3 Pillars of Longevity, According to a Doctor—And How Exercise Helps

The 3 Pillars of Longevity

When it comes to working out, we all have our own why.” Maybe we want to feel more energized, support our mental health, get strong, change our body composition, or manage our weight. Some of us are motivated by training for specific goals, like running a marathon or an adventurous hike. But one thing most of us don’t consider when turning to exercise? Its profound ability to boost our longevity and add more healthy years to our lives. 

Recent research highlighting the impact of exercise on longevity—aka a long life—is mounting. One review identified that staying active was associated with a 40% lower mortality rate (that’s an estimated 4 more years of life, and possibly up to 7+), while another study found it can slow aging by 10 years. The right type and balance of exercise can cut the risk of premature death by up to 70 percent. And new research from the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that even as few as 3,967 daily steps can reduce your risk of dying from any cause.

To unpack exactly how exercise works to boost your healthspan and learn about healthy aging, we tapped Dr. Shoma Datta-Thomas, MD FACOG and Head of Wellness of Modern Age, the first longevity-focused health clinic designed to proactively slow down aging. 

“Movement and exercise are maybe the most powerful daily tools we have for helping our bodies work, optimizing our energy, and improving our lived experience,” explains Dr. Datta. Here, she walks us through three of the key pillars that impact our longevity—bone density, metabolism, and hormone health—plus shares some strategies for tending to them. From exercise to diet and lifestyle, learn what makes the biggest difference. 

Expert spotlight

An OBGYN by trade, Dr. Datta completed her residency training at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute and has practiced for over 15 years with a focus on robotic surgery. She brings elements of the holistic model and functional medicine into her approach to supporting aging and longevity. 

Why Longevity Matters

“Longevity is a formal term for what we all want—a long, happy, healthy life,” says Dr. Datta. 

While modern medicine has done a great job of extending our average lifespan, those extended years aren’t always our healthiest. Put simply, investing in practices that improve your longevity boosts your healthspan—the number of years you’re in good health. 

“A large population will develop chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cholesterol. These cases can’t all be prevented entirely, but we can start working on them long before they become issues,” she explains. Diet, movement, stress management, and sleep are four vital, interconnected factors that can positively affect the pillars of longevity covered below. 

“Health is something we have to be aware of early on; we can’t just wait until something breaks,” Dr. Datta emphasizes. Education is often the best starting point, so to empower your longevity journey, obé launched a 3-part Mat Chat series with Dr. Datta and instructor Eve C. to dive into each of the pillars below. 

1. Bone Density and Longevity: Strength Training Is the Secret Ingredient

PSA: Women start losing bone faster than men. Bone mass in women usually reaches its max between age 25 and 30, then gradually declines. In general, women experience a rapid episode of microscopic bone loss around age 50 (or whenever you have your last period). That trend settles down before picking up again after 65, Dr. Datta explains. 

Down the line, osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and increases their risk of breaking, is 4 times more likely to develop in women (blame falling estrogen levels post-menopause). Hip fractures are especially common and can lead to repeat musculoskeletal injuries or secondary issues like limited mobility, says Dr. Datta. 

While our workout habits often focus on sculpting our muscles (ahem, glutes and core), investing in your bone health now can drastically improve your quality of life as you age. “I don’t think we take enough advantage of weight training and strength plus resistance work,” says Dr. Datta. 

Indeed, numerous studies have demonstrated that weight-bearing exercise and resistance training can help slow bone loss—plus build bone. By putting stress on your bones, which stimulates extra deposits of calcium and bone-forming cells, weight-bearing workouts (like Strength and Power obé classes) can increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The cherry on top: a new study found the largest reduction in mortality corresponded with 30 to 60 minutes of weekly strength training. 

Looking for a golden rule? According to recent research, you can successfully boost bone density with as little as 12-20 minutes of weight-bearing exercise 3 times a week. “Think of any time you’re opposing gravity. Even options like focused walks, runs, yoga, and tai chi can benefit bone health. It doesn’t just need to be high-intensity exercise,” adds Dr. Datta. 

In addition to movement, meeting your calcium and vitamin D needs (two micronutrients that work together to build strong bones), sticking to a high-protein diet, and cutting smoking all make a big difference. 

Typically, a bone density test is recommended for women 65 or older, but Dr. Datta says testing (included in Modern Age’s Aging Wellness Assessment!) can be beneficial earlier on to establish a baseline, especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis or chronic disease. For a deeper dive, enjoy this informative Stretch and Chat with Dr. Datta and Eve C. 

2. Metabolism and Longevity: More Than Weight Management

What comes to mind when you think of metabolism? Most likely, our minds jump to calorie burning and weight management. But, Dr. Datta explains metabolism health is so much more complex. “There are so many layers of chemical processes happening. It’s a well-orchestrated collection involving insulin, stress hormones, thyroid, sex hormones, and more.” 

To break it down, our metabolisms convert food into usable energy through nutrient sensing and mitochondrial function (the nitty gritty from Modern Age, here). After peaking at age 1, our metabolism function declines until age 20, stabilizes, then drops again after 60, according to a recent paper

As we age, cellular changes can impact how smoothly our metabolism runs. When nutrient-sensing functions are impaired, new issues like insulin resistance, weight gain, or chronic inflammation can creep in. On the other hand, health problems like cardiovascular and neurodivergent diseases or cancer can stem from mitochondrial dysfunction. 

So, how can we support our metabolism through natural aging and improve longevity? First, mindset is everything, says Dr. Datta. Acknowledging the changes but not letting hopelessness take over can set you to manage them successfully. Second, because metabolism is so complex, finding the right clinician team can help you pinpoint the root cause. 

Still, there are natural progressions that generally happen to everyone with age—changes we can all get ahead of. One example: insulin sensitivity. As women experience hormonal transitions, insulin sensitivity changes mean we become less efficient at managing blood sugar and processing calories. This can lead to diabetes, changes in heart health and cholesterol, and weight gain or difficulty managing it. 

Here’s where preemptive movement and lifestyle changes can come in. On the nutrition front, Dr. Datta recommends prioritizing protein intake (remember, protein comes in many forms!), embracing fiber-rich foods, and expanding your eating window to enjoy full meals and snacks as needed throughout your day. 

“Exercise is also a fantastic way of lining up all of the processes that go into metabolism correctly,” says Dr. Datta—and that includes stabilizing blood sugar. Not only does being active increase insulin sensitivity in general, but it can lower blood glucose up to 24 hours post-workout. Heading for a casual, 10-15 minute walk post-mealtime (how European!) is a great hack for controlling blood sugar spikes. And once again, an abundance of research emphasizes that strength training is a particularly potent counterbalance to blood sugar changes due to the way it supports muscle metabolism. 

For more metabolism tips (and a mini movement break), listen in to Dr. Datta and Eve’s Mat Chat. 

3. Hormone Health and Longevity: It’s an Ecosystem

While sex hormones (think: estrogen or testosterone) often get the most attention, our bodies maintain an ecosystem of over 50 different hormones. From stress hormones (hey, cortisol) and sleep hormones to ones that regulate your menstrual cycle or appetite, we want all the knobs and levers going off when they should. 

It’s no secret that our hormone levels fluctuate and change as we age. One familiar example? The perimenopause transition. Starting around our late 40s, there’s a natural drift in how much estrogen the ovaries produce, which also leads to changes in testosterone and progesterone. In those perimenopause years, women will begin to lose more natural muscle and bone density due to hormonal changes. P.S. Though it’s not often discussed, healthy testosterone levels in women are essential for weight management, body composition, sexual function, cognitive sharpness, and mood, says Dr. Datta.

In general, irisin, testosterone, estrogen, and human growth hormone (HGH) are all vital hormones with a direct connection to exercise. The TL;DR is that your workout can stimulate the production of ones that naturally begin to decline while balancing out others like estrogen, adrenaline, or cortisol. 

During menopause, “exercise will even out some of that estrogen rollercoaster ride, especially its impact on mood hormones,” says Dr. Datta. “Remember that muscle is a metabolic tool. Using all the hormone receptors and anti-inflammatory markers in the muscle can also be optimized with diet and working out.” Prioritizing sleep so your cells can repair and replenish and managing stress with restorative practices like meditation or breathwork are also beneficial lifestyle adjustments for hormone health. 

If you’re feeling frustrated by changes in your body composition—a possible reaction to changes in insulin, stress hormones, or sex hormones—Dr. Datta also emphasizes the importance of a diverse movement routine. “Don’t just stick to one genre of exercise or one specific class. Varying your workouts will help accommodate those physiological changes.”

Ready to learn more about hormone health and longevity? Listen in on this Mat Chat.

Aging and Mindset

The best starting place for all of us as we begin our longevity journey: mindset. “We can’t see aging as a bad thing,” says Dr. Datta. New data from a group at Yale showed you can prolong your life by up to seven years just by having a positive attitude about aging, she added. 

“There’s your biological age, but there’s also your subjective age—how you’re feeling about going through aging. Our attitude can be so empowering, or it can be a huge detractor. We’re all aging, so how do we frame it positively? These daily tools—exercise, diet, lifestyle—they’re here to serve you.” 

In essence, a lot more is up to you than you may think. And if you don’t know where to start, start small. Breaking up our sedentary lifestyles is the main ingredient to living healthier, longer lives. Even 10-15 minutes of daily movement can start your positive shift. 

Inspired to start your longevity journey? obé members can enjoy 20% off any Modern Age Treatment with code MAxOBE20.

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  • Kseniya Sovenko

    A former pro ballroom dancer, Kseniya began her fitness journey at age 5. Over the years, she’s supplemented her training with everything in the boutique fitness scene—from vigorous Bikram Yoga and Pilates reformer classes to weekly HIIT, Metcon, and Tabata workouts, Muay Thai, strength training, and more. Kseniya graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in journalism and sociology. You can find her work in The Guardian, Capitol Hill Times, The Seattle Globalist, and more.

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