking long-term.

Ironically, however, making long-range plans can actually extend your longevity.

It’s one of many steps retirees can take to live longer. While much of the conventional wisdom remains valid—keep learning, exercise, socialize often and watch your diet—there are additional measures that might lengthen your lifespan.

Sifting through all the advice can get confusing. On the one hand, for example, some experts recommend that older adults spend at least 15 minutes a day outside—in sunlight—to activate their skin cells to produce vitamin D. Research indicates vitamin D enhances bone health and might help combat depression, heart disease and other ailments.

On the other hand, individuals with more sun exposure face a heightened risk of skin cancer. So a little helps but too much can hurt.

For Russ Hill, 71, setting multiyear goals is part of his live-longer strategy. Chief executive of Halbert Hargrove, a financial advisory firm in Long Beach, Calif., he also serves on the advisory council of the Stanford Center on Longevity.

Hill estimates that he works about 50 hours a week. He spends two months a year in Italy—vacationing with a twist.

He tends vineyards in southeast Tuscany that take five years to reach commercial production. He finds the deferred payoff part of the allure.

“Realistically, I’ve got 15 to 20 years left and maybe a lot more,” Hill said. “Are you going to plan to do fun things? Or are you going to say, ‘I always wanted to do that but it’ll take too long.’

Because Hill tracks longevity research, he says he’s more attuned to increasing his “health span” than his “lifespan.” That means rather than aim to reach a ripe old age, he seeks to stay active longer and remain healthy and fit.

Along those lines, he’s taken up weightlifting. While he’s self-motivated, he’s even more committed to regular workouts thanks to his decision to hire a personal trainer.

“You need a partner to make physical activity social,” he said. Hill also schedules blocks of time to make exercise a seamless part of his day.

In terms of diet, Hill cites “powerful findings” that those who cut their caloric intake can live longer. Studies show that adults who reduce their total calories by one-third can increase life expectancy by 10%.

“The issue is if you really want to do that,” Hill said with a laugh.

Finally, Hill emphasizes the value of continuous learning. He recently joined Abundance 360, a membership community of entrepreneurs and executives who share cutting-edge ideas.

“It gives me access to webinars and talks on artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, robotics,” Hill said. “A lot of old people decide to quit and think, ‘I don’t have to do this.’ But it’s all moving so fast that it’ll be relevant to me” in the years ahead.

Hill’s thirst for knowledge contributes to his joie de vivre, which in turn elevates his spirit. We’re more apt to drink in life—and enjoy more of it—if we sample new foods, practice new skills and learn new concepts.

“Attitude drives behaviors,” said Kelly Ferrin, a longevity expert in Carlsbad, Calif. “If you have a positive image of aging, you’ll live longer.”

To enhance their independence and quality of life, retirees should develop what Ferrin calls a “what’s next” mentality: Find a fresh passion and pursue it.

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