It should come as no surprise that Marin County has been named the healthiest county in California in 2021. After all, it’s the 11th time in 12 years that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has bestowed this title upon Marin. The results are based on an annual county-by-county survey that measures how healthy residents are and how long they live.
According to Eric Verdin, MD, president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, which endeavors to understand the molecular foundations of aging, in large part, Marin residents have a healthy lifestyle to thank for their longevity. Diet, exercise and sleep are all key factors to determining life expectancy. “Our genetic makeup only accounts for about 10 percent of how we age,” Verdin says. “So much of how we age is under our control, and it’s never too soon to start developing healthy habits.”
Whether you embrace or dread the approach of each birthday, there’s no denying the normal changes that occur with age, from declines in muscle tone and vision to hormonal shifts and the onset of wrinkles, age spots and thinning hair. More serious, as we age, our risk of developing chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease increases as well. “Aging is the number-one risk factor for chronic disease,” Verdin says. “By age 65, 80 percent of people have at least one chronic disease, and 65 percent have at least two.”
While modern medicine and advances in public health are already helping us live longer, the Buck aims to improve our quality of life even more with its research. “Conventional wisdom used to be that getting these diseases and declining was an inevitable part of growing old,” Verdin says. “Now we know that aging is malleable, and getting sick does not need to be a part of getting old. We are hyper-focused on extending healthspan (the healthy years of life), and based on what is happening in the labs, I think it will be possible for many people to reap an extra 20 years of good health in the next 20 years. Treatments that will end chronic diseases and slow aging are on the way; those who are as healthy as possible are likely to benefit from them the most.”
Wellness From Within
In the meantime, Marin County residents have plenty of local resources to help them stay healthy as they age — and look as good as they feel while they’re at it. Nan Foster, for one, is a Ross-based integrative health coach specializing in functional medicine who helps clients make lifestyle choices that support their individual needs.
To start, Foster advises clients to eat more mindfully, swapping processed foods for nourishing meals. “The best way to eat as you age is different for each person, because each of us has unique needs, or bio-individuality,” says Foster, who is the author of Gutsy: The Food-Mood Method to Revitalize Your Health Beyond Conventional Medicine. “In general, though, I recommend a couple of credos for aging well: The first is to eat real, whole foods that look the same on your plate as they do in nature. The second is to eat clean protein (like wild-caught fish, organic tofu and grass-fed beef); fiber (whole grains, veggies, fruit and seeds); and healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and wild-caught fish) at every meal. This keeps blood sugar balanced throughout the day, which helps to prevent heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, weight gain and mood swings.”
Also paramount to healthy aging is alleviating stress. “In general, though, I recommend a couple of credos for aging well: The first is to eat real, whole foods that look the same on your plate as they do in nature. The second is to eat clean protein (like wild-caught fish, organic tofu and grass-fed beef); fiber (whole grains, veggies, fruit and seeds); and healthy fats (avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and wild-caught fish) at every meal. This keeps blood sugar balanced throughout the day, which helps to prevent heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, by engaging in activities such as exercise, getting outside, spending time with pets and practicing mindfulness — being fully present in moments of stillness. “Creating boundaries around stress helps keep blood pressure in check, digestion running smoothly and so much more as we age,” Foster says.
Yoga is one such activity that offers many benefits as we age: improved balance, coordination, flexibility and joint function. The meditative aspect of the practice also helps reduce stress. “Paying attention to our breath calms our nervous system and quiets our mind, whether we’re 2 or 102,” says Jennifer McHugh, founder of The Studio in Mill Valley, a serene second-floor yoga studio overlooking the marshlands and Mt. Tam that opened earlier this year. “This conscious attention on the breath is grounding, and once we’re grounded in our breath, we move our bodies to build strength, stamina and flexibility. As a bonus, meditation is also said to increase anti-aging hormones, DHEA and melatonin.”
Looking Good, Feeling Good
Those seeking trending treatments to address the signs of aging have no shortage of options to explore in Marin. One to consider: cryotherapy, which involves exposing targeted areas or the whole body to extreme cold for short periods of time. Users have reported experiencing reduced pain and inflammation; enhanced mood, immunity and metabolic function; and relief from menopausal hot flashes.
Novato-based 9 Corners Med-Cryo-Spa, which is opening a new 4,000 square-foot location at Vintage Oaks Shopping Center in late summer, offers a whole-body treatment in a futuristic cryogenically cooled vapor chamber. “Whole-body cryotherapy cools the body with gentle, dry vapor at sub-zero temperatures for up to three minutes,” says Randy Gibson, LAc, the facility’s medical director. “With consistent use, cryo clients report feeling more youthful and energized in their daily lives.” In addition, 9 Corners clients can partake in a cryotherapy facial created to elevate collagen and skin firmness while reducing fine lines, pore size, acne and sun damage, as well as full-spectrum infrared (dry) sauna sessions designed to produce the same healing radiant waves as the sun without the harmful UV rays. “We customize every session based on the client’s goals and conditions,” Gibson says.
Morpheus Medical Aesthetics, in Santa Rosa, as well as a new Larkspur location that opened last year (formerly Simple Radiance), is also on a mission to make sure Marin’s residents look as good as they feel as they age. “Honestly, we’re not fans of the phrase ‘anti-aging’; instead, we think that aging is a privilege not granted to everyone, so we strive to do so with joy and grace,” says Morpheus physician and owner Marisha Chilcott, MD. “We seek to help you maintain a natural aesthetic, highlighting your natural beauty, restoring a youthful glow.” To that end, the med spa offers several services that address the visible signs of aging, including laser treatments designed to encourage collagen production and reduce wrinkles, fine lines and brown spots; Botox, which temporarily reduces muscle movements that are the root cause of expression lines; chemical peels; and the medical-grade HydraFacial. Morpheus’ aestheticians provide clients with thorough consultations on all services, as well as product recommendations based on skin type, age, gender and ethnicity. Among the most important skincare ingredients to seek out, according to Chilcott: vitamin C, shown to promote cell turnover, fight free radicals and brighten your skin, among other benefits. “And please, whatever you do, don’t forget your sunscreen!” she adds.
However you feel about aging, Foster reminds us that perhaps the key to remaining positive about what time has in store for us is to embrace the moment. “In these high-stress days of change and uncertainty, one of the most important lifestyle practices people can adopt as they age is adding in vitamin J — joy,” she says. “Whether through connection with others, time in nature, playing, dancing, singing or gardening, we know that joy is fundamental to living a long, happy, healthy life.”
More from Marin:
- Local Doctors Share the Healthy Habits They Swear By — And a Few They Fail At
- Everything You Need to Know About Getting the Covid-19 Vaccine in Marin County: How, When, Where and What It’s Like
- Local Nonprofit By the Bay Health Expands Compassionate Care at Home
Lotus Abrams has covered everything from beauty to business to tech in her editorial career, but it might be writing about her native Bay Area that inspires her most. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the San Francisco Peninsula, where they enjoy spending time outdoors at the area’s many open spaces protected and preserved by her favorite local nonprofit, the Peninsula Open Space Trust.