Think of good posture as an anti-aging tool.  Good posture means improved flexibility, a healthier back and fewer injuries.

Aging Well from Day One

August 26th, 2015

BabyBiological age v chronological age. The actual, functional age of your body versus your birthdate. Yes, there is a versus here. These two ages are more often than not separated by years, sometime decades. One, the age you think you are because you were born in a certain year, is virtually meaningless to your health and well-being; the other, the real age of your body, determines vitality, energy and wellness. Chronological age happens to you; biological age you can control in important and life-altering ways. I’ve written about this here and here, and it is the empowering fact that underlies my book, Counterclockwise.

What I had read previously about this differential pace in aging was that it began around age 40, that the body up until then was pretty forgiving. After 40, the research said, was when the accumulated benefit – or harm – you were doing to your body started to show up in what are called “biomarkers.” Biomarkers are statistical measurements of real, functional age, like blood pressure, heart rate, bone density, lung capacity, etc. After age 40, and increasing at a faster pace onward, biomarkers reflected the good and bad decisions made about how we lived our lives.

Now comes the surprising news that this differential pace in aging begins at much much younger chronological age than we thought. In a fascinating and meticulously configured study of 1000 young people tracked form birth to age 38, a team of researchers (Duke, UCLA, Kings College, Hebrew University) discovered significant differences in biological aging in this youthful population. When the researchers measured 10 different biomarkers at the end of the study, they found that the biological age of this study group, all of whom were chronologically 38, ranged from (biological) age 28 to 61. Yes, you read that right. Some 38 year olds were functionally 28; others were nearing retirement.

The researchers then measured the pace of aging based on repeated assessments of a panel of 18 biomarkers and found that some members of the study group aged near zero percent during some chronological years, while others gained three biological years for each chronological year.

This is really important stuff, you guys. So listen up. This is not just more proof that what we do and don’t do in our lives has far more impact on our health than the mere passage of time (or our genetic inheritance). It is powerful evidence that the process of aging well begins the moment we are born.

Take 10 deep, slow from the belly breaths.  Do this as often as you can during the day, especially when you feel stressed.

It’s that simple.

August 12th, 2015

photo

You’ve heard it before … Now do it: Make time for 30+ minutes of cardio-vascluar activity 3-4/x week.

A walk in the park

August 5th, 2015

???????????????????????I love it when science “proves” what we all know already – in this case that a walk in the park (or any quiet, green natural environment) makes you feel good.

But, to give the Stanford University researchers who came to this conclusion their due, there’s more to the story that that.

For example: They figured out how to measure the subjective sense of “feeling good.” It turns out that a particular part of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex shows increased activity during what cognitive scientists like to call “morbid rumination.” (The rest of us call this grumbling to ourselves and rehashing all the ways our lives suck.) When this part of our brain is less active, we are happier. We “feel good.”

And this interesting finding: It’s not the invigorating physical effect of walking that makes you “feel good” – that is, have decreased activity in the morbid rumination section of the brain. Research subjects who walked along a traffic-clogged street did not get the same neurological advantages and mood elevation as the park walkers.

Here are the details: Researchers gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination. The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. (Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.) Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace. Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

For the highway walkers, the blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged. But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

This little study joins a growing body of research investigating the effects of urban living. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

It’s not only how you live but where you live.

A fast, easy, nutrition-rich, anti-aging breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt, blueberries, chopped almonds, green tea.

Adventure, part 2

July 29th, 2015

solo bike2 july 15I wrote about adventure last week – and then promptly went on one. It was no Wild, but it was, for me, both demanding and empowering: I embarked on my first-ever solo biking and camping trip.

The uncomfort zone I inhabited – an adventure is not an adventure if you don’t make yourself at least a little uncomfortable in the process – was not what you might expect. It was not so much about the physical challenge. I’m not saying that riding 70 miles over the coast range on a loaded bike was easy (especially on the lady parts), but I was in shape to do this. Getting my body to perform was a challenge, yes, but I knew I could do it.

The uncomfort zone was the woman-alone thing. Anxieties about the bike: flat tires and broken chains and assorted road mishaps far from bike shops and towns – and often out of cellphone range. Anxieties about camping alone: animals and people who act like animals and things that go bump in the night.

It took maybe 40 miles to stop feeling that particular all-body zing that, for me, signals being on high alert. This embodied anxiety feels almost like a low-level electrical current — not actually unpleasant, but insistent and distracting. But as I cycled through wetlands and pasture lands and forests, as I crossed creeks and skirted farms and edged around a lake, I began to forget all the bad things that could happen – because so many good things were happening: the greener-than-green landscape, the cloudless sky, the smell of mown hay, the solid power of my legs. I didn’t make a decision — Now I am going to cease being a scaredy cat start enjoying myself – but it happened. It’s weird to say that my body, busy pumping out the sweaty miles, actually relaxed. But that’s what happened.

And, after I successfully established my camp site and pitched my tent and started a fire in the fire ring and ate my dinner with my feet dangling in the Siuslaw River, I felt deep-down good. And ready for the next adventure.

Think of good posture as an anti-aging tool.  Good posture means improved flexibility, a healthier back and fewer injuries.

Adventure

July 22nd, 2015

bike adventureI am not yet ready to stop having adventures.

Why do I make this proclamation?

It is because having adventures, whole-heartedly pursuing adventures – physical, creative, intellectual, spiritual – is the mark of one who is a curious and engaged.

It is because maintaining (no, not just maintaining, actively fueling) a sense of curiosity and wonder is the cornerstone of a counterclockwise lifestyle. A curious, engaged, adventurous person is, regardless of chronological age, youthful.

And so I say again: I am not yet ready to stop having adventures. And I hope I never will be.

An adventure is an experience that involves risk. It nudges you back to the beginning of a learning curve, which is an exciting, humbling and scary place to be. But it is the place where learning happens, where growth happens. Adventure is about inviting the unexpected and staying flexible and resilient enough to enjoy (or cope creatively with) what happens.

Adventures are individual, idiosyncratic things: a six-day silent meditation retreat is one person’s adventure; three weeks of backcountry hiking is another. A third adventurous soul might sign up for a pudding wrestling contest at a bar (a benefit for a really good cause. Really). These aren’t, as you might have guessed, random adventures. They are, in fact, adventures each of my three children have recently undertaken.

Which brings me to a conversation I overhead yesterday that compelled me to write this post today. I heard a woman at my favorite coffee hang-out say to her friend (after regaling her with what her children were up to), “After all, it’s our kids’ chance to have adventures now. Our time has past.” To which I say: bullshit. No, I didn’t say this out loud at the time. (I am not that kind of adventurous.) But I say it now. I am yelling it now. B U L L S H I T. Listen. This isn’t a zero-sum game. We don’t have to stop having adventures when our kids start having their own. In fact, this is THE time to reinvigorate our own sense of adventure.

Tomorrow I leave for my first-ever overnight solo bike trek.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

Set your phone or computer to beep at you every hour, reminding you to GET UP AND MOVE for 5 minutes.

Our friends the mice

July 15th, 2015

miceWhat’s good news for mice is sometimes good news for (wo)men: So listen up.

Australian and Chinese researchers have made what could be a ground-breaking discovery about one of the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. Using mice – genomically so similar to us that it’s kind of scary – the scientists manipulated a receptor  that mediates the toxicity of nerve-damaging signals in the Alzheimer’s brain. In doing so they – hold onto your hats — reversed “behavioral deficits and Alzheimer’s Disease-type pathologies.” You could say, if you wanted to be dramatic about it, that they cured Alzheimer’s. In mice.

Here is my Science for Dummies explanation of what these guys did: We all (mice and [wo]men) have this good receptor that protects our brain from nerve damage and the resulting cell death and amyloid plaque build-up that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. But we also have a bad receptor that causes nerve damage, which results in, yes, cell death and amyloid build-up. The researchers discovered that, in the Alzheimer’s brain, the bad receptor is winning. When they genetically manipulated the mice’s brains to enhance the good receptor and jazz up (that’s science talk) its protective action, they saw the reversal of amyloid build up and cell death.

Sometimes we get very excited about research that looks ultra promising in mouse models (resveratrol is a great example) only to discover that humans are different enough that the research doesn’t easily transfer. I don’t think we start screaming from the rooftops, “We have cured Alzheimer’s.” The shout-from-the-rooftops breakthrough is the sophisticated way we are coming to understand how the healthy (and the diseased) brain works. What these scientists are discovering about the complex role of various neurotransmitters is very good news.

Meanwhile, we humans are deeply deeply indebted to the lab animals that make research like this possible. Mice and rats account for about 95 percent of all lab animals, and they have been integral to medical breakthroughs in aging, and in cancer and many other diseases. I know there are those who are against using animals in medical research, and my heart is with them. My head, though, acknowledges the leaps in understanding and the resulting amelioration of pain and illness that these little guys have made possible.

YES!  There is an anti-aging “magic bullet.”  It’s called physical activity.

‘Tis the season

July 8th, 2015

blueberry selfieMy daughter Lizzie and I picked blueberries for two delightful hours yesterday morning, surely one of my favorite agricultural activities. ‘Tis the season to revel in fresh produce of all kinds, but blueberries have long been on the top of my list. I wanted to spread The Gospel of the Blueberry in this week’s post — and discovered that I wrote about going picking (and the health and anti-aging benefits of blueberries) almost exactly one year ago.  Here is that post. Read it — and then head to the nearest blueberry patch (if you are lucky enough to live near one, or have a garden of your own) or the grocery store. Unsprayed berries, of course.

(July 16, 2014)

My husband, daughter and I spent a few hours last Saturday picking blueberries in the cool of the morning, alternately intent on the task and zoning out to bird songs and soft breezes. Blueberry picking is a delightful activity. Quiet, contemplative, rewarding. Unlike strawberry picking, you get to stand up. Unlike blackberry picking you get to not bleed. And, of course, you get blueberries which, in my opinion, are the apex of deliciousness.

How wonderful, then, that they are also the apex of healthiness. Here are five reasons to enjoy blueberries – lots and lots of them – right now:

1. Blueberries protect against memory loss.
A 2012 study suggested that eating at least one serving of blueberries a week slowed cognitive decline by several years. These promising results came from work by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers which was published in the Annals of Neurology. (Read: high cred) It may be that blueberries protect the brain by clearing toxic proteins that accumulate there, which was the finding of a 2013 mouse study.

2. Blueberries are heart-friendly. Very friendly.
In repeated studies, blueberries (1-2 cups a day) have been found to lower total cholesterol, raise HDL (that’s the good one) and lower triglycerides. At the same time, blueberries have been shown to help protect LDL (the bad one) from damage that could lead to clogging of the arteries. Blueberries powerful antioxidant phytochemicals also help protect the cells lining the blood vessel walls. And the most recent research points to blueberries’ role in increasing the activity of an enzyme associated with better cardiovascular function. And then there’s blood pressure. In those with high blood pressure, blueberries have significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. In those with health blood pressure, blueberries have been shown to help maintain these healthy pressures.

3. Blueberries provide antioxidant support throughout the body.
Blueberries’ phytochemicals don’t just work wonders within the cardiovascular system. They provide support for virtually every body system studied to date. That includes muscles, nerves and the digestive tract. In preliminary animal studies, one of the powerful antioxidants in blueberries (anthocyanins) helped protect the retina from oxidative damage.

4. Blueberries help with blood sugar regulation.
A recent study that included blueberries along with other low Glycemic Index fruits, found the combination to have a favorable impact on blood sugar regulation in those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Participants in the study who consumed at last 3 servings of low-GI fruits per day (including blueberries) saw significant improvement in their regulation of blood sugar over a three-month period of time.

5. Blueberries might have important anti-cancer benefits.
It’s too early to tell, but the studies done on human cells in the lab and on lab animals appear promising. So far breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine have been studied. The hope is that blueberry consumption may lower the risk of these cancer types.

Unlike other foods that are packed with healthy benefits – like nuts, for example, or que lastima, chocolate — blueberries are not packed with calories. One cup has only 80-85 calories. That serving provides 30 percent of your vitamin K needs, 25 percent of manganese, 20 percent of vitamin C and a surprising 15 percent of daily fiber requirements. Such a deal.

And, new studies make it clear that we can freeze blueberries without doing damage to their delicate antioxidants. Which is a relief, as we picked about 35 quarts Saturday morning.

Keep chemicals off your skin!  Read, really read, those ingredient labels for body products.

One Pill Makes You Younger…

July 1st, 2015

pillIs there – could there be – an anti-aging pill?

I write about the hope and hype of “anti-aging” – and by anti-aging, you know I mean prolonging (and enjoying) a healthy, vibrant, engaged and meaningful life for as long as possible. Most times there’s a whiff of hope and a shitload of hype. Most times there’s a sliver of interesting or provocative research that morphs overnight into products and treatments shilled by internet hucksters. Hope becomes hype in a heartbeat.

But this may be changing.

One of the big problems in the world of anti-aging – that is, the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around the evolving science of aging – is the lack of substantial, credible research. I am not talking about research that investigates how we age. That’s coming along nicely, and as you know from reading this blog, the news is very good. And I’m not talking about the research that explores connections between our bad habits (smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stress, diet) or our good habits (exercise, diet, sleep) and aging. We are getting excellent, thought-provoking data on that. Again, I’ve written about this quite a bit here.

I am talking about credible research on “remedies,” those substances (from HGH to CoQ-10, bio-identical hormones to resveratrol) hawked in books or on the web that promise to stop aging in its tracks, turn back the hands of time and cure what ails ya.

When you look for the research to back up the claims and promises, you don’t find it. The gold-standard studies (large scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) are not there. The reasons for this are interesting and complicated – too complicated to write about here. (I do, however, explain this in my book, Counterclockwise). But there is change in the air.

Doctors and scientists want drug regulators and research funding agencies to consider medicines that delay age-related disease as legitimate drugs. Such treatments have a physiological basis, researchers say, and could extend a person’s healthy years by slowing down the processes that underlie common diseases of aging — making them worthy of government approval. (And government – that is, FDA – approval depends on consistent evidence gleaned from large-scale, gold-standard studies.) Please know that I know that some horrific drugs have been approved by the FDA, and some potentially life-saving ones have not. This is not a perfect system.

The first drug scientists would like to subject to rigorous gold-standard research is metformin, which suppresses glucose production by the liver and increases sensitivity to insulin. The drug has been used for more than 60 years (in the treatment of diabetes). It is safe and prolongs healthy life and lifespan in worms and in some mouse strains. Data also suggest that it could delay heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and death in people with diabetes. There are plans for a 5-7 year study involving several thousand people at 15 research centers around the country.

And who knows, in the next decade there might well be an anti-aging pill.

Trans-fat (as in store-bought bakery items)?  Really?  You know better.

Zen and the Art of Bike Riding

June 24th, 2015

photo I just returned, sore lady parts and all, from a 2-day, 136-mile bike trip out and back to the coast. What I love about long-distance bike riding is not what you’d think. I don’t love it because of the physical challenge, the way it works all the big muscles, the great cardio. I don’t love it because it takes me outside, for hours and hours, into the glory that is Oregon. Well, of course I love it for all that. But that’s not the big reason.

The big reason is how obvious and no-nonsense life lessons are when you’re out there on a bike for hours and hours. The lessons are delivered, in your face. No mushy aphorisms-to-live-by, no bumpersticker-like words of inspiration. Just immediate, lived experience.

Here’s what I mean: One minute you’re tooling down this back road and there’s no traffic and the wind is at your back and the air is sweet with new mown hay. On either side of the road, the foxglove and larkspur are in full bloom. And your companion (who happens to be your wonderful, amazing middle son Zane) calls your attention to a red-winged blackbird. And the two of you say, almost in unison, “It doesn’t get better than this.”

Five minutes, maybe more like 3 minutes later, the wind picks up and shifts and is hammering your face and all of a sudden there’s nasty gravel all over the shoulder and you run over the decaying but still redolent carcass of a skunk. And you think: Shit. What just happened? This is how quickly life changes. And you realize: Just because it truly sucks right now doesn’t mean it will suck five minutes from now. And you think: Life turns on a dime. And isn’t that kind of grand.

You can be philosophical – okay, you have to be philosophical – when you are powering up a seemingly interminable 7 percent grade or when the late afternoon sun is scorching your back as you sweat through the final 15 to home. This is when Zane and I curse loudly, pick the bugs from our teeth and yell to each other, remind each other: “It’s all good miles.” The downhill-sweet-hay miles and the uphill-log-trucks-on-your ass miles, the skunk miles, the watching-a-great-blue-heron-dive-for-a-fish miles. It’s all good miles.

Get it?

I’m beginning to.

Z and me bike

Use a moisturizer/ sunscreen (SPF 30) always, regardless of season.

Joy

June 17th, 2015

photoPleasure is planned.

Joy happens.

Pleasure is what you feel eating a plate of grilled fresh sardines at a little taverna in Crete with the sun dipping down over the Agean. It took four airplanes to get here, and countless hours poring over airbnb apartments to find a cool and funky place to stay, and concerted exploration of tripadvisor and yelp to find the taverna. And then you had to walk a mile to get here. But now here you are. And it’s lovely. It’s delightful. It’s a pleasure.

Joy is when you are crouched filthy and sweaty in the garden pulling the umpteenth thistle from in between the tomato plants, and you look up to see the cat walking on the edge of the raised-bed box, all slinky and graceful, sinuous and supple, and for no reason he stops and turns his head to look at you, and his eyes are as green as grass, and it takes your breath away. And in the place of that breath joy floods in.

What does this have to do with counterclockwise living?

Everything.