Live Long and Prosper
A local aging expert takes on Father Time
At age 43, Richard Sprott began to take stock of his future. The Potomac resident’s father recently had died of a heart attack at age 65, just three weeks after retiring from a career in sales. In fact, no male on either side of his family had ever lived beyond 65.
An aging expert, Sprott knew that breaking this grim tradition required that he start embracing healthier habits immediately. So he tossed his cigarettes and began eating better and exercising.
Today at age 73, Sprott says he’s not sure he’d still be alive if he hadn’t taken charge of his health 30 years ago.
Throughout his career, Sprott has conducted research on aging. He directed the Biology of Aging program at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda as well as The Ellison Medical Foundation in Bethesda, which supports research on aging. In October, he started the International Healthspan Institute to foster research on healthy aging, which he runs from his home as well as an office at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa.
Although he’s still trying to lose weight, Sprott says he feels great, has had no heart issues and enjoys a full life. He works 40 to 60 hours during the week and gardens and hikes on weekends. “I feel young,” he says.
What he does:
Sprott kicked a two-pack-a-day habit by chewing Nicorette Gum and swapped the highs of nicotine for the highs of daily six-mile runs. As a reminder of the dangers of nicotine, he kept his father’s autopsy report on his refrigerator. Quitting was “probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, harder than getting my Ph.D.,” Sprott says.
Quitting smoking improves health in general. Since doing so, Sprott says he has slept better, had more energy and stopped being tense and irritable.
When knee problems curtailed Sprott’s running, he found other ways to exercise. Generally he heads to a gym on weekdays, completing 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular work on an exercise bike, for example, and 15 to 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise. In nice weather, he’ll head outside to ride a tandem bike with his wife, Margaret, who’s 71. Or, he’ll hike, garden or chop firewood.
Even modest physical activity has been shown to extend life, according to Sprott. It also aids bone and heart health, balance and muscle tone, which Sprott says becomes harder to maintain with age.
Minds his intake
Sprott’s meals include vegetables from his garden and they contain no added salt. He drinks two glasses of red wine each night, and takes a multivitamin, an aspirin and 1,000 milligrams of fish oil daily.
Fresh vegetables are packed with trace elements that likely are important in maintaining long-term health, Sprott says. Drinking red wine (up to two 4-ounce glasses daily for a man, one for a woman), limiting salt, and taking aspirin and fish oil benefit the heart. The multivitamin is particularly important in senior years, Sprott says, when it becomes more difficult to metabolize all the necessary nutrients important for health. “It’s cheap insurance,” he says.
Sprott has no plans to retire, and he constantly interacts with business colleagues, his wife of 47 years, daughters Deborah, 46, and Lynn, 44, his three grandchildren and friends.
Social connections, which provide intellectual challenges and support, benefit long-term health, Sprott says. Research indicates that “people who are married live longer than people who aren’t,” he says. Sprott keeps working because he thinks the mental stimulation extends life, too, though there isn’t research to prove that yet. “A lot of people I knew who retired in a normal way aren’t around anymore,” he says.
Sprott gets an annual physical.
People become more susceptible to a number of health issues as they age, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and
osteoporosis, Sprott says. An annual physical exam can reveal a disease in its early stages, making it easier to treat.
Leah Ariniello is a Bethesda-based writer who frequently writes about health.