The Longevity Project, Part 2: Move often and eat more plants
September 5, 2018
Editor's note: This is the second installment in a four-part series on aging in Routt County with a focus on the Blue Zone principles for living a long and healthy life.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Don Gore, 87, plans to continue working as a Steamboat Resort ski instructor at least until he is 100, and he hopes to be skiing even longer.
There's a man on the East Coast who is still skiing at 104, Gore has heard, and he’s determined to beat that record.
Since Gore first tried skiing in 1955, it's all he ever wanted to do. He's been working full-time on the mountain for 28 years, after moving here from a ski resort in Washington where he worked for 25 years.
At a glance
Nine healthy lifestyle habits shared by people who've lived the longest.
Move naturally: The world's longest-living people don't have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
Purpose: Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
Down shift: Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease.
80 percent rule: Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full. Eat your smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then don't eat for the rest of the day.
Plant slant: Beans are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.
Wine at 5: Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. Drink one to two glasses per day with friends and/or with food.
Belong: Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.
Loved ones first: Successful centenarians put their families first.
Right tribe: The social networks of long-living people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
Gore loves sharing his passion for skiing by teaching others. He can teach any level but specializes in adult beginners. And if anyone thinks they are too old to learn or too old to ski, "Tell them to ask for Don Gore," he advises.
During peak season, Gore works seven days a week. When he has free time, he skis, enjoying all terrain, but especially bumps and trees.
"I can't stop," he said. "Ever. The thrill stays. I love the challenge. It's between the hill and myself — not trying to conquer the mountain but working with the mountain."
To maximize his skiing aptitude, Gore lifts weights three times a week and jogs regularly.
It’s not unusual to see Yampa Valley residents into their 80s, and even 90s, swimming, skiing, playing tennis and pickleball and cycling.
Routt County ranks third in the state in terms of health factors, according to a 2018 County Health Rankings Report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Health factors look at behaviors such as tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity. Factors also include education, employment, income, family and social support and community safety, as well as air and water quality, housing and transit.
Access to health care and quality of care are also part of the equation. According to the Colorado Health Institute’s “2017 Access to Care Index,” Routt County ranked among the top 10 counties in the state in those categories.
In terms of the 2018 County Health Ranking's health outcomes, which focus on how long people live and how healthy they feel, Routt County comes in at No. 10.
And though Steamboat Springs may be home to an inspiring abundance of over-75, high-intensity athletes, Blue Zone research shows that incorporation of any kind of regular physical movement into daily life is highly beneficial.
The Blue Zone project, spearheaded by National Geographic and author and explorer Dan Buettner, discovered the five locations on the planet where people are living the longest and healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.
All of those communities have lifestyles which, on average, nudge residents into physical movement every 20 minutes, said Tony Buettner, brother of Dan Buettner and senior vice president of business development for Blue Zones, LLC. They aren’t running marathons or going to the gym, he said, they’re just moving as a regular part of their day.
Every morning outside Casey's Pond senior living community, a group of residents walk around the pond, some of them extending their jaunt onto the Yampa River Core Trail.
"It's important for balance, strength and to feel good," said Karen Street, walking at a fast clip ahead of the rest of the group. "If you don't use it, you lose it."
Street, 83, has battled rheumatoid arthritis for more than 40 years and had a hip replacement.
"I realized if I didn't keep active, I'd wind up in a wheelchair,” she said. “And that's not an option."
If you go
FREE “The Blue Zones” book club discussion
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18
Where: Off the Beaten Path, 68 Ninth St.
FREE open house with book spokesman Tony Buettner
When: 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21
Where: Casey’s Pond, 2855 Owl Hoot Trail
The Longevity Project panel and Buettner keynote
When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21
Where: Allbright Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College, 1275 Crawford Ave.
Tickets: $25 at bit.ly/longevity2018
Brought to you by Casey’s Pond.
At 96, Fran Gold — grandmother of Olympic bronze medalist Arielle Gold — takes her morning walk with the assistance of a walker. When the weather is bad, she does laps inside Casey's Pond.
"I've always walked," she said, and still rarely misses a day.
For 87-year-old resident Jim Rabbitt daily outings with his walker have become just as enjoyable for the social aspect as the exercise.
"I've met all types," he said.
He's also been invited into homes for dinner and out to movies. But the best part, he said, are the kisses.
"I'm up to six kisses," Rabbitt said on the path he's renamed "Lothario Lane." "Being a kiss recipient is major."
After the morning walk, Colleen Perkins teaches an exercise class. Much of it is done from chairs, using balls, weights and bands to work out every muscle.
"We really have fun in the classes," she said, "and don't take it too seriously."
Perkins also leads a billiards club and fishing excursions.
Nearby, The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs is a very popular spot for golden-age athletes.
"We moved to Steamboat deliberately for the tennis," said 79-year-old Bert Halberstadt.
His doctor advised he choose between tennis and skiing, and tennis was an easy choice, he said. Halberstadt plays three times a week and calls tennis one of his secrets to longevity, a list that also includes "eating well, sex and family."
Anita Beede, 76, plays tennis regularly and cannot say enough good things about the center, from the people who run it to those who play there. For her, it’s about "exercise and friends. Friends first."
A significant part of the right tribe Blue Zone secret to longevity is the contagious nature of healthy habits, Tony Buettner said. Research shows obesity, smoking, loneliness and happiness are contagious. Being encouraged by friends to share a healthy meal or spend a day skiing or hiking plays a large role in sustaining a longevity-promoting lifestyle.
In the Blue Zone pilot town of Albert Lea, Minnesota, community walking groups were formed to both build friendships between like-minded individuals and encourage regular exercise. After five years, walking had increased by 70 percent, participants lost weight and a majority of the groups continued meeting.
Redesigning the infrastructure of communities to favor pedestrians over cars — making bicycle and foot transportation the easy, safe and enjoyable option — is a central part of the effort to recreate Blue Zones like Albert Lea across the U.S.
According to an American Cancer Society study, older adults who walked six hours a week had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer than those who were not active. Those walking two hours a week also began to reduce the risk of disease.
All five Blue Zones are located where there is a lot of hilly terrain — enhancing that daily movement whether herding goats, tilling crops or going to visit friends.
Frank Dolman, 75, has always made walking a part of his daily life.
When he was working in an office, he walked the dog two miles before work and was part of a group that walked four miles at lunch. Then he walked four miles after work. Dolman moved to Steamboat to work as a ski patrolman and has since retired.
Today, he pairs twice-weekly five-mile-round-trip walks with NPR's Morning Edition. He also bikes twice a week and plays pickleball three times a week. Before walking and biking, he spends an hour at the gym — seven days a week.
"I have my schedule,” he said. “I don't even have to think about it."
In terms of diet, Dolman also uses a regimented schedule to limit unhealthy foods.
He and his wife avoid most processed and fast food and eat fish, chicken and pork each once a week. Saturdays are the reward night, reserved for steak and ice cream.
"It doesn't feel like a diet," he said. "It is a lifestyle."
In a largely carnivorous culture, one of the most challenging of the nine Blue Zone secrets is the 95 percent plant-based diet.
In the five zones, meat — mostly pork — is eaten on average five times a month. And portions are small.
"Beans are the cornerstone in every Blue Zone diet," Buettner said. “They are cheap, easy to make, good for you and filling."
The primary beans eaten in the five zones are black beans, lentils, garbanzos, white beans and soy beans. Leafy greens, tubers, seasonal fruits and vegetables and whole grains are also a big part of the daily intake.
But don’t let the idea of a 95 percent plant-based diet scare you away from making small changes, said Laura Stout, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Small steps toward shifting your diet by incorporating more plants and less meat is beneficial and a good place to start, she said.
If you eat meat three times a day, try reducing that to once a day, Stout advised. If you eat meat seven days a week, try cutting that to four or five. When you do eat meat, buy more on the "free range, less processed" side, she said.
And reduce the portion size. Think of it more as a garnish, while making the portions of beans, veggies and whole grains larger.
Some of Stout's favorite plants are rainbow chard, leeks and garlic.
If beans aren’t agreeing with the digestive system, make sure they are rinsed or soaked before cooking, chew them well and be patient, she said. It only takes the body a few weeks to adapt to beans if they are introduced slowly in small amounts.
With every dish, suggested Stout, proportionally increase the good stuff. Make pasta meals half noodles and half vegetables. If scrambling eggs for breakfast, add a bunch of leftover veggies from the fridge and add plenty of berries and nuts to a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast.
And it's easy to pack a ton of veggies, greens and beans into a soup, she said, which also can be relatively easy to prepare, especially with all the pre-chopped vegetables available in the grocery store. And as a bonus to still enjoy some savory meat flavor, you can start out with a stock made from beef marrow bones.
In terms of dairy products and eggs, the Blue Zone diets include them but in limited amounts. Stout suggests varying it up — use milk but also try soy or almond milk. You don't have to give up butter, she said, but try out some different oils, like coconut, walnut, sesame and, of course, olive.
Stout also advocates cooking and eating as an experience.
“Slow down," she said. "Make it an event. Enjoy the company and conversation."
And teach healthy and communal cooking and eating habits early, she suggested. Stout is passionate about using the Blue Zone research in her work, and she especially appreciates the interconnectedness of nutrition to lifestyle and community.
At Casey's Pond, registered dietician Amber Spivey also integrates the Blue Zone concepts into her menu planning and monthly wellness talks.
"We always offer choices and familiar comfort food," she said. "Because at the end of the day, this is home."
With various cooking and educational programs, Spivey seeks to make sure her diners are informed about those choices. She's gone out on a limb with some menu items, like a tomato and watermelon salad with feta and tofu stir fry, which turned out to be surprisingly well received by the residents.
If limiting meat — and obviously sugar — is hard to swallow, one of the nine Blue Zone secrets gives good reason to celebrate. Except for the Seventh Day Adventists in California, the Blue Zone communities drink red wine daily.
Those who drink in moderation — one to three glasses a day, and no, they can’t be all be saved up for Friday — tend to outlive those who don’t. Also key is the habit of enjoying the wine with food and friends.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from both the Blue Zone centenarians and the unusually active Yampa Valley golden-agers are diet and exercise habits viewed not as work, punishment or onerous, but rather as an ingrained part of the daily routine.
For Blue Zone recipes go to BlueZones.com/recipes.
Part 3 in The Longevity Project series will appear in the Sept. 13 edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today.