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A Body in Motion Stays Healthier Longer

Getting consistent movement into your daily life is a profoundly powerful intervention for health and longevity. Five years ago, I interviewed Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., on this topic. She's a true pioneer in this field and was one of the first professionals to understand the value and importance of regular movement, not exercise, for the preservation of health and prevention of disease.

Vernikos was hired by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1964, five years before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. She served as director of the Space Life Sciences at NASA from 1993 until 2000, and has written over 200 scientific papers. Her new book, "Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health," is the sequel to her previous book, "Sitting Kills, Moving Heals."

Health and Fitness Supersedes Age

Her latest book is dedicated to John Glenn, the first American astronaut to do an orbital flight and a U.S. Senator. He died last year at the age of 95, but made headlines when he flew back into space at the age of 77. Vernikos was instrumental in helping him get back into space.

"When he first came up with this suggestion, everyone thought, 'You can't send an old man up in space. What if something happens to him, then how do we explain it?'" Vernikos says. "The oldest person at that point was Musgrave at 52 … Glenn wanted to fly again because John F. Kennedy had prevented him from going to the moon.

He was a national hero and it wouldn't be politically pleasant if something happened to him, so he was forbidden from flying again ... Then one day, as senator, he arrived at NASA. My administrator said, 'What do you think? Should we let John fly again?' … I said, 'Arbitrarily, why not? But let's do some homework with the National Institute on Aging.' We started asking questions of] experts. The answer came back. 'Well, there is no reason to exclude him, as long as he is healthy and fit' …

[Glenn] was extraordinary. My concern was not that anything would happen to him during the flight, but how would he recover or would he recover? … He came back, of course … We had a session at the National Institutes of Health on the results, which were all double-blind … The chart was put up with  the clustered data from all seven crewmembers ...

[There was] one outlier. I thought, 'Well, of course that's got to be John Glenn, who is different from all the others who were in their 30s. It was a good try.' As it turned out, Glenn was among the cluster, and the one outlier was 35 years old … [Glenn] also recovered very fast ... The message came back loud and clear: If you are healthy, you are fit and you take care of yourself, there's no reason you can't do anything that anyone else can do whatever your age."

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