Cardiologist says a healthy life is more important than a long life; Here are his top recommendations
By Andrea Michelson
Dr. Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Medicine and former president of the American Heart Association, is not interested in living longer just for the sake of it.
“I’m less interested in the lifespan and more interested in the healthspan,” he told Insider.
While lifespan simply sums up how many years a person has been on this planet, healthspan is a better measure of productivity — “and just enjoying life, if you’re healthy and you can do the things that bring joy to you,” Yancy said.
In fact, Yancy believes that many of the harms that come with growing older can be prevented, or delayed.
“Whether it’s arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, cognitive dysfunction, certain cancers — everything we fear is driven largely by age,” he continued. “That age is not an inevitability, but in fact, it is something that we can control and we can manage, it’s a fascinating concept.”
Yancy’s academic focus includes heart failure, which is the leading cause of hospitalization in older adults, and how age and race affect individual health risks. Slowing the pace of aging could have great implications for cardiology outcomes, as age is a known risk factor.
Here are three of Yancy’s top tips for aging better and preventing age-related disease.
Practice mindful eating
Yancy said the best way to adapt your lifestyle for better aging is to eat smaller portions and fewer meals. In many communities where people live to be 100 years old, this is achieved through a plant-based diet and the “80% rule,” or eating a little less than what you need to feel full.
In a study recently published in Nature Aging, researchers found that people who cut their caloric intake by about 12% saw a small but significant change in their trajectory of aging, as measured by DNA markers that increase as we age.
More research is needed to understand what forms of caloric restriction work best; Yancy said it’s not clear whether intermittent fasting would have the same effect as a gradual caloric cutback.
In addition, dieting can be a slippery slope that can lead to dangerous eating disorders — and being underweight is not actually a predictor of good health, especially for older adults.
For now, mindful eating seems to be the way to go: Stop eating when you feel you’ve had enough, rather than continuing to snack socially or eating to clear your plate, Yancy said.
Drink less alcohol
Drinking alcohol has been linked to signs of biological aging, especially in the brain.
Researchers at Oxford Population Health confirmed that even moderate drinking has the potential to age your brain over time. The more the individuals in the study reported drinking, the greater the loss of brain volume, which could have a cognitive effect.
Although people with long lifespans have gotten away with moderate drinking in the past, Yancy recommends at least cutting down your alcohol intake. Tobacco should be eliminated entirely, he said — and that includes secondhand smoke.
Make one new friend
Yancy said the medical literature is also clear on the importance of social networks to combat loneliness in old age.
“Loneliness is associated with accelerated aging and earlier demise,” he said.
Recently, a three-generation study of adult happiness conducted at Harvard found that people with strong social connections had a lower risk of dying at any age compared to those without social ties. Those who self-identified as having happy relationships also seemed to weather the aches and pains of getting older better.
While loneliness is a complicated factor to measure in terms of biology, Yancy said “the easy way to think about this is, make certain you’ve got a good collection of friends and are making new friends.”