When Lifelong Learning Improves Your “Healthspan”

May 11, 2023

MPGL-Ladies-BikingStudies of aging make it clear that staying socially and physically active is key to extending your healthspan.

The American public has long been familiar with the term “lifespan” but a relatively new term — “healthspan” — has worked its way into the vernacular.

As Dr. Peter Attia, the author of the recent NY Times best-seller, Outlive, states, “Healthspan is a measure of how well, not necessarily long, you live. Further, let’s agree that one without the other—long lifespan with poor healthspan or short lifespan with rich healthspan—isn’t what most people want.”

Aging And The Biological Clock

“Back in the 1990s, nobody wanted to operate on the 75-plus year olds,” said Dr. Stephen Yang, thoracic surgeon and professor of surgery and medical oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I don’t really look at people based on their age. I said, ‘Well, if they’re physiologically OK they should be fine.’”

And his experience backed him up: the surgical outcomes for carefully selected older patients were just as good as their younger counterparts. That insight led the Wall Street Journal to dub him ‘surgeon to the seniors’ and helped spur a change in attitude towards older patients in other surgical fields.

Longevity-graphicMoorings Park Communities residents stay informed about cutting-edge advances in health science through award-winning Wellness Programs.

Dr. Yang was just one of a number of medical professionals from Johns Hopkins who presented the latest wisdom and ‘behind the scenes’ takes on the science of aging to audiences at Moorings Park Communities. Moorings Park Grande Lake resident Dave Rutstein helped pull together the informative session, which included insights on how to slow the aging process, how to be a good patient, and what the latest technologies are doing to change medicine.

Dave introduced Dr. Yang to the eager audience and was able to personally vouch for him. “Twenty two years ago, Dr. Stephen Yang saved my life,” he revealed.

It Takes Guts To Age Well

Dr. Susan Gearhart, associate professor for colorectal surgery, discussed the advances medicine has made in understanding how aging affects our gastrointestinal system.

“It’s been just in recent years that we’ve begun to recognize these changes,” she said, noting the discovery that there are over 100 trillion bacteria in our GI tract … which all need to be held at bay to prevent intruding into our organs and circulatory system.

“Over time, inflammation, organisms, metabolites and age-related changes can affect that beautiful border we have, known as our gastrointestinal tract barrier,” she explained.

When the GI tract barrier starts breaking down, it can cause ‘leaky gut syndrome.’ The resulting inflammation can render someone vulnerable to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers, she noted.

She discussed the good news of how people can help bolster their GI health through diet and exercise, and when tests like colonoscopies are — and aren’t — helpful.

“There is an effect of what we eat and how that can affect long term disease,” Dr. Gearhart said, pointing out how a diet with non-refined carbohydrates and mainly plant-based fats and proteins has been found to promote healthy aging.

Electronic Connections

Telemedicine has also been found to improve seniors’ lives, she said.

“Digital health technology has been helpful in connecting you to your providers more easily,” Dr. Gearhart explained. A study focusing on cancer treatment patients found telemedicine increased survival by five months and significantly improved their health-related quality of life.

Residents experienced the virtues of remote connection in ‘real time’ as Dr. Duke Cameron, professor of cardiothoracic surgery, was able to participate in the session despite being in Baltimore on ‘grandbaby watch.’ He reviewed the current state of treatment for heart disease, including bypass operations, medicines, transplants, and pacemakers.

Stenting — the implanting of a tiny mechanism inside an artery in the heart which has become partially blocked — has become an increasingly important tool in helping heart patients.

“Coronary stenting has absolutely revolutionized the treatment of coronary artery disease,” he explained. “What’s good about it is that it can often be done in less than an hour, the patient goes home the next day, and the results are really quite good.”

A Generous Community

“Presentations like these are really core to our mission of helping our residents age successfully,” says Tom Mann, Vice President and Senior Living Expert for Moorings Park Communities. “Our members are eager to learn more about the cutting-edge developments in medicine that can help them maintain their vitality as they go about their busy lives.

“We pride ourselves on being able to provide our residents with one of the best environments you can find anywhere that promotes healthy aging,” he adds. “Our knowledgeable and attentive wellness staff, state-of-the-art recreational and exercise facilities, concierge physicians, and the ready availability of important care services like assisted living and memory care (should a resident need them) are all part of our wellness picture. It’s why our communities repeatedly win awards for being among the best retirement destinations in the country.

“Our partnership with Johns Hopkins is an important piece of the picture,” he continues. “We’re truly blessed to have residents like John and Connie Rekoske, who are generously supporting the Johns Hopkins/Moorings Park Geriatric Fellowship, something which is unique in the industry.”

The latest recipient of that fellowship, Dr. Sana Durrani, led off the symposium with a brief introduction.

An Important Parting Note

Lillie Shockney, MAS, gave the final presentation of the session. She reviewed the current state of geriatric medicine regarding bone health, male and female reproductive health, and the best characteristics of patients and doctors in medical interactions. She also discussed the seven vital conditions to age well (humane housing, belonging, learning, thriving in natural world, meaningful work and wealth, health and safety, and reliable transportation).

She concluded the program with advice that no doubt resonated with many members of the Moorings Park community: “Don’t postpone joy.”

The full presentation can be seen here.

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