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Five paths to health and hope

I spent a few days last week in Florida at WVU’s Roads Scholars Academy with Mountaineer leadership, alums, and some of our great faculty, students and committed staff.

It was terrific and inspiring. We have great talent here.

Even more importantly, we have a great culture at WVU and in the state of West Virginia. A culture of purpose, service, caring and humility.

The momentum is building to change things for the better – it is almost visceral.

I presented a talk on health of our state and our people.

As I was preparing the talk, it struck me that there are five simple things that we should implement to live long and well. I believe longevity – or having a younger biological age than physiological age – is what health really is.

Eat differently. Less sugar and more plant-based food – a Mediterranean diet.

The obesity epidemic started in the 1960s. It was at about the same time the FDA came out with low fat guidelines. Since protein is generally fixed in our diets, less fats mean more carbohydrates. Carbs are largely sugar. And our brains are addicted to sugar. This is evidenced by the average American eating between 50-150 pounds of sugar per year.


Sugar activates the insulin receptor, which also may cause accelerated aging. Thus, eat less processed sugar and you will likely lose weight.

Walk more. Exercise equivalent to walking 30 minutes per day can have dramatic benefits in your mind, lifespan and, if combined with reducing sugar, weight loss. I try to walk 12,000 steps per day, which may help reduce the activity of the insulin receptor.

Be grateful. It is shown that approaching problems with creativity and appreciating the many gifts we have can reverse the aging effects of chronic stress. It is not the stress, it is how we see it. I have previously blogged that the average lottery winner is less happy than the average person and the average person who survives a life-threatening illness is happier.

Remember Simple Gifts – a song we love and a great way to focus our life.

Stay connected. Some of the best aging studies tell us that staying connected to purpose and to people may be the most important factor in a happy and long life. The Japanese call it Ikigai, or the reason for being, which is a critical factor for longevity. Many studies show that people who have a job as they are older that they love to do are better older.

Have Hope. Abraham Maslow created his hierarchy of needs, which looks at the needs of people to progress psychologically. He started with basic physiological needs. As these are met, an individual then goes on to seek safety, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualization.

I worry that many people in West Virginia are still at the first level. We need to provide safety and love and belonging for them. Moving to this level may help people feel more hope and purpose.

The Roads Scholars trip was great to reconnect with many of our terrific alums and to meet new folks. It was also a time for me to be blown away by the talent of our university and our faculty (more to follow about this in my next blog).

So, how do we become healthier?

Eat differently, exercise more, have more gratitude, and stay connected, and have hope.

A pretty simple formula to a longer and better life.