How to Support Longevity, According to a Hudson Valley Expert

Want to support longevity? A Hudson Valley pro shares best practices when it comes to aging well and remaining functional.

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The new, fast-growing field of longevity medicine is based on the premise that many diseases associated with aging are preventable and treatable, allowing people to remain intact and functional for as many years as possible. We spoke with Sheryl Leventhal, M.D., founder of Hudson Valley Longevity Medicine in Valley Cottage, to learn the prescription.

Do you want to live to be 100? Or beyond? Most people would say absolutely not, because they envision being sick, incapacitated, and unable to take care of themselves. But what if you could live to a ripe, old age disease free, reasonably mobile, and with your wits about you? That’s the focus and goal of longevity medicine, an emerging practice based on preventing chronic illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, arthritis, and dementia that cause the body to fall apart and make aging miserable.

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Dr. Leventhal
Dr. Leventhal. Photo courtesy of Sheryl Leventhal.

“The average American today lives to 77 or 78, depending on which statistic you read, but average functional wellness is only until about age 66,” explains Dr. Leventhal. “That’s at least 11 years during which people are progressively unable to be independent, manage their own affairs, travel—so we’re just trying to push that forward. Most of us in longevity medicine are not talking about immortality or living to 150, we’re just trying to get rid of the last decade of disability and deterioration that is so common.”

The key is to not wait until your health is on the downslide to make constructive lifestyle improvements. “I love working with people in their 50s and 60s because their kids are usually independent or out of the house so they’re able to focus on themselves and make meaningful changes to their routines for eating well, exercising, sleeping, and dealing with stress.”

In fact, fitness, diet, sleep, and stress are the four essential areas to pay attention to if you want to be healthy for as long as possible. Lack of exercise and loss of muscle are a huge part of aging poorly according to Dr. Leventhal, who believes weight training is critically important for everyone. “We have control over our fitness. Work on your muscle mass and mobility. When muscle health deteriorates it negatively affects metabolic health.”

Dr. Leventhal, who’s in her 60s, says that the older she gets, the more intensely she focuses on exercise. “I work out five to six days a week: I train with a strength trainer twice a week for 45 minutes, I do high intensity interval training usually twice a week, once typically at a local Orangetheory studio and once on my own using a heartrate monitor. And then once or twice a week, I’ll do something that’s lower intensity like a long walk or a spin bike session. Exercise is my first priority every day. It’s a job!”

Eating well is a must, too. Dr. Leventhal advises patients not only on what to eat, but when to eat. She advocates time-restricted eating—meaning having your first meal of the day around 9 a.m. and dinner at 6–7 p.m. “This isn’t a fad, it’s how our grandparents ate,” she says, adding that for a non-overweight person, sticking to an eating window of about 8–10 hours is best for metabolic health. Other diet musts: avoiding ultra-processed foods (including seed oils) and eating organic whenever possible. “We’re exposed to a lot more chemicals than our parents and grandparents were—heavy metals, chemicals like PFOAs. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) on hundreds of people, and has found over 400 different chemicals consistently stored in Americans.” Check out the EWG website for their annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” to learn which conventionally grown produce contains the most toxins (i.e., the ones you should absolutely buy organic) and items you can get away with purchasing non-organic. This year, strawberries and spinach lead the “dirty dozen” list (visit ewg.org to learn more).

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Most general practitioners, when faced with patients who are overweight and sedentary (which is most of the American population) tell them to eat better and move more. But that’s only half of the equation when it comes to healthy aging. “Sleep is noncontroversial,” says Dr. Leventhal. “During deep sleep we detoxify our brain and break down amyloid (abnormal protein buildup). The amount of deep sleep we get correlates to quality of life and good cognitive aging. A lot of people think they sleep well, and say they can get through the day, but when you measure their deep sleep, it’s not where it needs to be. I’m big on measuring, so we have patients do home sleep studies or buy Oura rings and track their sleep for a period of time to get a sense of what their deep sleep looks like.” REM, or dream sleep, is important too and can also be tracked with an Oura ring. Leventhal advises patients to aim for at least 8 hours of sleep a night (she does best with 8 ½) including an hour of deep sleep.

Finally, get a handle on stress. “Life today is very busy and complicated, there’s a lot of stimulation, a lot of communication, and it’s very easy for things to get out of hand,” says Dr. Leventhal. “But stress and unresolved trauma contribute to illness and increased morbidity and mortality. Stress makes you sick.” Dr. Leventhal believes that instead of trying to manage stress, which implies waiting for something bad to happen and then attempting to calm your body into not reacting to it, we should focus on building resilience. “Things are always going to happen to you or to your family that aren’t good—issues with parents, children, jobs, finances. Cars break down, houses leak—you can’t live a life and not expect stress.” Building resilience is different for everyone, but it should involve something that keeps you grounded, calm, and nourished. For some people that may be regular massages, for others its gardening, meditating, or going to classical music concerts.

There’s strong interest from the baby boomer generation that we don’t want the last decade of our life to look like our parent’s.

Dr. Leventhal, who spent 13 years practicing hematology oncology, and another decade and a half specializing in functional medicine, says the new field of longevity medicine is exploding. “We’re at the intersection of a lot of new scientific discoveries—artificial intelligence has made it possible to look at very large data sets and make predictions. We’re also an aging population and we can’t keep going the way we are going; we can’t afford the medical care that we’ll need and there’s strong interest from the baby boomer generation that we don’t want the last decade of our life to look like our parent’s. Almost all the things that plague us are made worse or more frequent by aging and there’s a desire to have a different and improved experience.”

She adds that a longevity specialist doesn’t take the place of your regular doctor. It’s for people who want data that goes beyond annual bloodwork, and an actionable plan to maximize their health and quality of life. “My goal is to wake people up and get them on a better trajectory—to give them a bit of motivation, a bit of science, to take a harder but more rewarding path.”

Learn More

Read

Outlive
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Leventhal.

The new book Outlive by Peter Attia, M.D. is a New York Times bestseller.

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Listen

Lifespan
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Leventhal.
Matt Walker
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Leventhal.

Dr. Leventhal recommends two podcasts: “Lifespan” with David Sinclair, Ph.D., and “The Matt Walker Podcast.”

Watch

Human Longevity
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Leventhal.

Learn from the documentaries “The Human Longevity Project” and “Supernatural Breathing” with Joe Dispenza.

Tech Recs

An Oura ring is great for tracking sleep and figuring out whether you’re getting optimal amounts of deep and REM sleep; it’s also important to have a smartwatch that monitors your heart rate (Dr. Leventhal uses the Garmin Venu).

Oura Ring
Adobe Stock

A Typical Day Of Healthy Eating for Dr. Leventhal

cup of coffee
Adobe Stock / Nitr

7 A.M.

Wake up and have coffee—either black or with 2 teaspoons of grass-fed half and half.

Leventhal running shoes
Adobe Stock / Denis Rozhnovsky

9 A.M.

Exercise for 45 minutes.

10 A.M.

Breakfast: 2 eggs and a ½ cup egg whites, plus 1 cup of veggies (radicchio, onion, red pepper, mushrooms) cooked with olive oil; 1/4 avocado, 1 ounce of Jarlsberg Lite cheese, and 10 almonds.

Yogurt snack
Adobe Stock / Yusuf

1–2 P.M.

Lunch: Siggi’s yogurt with 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds and ½ cup of blueberries.

Salmon dinner to support longevity
Adobe Stock / Weyo

6:30 P.M.

Dinner: 6 ounces of fish, 2–3 cups of salad with 10–15 veggies, ½ sweet potato, zucchini, and onion sautéed in olive oil.

glass of wine to support longevity
Adobe Stock / Julian Rogavnati

Wine

2 glasses per week.

Related: 5 Healthy Breakfast Options to Start Your Day in the Hudson Valley

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