Healthy To A Hundred: Patricia Kolesa of Hackensack Meridian Health 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
9 min readSep 6, 2022


Natural Movement : Having activities that encourage movement without having to think about it. Those who live in the Blue Zones have activities like gardening and drying laundry that encourages them to be outside and moving. Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to look like cardio or lifting weights at all times.

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 Patricia Kolesa.

Patricia (MS, RDN) is a registered dietitian based out of New Jersey, United States. She currently works as a clinical dietitian in an acute care hospital where she treats older adults with heart and renal disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal conditions, malnutrition and more. Her ultimate goal as a dietitian is to help others see the positive in food and exercise again using an individualized, non-diet approach.

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’?

I grew up in a very health-oriented family. My mom was a phys-ed and health teacher, while my dad stayed at home and did most of the cooking. My dad emphasized using whole ingredients with minimal additives, as well as being mindful of the nutritional content of meals. From there, I knew I wanted to be in healthcare and help others lead a healthier life in the most natural way, which can be through food and nutrition. Going through my career as a dietitian and in my personal life, I dove deeper into how integrative health can be ( as in health is defined by more than our food and exercise) and how food treats more than just our physical health. It can hold meaning like being a staple in your favorite meals your mom cooked, a part of a holiday dinner or a food that simply brings you comfort. As a dietitian, I want to help others have a more balanced and positive outlook on food as opposed to fearing food groups and dieting

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 first job as a dietitian was working with those undergoing weight loss surgery. While working with these clients, I saw a lot of deeply rooted issues outside of weight, like patients with depression, patients working 6-day workweeks, patients who were eating one meal a day, those living in hotels with lack of access to kitchen appliances — health issues that couldn’t be solved by shrinking the stomach. After leaving that job and graduating with my master's degree, I began to leisurely read about intuitive eating and anti-diet practices where I learned more about how people in bigger bodies can lead healthy lives if we have the right support in place for them to do so (safe, affordable food and water access, safe spaces for movement, stress management/mental health services, social support, etc). From there, I wanted to bring this message to a wider audience that weight isn’t always the answer to our health and that all foods serve a purpose whether or not its nutrition-related.

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?

My dietitian mentor is Liz Fusco, the sports dietitian for the United States Rowing Team. Liz was the first person to really reel me into the world of dietetics by bringing me on as an intern under her wing. Not only was this was my first nutrition-related experience as a college student, but a once in a lifetime experience working for an Olympic team. While with the United States Rowing Team, I traveled to Sarasota and Austria for World Championships where I worked alongside Liz to ensure that the athletes had enough recovery snacks and adequate hydration for top performance in their respective races. When we weren’t preparing snacks or running to the grocery store, Liz gave me the resources I needed to apply for internships where I would eventually get matched to my top internship program and become an RD.

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?

Compassionate: While working with my patients in the hospital, I never push for them to immediately start taking my education because I understand that they’re getting a lot of information and can’t be expected to make changes when they’re bedbound. Especially when they’re at a stress-inducing stage in their lives on top of that. I think this allows them to feel more open and at ease with me in conversation because they aren’t getting additional pressure

Reliable: By the end of my first summer with US Rowing, I took on additional work because the other two sports nutrition interns had left. I had completed all my assignments in a timely manner, which is what I think allowed me to travel with the team to Austria and Florida respectively. I’m not very comfortable with leaving things until the last minute and I like to write things down, so you can expect to hear back from me pretty quickly at any given time

Resourceful/Informative: Given my extensive background and experience, I am able to offer knowledge to colleagues, friends and family whether it is evidence-based nutrition information or something as simple as a website that they can find recipes. One of my favorite lines from others is “I didn’t know that!” when I’m relaying information or speaking on a certain topic

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?

As dietitians, we are required to look into our patients/clients as a whole. This not only means what foods they are eating, but also medical history, dietary preferences, how much and how often they’re able to exercise, how much stress they have in their daily lives, what kind of social support they have and whether or not they have the environment to achieve their health-related goals. We understand that health looks different for each person and we base our work around that. We aren’t looking for a ‘quick-fix’, but rather a long-term well-rounded approach to health and wellness using the research and experience we’ve gone through

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.

In my personal life, I’ve been trying to travel more. So far, I’ve visited Greece, Austria, Ecuador, Turks and Caicos, Mexico and Portugal. Through travel, I’ve learned a lot about how health looks differently amongst countries. In the United States, we’ve been taught to believe that restricting food groups, exercising for long periods of time and losing weight are the answers to our health and longevity. The more I travel, the more I see people of all bodies living fulfilling lives without these things. They have natural movement, nourishing dishes and support amongst each other and their health is just as good as ours, if not, better. This has allowed me to be more in the moment I’m always taking in what each country has to offer like their food, sightseeing without visiting a gym and conversing with the people there.

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)

Natural Movement : Having activities that encourage movement without having to think about it. Those who live in the Blue Zones have activities like gardening and drying laundry that encourages them to be outside and moving. Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to look like cardio or lifting weights at all times.

Nourishing Meals: The Blue Zones encourages a generally plant-based diet with home cooked meals where meat is only eaten a few times a month. People in the blue zones don’t diet and their environment naturally encourages healthy eating habits. They have gardens where they pick fresh fruits and vegetables and the foods they buy that require meal preparation.

Belonging; People living in the Blue Zones have friend circles that encourage healthy behaviors. By having the right support and encouragement from others, people will experience improved mood and decreased stress levels

Mindfulness: Mindfulness allows you to be present and brings awareness to where you are, how you feel and what you do. Mindfulness has been shown to improve focus, decrease stress and help with certain eating behaviors in some studies. As an example, people in the Blue Zones follow the 80/20 rule by eating until they feel 80% full.

Purpose: Having something that motivates you, whether its your career or the people around you, to survive. Without a purpose, you likely won’t see the other things happen like movement, nutrition and belonging

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

Access to affordable fresh food and water

Access to safe spaces where movement can be done with minimal effort

Having a supportive circle of friends that you see regularly and encourage healthy behaviors

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?

It is said that a good majority of longevity is determined by genetics (about 70%), but it is also said there are modifiable risk factors like diet and exercise (30%) that are within a person’s control. For some, diet and exercise can be chosen, but for those with a lower income and/ or who live in poorer countries, there might not be an option to choose (as in lack of healthy food access, safe spaces to exercise, etc). Overall, I feel like both are equally important and one shouldn’t be reliant on one side or the other for 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?

Exercising has been one of the biggest contributors to all of my areas of health by giving me strength and the perseverance to get through life's biggest challenges. With exercise, I feel like it helps bring me back when I’m feeling stressed or uncertain about situations because at the end of the day, I still want to feel stronger and refreshed, which is what exercise does for me

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

Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.

I feel like I resonate with this quote because I spent a lot of time learning after my first dietitian job. Learning through books and my own personal experience who I wanted to represent as a health practioner, what values I had and what messages I wanted to deliver to others. Now I’m in the waiting and growing period by bringing my message to wider audiences (through social media, magazines, articles, podcasts, etc) and being persistent in that message

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. :-)

I would start a movement that focuses on trusting in food again. I would love to walk people through the production process from farm to table so there is more awareness to how hard farmers work to put food on the table.. Within this movement, there would be education on gardening, nutrition, and culture so others can learn about how fulfilling food and nutrition can truly be. Hopefully this will also bring an understanding that health is very integrative, not black and white.

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

Website is still being worked on but you can follow me on Instagram and TikTok @thedietitiandish

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



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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