REAL AGE ……
Young for the Rest of Your Life
LIVING AS YOUNG AT SEVENTY AS YOU DID AT FORTY-FOUR
The book is over, but the rest of your life is about to begin. How will you choose to live it? You now know what your RealAge is and have essential information to make informed choices about your health and ageing. You know what factors accelerate ageing and what factors slow it down? Evaluate your health behaviors and lifestyle. What will you do to 'age-proof' yourself? You can reduce the rate of ageing. In the end, the choice is up to you.
Each winter my ninety-two-year-old father leaves his home in upstate New York to spend the winter months in Arizona, living in a community of other retirees, the youngest of them in their mid-seventies. When I began writing this book, I sent him drafts of the chapters. He began sharing what he had learned with his friends. More and more of them developed an interest.
They formed the equivalent of a Great Books club, in which they'd get together and read selections, finding out what each of them could do to stay young longer. They started taking vitamins and eating more fruits and vegetables, incorporating new 'get-young' strategies as new sections of the book arrived. After reading about exercise, they jumped to action. The whole group of twenty-five—not one with a calendar age less than seventy-five—raided the local WalMart, buying out the entire supply of two-to-fifteen-pound free weights (much to the amazement of the twenty-two-year-old salesclerk who looked on, open-mouthed, as twenty-five retirees in jogging shoes departed, barbells in hand). They hired a personal trainer to show them how to lift the weights correctly and to guide them through a fitness routine. Now they lift weights three days a week, go mall-walking another three days a week, and meet for 'happy hour' every evening to have a drink and spend time with their new 'young' friends. They egg each other on to get younger, celebrating each other's successes.
They have a blast. Each day they're getting younger and having fun doing it. My father's so busy I sometimes have problems tracking him down: He's out on the town. He frequently goes to New York City and travels by himself. He knows more about the Internet than I do. He's got friends, social engagements, and freedom, and there's no stopping him. People always say to me, 'He's amazing. To think, at his age.'
Sure, he's amazing, but not because of his age. Being young at ninety is something we can all strive to achieve. My dad's RealAge is seventy-six and getting younger. Enjoying our-old age with vigor and energy should be the rule, not the exception.
At the beginning of this book, I said, 'Health is like money.' At first the comparison sounds crass: How can you equate money with something as precious as life? But how can you not? Money as money isn't worth a dime. Money is only as valuable as what it buys. Money is really about potential. It provides possibilities, choices, and freedom. It also allows you to place a value on your choices and to make decisions: Likewise, the RealAge payoff isn't youth itself but the possibilities that youth provides.
The RealAge system teaches you how to; buy time. It allows you to understand what your biologic potential is. The younger your RealAge, the more possibilities, choices, and freedom you will have to do what you want with your life. The younger your RealAge, the more time you will have to spend with your friends and family, to develop new interests, and to do whatever it is that makes you enjoy life. Don't let ill health keep you from being who you want to be. RealAge gives you a currency for health. It helps you place a value on your health decisions, so you can protect what is truly priceless: your life. As life expectancy has increased dramatically in the past century, especially in the past thirty years, medical researchers have been faced with a major ethical dilemma: Are we extending the quantity of life at the expense of the quality of life? With expensive life-support machines and new technologies that can keep people alive longer and longer, doctors have worried that perhaps all this effort has only extended suffering, making patients endure painful diseases longer, living out their final years in misery. But this is not true. New studies show that most Americans can expect to live long lives (that is, to the national averages) without major illness or disability. However, there is enormous variation within the population. When studies have examined those who live the longest with the greatest mobility and independence, they have found that individuals at the top of the curve tended to make the same behavioral choices: They exercise, eat a diet low in saturated fats, don't smoke, take the right amount of vitamins, and do many of the other forty or so things described in this book. Even at the end of their lives, these people had less illness and for a shorter time than those who didn't make these choices; the period of decline tended to be compressed and lessened. In these same studies, those who had the most illness and incapacitation didn't adopt these healthy behaviors—-and they got older faster. They had shorter life expectancies and spent more time in hospitals and doctors' offices.
Clearly, there are no sound statistical measures of 'quality of life.' It is a subjective indicator. Some people are always happy no matter what; others are never happy. However, by looking at the data, we can draw certain conclusions. A person who is healthy has a better quality of life than if he or she needs to be under strict medical supervision. Also, a person who is mobile, lives independently, and is disease-free has a better quality of life than if he or she were hospitalized. Those aren't giant leaps of logic.
Before you even picked up this book, you were probably aware of all kinds of behavioral choices that were 'good' for you. But did you adopt those behaviors? I hope this book has helped you view your health in a new light. Rather than seeing these decisions as the prevention of disease, I hope you now see them as being about the prevention of ageing. Thinking about 'disease prevention'—the classic way preventive medicine has modelled itself—-is disheartening. Perhaps it's to daunting a project or its benefits seem too far off. Moreover, we think of disease in black-or-white terms: You're either sick or you're not. However, this description doesn't fit the reality of human health. Most of the 'old-age' diseases are not actually diseases as much as manifestations of the ageing process itself.
RealAge is a way of understanding that everything you do—from walking the dog to brushing your teeth-—-affects your rate of ageing. Adopting healthy habits means not just that you prevent disease, but that you live longer-—and younger. By living the RealAge plan, you increase the length of that part of your life that's vigorous and productive.
When I think about why I became a doctor in the first place, I realize that my decision can be summed up in one word: prevention. I never wanted to cure people after they were already ill; I wanted to help them avoid illness in the first place. Life is too much fun to spend time being sick. (In fact, I always think of my specialty, anesthesiology, as being all about prevention: Anesthesia prevents the shock reaction that the trauma of an operation can cause.) Yet, until now, prevention has been thought of in terms of far-off, negative goals. 'I won't eat fatty foods today, so I won't have a heart attack thirty years from now.' But prevention isn't a negative goal but a positive one. Preventing illness is gaining health. And the payoff is not thirty years in the future, but right now.
If you've made it this far through this book, you know in tangible and practical terms how you can prevent and even reverse ageing. So where should you start?
. First, write down your RealAge. Look at that number. Are you happy with it? Or would you like to make it younger? What will you do to change it?
. Second, review your Age Reduction Plan. What choices can you make to make your RealAge younger? Are they practical choices for you? In light of what you've read, are you willing to make choices that two hundred pages ago you wouldn't have made?
• Third, establish priorities. Consider how and when you want to add new Age Reduction strategies to your life. Set realistic goals and decide what steps you can take to meet them. What are the quick-and-easy strategies you can adopt for getting younger with hardly any effort? What are the anti-aging strategies that require more work? How will you integrate them into your life?
• Fourth, start small. Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to do too much at once. Begin with the 'quick fixes,' integrating new Age Reduction practices slowly, especially if they are in the 'most difficult' category. After all, you're in this for the long run. It's more important that you stick with your Age Reduction Plan than that you do every possible Age Reduction step right away, only to give them all up after a few weeks or months.
• Fifth, reevaluate. Often. Review your Age Reduction Plan every few months. Is it time to add a new strategy? I have patients who add one new anti-aging practice to their life every year—a kind of New Year's resolution.
. Sixth, don't give up. Getting younger is not that hard. A few simple choices can help make you five to seven years younger in just a few months. Other choices can help reduce your RealAge by as much as twenty-five years. Most of the benefits can be achieved by making simple choices that do not take much time or effort, just some practice.
. Seventh, you are never too old to start getting young. It doesn't matter if you're a lifelong smoker, if you've had a heart attack, or if you've suffered any number of other conditions. You can undo much of the ageing that you have already incurred by making changes now. Our bodies are remarkably resilient, and it is within your power to undo years' worth of unnecessary ageing. In their report of the MacArthur ageing studies, Jack Rowe and Robert Kahn wrote: 'There is increasing evidence of the remarkable capacity to recover lost function.' Yes, you can get young again.
. Eighth, the most important, celebrate successes. Reward yourself for becoming younger. Whether you decide to throw yourself a 'year-younger party' or to treat yourself to a massage after a month of daily workouts, you need to congratulate yourself for getting younger. (Don't forget to celebrate the year-younger successes of those around you, too. By encouraging people who are close to you to get younger, you are giving yourself a gift. You are helping those you care about to stay young with you.)
Think of RealAge planning like retirement planning. Most of us spend time in our forties and fifties making investments and setting up a pension fund or an individual retirement account, planning for that day when we no longer have to go to the office. RealAge is retirement planning for your body, an age-insurance plan. As I said in Chapter 1, your RealAge is a calculation of your net present value. It is a way of calculating how old your body really is. The choices you make affect that value. You build value by building youth.
Last fall, my friend Simon called me. He was the first person I convinced to stop smoking using the RealAge concept. 'Mike,' he shouted exuberantly into the phone, 'I'm a grandfather!' At age sixty-two (and RealAge fifty-seven), he had lived to see the birth of his first grandson. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Thirteen years earlier, when Simon was barely able to walk and in need of a dangerous operation, none of us—not his family, not me, and not Simon-— would have believed that he'd live to see the day when he'd become a grandfather. Much less, live to see that day as an energetic, physically fit, and young grandfather. 'Simon,' I laughed, 'you're not old enough to be a grandfather.'
Simon made choices that not only saved his life, but that gave him back his life. Thirteen years ago he couldn't walk across a room without pain. Now he's playing tennis and challenging me to squash matches. He's tackled some of the toughest challenges in Age Reduction: cessation of smoking, exercising, and eating a more healthful diet. He's done it slowly—adding bit by bit. Each year, he reevaluates his anti-aging plan, integrating new choices and behaviors. He's living younger now than he did thirteen years ago. The payoff has been huge. He's seen his kids get married, he's traveled, he's enjoying his life. He even retired early, so he could have more fun. (Now, he's feeling so young that he's been threatening to come out of retirement!)
In my practice, and even in my own life, I see that RealAge motivates people to change their behaviors and to choose youth. I see how my patients have stopped smoking, lost weight, and made choices that helped them stay young. I see how it has helped me learn to eat a healthier diet and be more balanced in my exercise regimen. RealAge has encouraged my father to start lifting weights and helped my wife to start taking her calcium regularly. RealAge helps us to place a value on our daily choices—choices that are easy to overlook but that help us stay young. (Every time I take the stairs instead of the elevator, I remember that it is helping me to stay younger. Every time I choose an apple instead of a cookie, I think that, too.) I hope that RealAge helps motivate you. By lowering your RealAge, you are buying time to do more and be more, to enjoy life like you've always wanted. What could be more promising than that? Stay young—for the rest of your life.
AND I CAN TRULY SAY THAT FROM AGE 14, WHEN I BOUGHT THE CHARLES ATLAS HEALTH AND STRENGTH COURSE [STILL OBTAINABLE ON THE INTERNET] AND HAVE FOLLOWED A GOOD PART OF IT ALL MY LIFE, IT HAS PAID OFF IN A BIG WAY. I'M 72 COME SEPTEMBER 11, 2014, AND PEOPLE GUESS MY AGE AT ABOUT 50-52. FULL RETIREMENT IS NOT EVEN IN MY THOUGHTS OR DREAMS. I WORK PART-TIME AS CARETAKER FOR A COMMUNITY CENTER; I STILL TEACH MUSIC; I SWIM TWICE A WEEK; I WORK-OUT WITH BAR-BELLS 3 TIMES A WEEK; I DO SOME CHARLES ATLAS EXERCISES REGULARLY; I RIDE MY HORSE LIKE I'M STILL 40 YEARS OLD; I WATCH MY WEIGHT AND EAT A GOOD HEALTHY DIET.
MY DAD KEPT HIMSELF PRETTY FIT AND ATE A HEALTHY DIET. HE LIVED TO BE TWO MONTHS SHORT OF 94.
SO IF YOUR NOT "WITH IT" THEN WHAT I'VE SAID AND WHAT YOU HAVE READ FROM THIS BOOK, I HOPE WILL ENCOURAGE YOU TO INDEED GET WITH IT….. TO GROW YOUNGER AS YOU GET OLDER.