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Health, Mind & Body 

When it comes to longevity, look to science — but also to community

More of us are living longer, more active lives than ever before. But better public health and key medical breakthroughs are just one part of the picture. No matter our age or abilities, from ski jumpers to dance-class regulars, staying active brings far more than physical benefits. It’s also a rich source of fulfillment, community and lasting relationships — and enjoyment knows no age limit.

Members of Norway’s Veteran Ski Jump Association: Nils Olav Kongsvik (top), Tor Arild Malin (left) and Kåre Holmen (right) —Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum

For proof, look to the members of Norway’s Veterans Ski Jump Association. The stalwarts of this grueling, gravity-defying sport are in their 60s, 70s and 80s and show no signs of slowing down. They’ve also achieved folk hero status for their decades of dedication to this beloved cultural pastime, which originated in Norway in the 19th century. Kåre Holmen was born in 1939 — making him among the oldest active competitive ski jumpers in the world.

Sun Qinglian leads a class at Bao Zhu dance hall. —Sim Chi Yin/Magnum

But going pro isn’t the only way to reap the rewards of an active life. In Chongqing, China, dancers move with ease at Bao Zhu, one of this city’s dozens of popular dance halls. The mix of ballroom, Latin and modern rhythms helps the dancers to feel less isolated in a country where, until recently, couples were allowed to have only one child, and young adults frequently relocate long distances for work. Above, class monitor Sun Qinglian, 75, leads her group in practicing a Latin dance routine.

James Harrison visits an Australian Red Cross Blood Service location. —Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum

Health can also be a matter of community — with ripple effects for generations to come. After blood transfusions helped save his life during a major surgery at age 14, James Harrison, now 82, committed to becoming a blood donor himself. He did so regularly for nearly 60 years, donating more than 1,100 times. Doctors were able to use a rare antibody in his blood to produce an injection that prevents a serious, and sometimes fatal, condition in which a pregnant woman's immune system attacks her unborn baby's blood cells. According to Australia’s Red Cross Blood Service, Harrison has helped to save the lives of more than 2.4 million Aussie babies, including his own grandson.

Residents take part in playful activities at the Residential and Care Center Humanitas. —Rafal Milach/Magnum

Coordination between scientific advancement and social support can reveal a silver lining when it comes to even the most challenging conditions. The Dutch, for example, have a unique approach to dementia care that’s considered among the best in the world. By creating respectful and socially rich environments, some Dutch facilities help patients experience a sense of normalcy, which mitigates symptoms. For the 150 people 70 and older living at the Humanitas long-term care facility in Deventer, Netherlands, group activities like the one pictured above help promote greater physical and mental well-being.


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