6 Weeks to a Younger You
SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)

lhj

6 Weeks to a Younger You

Is there a secret for living a long, healthy life and looking fabulous along the way? Sure: Be lucky enough to have good genes. Never smoke. Don't gain weight. Wear your seat belt and don't text or drink while driving. Surround yourself with supportive friends and loved ones. Make lots of money. Oh, and of course you also need to eat healthy food, get plenty of exercise, and avoid stress. Easy, right? As if. We'll help make it more manageable.

Week 1

How many times have you started a diet or joined a gym only to give up on it a few weeks later? A total health makeover seems overwhelming because it is. The key to long-term success is to take your lifestyle changes in small doses that are easy to swallow. "The most important tip is to start a healthy habit you can stick with for the rest of your life," says Robert Kane, MD, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

To give you a nudge, we've put together a six-week plan of little life changes that will tune up your body, brain, and spirit. Adopting good habits can set you up to stay energetic and vital for decades to come, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board and coauthor of You: Staying Young. The bonus is that you'll also feel, and look, younger -- starting now.

Week 1 BODY

Step it up.

The Internet has made life easier, but sitting at your computer for hours every day isn't exactly a workout. In fact, a recent study showed that more than 80 percent of jobs in this country are sedentary, which has contributed to the rise in obesity. Little changes can make a difference. Meghan Baruth, PhD, a researcher at the University of South Carolina, suggests using technology to boost your physical activity.

How to start:

Clip on a pedometer or download a pedometer app to your phone to count your steps. Get up and walk around whenever you're on a call. At the office, walk down the hall to talk to colleagues rather than e-mailing them. Wear your pedometer all day and see how many steps you can rack up, says Fabio Comana, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "Then aim to increase that by 10 percent. So if you normally take 3,000 steps, try to get in 3,300 every day this week -- or more."

DIET

Brighten your plate.

Eating several servings a day of deeply colored fresh vegetables and fruits can cut your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers -- and can even decrease cognitive decline, says recent research. The fiber in these foods helps you feel full and keeps your digestion moving, while the antioxidants improve your skin. Try all the colors of the rainbow for different benefits, suggests Richard Flanigan, MD, author of Longevity Made Simple. How to start: Go to your farmers' market and buy at least three fruits and veggies you haven't tried before.

BRAIN

Get it on.

Having sex regularly can add years to your life. An orgasm releases chemicals that make your skin glow, relax you, and promote better sleep. Plus researchers at Princeton found that animals that have plenty of sex grow more brain cells. Well, we're all animals, right? So do it for your body and mind! How to start: Put sex on your calendar this week and keep the appointment no matter what. For more benefits, aim for two to three times a week, says Dr. Roizen.

SPIRIT

Reward yourself.

One reason you reach for cookies instead of carrots when you're in a bad mood is that your brain has been taught that dessert makes you feel better. As you start to develop new healthy habits, you need to reinforce the message that going for a walk or eating fresh veggies is now the thing that gives you pleasure. How to start: Reset your dopamine levels. This brain chemical influences desire and decision making, says Dr. Roizen. So if you reach this week's goals, treat yourself to a new novel or a 10-minute chair massage at the nail salon. That positive association will help make the habits stick.

Week 2

BODY

Wear sunscreen.

"We usually think about skin-cancer prevention when we talk about sunscreen, but it's also the best anti-aging cream there is," says Steven Wang, MD, director of dermatology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Making daily sunscreen a habit is an investment in your skin that can save you thousands of dollars down the road, whether it's to smooth wrinkles or remove a skin cancer, says Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty.

How to start:

Apply a moisturizer with broad-spectrum protection and an SPF 30 after your shower every morning. If you're in the sunlight, reapply every two hours.

DIET

Check your D.

One downside of avoiding the sun? You may not be getting enough vitamin D. You need it to absorb calcium for strong bones. And it may help prevent certain cancers and even heart disease, although so far the evidence is promising but inconclusive, says JoAnn E. Manson, MD, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, who is leading a major study to test the role of vitamin D in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Until we know more, she says, the Institute of Medicine recommends 600 IUs of vitamin D a day for anyone age 1 to 70.

How to start:

It's not easy to get enough D from food (although fortified OJ and yogurt are two good sources), so you may need a daily D3 supplement.

BRAIN

Control the pressure.

You know that reducing high blood pressure helps your heart, but it can also help your head. "Healthy blood pressure is the most important contributor to memory and brain health," says Majid Fotuhi, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of The Memory Cure. Losing weight, cutting back on salt, and calming down your stress can all lower your BP. While guidelines say aim for 120/80, many experts believe 115/75 is even better.

How to start:

Get your daily sodium down to less than 1,500 mg by avoiding the drive-through, checking labels, and cooking more whole foods. For stress, see the tip below.

SPIRIT

Learn to meditate.

Done regularly, meditation reduces stress, increases attention span, improves your memory, and boosts your immune system.

How to start:

Mao Shing Ni, PhD, author of Secrets of Longevity, describes how he teaches even the meditation-challenged. "Start by sitting for five minutes and using this simple imagery. As you inhale and exhale, visualize your scalp relaxing and think the word 'calm.' From the top down, focus on relaxing each body part. Imagine negative emotions being discharged as black smoke." Add a few minutes each day; your goal is 20 minutes.

Week 3

BODY

Work up a sweat.

You can't just go for a stroll around the block and expect your heart to get healthier. But you don't have to run a marathon, either. The key is interval training, which means alternating between short bursts of intense activity and longer periods at a more comfortable pace. Not only will you burn more calories, but by increasing your heart rate you improve your stamina and cardiovascular health.

How to start:

Walk, run, swim, or cycle as fast as you can for two minutes, then switch to a steady pace for four minutes. Try to build up to a 30-minute workout.

DIET

Step away from the sugar.

Too much sugar turns into belly fat, which makes your bad cholesterol rise and your good cholesterol fall -- and that can lead to heart disease. Eating a little sweet stuff only makes you want more, says New York City cardiologist Holly S. Andersen, MD, a member of the LHJ Medical Advisory Board. "As your sugar levels start to plummet, your insulin levels rise and your body says, Feed me, feed me! That's why you get the carb craving." Weaning yourself off simple carbs like cookies, candy, and white flour can be tough but is a worthy goal.

How to start:

Do it at breakfast. Replace your cereal or doughnut with foods low in sugar and carbs -- egg whites, a mozzarella stick, walnuts, or almonds -- and you'll feel full longer, have more energy, and be less likely to dig into the candy jar at 11 a.m.

BRAIN

Play mind games.

"The brain is like a muscle -- you can make it stronger by stimulating it," Dr. Fotuhi says. But you can't just do a crossword puzzle every day; you need to seek new challenges.

How to start:

If something at home is broken, tinker with it to try to fix it. Or take a completely different route on your commute. "Even if you get lost you're teasing your brain in a good way," he says. People who challenge their brain all the time keep it in top condition -- and may lower their risk of Alzheimer's.

SPIRIT

Push yourself.

Robert L. Leahy, PhD, author of Beat the Blues Before They Beat You, says that "constructive discomfort" is the ability to do what is uncomfortable to accomplish your goals. You may initially avoid aerobic exercise because you don't like getting sweaty. That discomfort is inevitable when you're getting started, but work through it.

How to start:

Pledge to do one thing that's uncomfortable each day, whether it's knocking off five push-ups or replacing the fries you love with the green veggies you don't. "Think of it as an investment to get what you really want," Dr. Leahy says. "It's like building mental muscle -- it's called self-discipline."

Week 4

BODY

Add some weight.

Women are prone to thinning bones, and that makes resistance exercise even more important, says Steven Austad, PhD, author of Why We Age. As a bonus, muscle cells burn calories faster than fat cells do, so the more lean muscle you have, the more you can eat without gaining weight. Aim to exercise twice a week with free weights or bands, or on weight-resistance machines.

How to start:

Keep three- to five-pound weights by the TV and use them while you're watching The Real Housewives. For exercises, go to LHJ.com/weights.

DIET

Pump up the protein.

You need protein to drop pounds and build the muscle that keeps you lean and toned, but women tend to over-consume carbs and skimp on protein, says Kristine Clark, PhD, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. If you're trying to lose weight, she recommends getting 30 to 35 percent of your calories from protein (aim for 120 to 140 grams a day).

How to start:

Have protein at every meal. It doesn't have to be meat; a plain Greek yogurt has 18 grams.

BRAIN

Snooze smarter.

Sleep is crucial for brain health, says Daniel Amen, MD, author of The Amen Solution: Brain Healthy Ways to Lose Weight and Keep It Off. "If you sleep less than six hours a night, you have lower overall blood flow to your brain." But too much sleep can shorten your life, too. A review of studies showed that people who sleep more than eight and a half hours every night raise their risk of dying prematurely.

How to start:

Wind down early each night this week, avoid caffeine and alcohol, keep the room cool and dark, and aim for a solid seven to seven and a half hours.

SPIRIT

Give back.

Volunteering won't stop the clock, but it can keep you feeling young. According to a recent survey of American adults, 76 percent of people who volunteer feel younger than their age, and 85 percent believe they're aging well. Volunteers also feel less stressed and physically stronger. Experts attribute all this to a "helper's high," the increased sense of purpose that comes from donating time and energy to those in need.

How to start:

Think where your skills would be of use, whether it's a hospital, food bank, church, or homeless shelter. Or get advice at volunteermatch.org.

Week 5

BODY

Don't forget to floss.

"Brushing only cleans half of your total tooth surface," says Sally Cram, DDS, a Washington, D.C.-based periodontist and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. In only 24 hours bacteria can accumulate between teeth and under the gum line and cause inflammation. "Receding gums make you look older," says Dr. Cram. "And the bacteria can travel through your body, causing inflammation in other areas. Studies suggest that this may raise your odds of heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory problems." Flossing, which gets between teeth and under the gum line, is the answer.

How to start:

Buy waxed floss, which slips easily between teeth. Keep some in your bathroom and some in your purse -- and use it daily.

DIET

Fatten up.

Eat more fat? Yes, but only if it's the right kind. You still need to skip trans fats (beware of "partially hydrogenated" on the label) and limit saturated fats (from meat and dairy), but don't skimp on the good fats found in olive oil, fish, and nuts. Women who ate a diet high in fat from olive oil reduced their risk of breast cancer compared with women who ate a lower-fat diet, according to one study. "Dietary fat is essential for absorption of carotenoids, the deep colors in plants, which are powerful cancer fighters," says lead investigator Mary Flynn, PhD, author of The Pink Ribbon Diet.

How to start:

Cook your breakfast scrambled eggs in olive oil instead of butter. Add some heart-healthy omega-3 fats to your salad at lunch with salmon, walnuts, or avocado.

BRAIN

Distance yourself from your cell phone.

As people give up landlines in favor of mobile phones, risks from the radiation they emit may increase. The World Health Organization's decade-long study on cell phone use and brain tumors was inconclusive but showed possible harm. More research needs to be done, since cancer can take decades to develop.

How to start:

Use a hands-free device.

SPIRIT

See friends face-to-face.

"Socializing and mingling with people is good for brain health," says Dr. Fotuhi. Now a study at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, reveals that having strong relationships with your pals can halve your risk of dying prematurely. Scientists speculate that friendships are a powerful antidote to stress.

How to start:

Make at least one date this week for face time with your besties, whether it's a quick coffee or dinner together.

Week 6

BODY

Find your balance.

"As early as age 45, some women begin to notice changes in their balance," says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Fit to Live. This loss progresses as you age and can lead to falls and fractures later on. Yoga and tai chi are great for improving balance; so is exercising on a Bosu ball, which looks like a big blue gumdrop (it wobbles as you stand on it so your muscles have to compensate to balance). But you don't have to go to the gym.

How to start:

Dr. Peeke suggests a simple way to tune up. "Make a rule: Anytime you're in line, such as at the post office or grocery store (as long as you're wearing flats), pick up one foot and balance on the other leg for a few seconds, then switch to the other foot." The more you practice, the better you'll get at it.

DIET

Skip snacking.

While your gut is digesting a meal, your body diverts energy from other key tasks. "When you eat, the mechanism that cleans your cells is deactivated," explains Ana Maria Cuervo, MD, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Going several hours without eating gives your body time to remove damaged materials. If you snack constantly, it can leave cells vulnerable to the diseases of aging, like diabetes and heart disease. Dr. Cuervo says four to six hours between meals is optimal.

How to start:

If you find yourself heading to the vending machine or the cookie jar, distract yourself with some herbal tea or sugar-free hot chocolate, or chomp on some sugarless gum.

BRAIN

Crank up the cardio.

A major study published in 2010 showed that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week for three months increases the size of the hippocampus (the part of the brain used for short-term memory) enough that it can be seen by the naked eye on a brain scan, says Dr. Fotuhi.

How to start:

Schedule three 2-mile brisk walks this week, before work or during lunch. As your brain starts to get larger, your memory will improve.

SPIRIT

Distress less.

You've heard of high-strung type A and easygoing type B personalities. But if you're type D, the less known "distressed personality," characterized by worry and gloom, it can cut your life short. Type Ds have a higher risk of heart disease and are four times as likely to die prematurely as other heart patients. You can change your dangerous D to a more relaxed type B, says Dr. Flanigan.

How to start:

Sign up for a yoga class. Meditation and aerobic exercise can also raise your spirits.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2011.

shim