Eat more plants and fewer animals.  The healthiest, longest-lived cultures on earth eat plant-based diets.

The thrill is gone. Not.

February 25th, 2013

rectangularizationThe rectangularization of morbidity.

It’s not exactly a phrase that glides off one’s tongue, but it’s one that came to me yesterday during an intense pool tabata exercise class. (If you want to know what pool tabata is, shoot me a comment and I’ll be glad to give details.) The instructor was playing music, rather loud music, from a boom box set beside the edge of the pool.  In between huffing and puffing, I found myself singing along to John Cougar Mellancamp’s classic “Jack and Diane,” the refrain of which goes like this:

Oh yeah, life goes on
Long after the thrill of living is gone

And I thought: Right.  That’s what aging has become in America.  It’s about the extension of life in the absence of health and vitality.  It’s about living to 80 or 90 but spending the last ten (if you’re lucky, more if you’re not) years frail, incapacitated, on multiple medications, worried, feeling useless, joyless, disconnected.  It’s about living long after the thrill of living is gone.

I think that’s because our attention has been focused on mitigating the symptoms of illness rather than preventing them, on the extension of lifespan, not healthspan.  Lifespan is the number of years you live.  Healthspan is the number of years you live well.  It’s the number of years you live with the physical stamina to do things that make you and others happy, the mental acuity to take on new challenges, the emotional strength to face challenges with learned optimism.

Increasing healthspan is known as the “rectangularization of morbidity.” It’s when our life-line does not look like a mountain, the physical/ mental peak being at 35 or 40, followed by a slow decline until death. Instead, the graph is “rectangularized,” flattened out.  We hit out peak and then maintain, as long as we can, a long long plateau of health and vitality until the end.   The end is not 15 years in assisted living. The end is a nice quick bout of pneumonia.

When I defined “anti-aging” for myself, when I spent more than a year researching that world and immersing myself in it for the book I wrote (see info on left while excusing this blatant promotion), that’s what I was after.  More years lived well.  More years lived at the top of my game.  More years to huff and puff through pool tabata.

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

You’re young…but you’re old?

February 20th, 2013

Street sign  ELDERLEY PEOPLE CROSSING ( against white background )Our negative and sometimes downright nasty stereotypes about age are entrenched, pervasive and very difficult to escape or ignore.  The other day I was standing in front of the birthday card section at a local store, and here’s what I saw:  On the front of one card were two older ladies blowing on party favors.  The text read:  “At our age, we don’t call it a ‘party favor’ anymore.”  Inside:  “We call it a work-out.”  Or how about this one:  An overdressed woman in a fur coat is standing outside a bathroom stall looking confused.  Inside the card, the text reads:  “At your age it all comes down to one question.  What was it I came in here for?” Really?  The “golden years” are about not having the breath to blow on a party favor and forgetting why you walked into the bathroom?

So, I wondered:  How old do you have to be for the birthday card industry to assault you with insults masquerading as humor?  Not as old as you think.  Maybe, in fact, as old as you – and I — are right now.  On one card, a cross-eyed cartoon vulture is perched on a branch.  The cover text reads:  “So, you’re 50.  Hey, look on the bright side.”  Inside: “Okay, so there is no bright side.  There’s a bright light, but you’re gonna want to stay away from that.”

Whaaat?  At fifty there is no “bright side”?  At fifty you’re eyeing death?  But wait…it gets worse.  The card next to it proclaims in big bubble letters: “40 isn’t old!”  Inside:  “Cover isn’t true!” Forty is old?  What about “40 is the new 30”?  Aren’t magazines targeted to women of a certain age (now apparently defined as the first day after our thirty-fifth birthday) proclaiming just this in upbeat stories accompanied by airbrushed, studio-lit photos of gorgeous women who are forty but look twenty-five?

I’m confused.  No, I’m not confused about why I find myself in the bathroom.  I’m confused about these conflicting you’re old no you’re young no you’re old messages.  I’m confused (and angry) about the damaging, sometimes self-fulfilling stereotypes about aging.  Aren’t you?  Please vent (in the comments section)!  Venting is an anti-aging strategy.

 

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

Anti-aging clothes? Really?

February 13th, 2013

copperCan clothes make you younger?

I don’t mean dressing hip, or nipping and tucking with Spanx.  I mean clothes that reverse the signs of aging.

Here’s the hype:

WearRepair, a line of leggings, tanks and shirts, claims to reduce wrinkles and hyper-pigmentation (aka age spots), and improve overall skin texture.  The magic ingredient is copper oxide engineered into the fabric. Presumably, cooper oxide stimulates the production of capillaries and collagen (the connective tissue that supports the skin), the same process touted by many anti-aging beauty facial cremes.  Huffpost, The Gloss, NYC radio and Rachel Ray have fueled the hype.

Looking for proof, are you?

The Rachel Ray show did a 30-day trial with her audience, members of which reported that they saw significant decrease in age spots after the second week.

Okay, I said, like, proof, as in some research, some scientific evidence?

The benefits of copper peptides for tissue regeneration (particularly effective in healing wounds and skin lesions) were discovered back in the 1970s when they were widely tested and documented with clinical evidence.  Theoretically, it is possible that intact skin might react in healing ways.  But there is very little research on the cosmetic and anti-aging use of cooper.  And none (except for Rachel Ray’s audience) on cooper-infused clothing.

Best way clothing can prevent premature aging?  Wear it to protect your skin against sun exposure.  Tanned skin is damaged skin.

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

Shop the perimeter

February 9th, 2013

shop perimeterHere are 6 good reasons– well 5.5, if we give “rice cakes” the benefit of the doubt – to “shop the perimeter.”  That’s the advice from nutritionists and dietitians and other health-conscious folks who want us to eat for life and health (and not illness, lethargy, obesity and aging).

It’s around the perimeter of the grocery store that you’ll find the produce section and the store’s selection of meats and fish.  Around the perimeter you can buy fresh food (maybe even organic or locally grown/ raised food) that is nutrient rich, with the vitamins and minerals (aka phytochemicals) that research is showing have powerful disease-preventing, anti-aging effects.  Shopping the perimeter you have the chance to choose foods that increase energy, boost the immune system, keep arteries clear, the heart strong, the digestive tract happy and metabolism powered up.

What do you find cruising the inner aisles?  Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, Cool Ranch Doritos, Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls, liters of Coke and family-sized bags of M&Ms.  (You better NOT be salivating now.)

Btw, the photo above is of my local Safeway.

Indoor job? Northern hemisphere?  Supplement with vitamin D.

Move it

February 6th, 2013

MOVEitNot that I get my health news from Parade magazine – and you shouldn’t either! – but I think that a recent “Healthy Live Longer & Better” column is worth mentioning.  It was presented as ten Q&As , the set-up being that readers would think they knew the right answer, would choose that “obvious” answer and then zing, find out they were wrong.  For example:

Which of these two habits could shave the most time off your life?
(a) smoking
(b) watching TV

Of course, you answer (a) because you know how evil smoking is, how it causes lung cancer and contributes to heart disease and is a risk factor for just about everything bad that can befall you.  But the answer is (b) watching TV.  Whaaat?  I’m pretty sure the clever, unnamed author of this little feature didn’t mean that literally.  I’m pretty sure that it is the action – or rather inaction – of being a couch potato that shortens life not the actual watching of TV.

What about this question: Which of the following is most likely to improve your memory?
(a) solving crossword puzzles
(b) going on regular walks
(c) taking gingko biloba supplements

Lots of stories on health sites and in magazines about the memory-boosting power of crossword puzzles and sudoku and brain teasers.  Lots of noise about the miraculous gingko biloba.  But the answer is (b) going for a walk.

Another question (I promise this is the last) asks what the best treatment is for creaky, arthritic knees.  The possible answers include:  taking it easy, taking a particular much-touted supplement or taking tai chi.  Tai chi wins.

In fact, in each of these 3 questions – and several others – some kind of physical movement is the key to improving (in addition to longevity, memory and arthritis) quality sleep, bone health, mood and energy level.

Parade says:  Move it.

Integrate stretching into your daily life. (Waiting on line, talking on phone, work breaks.)

How old are you?

February 1st, 2013

Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeHow old are you? If you answered based on the year you were born, you’re probably wrong.  Why?

Because chronological age is meaningless.

It’s the age of the body that’s important.

That’s what just about everyone who studies human aging now believes.  The Baltimore Longitudinal Study, a massive effort that tracked 3000 people from their twenties to their nineties, concluded that people age at such vastly different rates that by the time they reach 80 or 90 the differences are so marked as to make birthdates entirely irrelevant.  But you don’t have to wait to age 80 to see this. There’s widespread agreement that after age 35 or 40, the date on your birth certificate is one of the least accurate indications of how old you are.

Yes:  Every day we get older.  But the pace at which we grow older varies enormously.  We don’t have control of the former.  We do have far more control than we think of the latter.

The old way of looking at aging is that the body just progressively falls apart, and the best way to stay healthy and live a long life is to…remember this great piece of advice?… choose your parents wisely.  Gee, thanks a lot.  Now several decades of re-focused research on aging is telling us something different.  And more helpful!

It seems that we age – that is, our bodies age – in a way and at a rate that is greatly affected by the everyday choices we make.  The way we live our lives.

That means physical activity (or lack thereof), healthy eating (or not), stress-reducing behavior (or freak-outs), satisfying (or stultifying) work, agreeable (or disagreeable) relationships.  Do we challenge ourselves or go on auto-pilot?  Make an effort to rebound from life’s vicissitudes or wallow?  Experts now believe that the accumulation of choices we make in how we live account for – hold onto your hat — close to 70 percent of how and how quickly (or slowly) we age.