On Healthspan and Lifespan, and Learning From Centenarians

I’ve been reading about longevity related topics lately. Maybe that’s what happens when you turn 68


The most important distinction to me is between lifespan and healthspan. Lifespan has been increasing due to modern medicine, but often people go through a long debilitating decline at the end of life. In contrast, healthspan is what percentage of your lifespan is healthy and vibrant. For me that is the most important. Adding “life to your years” is more important than adding “years to your life”. But it turns out the same measures that can increase healthspan can also help with lifespan.

The dashed line is what we want, rather than the more typical curve where we gradually decline in health and capacity as we age

I’ll cover this topic in more detail in future posts, including reviewing what of learned from the books I’ve read on it. Here I wanted to give an overview. And also talk about what I learned from my favorite centenarian.

I think the most important thing to realize is the difference between genetics and epigenetics. Our life and health is not set by out genes, because through epigenetics, we can affect which genes actually express themselves. I have a family history of diabetes, my grandfather and an uncle had it. But I am not doomed to follow in their footsteps: They were largely sedentary and did not have particularly healthy diets. By being active and eating well I can have a different outcome. My mom and one of my Aunts both died of COPD (chronic lung disease). But they were both heavy smokers for much of their lives, so I can avoid that by not smoking.

Another major factor is attitude. It is neither necessary nor helpful to adopt a defeatist attitude about aging, accepting a long slow decline as your future. Assuming you will be vibrant and healthy for many more years is a better outlook. Attitude can become a self-fulling prophecy.

I had the honor and pleasure of knowing one centenarian personally, Delores Cairns, who was born in 1908 and died in 2016 at 107, with very little decline until she broke her hip about a year before she died (she was mentally sharp as a tack right up to the end). She was the aunt of my next door neighbor, Barry Schmitt, when we lived in the country on Croy road, west of Morgan Hill. But to all who knew her she was our beloved Auntie Dee. She was the descendant (as is Barry) of the Montoya brothers, who settled a 160 acre ranch on Croy Road in the 1800s. Barry inherited the ranch and still lives their with his wife Kathie. Auntie Dee is shown pictured above in front of the Montoya ranchhouse.

The Schmitts would always through a big party on Auntie Dee’s birthday, gatherings I remember very fondly. And we would get to see here many other times of the year when she was visiting. On the occasion of her 95th birthday, Auntie Dee rode with a friend on an ATV, up rough roads to the top of a big hill. And she also went for her first ride on a Harley that day!. The bash for her 100th birthday was amazing. I got to dance with her to the wonderful music of the Mariachi band Kathie hired for the party.

Auntie Dee was slender, didn’t smoke, and seemed to eat a fairly healthy diet although not exceptionally so. She walked a lot as part of her lifestyle but did not do formal exercise as far as I know. What I most remember about her was always being kind, upbeat and young at heart. Before her 100th birthday, Barry and Kathie’s daughter Caitlin did a wonderful job interviewing her great aunt. Caitlin probed for the secret to Auntie Dee’s longevity, and what mostly came up was attitude, such as “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “go with the flow”.

I miss her, but she is still a major role model for me.

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Spicy Cashew Chicken and Vegetable

Sweet and savoury, this Spicy Cashew Chicken and Vegetable is super quick and easy to make! Perfect as a weeknight dinner and is an easy chicken meal prep for the week! Cashew Chicken with a Kick I love cashew chicken! A year ago, I shared how to make cashew chicken in an Instant Pot and…

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Health Birthday Presents To Myself

I mentioned in my post “Flip the Youth Switch” that heart rate variability is a good indicator of health, and of your biological age as opposed to your chronological age. In the book of that same name, author Dr. Bob Arnot managed to raise his hrv dramatically in four months. In the first month, his hrv went up 50% from 28 to 42. Since reading about this I’ve been endeavoring to follow his tips on how he achieved that. I started using a fitness tracker by Whoop that measures hrv and gives feedback on things like how much strain your workouts are accruing. how well you are recovered, and sleep quality. Mostly I changed my workouts so I do a recovery day (just some easy spinning on the bike or walking) if the gizmo tells me my recovery is poor (red). I go longer but still at fairly easy pace if my recovery is adequate but not great (yellow). And I really go for it in both intensity and volume if my recovery is great (green). This turns out to fit in well with what I was already doing, I do easy days and hard days, my recovery is poor or adequate the day after a hard day and usually great after an easy day.

A more elite and younger athlete than me, training hard

But this feedback showed me that I was not in danger of overtraining and could safely go harder. If you are overtrained, you are really smashed after training hard, and may need several easy days to recover well. That wasn’t happening to me.


So I trained harder on my hard days, allowing me to get fitter. The result was that in the first month of tracking this, my hrv went from 26 to 44, almost a 70% increase (remember that more is better). The beginning value just over a month ago was below average for someone my age (then 67), while the final value was average for someone of about 50. so this is like being 15 years younger. I got this result the day before my birthday, so that was my first health present. The second was that I hit my goals for both weight and waist measurement.

I really like having the recovery and hrv feedback. There’s so much talk out there about overdoing it with exercise, “too much of a good thing” possibly making you fitter but not as healthy. It is nice to have hrv as a measure that your training is “just right” and that you are recovering adequately, so that you are fit and healthy. I’m excited to see if I can continue to keep the upward hrv trend as Dr. Arnot did.

I’m not usually not that much of a fan of fitness trackers. They can be a distraction if you look at them all the time, and are yet another device that can keep you from being in the present moment. The accuracy of some of their predictions like calories burned is also more suspect than most users realize. For a detailed discussion of this, see the book Unplugged by Brian MacKenzie, Dr. Andy Galpin, and Phil White.

But there are some exceptions. I know lots of people for which step trackers or pedometers work well. Especially if you don’t much like formal exercise, these can motivate you to get a good amount of activity accumulated during the day by “getting your steps in”.

And trackers like Whoop and its competitors, that give you recovery feedback to avoid overtraining are also quite useful, in my opinion. These are non-intrusive (the Whoop does not even have a display). You really only have to look at the result on your phone once a day, to decide if today is a good day to rest up, go easy, or go hard. You can “nerd out” on all kinds of graphs that show trends if you like, but it is not necessary.

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Waist Size vs. BMI

Dr. Greger at nutritionfacts.org just published an interesting video on this topic. It turns out being in what’s considered the normal (not overweight) bmi range is not enough to ensure health. The most dangerous type of fat is the visceral fat stored around abdominal organs, not the below the skin fat (subcutaneous, or the “inches you can pinch”). Having an excessive waist size is a probable indicator of too much visceral fat. There is a fascinating graph at 3:58 in the video that shows that all-cause mortality increases strongly for people with the same bmi as their waist size goes up. The graph is a little tricky to understand at first but Dr. Greger explains it well in the video:

This disproves the joke “I’m not overweight, I’m just too short”: Two people can have the same waist measurement, but the taller of the two has lower bmi, That is not necessarily healthier.

The good news is that the bad fat, visceral fat, is the first to go as we start eating healthier or getting more active. That is why people who try to get healthy can have their health markers improve significantly even if their weight doesn’t go down that much. Back in early 2017, I had high triglycerides, enough for my Doc to be concerned, even though I was only a bit overweight. I cleaned up my eating and all my blood markers, including triglycerides, improved dramatically. before losing a lot of weight (that improved too but it took longer).

At the other end of the spectrum, trim and muscular people can have high bmi values which is also misleading. It is currently recommended to measure both bmi (from your weight and height) and waist size for a better prediction of health. I measure both once a week to be on the safe side.

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Benefits of Inspirational Reading

Eknath Easwaran recommends inspirational reading as part of his 8-point plan for self-transformation in his book Passage Meditation. It is good for motivating us to stay “on the path”. He especially recommends it for ending the day before sleep. That works well for me. I drift off to sleep pretty quickly if the last thing I do is read something soothing and inspirational.

I also like to start my day with something inspirational to put me in a good mood for the day. I like to have inspirational feeds in my email inbox so there is something to read before I tackle “action items”. Some of my fellow bloggers I follow often have inspirational posts, including Snowbird In Training and Meditations in Motion, for which I am thankful. There are also many books and websites with 365 inspirational quotes. I use Eknath Easwaran’s book Words to Live By.

I’ve started trying to make my contribution by gathering inspiration from various places and posting something on the days when I don’t have other topics to post.

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Inspirational quote: On Forgiveness

Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us. Lewis Smedes (from https://thisdaysthought.org/ )


Many of us trip over this one. The main thing to remember is we are doing this for ourselves, not for the other person.

Some situations are obvious. I’ve carried around resentments for decades about people who I’m unlikely ever to see again, even against people who are deceased, like my Mom. Letting these go by forgiving the other person (which does not necessarily mean condoning their actions) is a huge relief, like a burden I no longer have to carry. Hindsight has also allows me to see that I have also not been blameless in some of these situations. If that causes me to feel guilt, it helps to let it go by forgiving myself.

It is trickier for more recent “wrongs”. Nobody wants to feel like a doormat, and there are times when we have to assert ourselves. How to be forgiving but still stand our ground when necessary has been covered by many spiritual teachers. There is a detailed discussion of it, for example, in Eknath Easwaran’s Passage Meditation. in the chapter on “putting others first”. There is also a good discussion of it from the standpoint of positive psychology here.

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Does Health Coaching Improve Client Wellness? What The Research Says

Certified health and wellness coaches are expert health advisors that use evidence-based methodologies to improve their clients’ health and wellness. Health coaching is a relatively new profession, and it was born out of the public health system’s need to have a more consistent, personal, and long-term presence in people’s lives. 

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Lemon Honey Basil Chicken

Perfect as a meal prep or as dinner, this Lemon Honey Basil Chicken recipe is so juicy and delicious. Quickly marinated and then oven baked, these chicken thighs are full of flavour and perfect for the whole family! Lemon Basil Honey Chicken This is one of my favourite marinades whenever I’m craving a summery meal….

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