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Health Experts

Healthy Aging

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Lately, I feel my age. Is there anything I can do to get my spark back?—Mara S., Phoenix

You know what? Aging isn’t fun. You start to get thick around the middle. You have wrinkles you’ve never noticed before. Your energy isn’t what it used to be, not to mention your interest in sex. All of a sudden you’re noticing joint pains and stiffness that you never had before. You’re forgetting things. And you increasingly feel irrelevant and invisible. The world worships youth and vitality, and you’re in short supply of both. At least that’s the party line on what it’s like to “grow old.”

I’m here to say that doesn’t have to be the case. I know this from personal experience. I’m about a year or so away from age 70. I play tennis about 12 hours a week. I have a loving relationship with my fiancée. I take no prescribed medications. I wake up around 6 a.m. without an alarm clock, and I almost never feel groggy. At a time when many people I went to school with are retiring, I’m starting two new businesses. (Did I mention that I’m a former overweight drug addict who didn’t start doing one single healthy thing until I was about 38 years old?)

I mention all this for one reason only: If I can have the life I have at 69, anybody can. Or just about anybody. And if you can’t have (or don’t want) exactly the life I described, I can virtually guarantee you can have a better version of the one you have. And aging doesn’t have a darn thing to do with it.

Look, no one denies that the average 50-year-old body looks and performs differently than the average 18-year-old body, and the average 85-year-old looks and performs differently than the average 50-year-old. But when is the last time you aspired to “average”? Sure, there are certain “facts” about getting older that we can’t do much about. But I’m not interested in the facts we can’t change, I’m interested in the facts we can. And believe me, the impact of the things we can actually do something about far outweighs the impact of those we can’t.

Get Connected

Talk to any person in their 80s who has a great sex life—and there are way more of them around than you ever imagined—and you’ll hardly ever hear complaints about being old. And although sex with a loving partner at age 80 isn’t necessarily available to everyone, being connected is. When the National Geographic explorer and writer Dan Buttner visited the four areas around the globe known as the “Blue Zones”—areas that have the greatest number of healthy centenarians anywhere on the planet—he noticed one commonality among all the cultures he studied. It wasn’t the food they ate or the exercise they did. It was the fact that they felt connected to the people around them. Every one of Buttner’s centenarians contributed to the village or community. They had real friends—not Facebook friends, but people who they interacted with and to whom they mattered. They were making a difference to their community in some way. And if there is any single secret to aging well and living healthy, it’s that.

It’s invaluable to remember that aging is not just about whether you have some extra pounds or a few wrinkles. It’s about your vitality and energy. It’s about learning—and believing—that sexiness comes in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to wait to have a fat-free body or a wrinkle-free face in order to feel—and be—sexy, vital, and alive.

Begin from Within

OK, you say, but I still care about wrinkles! Of course you do. And so do I. But the first thing to understand is that physical aging begins at the cellular level, long before you notice it on your face or body. The cells are powered by tiny organelles called mitochondria, which are Ground Zero for energy production and for the burning of fat. When the mitochondria get overwhelmed—by toxins, oxidation, stress, or sugar—they stop working so well. The quick and constant communication between cells that is necessary for energy and vitality becomes sluggish, like a slow Internet connection. In fact, some health professionals believe that mitochondrial dysfunction is at the root of every illness.

A second thing to understand is that as you get older, your body starts making less of some essential compounds that it needs to maintain a youthful appearance. A perfect example is collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, and one that is absolutely essential to moist, plump, wrinkle-free skin.

A third thing to remember is the importance of gut health in all of this. As the gut goes, so goes the brain and the body. There are about 10 times more microorganisms in the gut than there are cells in the human body. The ecology of the gut is a central player in immunity, and recent evidence shows that it also impacts obesity and mood. Replenishing the “good bacteria” in the gut is the main reason we’re told to eat yogurt, with its excellent array of good bacteria known as probiotics.

And finally, most of us are nutrient depleted and are missing optimal amounts of important nutrients that help us look and perform better.

The Basics

Probably everyone reading this magazine has already heard how important both diet and exercise are for maintaining energy and optimism. (Research shows exercise can be as effective as or even better than an antidepressant when it comes to feeling good.) So I won’t belabor the obvious in this article. Eat as few processed foods as possible, and lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, grass-fed meat, and wild fish. Cut back on carbs and sugar, which have now been implicated not only in obesity and diabetes, but in Alzheimer’s disease as well. Exercise—I recommend a 30-minute brisk walk five times a week. This probably won’t get you on the cover of a fitness magazine, but it will help stave off every major disease and go a long way toward making you feel more energetic.

Perhaps most importantly, find a way to manage stress. There are serious physiological repercussions to stress. Not only can it age you, it can actually kill you. Caregivers are the worst at managing it because they typically put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. Remember, you can’t help anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.

What About Supplements?

Anyone who tells you that you can “get everything you need from food” is only partly right. You can get everything you need to prevent nutritional deficiency diseases like scurvy, but I call that “minimum wage nutrition,” which is hardly something you should aspire to. At the very least, take a high-quality multiple vitamin and mineral formula, vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics, and omega-3s. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, and virtually everyone can benefit from more of them. The most studied and most effective omega-3s are EPA and DHA, and both are found in fish oil. Try for a minimum of 1,000 mg (1 gm) of combined EPA and DHA a day.

Another supplement you should think about including in your program: collagen—the protein responsible for making skin look the way you want it to look. It is next to impossible to get from food, but can be taken as an oral supplement. There are three types of collagen, appropriately named 1, 2 and 3. Collagen 1 and 3 work well, especially for younger folks, but the big gun of the trio is collagen 2. (It’s also the most expensive.)

I’m also a big fan of resveratrol, the anti-aging substance found in red wine and the skin of dark grapes. Resveratrol helps “turn on” the SIRT genes, which are essentially your “longevity” genes. Read the label and look for the amount of trans resveratrol (the active ingredient). You’ll want 250–500 mg a day.

Top 7 healthy aging tips

In a nutshell, here are my favorite tips for living a long, joyful life in a body that you can love and appreciate at any age.

  • Eat real food. I mean food your grandmother would have recognized as food, such as organic produce and grass-fed meats. Avoid GMOs.
  • Exercise. Your body was meant to move. Do something physical every day.
  • Manage stress. Even 5 minutes a day
    of deep breathing will help.
  • Build and nourish your relationships. With your partner, kids, friends, community, and anyone or anything else.
  • Find sources of joy and inspiration. Remember that joy and passion aren’t the result of learning your life lessons—they are the life lessons!
  • Supplement intelligently. Make fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, probiotics,
    resveratrol, and collagen part of your daily routine. (If you can swallow a few more tablets, add curcumin and CoQ10.)
  • Contribute.Nothing energizes you more than making a difference in the world. Find a way to do it!

Marriage and family counselor Esther Perel conducted research in more than 20 countries to discover what people find attractive. One of the top three answers was this: “When I see him/her doing something they’re good at with confidence.”

Confidence, joy, making a difference, and being comfortable in your own skin.

That’s how you age magnificently. And it’s sexier than any wrinkle-eraser.