Bob Greene's "20 Years Younger" spells out his cutting-edge program built around the four essential pillars of exercise, nutrition, skin care and sleep. Here's an excerpt.
A number of years ago , I spent part of the spring cycling my way across the country, riding from Long Beach, California, to New York City. It was something I had always wanted to do, and the opportunity presented itself when I was booked on a multicity tour to promote a book I’d written. I knew that the 3,600-mile trip would be grueling, but I thought it would actually be less stressful than racing from one airport to another, which is how a typical book tour unfolds. To prepare, I trained hard so that I’d be able to hit my target of riding about one hundred miles a day. I planned to sleep in a different town every night and visit bookstores, malls, and fitness centers in more than thirty cities along the way.
I wasn’t far into the trip when I began to feel dramatic changes taking place. By the time I hit Arizona, I had a mental and emotional clarity that I’d never before experienced. At times, I’d be riding for eight hours or more with nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the beat of my heart in my ears. As I looked around me, colors seemed brighter, the world smelled fresher, sounds seemed sharper, the things I touched seemed more textured. All my senses were amplified. And nothing rattled me — not a dog giving chase, rain on my back, a treacherous ascent. As my legs cycled rhythmically, the pedestrian concerns of the everyday slipped away and I’d find my thinking stripped down to the essentials. I contemplated the scenery and I contemplated my life. What was important to me? What did I want out of life? While I was on that trip it all became so much clearer.
As I edged toward Chicago I became aware that I was also going through extraordinary physical changes. I’d been hailed on at the Grand Canyon and twice climbed more than 11,000 feet in the still snowy Rockies, and I felt invincible, virtually bulletproof. Every night I slept like a rock. In my early forties at the time, I thought I was pretty fit going into the ride, but that extreme physical challenge left me much stronger than I’d ever been in my life, even in my twenties. While I knew riding cross-country would be a challenge and that I’d come off the bike fitter than when I started, I hadn’t realized how much the trip would transform me both physically and emotionally. I was particularly amazed at how clearheaded I felt. I was able to look at my life and see exactly where I wanted to go. By the time I reached the East Coast, I was operating on all cylinders and had regained (and even significantly surpassed) the strength, power, energy, lucidity, and drive of my earlier years.
Graduate students in exercise physiology learn about the anti-aging benefits of physical activity, and I was no exception. In fact, I’d had a longtime interest in the science of aging and the prevention of age-related decline. But once my cross-country trip allowed me to see the possibilities for myself, I became passionate about the subject. It wasn’t long after I completed that cross-country tour that I started exploring ideas for this book. It’s not practical for most people to get on a bike and ride for a month (it’s not something I could easily fit into my life anymore either), but I wondered if there were adjustments you could make to your everyday life that would have a similar de-aging, life-enhancing effect. I knew that a good fitness plan could go a long way toward turning back the clock, but what else was possible?
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To find out, I spent the next few years talking to experts in other fields, learning about the latest advances in anti-aging science and determining what aspects of that research could be translated into a workable plan for daily life.
After a time, it became evident that there are four main fronts on which you can vigorously fight back against the effects of aging: exercise, nutrition, skin care, and restorative sleep. Addressing any one of these areas with an eye toward shaving off the years can have a tremendous payoff, but it pales in comparison to the combined impact of all four — especially when you also control the stress in your life and practice positive thinking, two other aspects that can significantly slow the aging process. A well-rounded comprehensive approach can not only help you look and feel younger, but can actually make your body reverse course, even at the cellular level. At this point there’s little doubt: Good anti-aging strategies can both extend your life and substantially raise the quality of it.
By calling this book 20 Years Younger I’m making what some might think is an exaggerated claim. But most people these days are living lives that predispose them to early aging. If you grab ahold of your health and actively pursue greater well-being, I don’t think it’s extravagant to say that you can dramatically turn things around. It’s commonly accepted that the body undergoes certain changes with age, and to some extent those changes are inevitable. Even works of art maintained under pristine light and temperature conditions eventually begin to wither. What is less known, though, is that the life you lead and the decisions you make every day are largely responsible for how quickly, profoundly, and noticeably you age. In fact, much of what we think of as aging — wrinkles, weight gain, memory loss, lack of energy, certain types of illnesses — is not primarily attributable to the passage of time. Rather, it’s a direct result of sedentary living, poor diet, lack of sleep, insufficient (or nonexistent) skin care, too much stress, and even a defeatist attitude. It stands to reason, then, that if you reverse those habits — if you get moving, eat longevity-promoting foods, sleep soundly and adequately, protect and nourish your skin, and improve your outlook on the world — the signs of aging will reverse themselves, too.
Some people have gotten the message that the life you lead can indeed turn back the clock. But I feel others have misinterpreted the message to mean that they should zealously pursue any program that promises everlasting youth. Extreme exercise regimens, severely restrictive diets, unproven hormonal therapies, cosmetic surgery makeovers — they may all seem like quick and effective ways to return the body to its youthful self, but more often than not they’re counterproductive. What we’re offering you in this book instead are natural, research-based strategies for getting your body (and mind) in top form and even lowering your physiological age. The goal isn’t to help you turn yourself back into a teenager but rather to help you lead your longest, fullest, and healthiest life. Stay strong, energetic, mentally sharp, and confident, and your age will not define — or debilitate — you. Instead it will be incidental; something noted on your driver’s license but not indicative of your health or capabilities.
Copyright © 2012 by Bob Greene. From the book "20 Years Younger," published by Little, Brown and Company. Reprinted with permission.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive