Q&A with Sue and SeAnne
Why and how did you get into the healthy aging space?
We (Sue Stillman Linja and SeAnne Safaii-Waite) are both registered dietitians, and have an enthusiastic interest in the effect of diet on chronic disease prevention. Sue is a specialist in gerontology and has worked with the elderly for over 30 years- realizing early in her career the negative effects of individuals not taking care of their nutritional health. Sue is a specialist in gerontology and has worked with the elderly for over 30 years- realizing early in her career the negative effects of individuals not taking care of their nutritional health.
SeAnne is a researcher and educator. She has always had heightened interest about how nutrition impacts health and quality of life through the latter years. So together we became fascinated by the dietary and lifestyle habits of centenarians–those who live to be 100+. As we were interviewing these amazing seniors for a research project, we were asked to write a book about diet and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). AD is one of the fastest growing diseases in this country and more and more data is emerging about the effects of diet and specific nutrients on brain health.
We are both daughters of Alzheimer’s victims. So we compiled all of the research and put it into a book “The Alzheimer’s Prevention Food Guide”. We hope our voice on prevention will speak for those who no longer can, like our mothers, and will provide knowledge and guidance to others who may be trying to avoid this complex and debilitating disease. We also continue to research and share some of the nutrition secrets of healthy aging.
From your experience doing this work what is the most important part of aging successfully?
Planning for your nutritional health and the knowledge that food is medicine are key. We are all going to age (hopefully). We should plan for this just as we plan our 401K’s for retirement. We should understand that food is medicine and start taking action when we are young to prevent some of the chronic diseases that we see inflicted in the older population. Eating a plant-focused diet, regularly moving your body, getting your nutrition-related labs checked, controlling your weight, and fostering healthy relationships with family and friends are all key factors in healthy aging.
If you could show a young person their life thirty years into the future, what would you hope that they would discover that might change their lives today?
What you eat today can lengthen or shorten your life and can improve or reduce the quality of your life.
We would like a young person to understand that nutrition plays a role in every part of their body throughout all ages and stages. From their skin (acne as a teenager to lack of elasticity in mid-life) to their muscles and bones (improving athletic performance in youth to preventing falls and fractures in later years) to their brain (reducing teenage depression to improving cognition and memory in older adults), the foods they eat can dictate how they feel, perform and age.
We would want them to know that they don’t have to follow extreme diets or go without their favorite foods to achieve great nutritional health.. As dietitians, we don’t really talk about good and bad foods. All foods fit and we really like the 80:20 rule. That is, 80 percent of your foods come from nutrient dense, plant based foods and 20 percent consist of small portions of foods that are not plant-based.
Nutritious foods are delicious and if a young person can recognize this early on, their life and health is bound to be much better.
What, in your opinion, is the most common roadblock a person faces when planning for their lives ahead? What are some ways one can overcome these blockages?
Paying too much attention to the number (your age) instead of focusing on how young you feel! Today more than ever, we have the possibility of living to see our 100th birthday. Eighty is the new sixty! We have an 80 year old president, an 80 year old leading the fight against COVID 19 and I was chased down by an 80 year old on my Peloton bike this morning! If we can change our mindset to embrace each day — one of the centenarians that we interviewed said “aging is like fighting against yourself, you naturally want to take the elevator, or use the washing machine, but you need to do just the opposite, even if you are stiff– walking up and down stairs and hand washing your clothes keeps your muscles strong”.
Other nutrition roadblocks we see are often due to a lack of education or a lack of financial means to eat a healthy diet.
After the year we’ve all had, what are your goals in doing this work in 2021?
Re-engage! Redirect! Many people laugh about the amount of weight gain individuals have experienced during the pandemic (Covid-19# or the 20-20#), but it is real and it isn’t funny. This past year could seriously take many years off of our life expectancy. . In addition to the significant physical concern of weight gain,, the psychological impact of the past year may also have long-standing effects on our society. As registered dietitians, our expertise will be needed more than ever–to help people refocus on health, fitness and longevity. We are up to the task!!