I'm frequently told that I look younger than my 38 years. (You be the judge; check out my nonairbrushed photo above.) While I'm always pleased by the compliment, I wonder whether I'm really young for my years. Am I doing all I can to slow the aging process? A couple of revelations this week offer some hints that, no, I can do more. Rigorous lifestyle changes, like eating very little fat and sugar, actually increased the levels of telomerase (a protein that helps slows cell aging) in a group of prostate cancer patients, University of California researchers report. And a Harvard University study finds that a healthful lifestyle can boost women's longevity by reducing the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.
Sounds good to me, but what should I do?
1. Go vegan. OK, that's a little extreme for me, but the guys in the prostate cancer study were probably very motivated. They were told to eat only 10 percent of their calories from fat and very little sugar and processed foods, which means they pretty much ate fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, and whole grains. (They were allowed to take fish oil supplements to replace the fatty tuna steaks they were missing out on.) Click here for the full details. I think I'll stick with my mostly vegetarian lifestyle with fish a few times a week and chicken once or twice a week.
2. Get that regular exercise. Couch potatoes age faster and have a higher risk of dying. The good news is that I don't need to do a Dara Torres Olympic training regimen. Both studies found longevity benefits for those who exercised moderately (brisk walking, biking, swimming) for 30 minutes, six or seven days a week. Now I just have to figure out how to squeeze an extra workout or two a week into my lunch breaks.
3. Don't smoke. Compared with nonsmokers, women in the Harvard study who smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day had more than three times the risk of dying from heart disease and twice the risk of dying of cancer during 24 years of follow-up. I'm glad I hated cigarettes when I tried them at 13. Enough said.
4. Drink a little, but not too much. Having the equivalent of a glass of wine or a can of beer per day slightly lowered a woman's risk of dying, according to the Harvard researchers. Having more than that, though, shortens a woman's lifespan. I usually stick with two or three drinks a week.
5. Maintain a healthful weight. You knew this was coming. While some studies advocate for extreme calorie restriction—and extreme thinness—to extend longevity, I'd rather apply the finding of the Harvard study, which shows an increased risk of dying for those whose body mass index creeps above 25. I'll do what it takes to keep my body mass index in the healthy range between 18.5 and 24.9, or 105 pounds to 143 pounds on my 5-foot, 4-inch frame.