There is no magic elixir, balm or voodoo treatment that will help you look and feel younger instantly.
Now, the good news: There are plenty of simple steps you can take that will improve your health, and your appearance.
We talked to four experts in four areas of health – exercise, nutrition, sleep and skin care – to get practical advice for people who want to make changes without reinventing the wheel. And here’s what they told us:
Brooke Leys-Campeau, who teaches Zumba Gold classes at the Tustin (Calif.) Area Senior Center, said when she started with the class in September 2011, she took it easy on her pupils. For many dancers of a certain age, Zumba is a purely sit-down affair. But Leys-Campeau quickly found that her students were ready to boogie.
“They were ready for more,” she says.
In her Tuesday morning class, there are 25 or so people of varying ages. One woman is in her 80s and recovering from a stroke. A man, 65, has lost more than 100 pounds over the past few years, through various activities. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to Leys-Campeau that the key to exercising is to find something you like.
“People feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t keep the rhythm, I feel like such a dork.’ It’s not an audition; it’s not a competition. Some people have zero rhythm and don’t dance on beat the entire class, and yet they’re smiling and moving and having a great time.”
Leys-Campeau says people should remember their favorite activities from childhood when considering what kind of fitness activities to pursue: If you loved to run, join a running group; if you loved baseball or softball, join a slowpitch or fastpitch league.
If you don’t like feeling herded into a gym, try a home workout. Leys-Campeau says resistance tubes and bands can provide just as good a workout as machines at the gym. “All the exercises you can do with free weights, you can do with tubes and bands,” she says. Most come with instructional DVDs or booklets. It’s important to use them with correct technique to avoid injury.
If you need further help, some personal trainers will come to your home, and you don’t have to purchase a big block of sessions at once. Leys-Campeau has clients she works with at their homes, where she’ll show them a set of exercises, then come back in a month for a follow-up.
“There are so many different options,” she says. “The most important thing is for people to find something they enjoy, and start out small. The biggest mistake people make is they go too far too fast, and either injure themselves or get too sore, and give up.”
The bottom line: Your body wants to move, and every little bit helps, so do something you enjoy.
The American Psychological Association says at least 40 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder, and surveys show 60 percent of us report having trouble falling asleep a few nights a week or more.
May people do not get their seven to eight hours a night.
“We think the reasons for that are multiple: It can either be related to the fact that people are working longer hours, or people are trying to make ends meet in these difficult economic times,” says Alon Avidan, an associate professor of neurology at UCLA and director of the school’s Sleep Disorders Center.
Whatever the reasons, our own behaviors are responsible for our sleeplessness: We watch too much TV, play video games or check our phones right before bed.
“All of this makes it often difficult for people to get an appropriate period of sleep, and therefore the population is sleep-deprived,” Avidan says. The result can be as simple as cognitive or memory problems, or as serious as an increased long-term risk of weight gain, depression and diabetes.
Avidan’s advice: Go to bed about the same time each night; don’t nap for more than 15 to 20 minutes a day; and avoid alcohol and caffeine at night.
Also, if you get too little sleep one night, you can’t make up for it by doubling up the next night; it doesn’t work that way. For every one hour of sleep deprivation, get a full night’s sleep. Pull an all-nighter, and you need several days of regular sleep, Avidan says.
If you’re sleepy during the day and snore at night, you probably have obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airway becomes blocked and the sleeper wakes up repeatedly. This is a dangerous health condition, and a sleep specialist should be consulted.
The gold standard of treatment for sleep apnea, Avidan says, remains the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), a machine that pumps a light flow of air into one’s mouth and/or nose to prevent interruption. Many apnea sufferers don’t wear their CPAPs because of discomfort or claustrophobia, but Avidan says machines are getting lighter, quieter and less intrusive all the time. People who use them regularly can notice a dramatic improvement in alertness and energy from getting the proper amount of sleep.
The bottom line: Burning the midnight oil is bad for your health.
Nancy Silverberg has seen the fads come and go during her 28 years as a dermatologist in Newport Beach, Calif. But one truth is as certain as the rising and setting of the sun: That big old golden orb can wreak havoc on your skin, over time.
“A lot of what you talk about as skin aging actually is sun damage,” Silverberg says.
People in sun-blanched climates should wear sunscreen 365 days a year, Silverberg says. Something with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 should do for most people. But don’t look at only SPF, which covers just ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, the shorter-wavelength rays that cause sunburn. Longer rays (UVA) penetrate deeper into the skin and can cause long-term damage; both types of rays can cause skin cancer.
Buy sunscreen that says “broad spectrum,” meaning it protects against UVB and UVA rays.
“I tell patients, ‘Unless you’re gonna be inside all day and not step a pinkie toe outside the door, you should have sunscreen.’ And the best way to do it is right in your bathroom, as part of your normal daily routine,” Silverberg said.
Any unusual bumps or discolorations that appear and don’t go away should be checked by a dermatologist.
“We recommend people come in at least once a year, especially those fair-skinned Caucasians who live in sunny areas, and get a skin check,” Silverberg said. Also, as the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends, “check your birthday suit on your birthday.”
The bottom line: Caring for your skin isn’t just for the well-to-do.
For years we’ve been told that fat was the enemy of a good diet. But awareness of high fat and cholesterol intake has been rising steadily, and still obesity and diabetes remain at alarming levels.
“That doesn’t mean bacon is a health food,” says Irvine, Calif.-based nutritionist Denise Canellos. “But what we’ve found is when people remove saturated fat from their diets, it really depends on what they replace it with.”
If you cut down on meat and eat a bagel instead, you’re still getting starch, which the body breaks down into sugar.
“If you can replace some of that saturated fat with healthy fats, like olive oils, nuts, avocado, fish and vegetables, you’re going to see an incredible benefit to your health.”
Canellos likes cooking with olive and sunflower seed oil, which aren’t as processed as canola oil.
The other big piece of advice Canellos has: Eat more vegetables. “People don’t eat as many vegetables as they think they’re eating.
It’s very common for people to get to dinner and not having eaten one vegetable all day, and maybe limited amounts of fruits.”
We should also eat more leafy greens, like baby spinach, and less of our beloved iceberg lettuce, which is much lower in nutritional content. And it’s OK to dollop on some dressing. Same goes for the kids: Any way you can get veggies down the gullets of kids is OK, even if ranch dressing or cheese are piggybacking on top.
“If your kids eat only broccoli with cheese on it, give them broccoli with cheese,” Canellos says. “Then slowly cut back.”
More advice: Eat more beans, like lentils or black beans, in soups and salads, because they’re a great source of protein and fiber; substitute hummus for onion dip or mayonnaise on sandwiches; if you want a healthy snack at the office, try edamame (soybeans), which you can buy pre-cooked and shelled. “And we forget about the lowly baby carrot,” Canellos says. “When they’re dipped in hummus, you get that creaminess of a dip, and the crunchy of the veggies, and that can be very satisfying.”
Another great snack is nuts – especially peanuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts/filberts. They have good fat in them, which elevates levels of HDL (or “healthy” cholesterol). Same goes for nut butter: Slather it on apples, pears or bananas, but if you can buy the reduced-sugar variety, do it. Not only does it have that good fat, but “it also keeps us full and slows our digestion,” Canellos said.
The bottom line: Eat more vegetables. Fresh are best, but frozen are good, too.