Healthy To A Hundred: Justin Guest of Atria Senior Living On 5 Things You Need To Live A Long, Healthy, & Happy Life

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
8 min readSep 30, 2022

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Fuel your body with healthy foods and liquids. This can be tough. I get it because I have struggled with this in my life. I grew up with a Hungarian mother from Jersey, and a father from Texas, both love hearty foods. Learning how to enjoy healthy foods throughout my adult life has allowed me to discover more foods that benefit my body, mind, and spirit in the long run. Sure — I love a good hot dog or burger, but my body has learned the benefits of being filled with healthier options packed with positive nutrition and energy.

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 Justin Guest.

Justin Guest is the Vice President of Engage Life for Atria Senior Living. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing Engage Life events programming, which promotes active, healthy and engaged lifestyles for Atria’s 41,000-plus residents.​ Prior to joining Atria, Guest developed implemented fitness and wellness programs across generations, including seniors, for the YMCA.

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’?

Personally — I grew up as a very active adolescent. I was always moving — playing sports with friends, running through the woods, riding bikes or swimming. If I could move, I was moving! I didn’t realize for the longest time that everything I was doing was related to wellness. This is truly the core of what I would later adopt when learning more about health and wellness. My journey started when I was 17 at my local YMCA. I was hired to coach swimming, working with kids ranging from 4–18 years old. I thought that would be a simple job, especially as a competitive swimmer and had a good amount of experience with stroke mechanics. Little did I know that coaching a swim team would be one of the toughest jobs I have ever had, and that it would teach me so much for the future. I later became a fitness coach at the YMCA, a professional Director, and a District Executive Director for the Y. Coaching and teaching are the pillars of my leadership and have pushed me to better understand people from all walks of life.

I have spent 20+ years in the health and well-being industry serving communities in Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and across the east and west coasts. As the Vice President of Engage Life for Atria Senior Living, I provide leadership around a key priority: helping older adults lead healthier lives in Atria communities. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree from Western Kentucky University, Master of Science degree from Grace College and Seminary, and am a Mayo Clinic certified wellness coach.

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

When I was working for the YMCA in Raleigh, NC, there was a lady named Joyce. She was 80 yrs.+ at the time, worked for our YMCA and participated in the health programs designed for older adults. Joyce and I became friends, and I learned that she did not have family nearby. Instead of her spending time alone, she spent most of her days at the Y. Even though Joyce was in her 80s, she had the spirit of a 30-year-old, always on her feet and always moving. Each week, Joyce and I would get coffee together and talk about what was going on in her life. Over the years, I learned key lessons to a healthy lifestyle through my conversations with Joyce such as:

Relationships are foundational — surround yourself with others who desire to live a healthy lifestyle. It will motivate you!

Stay Active — being physically active is key to experiencing the joys in life. Whether you want to hike a trail, visit the beach, or see a national park, staying active will allow you to experience those joys and be blessed.

Help others — giving back and staying philanthropic through your time, talent, or treasure will fill your soul and increase your love for others.

Gilbert, an Atria resident in California, also stands out. He is 99 years old, a retired Orthopedic surgeon, and most enjoys keeping his mind and his body sharp. Gilbert is known to always have a book or newspaper in his hand.

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?

Tim Joyce, otherwise known as T.J. for short, was the CEO I worked for in Richmond, VA and Raleigh, NC. He is a man who is full of life and has enough energy for an army. TJ and I would often get coffee and he would take time to pass on many leadership lessons to me. TJ and I connected most with our passion for creating big visions and leading people. What I learned most from him was that the best leaders know how to be present, to be still, and to reflect on key decisions or conversations. I call this pause, ponder, and meditate. There are many moments in my career and life when I have put this practice to use. It has always proved valuable, especially serving many different generations at Atria.

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?

Determination, enthusiasm, and optimism are three-character traits that drive me daily. Every time I visit an Atria community and speak to our residents, I come across people who have lived full lives, and who continue to go after more! I am inspired by the older adults at Atria Senior Living who do retirement and aging on their terms. Most recently, I met Saul, a 90-year-old resident at Coterie Cathedral Hill, one of Atria Senior Living’s luxury communities. Saul exudes optimism, energy, and he’s adamant about a daily workout.

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 have been a professional leader in the health and well-being field for 20+ years. I have specifically worked with multiple communities throughout the United States, involving all ages (children to seniors) and all income levels, to improve the quality of health and wellness programs and helping others achieve health goals through programs that support their well-being needs. I have helped design and lead capital projects that provide enhancements to fitness and wellness spaces for all age groups, which resulted in more people gaining access to health programs.

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)

Be present and live for today, plan for tomorrow. We can’t predict what is going to happen tomorrow, but we can control how we act and respond to today. Start the day with a walk or a swim, coffee with a friend, or read a book for 30 minutes. Enjoy the day you have and leave your mark on the world.

Care for yourself before you care for others. A friend of mine once told me that to care for the people around you, you must first take care of your needs. I have used this advice when working with leaders at all levels, making sure that I am physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared to serve others.

The spirit, mind, and body are connected. Staying mentally healthy and spiritually healthy starts with staying physical active; however, physical activity is useless if you’re not intentionally growing mentally or spiritually. It all works together! Relationships are a key element too. Surround yourself with people who love you and want you to be your best. It is wonderful to see our staff and residents cheering each other to reach big goals — whether in a walking challenge, setting a world record, or trying a new art form.

Fuel your body with healthy foods and liquids. This can be tough. I get it because I have struggled with this in my life. I grew up with a Hungarian mother from Jersey, and a father from Texas, both love hearty foods. Learning how to enjoy healthy foods throughout my adult life has allowed me to discover more foods that benefit my body, mind, and spirit in the long run. Sure — I love a good hot dog or burger, but my body has learned the benefits of being filled with healthier options packed with positive nutrition and energy.

Serve others with your heart. The more you give, the more you heart overflows with the love of service.

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

Have a positive outlook on life. Optimism fills the room with opportunities!

Be someone who speaks hope, truth, and love into others, and surround yourself with others who do the same.

Engage life physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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?

There’s no question that our health contributes to a long life, and beyond what makes up our physical health, it is also proven how relationships and socialization contribute to a long, fulfilled life. The core of our beliefs at Atria is that people belong together. Older adults, and us all, thrive when we feel supported in a community of friends and neighbors who care.

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

When I was young, I worked as a camp counselor. A mentor, leader, and friend said, “Things don’t just happen. You make them happen.” This drives me to always look for opportunities to do more, to figure out creative solutions for the older adults we serve at Atria.

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

You can always find what I am up to on AtriaSeniorliving.com, our Facebook, instagram or LinkedIn pages.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Journalist, Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor