Maintaining physical activity. As we age, we typically become less active, which leads to reductions in lean tissue mass and increases in fat mass. These changes contribute to altered metabolism and chronic disease development, which in turn lead to even lower physical activity levels.

The term Blue Zones has been used to describe places where people live long and healthy lives. What exactly does it take to live a long and healthy life? What is the science and the secret behind longevity and life extension? In this series, we are talking to medical experts, wellness experts, and longevity experts to share “5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life”. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Keith Saffold.

Keith Saffold is a Registered Dietitian, PhD Candidate in Exercise Physiology, and Staff Researcher working in the fields of exercise physiology and nutrition, assessing their impact on muscle physiology and aging. Keith is passionate about uncovering keys to helping people live longer, healthier lives. He aims to bridge exercise medicine and precision nutrition research with practice to prevent and treat chronic disease and detriments in function strongly associated with aging. Keith hopes to grow his private practice, Iduna Healthcare, to provide affordable and accessible evidence-based treatment capable of improving health and extending longevity.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Thank you for having me! I was born in New Jersey and spent the first half of my childhood moving up and down the East Coast while my dad was serving in the US Coast Guard. Eventually, we ended up back in New Jersey, where I spent the rest of my childhood and graduated high school. After high school, I moved to Tuscaloosa, AL to start my academic career at the University of Alabama. I have been a student at the University of Alabama for almost 10 years. I obtained a BS in Human Performance/Exercise Science, a BS in Food and Nutrition, a MA in Exercise Science, and I am now a PhD Candidate in the Department of Kinesiology studying Exercise Physiology.

I developed a passion for strength sports and competed in Strong Man, Powerlifting, and the Scottish Highland Games. As an undergraduate student, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in athletics. I spent almost 2 years volunteering with Alabama Athletics Performance Nutrition before the pandemic began. During the lockdown, I reevaluated my passion and realized that my interest in athletics was strongly tied to my own participation in strength sports. Knowing that my level of participation in strength sports was not sustainable in the long term, I decided to shift career paths.

I started to shift my focus toward my other interests; chronic disease prevention/treatment and aging research. With the support of my department and mentor, I was able to finish my dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian which provided me with real-world experience and training to treat chronic disease using nutrition therapy. After my internship, I was offered a staff researcher position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham which provided me with the opportunity to gain field-specific training in nutrition/exercise medicine research. After many months working in the lab, I began to miss the feeling you get when you have a direct positive impact and help improve someone’s health as a practitioner. I decided I wanted to scale up and start a private practice to help as many people as possible.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

My clinical rotation for my dietetic internship was done at a 1200+ bed Level I Trauma Center. I moved units every 1–2 weeks, so I was able to fully experience the glory of clinical nutrition. I worked with a very diverse population and got to see many interesting cases, but one stood out among all others. I was covering a stroke unit, which held patients with all levels of stroke damage, most were sedated in medically induced comas. I was assigned to conduct a nutrition assessment of a patient in his 90’s, admitted for a minor stroke. His chart showed no history chronic disease, no history of injury or illness, his lab values and blood pressure were all in normal range, and his BMI was normal. So naturally, I assumed there was missing or inaccurate information. When I went to see the patient to conduct the assessment, my confusion worsened.

The patient in the bed looked no older than 40. I double-checked the name on the door and confirmed the name and age with the patient. I ran through the medical history, or lack thereof, with the patient and the chart was correct. I was standing in front of a healthy 90-year-old who looked younger than many people half his age. He had no chronic disease, no detriments in physical function, his cognition and mood seemed intact, and his lab values were perfect. I understand that people like that are outliers, but after seeing it in person, I realized that it really is possible to prevent chronic disease and “slow down” aging. I understand that it is not realistic to expect outcomes like my patient, but I am confident that there is a lot of room for improvement in our understanding on how to prevent markers of aging from where we currently are.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I agree, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger was correct when he said, “There is no such thing as a self-made man”. I would not be where I am today without the help and support of many people. One person who stands out is my PhD mentor, Dr. Lee Winchester. I interned in Dr. Winchester’s lab when I was an undergraduate student and developed a passion for research. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in research, but I did not know how I was going to afford graduate school. I applied to many master’s degree programs and was offered graduate assistantships at a few, but even with the funding offered, I was not going to be able to afford it. Master’s students don’t typically receive graduate assistantships at UA, but Dr. Winchester was able to secure a graduate assistantship position for me to continue to work in his lab. Understanding that academic diversity is important for my professional development, Dr. Winchester supported me when the opportunities to intern in other labs and universities became available. His flexibility and commitment to his student’s career development allowed me to pursue my interests and goals during my graduate education. I will always be grateful to him for his years of support and confidence in me.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

First, I think it is important for leaders to stay humble. We see a lot of leaders and experts develop a large ego, which prevents them from viewing problems and topics with an open mind. Great leaders approach problems with an open mind and can admit when they are wrong.

Leaders also need to have a high level of discipline. There are going to be times in life or during a career when you don’t want or are too stressed to do something that you know you need to do. Having the discipline to get tasks done when you don’t want to is essential for success.

Last, I believe that adaptability is a key trait, not just for leadership, but life in general. You need to be adaptable with anything you do. When obstacles pop up or changes in plans happen, you need to be able to adapt to overcome and continue your path. Most people face setbacks in their career, school, relationships, hobbies, sports, etc., and some end up quitting because they can’t adapt.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview about health and longevity. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fields of health, wellness, and longevity? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

I wouldn’t classify myself as an authority at this time. I am still developing my career and my practice. I do bring a wide scope to the table. I am a registered and licensed dietitian and I have extensive education in exercise physiology. Nutrition science and exercise science are very different but essential fields in health, wellness, and longevity. My education and credentials on the topic go beyond the certifications that many “experts” possess, and much deeper than the few credit hours of nutrition education that most physicians receive during their schooling. I work in aging research, at the forefront of the field of longevity. I believe my unique contribution is my ability to take my understanding of these fields and serve as a bridge between fields and from research to bedside. I am able to work at the bench in a lab in search of new understanding, and one-on-one with patients to work towards desired health outcomes.

Seekers throughout history have traveled great distances and embarked on mythical quests in search of the “elixir of life,” a mythical potion said to cure all diseases and give eternal youth. Has your search for health, vitality, and longevity taken you on any interesting paths or journeys? We’d love to hear the story.

My curiosity leads me down every rabbit hole that presents itself with every new product or “expert” making miracle-like claims. Each time I find myself excited, but skeptical, looking for all the data available. Over and over, I end up disappointed. With each disappointment my search regresses back to the importance of the basic simple habits that many Americans do not follow. As a researcher, it is easy to become excited about the latest breaking data and intricate details that emerge, but as a practitioner I understand that we need to walk before we can run; we need to get people to follow already established basic guidelines before we start tweaking the details.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”? (Please share a story or an example for each)

Based on the research it is clear that there is no single variable responsible for living longer healthier lives, rather it seems health and longevity are a result of the interaction between many variables;

  1. Maintaining physical activity. As we age, we typically become less active, which leads to reductions in lean tissue mass and increases in fat mass. These changes contribute to altered metabolism and chronic disease development, which in turn lead to even lower physical activity levels.
  2. Eat a balanced diet. What we consume greatly impacts our health. We need to balance our intake with our needs. It is important not to consume too much or too little. We need to balance the nutrient distribution, to ensure we do not consume too much or too little of any macro- or micronutrients. We need variety in our diets to provide essential nutrients.
  3. We need sleep, but not too much. The literature supporting the importance of sleep is growing, but so is the research suggesting that too much sleep is detrimental as well.
  4. We need a social life. There is a mass of published literature associating the level of social interactions that older individuals have and their mortality rate. Older individuals with more social interactions tend to live longer happier lives.
  5. We need our brains to function properly. Our cognition is key for our ability to interact with the world and live independently. Cognition is something that typically declines with age, but a growing body of research suggests that our brain can be “trained” similar to a muscle to prevent cognitive decline.

Can you suggest a few things needed to live a life filled with happiness, joy, and meaning?

I believe that a sense of purpose is essential for long-term happiness. We must have a sense of purpose and the autonomy to pursue that purpose. We must be able to be true to ourselves and live as uncompromised as possible. If our thoughts and actions are in line with our morals and views, we will struggle with less internal conflict. We must also have discipline. Although discipline is often associated with discomfort, the discomfort that comes from discipline often leads to positive outcomes and reduced discomfort from emotions such as regret. We need to become comfortable with the discomfort of discipline so we can build the lives that will make us happy, instead of just wishing for the life that would make us happy and constantly comparing our current lives to the idealized one.

Some argue that longevity is genetic, while others say that living a long life is simply a choice. What are your thoughts on this nature vs. nurture debate? Which is more important?

Genetics do play a role, but I believe that role is much smaller than many people think. Of course, a small number of people have genes that directly lead to diseases. For most of the population, this isn’t the case. Some of us may have genes that predispose us to different diseases, but we know that most genes just increase our risk, they are not causative. Our environment and habits can “turn on” or “turn off” genes through epigenetic modification. Health-promoting habits can “turn off” genes associated with increased risk of developing various diseases such as cancer or diabetes. We also know that certain micronutrients can modify gene expression to promote positive health outcomes. My stance is; as long as you don’t have a disease directly related to your genetics like cystic fibrosis or Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, then your habits matter more when it comes to your health outcomes and longevity.

Life sometimes takes us on paths that are challenging. How have you managed to bounce back from setbacks in order to cultivate physical, mental, and emotional health?

I think it is important to understand that no plan is perfect from the beginning and that there are a lot of variables in your life that are out of your control. If you can understand that, then you won’t be as disappointed or surprised by setbacks and won’t stress as much about things you don’t have control over. I think controlling stress is very important for mental and emotional health. Stress can completely debilitate some people and can lead to illness and disease development. You can eliminate a lot of stress by identifying the things in your life that you can’t control and realizing that stressing over those things only harms you. It is also okay to talk to people about your stresses and seek help when you need it. Develop your network of support that can be there for you when things aren’t going right.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“If you want something you never had, you have to do something you have never done.” This quote stood out to me at a young age and helped me to realize that you must focus and actively pursue your goals. Whether your goal is to learn a skill, become an expert on a topic, accrue wealth, learn a language, or change your circumstances, you have to apply yourself. I have learned to seek out opportunity and plan to make time for new experiences to get me closer to my goals, instead of spending my time hoping and wishing for an outcome that aligns with my goals.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wake up 30 minutes earlier and spend that time being physically active. I understand that it may not be feasible for some people, but for many it is feasible. Waking up early is something that most people avoid. Most people also avoid physical activity. Most people avoid doing things that are difficult. Establishing the habits of waking up early when you don’t want to, and doing exercise when you don’t want to solve multiple problems. It establishes discipline, it forms healthy habits, and it will get you to the weekly minimum recommended physical activity level.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

At the moment, I am still building my private practice and website. Readers can follow @iduna_healthcare on Instagram for updates or contact me at [email protected].

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.