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Forever Young

Most of us like to think of ourselves as young: young in heart at least, if not actually young in years. But is it possible to stay "forever young" in terms of health and wellness? Of course, probably no one would want to remain forever young in terms of life experience. Our experiences give us character and contribute to our growth and development as persons.

As we get older, though, gaining skills and possibly wisdom, is it really necessary to suffer physical breakdowns along the way? Holding on to youthful bloom may not be feasible in all aspects, but there are a few critical tips and tricks to retain much of that glow and vigor as we get older. We may not, in reality, stay forever young, but we sure can give meaning to the notions that "50 is the new 30" and "60 is the new 40". Here are two key tips. They may seem obvious, but the power is in actually implementing these tips consistently over time.

Tip #1: Eat less. Each person has his or her own caloric balancing point beyond which extra food will be retained as fat. If your average daily calorie consumption is right around this critical value, all the energy in the food you eat will be used to support your physical functioning. But extra calories will not be burned up and this unused energy will be stored as fat. Over time, increasing fat stores frequently lead to chronic disease such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. So with respect to long-term health, it's a very good idea to avoid overeating. Of course, we want to have fun, too, but that's what a "free food day" is for. If you eat within your caloric range on six days of the week, the seventh can be a "free day" when you can eat whatever you want. Such a system works very well for ongoing optimal weight management (which, of course, means ongoing health and well-being, contributing to our notion of "forever young").1

Tip #2: Exercise more. Did you ever see a gymnast, competitive swimmer, or professional dancer who didn't look absolutely terrific? These young men and women are in such good shape owing to the high volume of exercise they do every week. Do you know an older adult who was on a high school or college gymnastics team or was a professional dancer long ago? Isn't that person still really healthy and fit? Such long-term fitness results from a lifelong habit of exercise. The very good news is that even if you haven't exercised in many, many years, you can still derive benefit for years to come from starting to exercise, right now.2,3

You get fit by doing the work. Not all at once of course, but gradually, steadily, building up strength and endurance, starting right where you are. The secret is to begin. And after not too long a time, you'll find that your new habit of exercise is providing all kinds of surprising benefits, including deeper, more restful sleep and increased energy and exuberance. Not to mention weight loss and a slimmer waistline.

These two tips, eating less and exercising more, have been known for decades. But in order to reap the many benefits, what's required is to actually do these things. We can be forever young, relatively literally, by taking these simple actions on our own behalf.

1Campbell KL, et al: J Clin Oncol Reduced-Calorie Dietary Weight Loss, Exercise, and Sex Hormones in Postmenopausal Women: Randomized Controlled Trial. 2012 May 21 [Epub ahead of print]
2Umpierre D: Physical activity advice only or structured exercise training and association with HbA1c levels in type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA 305(17):1790-1799, 2011
3Betof AS, et al: Effects and potential mechanisms of exercise training on cancer progression: A translational perspective. Brain Behav Immun 2012 May 17 [Epub ahead of print]

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