What’s Your Real Age?
Are you younger or older than the person in the mirror?
By Sheree Crute
What if you could turn back the hands of time and actually become younger? That’s right. Even if you chow down on junk food and work out by clicking the remote, you can start creating changes that will make your biological age younger than your birthday age. Yes, there’s a difference! Your birthday (or calendar) age is when the stork dropped you, but your real age is the biological age of your body based on over 100 factors—many of which you control. So even if your driver’s license says 45, your real age may be 38.
The whole idea of becoming younger and healthier as the months pass may sound like hocus pocus, but it’s based on facts, not fantasy. You can actually reverse the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle—and you can start today, promise Michael Roizen, M.D., founder of the RealAge program, and Henry Lodge, M.D., co-author of the book series Younger Next Year: Turn Back Your Biological Clock. As a matter of fact, you may already be increasing your longevity without even knowing it, like NEA members Linda Welch and Timm Pilcher.
Here’s how it works. The RealAge database includes information from 1,200 highly credible studies culled from more than 100,000 pieces of scientific research. Each study has been analyzed to calculate the effect of hundreds of factors on disease, the aging process, and longevity. The RealAge test (available for free at www.realage.com) tells you how old you really are (biologically speaking) according to the health risks you manage, ignore, or perhaps don’t even know about. It then gives you a unique set of recommendations to help you start your RealAge makeover—a chance to realistically add years to your life.
Welch, for example, took the test and was delighted to discover she is 3.6 years younger than her calendar age of 47. An education support professional at Neligh/Oakdale elementary school in Nebraska, Welch was rewarded for getting regular exercise and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, and grains. “My mom died of colon cancer at my age,” says the single mom of two. “I was not going to let that get me.” In addition to walking regularly, Welch looks for a workout wherever she can find it, mowing her lawn and taking flights of stairs to do laundry. “I’m active—I stay busy all of the time,” says Welch.
But even Welch discovered new ways to protect her health after taking her Real Age quiz. “I learned that I don’t eat enough fish, I have a breast cancer risk in my family I have to watch out for, and I must stop talking on the phone while driving.”
Pilcher, a journalism teacher at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa, managed to test an amazing 6.5 years younger than his 46 years, even with his genetically high cholesterol (he sticks with his medication). Exercise put him over the top. “‘The family that kicks together, stays together’ is our family motto,” Pilcher says, referring to the four tae kwan do classes he takes each week with his wife and two sons. He also rollerblades in the summer and occasionally bikes but says, “I still love McDonald’s, but I’m in much better shape now than I was when I smoked.”
Pilcher also scored extra points for his attitude. “I try to live in the moment, rather than worrying about the future,” he says. “I don’t let a lot of things stress me out.”
Get Younger Every Day
Both Welch and Pilcher are living proof that you can live “young” even when you’re juggling a heavy workload or raising a family. In other words, if they can do it, so can you. Here’s how:
BUILD ON THE BASICS
Movement matters. First and most important, if you really want to live long and strong, exercise is not optional—it’s a must, Lodge advises. “Exercise cleans the chemistry of stress out of the body and prevents the frailty we associate with old age.” But most important, Lodge says, exercise switches on the body’s production of cytokine-6 (c-6) and cytokine-10 (c-10). The body produces c-6, the source of the inflammation that damages the heart, blood vessels, joints, and brain, no matter what you do, and the amount increases with a sedentary lifestyle. The only way to repair the damage caused by c-6 is to encourage the body to produce a constant supply of c-10. And the only way to produce c-10 is—you guessed it—aerobic exercise. “Six days a week is ideal, according to the research,” says Lodge. “Four days of aerobic workouts, at least 30 minutes, and two days of light weights for strength. Four is better than nothing, but the research shows that six, for life, is the answer.” Use your school to make it easier. Run or walk the track, work out in the gym, or take the stairs.
Forget dieting. Lodge suggests you get an idea of your resting metabolic rate (RMR)—that would be the calories you need to just exist—and eat near that level, while working out on a regular basis. You can get tested at many local gyms; log onto www.newleaffitness.com to find a location near you. For most active folks, eating properly means consuming about 2,000 calories each day of grains, fruit, vegetables, protein, and dairy products. Cut down on saturated fat, sweets, alcohol, and processed food—more so as you age.
TRIM OFF A FEW YEARS
Enjoy the educator’s bonus . “Our research shows that people who have jobs with a purpose, jobs that make a difference and that they love have the longest life expectancy of all of the professions. That group includes teachers,” Roizen says.
“Remembering why you’re teaching and that you are in the most valuable profession there is can protect you from major life stresses. This type of stress, according to RealAge research, can make you more than 30 years older,” Roizen warns. So embrace the value of working with kids. The next time your class is driving you crazy, “remember that we’re all influenced by teachers. They make a difference in every life,” he says.
Take control of your classroom. Poor classroom air quality is a major health issue in many schools. “Putting a HEPA air filter in your classroom is a worthy investment,” Roizen says. “Enjoying the best air quality can make you nearly six years younger.” (For more on air quality, visit www.nea.org/ref?3434 .)
Do a little homework of your own. Never put down your books. Continuing to learn throughout life can make you two-and-a-half years younger. Getting lots of vitamin B12 and B9 (eat salmon and beans) helps protect mind and memory and makes you one-and-a-half years younger.
Laugh with your kids. Kids can be hilarious, so enjoy their antics whenever you can. Laughing often can make you eight years younger because it relaxes your blood vessels—the exact opposite effect of stress.
Protect your hardworking peepers. Eye strain goes with reading, writing, and arithmetic, so get plenty of vitamins C, E, beta carotene, and zinc. The antioxidants that protect eye health can make you up to six years younger. Mangoes, nuts, and peanut butter are great sources.
Find yourself somebody to love. Get close to your family, friends, or significant other. Forming long-term relationships based on love can add six years to your life. No matter your age, having at least one friend makes your cardiovascular system younger and healthier and fights inflammation and stress.
So that’s it. Living young is not magic. It’s common sense, backed up by a little elbow grease and willpower. You can’t smooth every wrinkle, but you can enjoy life well into your 80s and beyond, if you’re willing to give it a try. So the next time someone asks you your age, you may be able to shave off a few years with perfect honesty!