Pro-aging is not a diet or a regimented workout. It’s a transition to the rest of your life.
Even though my workdays are very busy with seeing patients, running my business, teaching, writing, conducting research and consulting, I always find time to connect with my family, refresh with meditation, nourish with a healthy diet and move with morning exercise. I’ll do five days of fast-mimicking three times a year to give my body the break it needs, usually after vacation indulgences. Honestly, I can’t recall over my 50 years ever feeling so good, so strong, so vital, and self-confident. That doesn’t seem boring at all, does it?
Your body wants to nourish and care for itself. It’s built to do that, when given the chance. One million years of evolution is a lot more informative and useful than an infomercial selling you “what you need.” When you stay away from things that aren’t good for you, even for a little while, your body repairs itself. You just need to give your body time to do what it’s supposed to do. I always say to my patients, “You can’t get a bruise to go away until you stop punching yourself in the arm.”
The best way to incorporate all of my pro-aging advice into a lifestyle that works for you is to start slowly—one step at a time. One exercise routine, one dietary change, one product or procedure at a time until you’re sure it works for you. When in doubt, follow my dad’s rule of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
Give yourself 30 days for a pro-aging reboot. Most experts agree that positive and negative habits can be developed or broken over 30 to 90 days. Incremental changes will end up giving you big results.
Life has stresses and endless challenges. They are essential for change and progress for all forms of life on our planet. But success in life is about balance, and pro-aging is all about finding that balance and maximizing it for optimal health and beauty. The future is bright in our ability to live longer and better lives. What is most clear is the need for us all to be active participants in our own well-being.
HOW DOES STRESS AFFECT THE SKIN?:
When your body is challenged, your stress hormones kick in so you can try to manage the situation. The two main ones are cortisol and adrenaline, primarily released by the adrenal glands. These stress hormones help regulate your immune system, your metabolism, the rest of your hormones, cellular activity and just about every other function of the body. Not having enough of these natural chemicals can have a detrimental effect, just as having too much of them can. Stress and challenge, to some degree, are an essential part of our evolution and well-being. Balance is key, as with all things pro-aging.
Stress and the hormonal symphony as a whole affect the aging process, the look of your skin and the ability for your everyday functions to work for you or against you. If you’re wondering why you can’t lose weight, have trouble building muscle mass, have sleep irregularities, irregular periods, dark circles under your eyes, skin issues such as acne, and/or sexual dysfunction…think about stress and the physiologic changes that go along with it. It’s easier said than done to “manage your stress,” but these facts certainly make it a priority.
Now I don’t believe that stress is the origin of all medical maladies, but there is no question in my mind that stress is a huge exacerbating factor. People ask me if stress causes their acne or eczema. Believe it or not, it was believed by doctors years ago that many such skin diseases were a direct result of neurosis. It would be great to have such a simple response, but, yes, some vacation time, a good night’s sleep and falling in love, among other stress-reducing activities, certainly help most chronic medical issues of any kind. So be aware of what is stressing you out, and try to figure out ways to control it.
PRO-AGE YOUR WAY TO CALM WITH MEDITATION
Meditation changed my life.
With my background and training in conventional Western medicine, in my early stage of training, I used to think of meditation as nonsensical, with no grounding in science. I fully admit to being closed-minded about other healing options outside the confines of my rigorous by-the-book approach to medicine. As for beliefs of a more spiritual nature, well, I was raised by a Sicilian Roman Catholic mother and a mixed-European Jewish father. Nonetheless, religion played very little role in my upbringing. We ate a lot, laughed a lot, liked to disco roller-skate, and spoke loudly and above each other most often—and that was a great formula for family in my household.
The biggest intellectual accomplishment any human being can make is admitting how little they know, even about topics they have studied or practiced in depth and are considered expert on. As the world-renowned cellist Pablo Casals said when asked why he continued to practice for at least four hours every day, well into his 80s: “Because I think I am making progress.”
I was a bit skeptical about Transcendental Meditation. While researching it, I learned that TM has had the highest amount of peer-reviewed scientific studies over the years—investigating its benefits for reducing high blood pressure, in drug recovery, the prison rehabilitation system, helping veterans with PTSD, and with several types of chronic disease. In fact, a 2012 review of 163 studies published by the American Psychological Association concluded that Transcendental Meditation helped to “reduce anxiety, negative emotions, trait anxiety and neuroticism while aiding learning, memory and self-realization.”
The rigorousness of all these studies was the primary reason why TM appealed to me. Followed by the fact that it was nonreligious, and more focused on the health and quality of life—one of the keys to pro-aging. I was still skeptical that sitting still and saying some mantras could do all that, but I had nothing to lose by trying it.
Part of what makes any kind of meditation so effective is that it’s a daily habit. I know some people think that they can go off on a meditation retreat for a few days and reap the benefits for many months to come. That’s not how it works…just as crash diets or extreme exercise routines don’t work over the long term. They’re quick fixes. Meditation is a long fix for life. Once you incorporate such a good habit into your daily routine, it becomes effortless. It’s not a chore. You look forward to it because you know how good it makes you feel. (This is how you should feel about exercise as well.) That’s the progressive and profound part of pro-aging.
What I love most about TM is how it sends me right into a kind of free-flowing state of mind that often leads to not thinking at all. This is the “zone” that is used euphemistically in everything from professional sports to the arts. It’s where creativity breeds and where excellence comes from. If there is a goal to meditation—this is it. As soon as you come out of it, you feel as if you had taken the most refreshing nap. In fact, meditation has the same refreshing effect on your brain and body in a shorter time than a nap, and is so helpful because most people don’t have the option to take a nap undisturbed during the day.
Whatever form of meditation you do, one of the most satisfying benefits is that it helps you sleep better. It not only refreshes you when you do it, but it also reduces stress and anxiety, which are the two most common causes of insomnia. Intense meditation practices help to achieve a harmony between body and mind. Study after study confirms meditation practices clearly affect brain functions, from its metabolism, hormone production, neurologic pathway plasticity, and neural wave form—all of which help mediate its regulatory functions.
I also believe that meditation helps with sleep and replenishment because it clears the space for you to focus on what you value most—the people you love, and your self-care. Meditation makes you stronger, more centered and more focused. It allows you to say, “I need this time now for myself.” I worked as an EMT in college, and rule No. 1 is to protect yourself first. It’s the mental and emotional equivalent of pro-aging’s definition of vanity: It’s not wrong to think of your own needs, to lead a better, happier, more empowered life. Others around you will benefit from it as well.