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I have lived in Toronto, Montreal
and Boca Raton,
Florida, settling down in each place for around a third of my
life. I’ve experienced cold, harsh, bitter winters, and I’ve also
had my share of scorching, humid, never-ending summers
(and springs and falls). While the chilly weather can be un-
pleasant to endure – especially in Canada, where the seasons
are particularly unpredictable – the steamy months in South
Florida also took their toll and I was anxious to move back to
Canada after putting up with more than a decade of sticky
days.
Snowbirds fy south in the wintertime to escape the wrath
of Jack Frost and in search of warmer afternoons sitting by
the pool, relaxing on a beach or playing a round of golf. And
why not? Tennis in the morning followed by a three-hour ap-
pointment with a lounge chair sounds like a wonderful day
to me! But how does the climate afect our health and, more
important, how does living in cold or hot weather contribute
to our longevity?
I searched high and low for studies on the topic of climate
and longevity and what I found was sparse, to say the least. I
found one recent article onMSNBC citing that a colder climate
may result in longer life…that is, if you’re a cold-blooded ani-
mal such as a mussel. If you examine where the oldest people
in the world live, it varies from the U.S. to France, Canada and
Japan, places in which they experience all types of weather
conditions (however, there is someone who lives in Ecuador
and is the ffth oldest person in the world...it’s quite warm
there, but this wasn’t enough evidence to support the theory
that these two factors may be related).
After tirelessly looking for stats to prove the idea that climate
is linked to longevity, I reachedout to the experts and spoke to
Dr. Yves Joanette, who is the scientifc director of the Institute
of Agingof CIHR (Canadian Institute of HealthResearch). While
he cited an increase in longevity in Canadians, he wasn’t able
to directly attribute it to our weather. “You have to look not
only at life expectancy, but at healthy life expectancy,” he said.
What your diet is made up of and what you eat on a regular
basis will afect life expectancy, however he pointed out that
this doesn’t difer by region in North America – there aren’t
certain foods that are only available in colder provinces and
states and others in warmer ones. “But it is also important to
look at physical activity, which we know does correlate with
longevity – it’s healthful if you live in an environment that
allows you to be more active.” Therefore, snowbird destina-
tions down south make exercise, such as walking, bike riding,
swimming and more, all the easier – it can be trickier to fnd
ways to stay physically ft in a cold climate other than joining
an indoor gym. “It’s not a direct link, but something that can
be looked at,” Dr. Joanette said.
Another important aspect of healthy longevity is being men-
tally sharp and sound. Being a “snowbird” can have advan-
tages because in some ways, it improves our mental abilities.
“You also have to think about intellectual stimulation that
favours a delayed appearance of cognitive impairment such
as Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Joanette explained. “By planning
a trip and adapting to travelling where you may have to learn
other languages, for example, you contribute to stimulating
the way in which your brain adapts and that’s a good thing.
Again, it isn’t a direct link, but the conditions are coherent to
healthy longevity.”
So hot and cold climates can’t be directly associated with lon-
gevity, however it can be said that by travelling down south
for wintertime, you’re keeping your mind sharp by planning
and acclimating yourself to a new place and, at the same
time, you’re spending the majority of your time in a place
where weather conditions are favourable to physical activ-
ity. Just because you spend months at a time in a warmer
climate, doesn’t mean that you’ll become a centenarian.
However, taking advantage of the opportunities that present
themselves, like using the time to learn and stay active, could
defnitely add years to your life. Throw in a healthy, balanced
diet and you could be well on your way to a long and
happy life.
by Jennifer Cox
Longevity and Climate
A Hot Button Issue
Longevity