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Sally Duplantier, MSG, was in her mid-60s when she started her master’s degree at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Her decision to go back to school came soon after she founded her second company, Zing.

Duplantier’s previous work involved technology training and leadership development, but her new interest was healthy aging. “I looked around at people my age and older,” Duplantier says. “Some were healthy and energetic — and others weren’t. I became interested in why and how to change it.”

Starting a business to help older adults live their best lives longer requires formal training, Duplantier thought. She looked locally to Stanford University and found they offered a certificate program in nutrition science. She completed the certificate with flying colors and forged ahead at full steam.

Duplantier started building Zing by giving presentations at senior living facilities. She also wanted to keep learning and began thinking about a master’s degree in gerontology. Then COVID-19 hit.

Wellness Wednesdays

Not able to give presentations in person, Duplantier turned to Zoom. Her first webinars, called Wellness Wednesdays, had a handful of participants. But their popularity quickly grew.

Each 50-minute webinar featured an aging-related topic and a live Q&A session. Speakers included leading-edge researchers, authors and health care professionals. Four years later, Duplantier has had more than 10,000 registered participants from nearly 60 countries. And though the pandemic is over, Wellness Wednesdays is flourishing and attracting new people.

Part of the attraction, Duplantier says, is that the programs are evidence-based. She vets the science, scouts for speakers and strives to keep topics new and fresh. Some Wellness Wednesday titles include:

  • Conquering Chronic Pain
  • Oh, for a Better Night’s Sleep
  • Playful Aging
  • Techniques for Healthier Meal Prep
  • The Neuroscience of Meditation
  • The Secrets of SuperAgers

Finding a gerontology program

Duplantier’s search for a gerontology graduate program quickly led her to the USC Leonard Davis School. USC’s stellar reputation was important, but the online program was the main attraction. Duplantier had a full life in the San Francisco area and couldn’t relocate for school.

The admissions team at the USC Leonard Davis School was with Duplantier at every step. Student services manager, Sara Robinson, MS, was particularly helpful. Duplantier was initially thinking about the Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity degree, but she didn’t have the science prerequisites. Robinson helped her decide on a Master of Science in Gerontology (MSG).

Duplantier was the only student at the USC Leonard Davis School who was old enough to be on Medicare. But she didn’t feel out of place. “There was a mix of midcareer professionals and younger people,” she says. “We learned from one another. It was an excellent example of intergenerational learning.”

Passion for research

Duplantier found the live online courses at USC Leonard Davis School rich and engaging. A pivotal class for her was Gero 589: Research Methods, taught by Paul Nash, PhD and Jennifer Ailshire, PhD. Not having any background in math or statistics, she was anxious about the course but ended up loving it.

When it came time for her internship, Duplantier approached her Stanford professor, Christopher Gardner, PhD, a well-known nutrition scientist. Typically, students don’t go to a different university to complete their internship. But Duplantier wanted to work with her former Stanford professor and focus on a nutrition-related topic. Eventually, both schools agreed.

Duplantier’s internship project was a literature review to examine the link between dietary patterns and cognitive decline. After evaluating nearly 50 studies, she co-authored a paper in the journal, Nutrients, in 2021.

She found that, for the most part, diets such as the Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay (MIND) diets showed neuroprotective benefits. But the studies didn’t all agree — and she became fascinated with why that was.

So, she looked at the research methodologies in each study and found inconsistencies. Some studies were too short to detect cognitive changes or had no baseline data. There were also very few randomized clinical trials. Most were observational epidemiology studies that showed correlation but not causation.

“My goal with the project was to learn how to write a scientific paper,” Duplantier says. “When it was published, I was stunned and thrilled.”

Building the Zing brand

Having completed her MSG in 2022, Duplantier continues to build Zing, but profits are not her primary motivation. Zing is a mission-driven business that helps people make lifestyle choices that improve health outcomes. Research shows that lifestyle changes can reverse or eliminate 80% of chronic diseases.

Duplantier is a frequent guest speaker on healthy aging-related topics. She also provides group coaching as part of her Healthy Habits Network. “Most people know they should exercise and eat more vegetables, but many don’t act on that knowledge,” Duplantier says. “Through weekly check-ins via Zoom, group participants work on building and maintaining healthy habits. The group structure helps participants move from knowing to doing.

Future directions

Graduate school was a catalyst for Duplantier, who is now completing a graduate certificate in qualitative research at Indiana State University. She recently co-authored a study on the health and well-being of family caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. “Learning has been such a positive force in my life,” she says. “I don’t think I ever want to stop.”

Duplantier is also helping to address health needs in her community. As she learned at USC Leonard Davis School, many people don’t have the luxury of making healthy lifestyle choices. She is working with Ronald McDonald House Charities and Stanford University to investigate food insecurity of family caregivers of critically ill children, which disproportionately affects minorities.

“My role is to collaborate with other nonprofits working on this issue,” Duplantier says. “The drive to help underserved communities is absolutely a result of my time at USC.”

Secrets to a long, healthy life

When asked where her energy and enthusiasm come from, Duplantier credits her dad’s positivity — which she shares. Indeed, research shows that a positive attitude about aging can increase longevity by up to 7.5 years.

“It’s not just about eating well or exercising,” Duplantier says. “It’s about questioning our own internal ageist beliefs. I want people to become more aware of their negative thoughts about aging. Society always pokes fun at older people, but we don’t have to do it ourselves. Let’s just stop doing that.”

To learn more about a Master of Science in Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, call us at (213) 740-5156.

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