Do you want to age your way? Then let’s kick off today’s blog post with some great news: The truth is, as an MD and an orthopedic surgeon with over two decades of experience, I know firsthand that you can make or break your health with your decisions. You have the power to determine how well you will age, how well your mind and body will function, and how young you will look. That’s the good news.
The unfortunate news is that the mass media can be misleading when it comes to health. Many of the messages play off of “lack and attack fears”; they take a problem, make it bigger, and then poof! They offer a miracle solution, which will work in 30 seconds, for just five easy payments of $19.95! They’re essentially saying you can’t age your way, you have to do it their way.
Maintaining your health may not be quite that easy, but it is simple. Here are three ways you are being misled about your health — and how you can honestly stay healthy for the rest of your life.
1. The lie: You have to get sick, frail, or weak with age. The truth: You can live more every year until you die.
There is a message of hopelessness in the media that depicts the elderly as sick, frail, or weak. Women, in particular, suffer from depictions that they are somehow worthless as they age, or that expressions of their sexuality are somehow undesirable or downright repulsive.
The truth of the matter is, you do not have to suffer this fate. Aging is not an inevitable decline down a slippery slope to frailty and worthlessness.
Data shows that 70% of our health is due to the lifestyle choices we make every single day. That means that only 30% of health is due to genes or intrinsic factors outside of our control. This is not some hokey claim, this is science. Epigenetics is the study of how our choices affect the transcription (i.e., the expression) of our genes. Epigenetics has taught us you are in charge of the way your body ages, because you are in control of which genes transcribe and how much they are expressed.
As an example, think of the food choices you make. Say you have a chocolate sundae. That chocolate sundae is not just hanging out in your fat layers, but it actually changes the way in which your genes transcribe. The genes your body activates are the result of the food you choose to put in your body. The activated genes are also the result of how often you exercise, how well you sleep, how much stress you experience on a regular basis, and how well you take care of yourself overall.
Knowing that you are in the driver’s seat puts you in a really powerful position. “Active aging” is not an oxymoron! You can control how often you get sick. You can control how well your brain functions when you’re old. You can control how young you look in 10, 20, 30 years. You can choose to age your way, no matter what that “way” is. But you do need to take responsibility for your health, and you need to start now.
2. The lie: You can look 20 years younger — by tomorrow. The truth: You control today how young you will look 20 years from now.
Do you know why women love romantic comedies? Women love romantic comedies because they offer you something you’ll never have. So you keep going back for more.
That’s also the reason commercials and infomercials love to sell you the 5-minute miracle cure. The media isn’t dumb. They know that 80% of health-related decisions are made by women. They know that women are the ones buying the latest and greatest fancy workout equipment, specialized diet plans, and the creme-de-la-creme of rejuvenation treatments. Maybe it didn’t work this time, but it’s sure to work next time. We keep trying and trying and trying in this never-ending cycle.
If you go on the Mediterranean diet or the grapefruit diet or any one of those ridiculous fad diets, the statistics show a 50% attrition rate. The reason they don’t work isn’t that the caloric recommendations are too high or the diets are somehow otherwise scientifically unsound (albeit, some of the crazy fad diets from the 60s and 70s were pretty out there). The reason they don’t work is usually because of commitment. The media has trained us to think that quick results are the norm and if you don’t see them soon, something must be wrong with you.
The truth is, getting to better health isn’t always easy, but it’s simple. Think of the following:
- Diet: As I’ve talked about in Younger in 8 Weeks, my book in conjunction with Prevention magazine, you want to eat Clean & Green as much as possible. That means limiting preservatives and packaged food, and incorporating more natural, healthy foods in your diet. Take advantage of the changing seasons and farmer’s markets that offer foods outside of your typical weekly menu. Just because you grew up eating meat as the main course of every meal doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy to continue doing so, or that it’s the most delicious option available!
- Exercise: Studies show a 20-minute exercise session in the morning provides as many uplifting endorphins as one Prozac. Rethink what exercise means to you; it doesn’t have to be painful, repetitive, and miserable. No matter if you’re stuck at home or have always said you hate working out, there’s a mobility plan, a class, or form of self-expression that will connect you with your body and get you moving in a fun way.
- Sleep: It is essential to get enough sleep. Sleep helps us to erase the day’s cortisol, AKA the stress hormone and allows us time to heal. It helps to reset hormones so your weight is kept on track, your immune system is revved, and you have more energy.
- Cut out stress: Easier said than done, I know. Did you know that stress could be the #1 thing that’s aging you? The more we stress, the worse we sleep, and thus the more we stress. It’s a terrible cycle that manifests itself in all aspects of our health. Wherever possible, make it a plan to reevaluate what’s causing you stress and whether it’s really worth enduring.
It takes a commitment to yourself and dedication to simple behaviors like a healthy diet, 20-30 minutes of exercise five times a week, and 7-8 hours of sleep per night. By adopting these behaviors now, you control which genes are expressed, and how well your brain and body will age. It’s not about buying the latest and greatest treatments — it’s about how well you take care of yourself today and adopting a long-term mindset, so you will look and feel young 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
3. The lie: It’s easy to get and stay healthy. The truth: It’s not always easy, but it is simple.
As a working professional, wife, and mother with six at home, I understand that it can be difficult to make the commitment to yourself and your health first. But it’s just like being on an airplane: You have to take care of yourself first, so you can better help others. You’ve got to let yourself breathe!
As I mentioned above, you don’t need sophisticated methods to get and stay healthy. But that doesn’t mean that it is always easy. On this journey, you can go through some painful rediscoveries. Maybe they’re external challenges — you may find you are overbooked from morning till night, and you will need to delegate some of your duties in order to exercise consistently. Or you may find your family prefers to keep unhealthy food around, and it may require a difficult conversation and a full kitchen clean-out. Or maybe they’re more internal struggles — you have a tendency to reach out for junk food and wine when you’re under stress, or maybe you just haven’t found a form of exercise that you like.
The key is to remember why you are doing this: Maybe it’s to be energetic for your children and grandchildren. Maybe it’s to live as long as possible. Maybe it’s even for vanity, to look beautiful and feel confident for as long as possible. It may even be for money — studies show that females who are healthier climb to the C-level suite faster than their less-fit and less-healthy peers! Whatever your reason is, it’s vital to keep your goal (or your “why“) in mind and age your way, the way that makes you feel and look your best. I promise you bliss is on the other side.
You need to prioritize your brains, your body, and your bliss so you can age your way and die young as late as possible. If you’re excited about investing in your health, we invite you to join the other inspiring and resilient women in our Facebook group. In this group, we’re continuing to educate, empower, and entertain the smart, savvy women who profoundly influence the health of everyone they touch.