Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Staying Alive

Last week’s “Finding Meaning” introduced Annlia Paganini-Hill, a biostatistician epidemiologist, and student of aging. I was intrigued that she’s a principal investigator for USC’s Leisure World Cohort Study, which has followed nearly 14,000 seniors since 1981. Annlia has devoted her career to the study of longevity, is aging quite well herself, and I promised a follow-up on what this longtime Laguna girl learned. Here are her top five findings to improve longevity:

Don’t smoke; if you do, stop. It took a generation to prove the harmfulness of smoking but the habit has since declined to 15.5 percent of adults, per the CDC. That means 38 million are still doing it, though it’s now illegal in Laguna Beach except in your car or home.

Be physically active; even a little helps. The Hills practice what she preaches. If you visit their home you’ll find exercise equipment in the living area. If you want to make an appointment you’ll have to work around what seemed to be long daily walks.

Keep a healthy weight, not too fat, especially in young adulthood, and not too thin. Americans had a weight gain surge in the ‘80s, coincident with the introduction of high fructose corn syrup. Fortunately, this is a Laguna strength; our locals maintain a healthier weight than anywhere else I visit. My own practice is to eat real food and minimize food-like products (almost anything that comes packaged). Real foods—fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes—are high in nutrients but low in calories.

Brush and floss. There’s a strong connection between good teeth and good health. Another unfortunate consequence of the coronavirus is we’re all likely behind on dentist visits. (I just made an appointment with Dr. Stan Kimball.)

Engage in social and productive activities. I presumed that Annlia was retired but she actually still works on the Leisure World study. From nearly 14,000 in 1981, the cohort has dwindled to 140 survivors today but a new study of the 90+ was started. The 90+ findings, though not yet termed conclusive, show a significant dementia protection from being engaged in something. It doesn’t have to be physical; social or mental activity is good and most effective if for three or more hours daily.

My Mom is over 100 years old, and though frail, still has her projects. She is a child of the Kodak era, has thousands of pictures, and is busy sorting them for each of the 10 children she reared into binders featuring the child. Her doctor suggested she stop riding her stationary bicycle due to a heart condition but she didn’t like the effects of less exercise and has started riding again. The first day she only lasted a minute but at last report she’s up to eight minutes.

I’m fascinated with the work of Dr. Paganini-Hill on healthy lifestyles for longevity. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]

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