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Increasing Longevity: Strategies from Intermountain Health for Living a Long, Healthy Life

Dr. Cynthia Lawlor is the medical director of geriatrics and a board-certified geriatrician at Intermountain Health

(PRUnderground) March 18th, 2024

Since civilization began, people have wondered if there is a secret to living a long and healthy life. But the reasons behind longevity or why one person lives longer than another is pretty complicated.

Statistics on life expectancy from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show that in the U.S. women typically outlive men by about five years, and the gap has increased slightly in the last few years.

“There are a lot of factors that come in to play that affect longevity: genetics, environment, where you live, lifestyle choices, and access to healthcare, to name a few,” said Dr. Cynthia Lawlor, MD, medical director of geriatrics and a board-certified geriatrician at Intermountain Health in Murray.

Some people wonder if women live longer than men because women have higher levels of the hormone estrogen. Others wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic had an effect. The variables that affect longevity are complex and intertwined, so the answers aren’t definitively clear.

As a geriatric physician who specializes in conditions that affect older adults, Dr. Lawlor sees senior patients for checkups and a variety of health concerns and conditions that are common as people age. Over the years she’s learned a lot about longevity and helps educate patients about the factors that are changeable and how to manage conditions that are more genetic in nature.

“I think most people know basically what to do to stay healthy – that they need to eat in moderation and stay physically active. But there’s a gap between knowing what to do, and actually doing it,” said Dr. Lawlor. “That is what it comes down to if you want to live the maximum age that your predestined genes allow you to.”

There is evidence that avoiding certain behaviors can reduce your risk for dying early, for example:

  • Not smoking,
  • Avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Not using illegal drugs

Some things people can do to increase their chances of good health

  • Eating a plant-forward or Mediterranean diet
  • Cutting back on saturated fats, sugars, additives, and processed food
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Managing stress
  • Maintaining good social connections
  • Maintaining an active mind

One of Dr. Lawlor’s patients, Cleo Comiske, who is 87, is a wonderful example of just doing what you’re supposed to do to stay healthy. She is conscious about getting enough exercise and she eats right.

“I have two flights of stairs to my condo and I go up and down them every day several times and I do it very carefully. I have a stationary bike and I ride it for 30 minutes every morning and I drive to the recreation center about three times a week and walk a mile on the track and I do stretching exercises too. I’m not going to end up in a walker or a wheelchair,” said Cleo.

“I try to learn a lot about my patients and understand what motivates each person to be healthy. I help them find their reason why being healthy would help and what things it would help them be able to do. I ask them to visualize themselves in the future, for better or worse. It takes more than willpower, it comes down to, why I am doing this?” said Dr. Lawlor.

Cleo worked as a cosmetologist and skincare aesthetician. In 1980 she ran her one and only marathon in Honolulu. She still has the t-shirt.

Cleo has also done volunteer work with the Girls & Boys Clubs, and Dress for Success, where she  helped women get ready for job interviews.

“Vanity is my best friend, but I do have a dessert drawer and allow myself one goodie a day,” she added.

Other people have different things that motivate them to be healthy.

“Often the things that matter to people is that they don’t want to depend on their family to take care of them. Or they don’t want to be in pain every time they take a step. You’ve got to find a way to not get to a point of immobility,” said Dr. Lawlor.

“Exercise is really a friend because you not only feel good, you look good, and you have a positive attitude,” said Cleo.

“Obesity is a huge problem. On monthly basis I see examples of how losing weight impacts every part of a person’s body. Literally almost every health problem gets better or goes away by being fit. For example, people no longer have knee pain, or don’t need oxygen. And staying fit can help with memory problems, too,” said Dr. Lawlor.

“If you get really overweight in your 40s and 50s, it’s really hard to get it off if you’re 60 or older,” she added.

Dr. Lawlor got interested in geriatrics after she worked in Uganda.

“What struck me was the extent of suffering. I thought how could I be a doctor that helps with this daily, physical suffering? This drew me to end-of-life and palliative care, combined with geriatrics, which helps people in the last decade or two of their life.”

Who should see a geriatrician?

According to Dr. Lawlor, if you’re a very sick older adult, then a geriatrician would be good for you.

To find a primary care physician or for more information about geriatrics, visit

Cynthia Lawlor, MD, is the medical director of geriatrics and a board-certified geriatrician at Intermountain Health and sees patients at Intermountain Medical Center.

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see

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