Life is filled with challenges, and being prepared to face them is essential. It’s through overcoming these challenges that we often find personal growth, strength, and resilience. The ultimate reward often lies in the sense of gratification, accomplishment, and fulfillment that comes from tackling these challenges. It’s in these moments that we can truly appreciate the journey of life and the lessons it brings. We must live for today as we do not know what tomorrow brings.

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 Maria Leonor Malca.

Maria Leonor Malca is a well-regarded fitness professional and the Fitness Director at The Virginian Senior Living Community in Fairfax, VA. With a true passion for teaching, Maria embodies the heart of an educator, sharing her expertise in a range of fitness disciplines. Her commitment to the profession is focused on improving the health and wellbeing of older adults and helping them to live longer lives.

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’?

To go way back, I was born in Lima, Peru, but I have called the United States home for over 40 years. My multicultural upbringing and fluency in four languages helps me connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, which has been incredibly helpful in my career in fitness. I graduated with a degree in psychology before I began my fitness career, and I truly believe that my understanding of human behavior and motivation allows me to connect with the people I work with on a deeper level, and I can tailor my instruction to their unique needs and capabilities. Before I found my passion — working with aging adults — I worked as an Ergonomics Specialist for World Bank for over 30 years.

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

There are so many stories, as I wholeheartedly believe that fitness can change lives in so many ways. In my current position at The Virginian, I work exclusively with senior living residents — from ages 75 to 102- who often believe it is “too late” to commit to fitness. Through my work we have proven, time and again, that this simply isn’t true! I have seen an 87-year-old who is diabetic and severely overweight get out of his rollator and walk alone after a few months working with me! It is inspiring and so fulfilling!

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 truly credit my clients with my success. They have led me to take paths that I never expected — or never even existed — when I embarked on this career! For example, I have recently become certified in PWR!Moves (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery), a cutting-edge Parkinson’s disease-specific exercise program that holds promise to slow disease progression, improve symptoms, restore function, and increase longevity and quality of life. This was inspired by the people I work with at The Virginian, and I am so honored to be able to help this population thrive.

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?

Persistence is key. As an immigrant you are constantly navigating several worlds — family, school, work, friends. It is so important to stay motivated to succeed in all aspects of life, like learning new languages and cultures.

Flexibility (and not just physically!) is a hard trait to put into practice. I have had the gamut of clients — old and young, professionals and retirees, who have different attitudes, skill levels, and interest in fitness. It is critical to meet my clients where they are — both physically and mentally, to help them achieve success. My psychology background has been incredibly helpful here.

Resilience is necessary, especially in the fitness field. There are always setbacks — an injury, illness, change of job or circumstance. But having that constant push to get back on track, even if it is hard, and move past the obstacles, is what helps my clients make great strides.

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?

Since working with older adults at The Virginian, I have truly found my passion. I cannot repeat this enough: it is NEVER too late to get moving and focus energy on fitness. In my long career I have coached people from the teen years to centenarians, and there is ALWAYS a place to start. I feel like I have seen it all and can give countless examples of how you can regain your health by moving at any age.

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.

I am always seeking- and learning- as there are so many aspects to that “elixir of life.” An example is that I have become a devoted meditator, practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) for more than 30 years. This is part of my holistic approach to wellness, so that I can further enhance my ability to support the overall well-being and mindfulness of the people I work with. I am always learning, always reaching, to find more modalities and practices that I can bring to my students. When I first started in my current role, I never thought that I would be teaching seniors to lift weights! But research has shown that dynamic movement is critical, and older adults should be well versed in the art of movement with weights and power and creating flexibility and stability.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Live A Long & Healthy Life”?

1. Curiosity — keep your heart curious on what movement is, stay active, trying different things or activities.

2. Laughter — the best medicine, I make them laugh as much as possible during class, before and after!

3. Surround yourself with love, making new friendships, and family of course!

4. Have gratitude for all we have and the place you are, your choice and your journey.

5. Make health your priority every day, breath, live and sleep with health.

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

Life is filled with challenges, and being prepared to face them is essential. It’s through overcoming these challenges that we often find personal growth, strength, and resilience. The ultimate reward often lies in the sense of gratification, accomplishment, and fulfillment that comes from tackling these challenges. It’s in these moments that we can truly appreciate the journey of life and the lessons it brings. We must live for today as we do not know what tomorrow brings.

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?

I think it is certainly a bit of both, but obviously I am a big believer in nurture. The medical community is also recognizing the role that exercise plays in longevity; doctors are increasingly working with fitness professionals for patient health. How you treat your body (and mind) is an aspect of longevity that you can control, so I feel it is so important to do what YOU can do to ensure you have a healthy and long life.

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?

Setbacks and challenges are a natural part of life; accepting them paves the way for solutions. Fostering a positive mindset by focusing on gratitude, practicing self-compassion, and reframing negative thoughts is ever so important to managing life’s challenges. Prioritizing self-care, which includes getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity is so important because physical health forms the foundation for mental and emotional well-being. Lastly, mindfulness and meditation help me to balance my emotions and reduce stress, as well as promote mental clarity and emotional well-being.

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

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. This rings true for me in so many ways! Of course, there’s the obvious- I believe to my core that taking that first step to fitness and optimal health is the most important thing one can do. But I think this is such a beautiful quote because it truly applies to ANYthing. It takes so much bravery to take that very first step in any part of life’s journey.

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. 🙂

It would be…MOVE! Mobility, at any age or in any amount, helps the body and mind! Run a marathon! Dance in your chair! Take the stairs! Walk your dog! Moving nourishes the soul!

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

I am here at The Virginian, I post tips and tricks on my Facebook page, and Instagram. Join me as friends and let’s continue this journey together.

On Facebook: @liveatthevirginian and @Maria Leonor Malca Ganoza

On Instagram: @marialeonormalca

On LinkedIn: Maria Leonor (Leo) Malca

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.