What if we’ve been thinking about aging all wrong? What if it’s not just about living longer? Instead, have you thought about the quality of those later years—and what you can do today to make them happier and healthier? That’s the premise of Peter Attia’s New York Times–bestseller Outlive: The Science & Art of Longevity, which has been a smash since releasing this spring. With the wellness community buzzing over Attia’s game-changing ideas, we sat down with the Austin-based author, podcaster and MD to find out more about how we can put his approach into action today for a healthier tomorrow.
Attia hopes to inspire people with his unique approach to healthy aging, helping them identify the attributes that make up an individual’s healthspan, not just lifespan. “While lifespan refers to the full length of your life, healthspan refers to how much of that time is spent in good health—in other words, it is a metric of the quality of your life. Both matter,” he explains, adding that three components make up this concept of “healthspan”. First, says Attia, “There’s a cognitive component which really speaks to your ability to have processing speed, executive function, memories—things like that.” Next comes the physical component which encompasses strength and stamina, as well as your body’s “freedom from injury and pain. And lastly there’s the emotional component which is actually the only one of the three that does not predictably decline with age. So, just remember any time you’re thinking about longevity, on the one hand you have to think about the how-long-you-live piece, but don’t forget you also have to think about the quality of that life.”
Through his book Outlive, Attia takes this concept of healthspan and outlines the tools people need to take a proactive—and personalized—approach to their health in order to address the chronic diseases of aging, like heart disease and cancer, before they become a problem.“I want readers to free themselves from the never-ending cycle of quick fixes and rudderless tactics,” says Attia. “I want readers to gain ownership over their own longevity curve.” He also gives readers the practical steps they can take—starting with the importance of exercise, which he says is “the closest thing we have to a miracle drug when it comes to increasing length of life and enhancing quality of life.”
Of course, the Vuori community doesn’t need any convincing about the importance of exercise, but you’ll probably take heart knowing that your daily workout is a proven success-indicator of healthspan. Says Attia, “Cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max) and muscle strength are some of the best known predictors of lifespan and healthspan,” with the adoption of an above-average range of fitness corresponding to a massive leap in reduction of risk of mortality. Attia explains, “No other lifestyle factor or intervention has that kind of an effect – not even quitting smoking or lowering blood pressure.”
Outside of the importance of exercise, however, improving healthspan becomes a very nuanced conversation, with no one-size-fits-all regime. Attia encourages readers to understand their individual needs. “Adopting a healthy diet, getting quality sleep, avoiding excess stress, limiting alcohol – these things all matter, but the most important steps—and the specifics on how to accomplish them—really depend on the specific person in question,” he says. “To someone with cholesterol levels in the 99th percentile, starting lipid-lowering medications will matter much more than taking up marathon running.”
In his book, Attia outlines best practices like instilling a wind-down phase before sleep (yes, that means putting down the phone), getting plenty of protein in your diet and majorly limiting the intake of alcohol, which can disrupt sleep and has negative metabolic effects. “Improving metabolic health comes down to those same three factors of exercise, nutrition, and sleep,” he says, acknowledging that the connections between exercise, nutrition and metabolic health are somewhat intuitive. “The role of sleep, however, is perhaps less obvious but also critical, as poor sleep results in reductions in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, in addition to its negative impact on food choices and exercise performance.”
So even if you’re getting in your daily workout, you may still be at risk if your sleep is poor. We asked Attia what we might do to help us lock in those all-important 8 hours, and you might be surprised by some of his suggestions. “Most importantly, limit overall alcohol intake and avoid eating or consuming alcohol altogether within 3 hours of bed,” he advises. “Violating those rules can torpedo sleep quality, regardless of any other measures you might take. Likewise, stimulation in the hour before bed – whether in the form of exercise, work, phone use, or even brushing teeth – negatively impacts sleep, so a wind-down phase is critical before bed.” Attia urges people to keep the bedroom cool, which can help you stay asleep, or take supplements like magnesium and ashwagandha. You might also like using dry sauna an hour or so before bed.
In an era of biohacking, Attia hopes to encourage people that improving their healthspan is an accessible and sustainable concept, not just something achievable by obsessive data collecting. “At the other end of the spectrum, we have a more prevalent misconception – namely, the belief that your longevity is more or less set in stone and there is little you can do to alter it.” With a little work, he says, “We have staggering agency over” our longterm quality of life. “We have more control over our longevity and healthspan than many of us believe, but the path is rooted in action.” After all, he urges, “how you start isn’t nearly as important as adopting a mindset that the time to start is now.”