Turn Back the Clock: Fitness Trends Focus on Looking and Feeling Younger than Your Chronological Age

The quest for the fountain of youth is now mainstream. Gone are the days when only models, athletes and Hollywood stars worried about aging. It’s become a national obsession, as witnessed by the phenomenal increase in cosmetic surgery for both sexes and fads such as collagen and Botox injections. The generation that grew up in the 1960s not trusting anyone over 30 has had its comeuppance. We’ve passed 30 and then some. We’re at – or maybe even past – midlife but, with a bit of luck, we have many years ahead of us. Can we turn back the clock? Is it possible to look and feel younger than our chronological age?


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In the Eye of the Beholder

Lloyd Gainesboro is the owner of the Dedham Health & Athletic Complex, a rather unusual health club because it is affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and some of Boston’s top hospitals. “When someone walks by me,” Gainesboro says, “I look at that person’s body motion and stride. Often I’m amazed when I look at his or her face, or talk to them, and realize that this person is actually much older or younger than I initially thought.”

Gainesboro is convinced that we have two different ages: our actual chronological age and what he calls our “fitness age.” It’s not a new concept, but it’s attracting more attention as our population ages. Fitness age can be determined by a number of factors: muscle tone, strength, aerobic capacity, endurance, flexibility and balance.

These factors can be measured by tests (see, for example, or by models inferred from studies. Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University and author of four books, including Strong Women Stay Young, is the best-known researcher in the field of exercise physiology. In Strong Women Stay Young, she suggests strength-training goals for different age ranges. For example, a woman 50- to 69-years-old should strive to use a 10- to 12-pound dumbbell when doing a biceps curl. The inference is that if this woman can use a 12- to 16-pound weight, she is stronger and, on the contrary, if she can only lift an 8- to 10-pound dumbbell, she is not up to the model for her chronological age.

Dr. Michael Roizen, chairman of anesthesia and critical care at the University of Chicago and a preventive gerontologist, has tried to amalgamate what he thinks are the best of the research studies so you can accurately measure your fitness age – or what he calls “real age.”

Measuring Your “Real Age”

Roizen believes that there are 125 factors that affect your “real age.” These factors encompass a wide range of health behaviors, ranging from diet and medication to stress control and smoking. The most comprehensive form of the quiz he developed is online at the Real Age Web site (; a shorter version can be found in his book RealAge: Are You as Young as You Can Be?

You’ll be asked questions like: How often do you exercise? Do you floss your teeth? Do you own a dog? How long did your parents live? To get an accurate measure, you’ll need some personal data, like your blood pressure and cholesterol values. If you don’t have the exact figures, you can guess or skip those questions. The online quiz takes about 35 minutes to complete and the results are available immediately.

Dr. Roizen believes that you can control your aging process. Roizen takes into account family history and genes, but stresses the role of lifestyle changes. In RealAge, he discusses the most common health behaviors and shows how each one affects one’s biological age. He then gives a number of suggestions for changes, promising to “make you live and feel up to 26 years younger.”

In Roizen’s view, younger and healthier are almost always one and the same. Naturally, there are no guarantees and some people defy the odds. But with something as important as our longevity, it pays to err on the healthy side.

Taking Control of Your Destiny

Roizen is not alone in believing that you can turn back your chronological clock. Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., president and founder of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, has been a leading fitness advocate since the 1960s. He believes that 70 percent of your fitness age is within your control; your genes and your medical history predetermine the other 30 percent. Cooper, who is 71 but looks decades younger, challenges baby boomers and those older to take control of their destinies.

Lloyd Gainesboro is an advocate of Dr. Cooper’s. He sums up Cooper’s philosophy: “I have a shot at changing my fate.”

Gainesboro believes that, unfortunately, most medical doctors are not there yet. In his view, they’re all too willing to prescribe medication for a condition that can be as effectively treated with the proper nutrition and exercise. This is especially true for conditions like diabetes that he’s found, in working with the Joslin Diabetes Center, respond well to lifestyle changes.

The thesis that you can control, at least up to a point, your aging process is backed up by research. A recent MacArthur Foundation study, which serves as the basis for the book Successful Aging, asserts that lifestyle choices are more important than heredity in determining your health and vitality.


The Bottom Line: Your Waistline

Of all the factors that affect your fitness age, there’s increasing evidence that exercise is one of the most important. John W. Rowe, M.D., and Robert L. Kahn, authors of Successful Aging, argue that fitness cuts your risk of dying. “It doesn’t get much more ‘bottom line’ than that,” they write.

Exercise also negates the adverse effects of other risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Their conclusion: “Physical activity is at the crux of successful aging, regardless of other factors.”

Physical activity doesn’t have to mean jumping up and down on a step in an aerobics class. In his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, Andrew Weil, M.D., shows how walking and stretching will satisfy all your exercise requirements throughout your life. He provides a gradual plan by which you can make brisk 45-minute walks and some simple stretches part of your weekly regimen.

Miriam Nelson, on the other hand, argues that strength training is the most important type of exercise as we age. “Strength training,” Nelson says, “is a fountain of youth.” She believes that it will make you feel younger, stronger and more vigorous – perhaps better than you’ve ever felt in your entire life. Nelson recommends combining strength training with other types of exercise, such as walking, especially for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

If you decide to do strength training in a club, the good news is that you may not have to work out in the midst of beefy muscle men and scantily attired twenty-somethings. A number of clubs now cater exclusively to women and men over the age of 45. As baby boomers age, there will certainly be a growing market. Time magazine estimates that more than 5 million adults age 65 and over already work out regularly in health clubs.

Gainesboro doesn’t think we have a choice: we have to exercise more. He says this not just because he’s the owner of a health club. “The health-care system is broken. It’s not going to be able to service our aging population in the future,” he says. “The message has to get out to this demographic group."

Are you listening? And, more important, are you doing something about your fitness age?:p>


Resources :p>

Boomers Can Really Put Old on Hold, by Barbara Morris, Image F/X Publications, 2002. Offers tips to reduce the physical and mental signs of aging.:p>

8 Weeks to Optimum Health
, by Andrew Weil, M.D., Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Offers a week-by-week program to adopt a healthier lifestyle and to find strength, joy and resilience.:p>

offers software to measure body composition, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and muscle strength. The results are matched to a database of more than 60,000 individuals who have taken the same tests.:p>

RealAge: Are You as Young as You Can Be?
, by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., Cliff Street Books, 1999. Features an abbreviated version of the “Real Age” quiz and offers advice on how to take years off your chronological age. For an expanded version of the quiz, visit>

Successful Aging
, by John W. Rowe, M.D., and Robert L. Kahn, Ph.D., Pantheon, 1998. Debunks many of the myths of aging; based on 10 years of research by the authors.

Strong Women Stay Young
, by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., Bantam Books, 1998. Offers simple strength-training exercises to replace fat with muscle, reverse bone loss and improve energy and balance.


Can you name the 4 key areas that are key to staying healthy?
Click here to find out if you are right!