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20 Years Younger
Look Younger, Feel Younger, Be Younger!
By Bob Greene
With Harold A. Lancer
With Ronald L. Kotler, MD
With Diane L. McKay, PhD
Read by Bob Greene
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Readers will walk away with a greater understanding of how the body ages and what they can do to feel-and look-20 years younger.
Table of Contents
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Reverse the effects of aging with the 20 Years Younger program
It's never been simpler to look, feel, and be 20 years younger.
Did you know that exercise helps keep cognitive skills sharp and lack of sleep makes you more prone to obesity? These are just two examples of how improving one body system can jump-start changes in another.
Bob Greene's cutting-edge program is built around four essential pillars:
Exercise: Fight muscle and bone loss, strengthen the core, and stay agile with a combination of strength training and aerobics.
Nutrition: A complete nutrition plan designed to promote longevity, including delicious recipes, menus, and advice on supplements.
Skin care: The three-step skin-care program will battle wrinkles and other age-related damage and restore the glow to your skin.
Sleep: Get a better night's sleep with this eleven-point plan; enjoy more energy, reduce your risk of disease, and more.
The science of aging has shown that incorporating these four pillars into your life can change your physiology, allowing you to significantly slow down age-related decline and function. Experience amazing changes to your body, mind, and spirit, and learn what it feels like to be 20 years younger!
A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, I spent part of the spring cycling my way across the country, riding from Long Beach, California, to New York City. It was something I had always wanted to do, and the opportunity presented itself when I was booked on a multicity tour to promote a book I'd written. I knew that the 3,600-mile trip would be grueling, but I thought it would actually be less stressful than racing from one airport to another, which is how a typical book tour unfolds. To prepare, I trained hard so that I'd be able to hit my target of riding about one hundred miles a day. I planned to sleep in a different town every night and visit bookstores, malls, and fitness centers in more than thirty cities along the way.
I wasn't far into the trip when I began to feel dramatic changes taking place. By the time I hit Arizona, I had a mental and emotional clarity that I'd never before experienced. At times, I'd be riding for eight hours or more with nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the beat of my heart in my ears. As I looked around me, colors seemed brighter, the world smelled fresher, sounds seemed sharper, the things I touched seemed more textured. All my senses were amplified. And nothing rattled me—not a dog giving chase, rain on my back, a treacherous ascent. As my legs cycled rhythmically, the pedestrian concerns of the everyday slipped away and I'd find my thinking stripped down to the essentials. I contemplated the scenery and I contemplated my life. What was important to me? What did I want out of life? While I was on that trip it all became so much clearer.
As I edged toward Chicago I became aware that I was also going through extraordinary physical changes. I'd been hailed on at the Grand Canyon and twice climbed more than 11,000 feet in the still snowy Rockies, and I felt invincible, virtually bulletproof. Every night I slept like a rock. In my early forties at the time, I thought I was pretty fit going into the ride, but that extreme physical challenge left me much stronger than I'd ever been in my life, even in my twenties.
While I knew riding cross-country would be a challenge and that I'd come off the bike fitter than when I started, I hadn't realized how much the trip would transform me both physically and emotionally. I was particularly amazed at how clearheaded I felt. I was able to look at my life and see exactly where I wanted to go. By the time I reached the East Coast, I was operating on all cylinders and had regained (and even significantly surpassed) the strength, power, energy, lucidity, and drive of my earlier years.
Graduate students in exercise physiology learn about the anti-aging benefits of physical activity, and I was no exception. In fact, I'd had a longtime interest in the science of aging and the prevention of age-related decline. But once my cross-country trip allowed me to see the possibilities for myself, I became passionate about the subject. It wasn't long after I completed that cross-country tour that I started exploring ideas for this book.
It's not practical for most people to get on a bike and ride for a month (it's not something I could easily fit into my life anymore either), but I wondered if there were adjustments you could make to your everyday life that would have a similar de-aging, life-enhancing effect. I knew that a good fitness plan could go a long way toward turning back the clock, but what else was possible? To find out, I spent the next few years talking to experts in other fields, learning about the latest advances in anti-aging science and determining what aspects of that research could be translated into a workable plan for daily life.
After a time, it became evident that there are four main fronts on which you can vigorously fight back against the effects of aging: exercise, nutrition, skin care, and restorative sleep. Addressing any one of these areas with an eye toward shaving off the years can have a tremendous payoff, but it pales in comparison to the combined impact of all four—especially when you also control the stress in your life and practice positive thinking, two other aspects that can significantly slow the aging process. A well-rounded comprehensive approach can not only help you look and feel younger, but can actually make your body reverse course, even at the cellular level. At this point there's little doubt: Good anti-aging strategies can both extend your life and substantially raise the quality of it.
By calling this book 20 Years Younger I'm making what some might think is an exaggerated claim. But most people these days are living lives that predispose them to early aging. If you grab ahold of your health and actively pursue greater well-being, I don't think it's extravagant to say that you can dramatically turn things around. It's commonly accepted that the body undergoes certain changes with age, and to some extent those changes are inevitable. Even works of art maintained under pristine light and temperature conditions eventually begin to wither. What is less known, though, is that the life you lead and the decisions you make every day are largely responsible for how quickly, profoundly, and noticeably you age. In fact, much of what we think of as aging—wrinkles, weight gain, memory loss, lack of energy, certain types of illnesses—is not primarily attributable to the passage of time. Rather, it's a direct result of sedentary living, poor diet, lack of sleep, insufficient (or nonexistent) skin care, too much stress, and even a defeatist attitude. It stands to reason, then, that if you reverse those habits—if you get moving, eat longevity-promoting foods, sleep soundly and adequately, protect and nourish your skin, and improve your outlook on the world—the signs of aging will reverse themselves, too.
Some people have gotten the message that the life you lead can indeed turn back the clock. But I feel others have misinterpreted the message to mean that they should zealously pursue any program that promises everlasting youth. Extreme exercise regimens, severely restrictive diets, unproven hormonal therapies, cosmetic surgery makeovers—they may all seem like quick and effective ways to return the body to its youthful self, but more often than not they're counterproductive. What we're offering you in this book instead are natural, research-based strategies for getting your body (and mind) in top form and even lowering your physiological age. The goal isn't to help you turn yourself back into a teenager but rather to help you lead your longest, fullest, and healthiest life. Stay strong, energetic, mentally sharp, and confident, and your age will not define—or debilitate—you. Instead it will be incidental; something noted on your driver's license but not indicative of your health or capabilities.
I'm in my fifties now and I've always prided myself in trying to live a healthy life. Some of those habits, as it turns out, have helped me when it comes to aging. I've been extremely conscientious about exercise, of course, and I'd give myself a pretty good grade in healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and controlling stress, too. The one area where I wish I'd been more diligent is in caring for my skin. It's long been my Achilles' heel.
Like so many people, I grew up before the widespread use of sunscreen. Nobody had heard of SPF back then, and while we knew that getting sunburn hurt, we hadn't been clued in to the dangers of sun exposure. I've always had rather fair skin, and when a friend of mine in my elementary school suggested I get a tan, I began to feel self-conscious about how pale I was—an insecurity that lingered well into early adulthood. I never was that successful at getting a tan (I always burned instead), but that doesn't mean I didn't try.
A number of years ago Oprah and I were training for a race when, probably annoyed at me for urging her to "push harder," she turned to me and said, "I've never met anyone so together. Is there anything you struggle with?" "Well, I don't tan very well," I replied, giving an honest answer. Oprah burst out laughing. I know she thought I was kidding, but I was genuinely insecure about my fair skin!
As I gathered information for this book and went looking for an expert to contribute a chapter on skin care, I thought I might be able to use myself as a guinea pig. By now I was regretting every unprotected minute I'd spent in the sun, and I needed some help in rejuvenating my skin. My plan was to interview several top-echelon dermatologists, try their products and advice, and see how well they—and I—fared.
By the time I met Harold A. Lancer, MD, I'd already talked to a few different doctors and tried their plans, but with less than stellar results. When I went in to see Dr. Lancer, both his knowledge and his demeanor immediately impressed me. During my appointment, he had me take off my shirt so he could assess the skin below my chin, and then he proceeded to call in his staff of assistants and nurses. There I was, with a group of women looking at me as if I were in a petri dish, when Dr. Lancer said, "Look at him. He has the body of someone decades younger." Just when I was starting to feel a little puffed up, he added, "His skin, though—that's just about right for his age." He started to point out all my sun damage and age spots. I was hoping for a better report, but given that I have the kind of skin that wrinkles if you glare at it too long, I wasn't surprised. And Dr. Lancer, as you'll see when you read his chapter, tells it like it is.
What I like most about Dr. Lancer's approach (and I think you will, too) is that he has shown you can get your skin to behave younger—not just look younger—with three skin care steps. To his mind, all the popular cosmetic procedures, from lasers and fillers to neurotoxins, are really beautifiers of the last resort. He sees the trend starting to move from these more invasive interventions and toward a more cost-effective, natural, do-it-yourself approach to skin maintenance. I can say from personal experience that it really works.
I thought I'd done a fairly good job protecting my sleep, but it wasn't until I invested in a great mattress—a Tempur-Pedic—that I started to realize I could do other things to maximize the quality of my sleep. Shortly after that, I met Ronald L. Kotler, MD, when we appeared on Good Morning America on the same day. I watched his segment on sleep and admired his approach to getting a good night's slumber. In his chapter, Dr. Kotler, who is also the coauthor, with Maryann Karinch, of 365 Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep, explains how sleep changes as you get older and how you can offset those changes. It turns out that adequate sleep not only affects the way you look and feel but is also connected to lowering the risk of many life-shortening diseases.
I like to keep my website updated with the latest information about health, exercise, skin care, and nutrition, including dietary supplements. But I'd been feeling frustrated by the quality of the supplements on the market as well as the information supporting them. They always seemed to have too much of one thing and too little of something else. I was so disappointed by what I found out there that I developed my own line, called Bestlife vitamins (available at www.20yearsyounger.com). That's how I met Diane L. McKay, PhD, to whom I turned for advice on both the efficacy and safety of supplements. Dr. McKay has done extensive research on vitamin and mineral supplementation, is up on the latest studies, and brings a bit of sanity to a topic that can be confusing and somewhat controversial. Her contributions to the book have been invaluable. In chapter 3, Dr. McKay helps separate the supplements that have true anti-aging and overall health benefits from the ones that are a waste of money, and she provides a guide to safely adding supplements to your diet.
Someone once asked Woody Allen how he felt about the aging process, and Allen answered, "Well, I'm against it." I laughed when I read that and thought to myself, Me too! But the truth is, I'm not really against aging. I'm simply for aging well. Accepting that you're growing older is not the same thing as accepting a life that's limited by age-related maladies or where you don't look or feel your best. Age, as they say, really is just a number. It's how well you're able to live your life that counts. Another showbiz guy, the comedian George Burns, once said, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." And Burns knew what he was talking about. He lived a vigorous life until the age of one hundred.
I'd like to live to one hundred, too, as long as I could still live a high-quality life at that advanced age. I'm sure most people would, but as the father of two young children, I have a particular reason for wanting to live long and have the strength and vitality to enjoy my family for many years to come. I came late to fatherhood—I was almost fifty when we had our first child—and it's given me incredible incentive to stay as energetic, healthy, and youthful as I can. If I've learned anything during the time I've spent exploring the aging process, it's that motivation is key, just as it is for achieving anything worthwhile. You can't be complacent if you want to age gracefully. It takes some discipline and hard work to slow down aging—if it were easy everyone would look and feel twenty years younger. When you commit yourself to all the elements of this plan—staying fit, eating right, caring for your skin, sticking to good sleep habits—you're distinguishing yourself from the crowd. And you'll be richly rewarded for your efforts. Examine your current lifestyle, readjust your schedule, direct your passion and drive toward adopting a new, healthier anti-aging lifestyle, and—trust me—you'll get amazing results.
I'd like to thank all of the 20 Years Younger sponsors for being innovative with their products. Their support and creativity have enabled millions of Americans to live healthier—and better—lives.
BestLife Vitamins & Supplements
Smart Balance Foods
Tempur-Pedic mattresses and pillows
THE ART AND
SCIENCE OF AGING
The Science of Aging
The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.
—Frank Lloyd Wright
EVERYONE HAS A NOTION of what it means to age. Whether it's a snapshot in your head of how your parents have slowed down or lines you see on your own face, for many people it has something to do with decline. Things not being the way they used to be. Everything less than before.
A lot of people feel that aging is about loss. And in some ways it is. "Aging is a wide range of physiological changes that make us more susceptible to death, limit our normal functions, and render us more susceptible to disease," says João Pedro de Magalhães, PhD, a researcher on the biology and genetics of aging and a lecturer at the University of Liverpool in England. I would add that the physiological changes that take place as we age can also render us more susceptible to psychological downturns. It's not uncommon for people to lose enthusiasm as they get older, disheartened by their physical deterioration and inability to live the way they used to.
Do we have to age? It's the $6 million question and it's one that researchers the world over are donating a lot of time and money to answering. Some scientists are even hoping to find the answer to the inevitable next question: Do we have to die? I don't think we're all that much closer to immortality than Ponce de León was when he went searching for the fountain of youth way back in 1513. However, we do have a much greater understanding of the aging process now. And we are living longer: Over the last one hundred and fifty years, the average life span has climbed from about age forty-five to closer to age eighty.
Living longer is important, but the ultimate goal is to live longer and live well into your later years. And through the science of aging we now know that it's very possible. In fact, it's become clearer that not all the effects of aging we've come to expect are inevitable, and that by making certain lifestyle choices you can dramatically slow those effects down—and maybe, in some cases, even eradicate them. We all age—that is an undeniable fact—but your likelihood of aging poorly increases if you decide to simply sit back and leave well enough alone. To the contrary, take action and you'll retain your vitality, age gracefully, and, yes, have a longer, better life.
Each of the subsequent chapters in this book asks you to make certain lifestyle changes toward that goal. The reasons behind those changes will be clearer if you know a little bit about the theories of why we age and the physiological consequences of growing older.
THEORIES ON WHY WE AGE
Scientists have long debated a central question about aging: Why? Why do we age? Many of them, both past and present, fall into the evolutionary camp. In the late 1800s, a German by the name of August Weismann was one of the first to promote an evolutionary theory. He believed that we're programmed to age and die in order to make room for the younger generation, continuing the evolution and betterment of the species. You might call it planned obsolescence.
Over time, the evolutionary theory of aging has, well, evolved and other theories have risen to the fore. One, called the mutation accumulation theory, is based on the idea that undesirable genes that cause the death of children get weeded out; they're not passed on to the next generation. But undesirable genes that don't cause death until late in life get passed on from generation to generation because the people who have those genes have children before their death. Over successive generations, those genes have accumulated, predisposing people to contract diseases as they grow old, then die.
Another well-known evolutionary theory is called the antagonistic pleiotropy theory. Its central idea is that some genes may be beneficial to us in our early lives but detrimental to us as we grow older. For instance, genes that increase a woman's ability to reproduce may also ultimately lead to menopause and all the health hazards (among them, bone loss and an increased risk of heart disease) that go with it. According to the antagonistic pleiotropy theory, evolution may select for genes that favor youth because the chances that humans and other organisms will survive accidents, predators, and disease to live long lives are slim (or at least were before modern medicine).
The other major theories on why we age have less to do with evolution and more to do with the cumulative effects of damage to the body. Over the years, injury from simple wear and tear, sun damage, a poor diet, smoking, pollution, even the body's own metabolic processes, add up to promote aging and eventual death. One of the most prominent of these theories focuses on oxidative stress. Oxidative stress refers to the injury done to DNA, cells, and tissues in the body by free radicals, molecules with unpaired electrons that are produced when the body metabolizes oxygen. Free radicals also become present in the body through all the injurious means I just mentioned (poor diet, etc.). In their incomplete state, free radicals become thieves, stealing electrons from other molecules and wreaking havoc along the way. The damage they leave in their wake is often compared to the rusting of metal. The body has the ability to absorb free radicals and repair the damage they do, but its defense system tends to weaken over time, leaving it vulnerable to disease.
Like all theories about the cause of aging, the oxidative stress theory is just that, theory. We don't know for sure if unbound free radicals are the main cause of aging; however, we do know that free radicals cause harm and that oxidative damage can certainly age your body, decrease your quality of life, and even shorten your life span. More specifically, by damaging a cell's DNA, oxidative stress can be the first step to transforming a healthy cell into a cancer cell (cancer also has other causes, such as inherited genetic mutations). Free radicals influence LDL (bad) cholesterol as well, making it even more prone to sticking to the walls of arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, erectile dysfunction, and other conditions.
Many of the strategies you'll read about in this book are aimed at preventing and repairing free radical damage. I'll be recommending many foods that contain antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and certain phytonutrients that disarm and disable free radicals. These dietary watchdogs also boost the body's own free radical defense system. Likewise, the exercise program will help turn up your body's own free radical–fighting capabilities. A lot of Dr. Lancer's skin care recommendations also focus on quenching free radicals that degrade collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin its structure and bounce.
In addition to free radicals, inflammation has been implicated in aging because of the role it plays in so many age-related diseases. (They're actually related—free radicals can cause inflammation.) Short-lived inflammation is a good thing; it's the body's defense against a flu virus, bacteria, a wound, a chemical irritant, and other kinds of trauma. Inflammation occurs when, triggered by damage, immune cells rush into the injured area, releasing compounds that destroy bacteria or promote wound healing. When the condition resolves, the immune response goes away. At least, most of the time. Sometimes, for a number of reasons, inflammation persists. That's called chronic inflammation, and it's been linked to everything from cancer and heart disease to diabetes, dementia, and even wrinkles. While it's far from certain that inflammation is the major culprit in aging, anything you can do to reduce inflammation—such as exercise regularly—will reduce the cumulative effects of aging.
In the evolutionary theory of aging, genes determine aging and, ultimately, death. In the damage theory of aging, factors such as unhealthy food, stress, and even the body's own metabolic processes are the primary agents. However, many people, including me, believe that aging is a combination of both. All the recommendations in this book, in fact, are predicated on the idea that you are working both with your own genetic predispositions and with the things in life that you can control, such as what you eat and how much you exercise. Aging without question has its foundations in genetically determined mechanisms. "But," points out João Pedro de Magalhães, "genetics can be modulated by environmental factors."
I'll give you a good example. One of the markers of aging that you'll be hearing a lot more about in this book are telomeres. Telomeres are the tail ends of chromosomes, the structures that carry genes. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres stabilize the cell's chromosomes, but in the process they become shorter. When telomeres become too short, the cell can no longer divide and it dies. This is believed to lead to various aspects of aging, including diminished muscle strength, wrinkles, and lowered immunity. How much telomere length really affects longevity—if at all—is still unknown, but many prominent researchers believe it's an important cog in the wheel of life.
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- Apr 26, 2011
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