Healthspan Happenings: #10YearChallenge, Stair-Stepping, and Walks in the Park

stairs greenery

Welcome back to Healthspan Happenings, our weekly rundown of what’s going on in the world of longevity research and the science of aging. This week, we’re talking about the 10-year challenge, stair-stepping your way to a longer life, and life-extending potential of public green spaces.

 

If you’ve aged like a fine wine…

 

You probably participated in the 10-year challenge on Facebook. At the beginning of 2019, thousands of Facebook users posted side-by-side photos of themselves from 2009 and 2019 in a viral trend known as #10YearChallenge or #HowHardDidAgingHitYou. While this might be a fun way to show off your sartorial improvements, the phenomenon also reveals a couple of things about aging in the era of social media: 1) the rate of aging is slowing, but 2) people still have largely negative feelings towards aging.

People living today (as a whole) are aging slower than their forebears, suggests a recent study. A number of factors impact how quickly our bodies deteriorate due to age, including genetics, telomere length, lifestyle choices and even socioeconomic status. Even if you’re not proud of your 2019 profile photo, you should note that 50-year-olds today look much different than 50-year-olds in 2009.

While we might be aging slower, the 10-year challenge also highlights rampant ageism. The question “How hard did aging hit you?” ultimately imagines aging as a roundhouse kick. An enemy—we either beat it or it beats us. Advocates of healthy aging note two major problems. This viral trend either promotes youthfulness or denounces older adults who don’t conform to images of “graceful aging.”

 

If you find yourself just shy of your daily steps…

 

Take the stairs more often. Spending just a few minutes walking up or down staircases can improve your cardiovascular health, says a recent study. Does your job keep you sitting down all day? Here’s a tip. Use some of your breaks to take some steps. They’ll increase your overall fitness and maybe even your longevity.

Other studies have shown how brief spurts of vigorous activity (about 10 minutes) could improve fitness. However, this study investigates even shorter periods of time. They call these short bursts of physical activity exercise snacks. These exercise snacks involved quickly climbing three flights of stairs and resting for 1-4 hours. The participants climbed this stairwell three times a day, three days each week (for a total of nine exercise snacks per week). After six weeks, researchers noticed that these dedicated stair-climbers had improved both their fitness and their strength.

 

If you enjoy long walks in the park…

 

You could be traipsing into a longer life. Living in an environment with abundant greenery could increase human lifespan, according to a collaborative study between Duke University and Duke Kunshan University. People who live nearer to green spaces in China typically experienced longer lives than those who lived farther away from greenery.

Over the past 50 years or so, health policymakers and urban planners have sought to collaborate to design healthier cities. This research reminds us that longevity is not just about how we live but also where we live. The environment plays a significant role in human healthspan just like we play a role in the health of the natural world. This study begs the question: How can we design our environments for a healthier future?