Over twenty years ago, I made a very interesting discovery as to how to motivate my patients regarding certain aspects of their health and well-being.  I’d come to see how our health care system unfortunately encourages dependency on doctors, medications,  and other treatments, rather than promoting effective and safe lifestyle changes that actually empower patients.

I’ve literally talked myself blue in the face attempting to get patients to stop smoking. A major risk factor for more diseases than I can count, but that’s another blog post.

One day, I ran across a study that determined  that smoking contributes significantly to skin aging, and smokers usually look five to 10 years older than their non-smoking counterparts.

So during my discussions with patients, about smoking cessation, and I must admit this tact was especially effective with women, after giving my normal speech reminding them about the devastating health effects of cigarette smoking, I added one sentence. “If you stop smoking, you’ll look younger.”

Unbelievably, approximately sixty to seventy-five percent of my female patients I shared this information with, stopped smoking immediately!!

I wasn’t surprised at all, considering the way the necessity of a youthful appearance is “marketed” to women of all ages.

I’m not judgmental at all about this.  I just found my experiment interesting.  We’re all human  and are very sensitive to the messages we receive from environment.

So I share that with you twenty years after the fact to let you know, I don’t think much has changed, and if anything, the youth marketing approach, is even more intense.

Keeping that in mind, I find it very interesting that one of the most profound anti-aging, youth engaging techniques is minimally reported in mainstream media.  Probably because it’s not packaged in a way that sells, and requires a lot more effort than the creams, procedures, pills, surgeries and everything else that’s  given to us on the media’s silver platter as a method to stay younger.

Exercise is probably the most powerful physical technique available. Study after study has found that it’s never too late for anyone, including those approaching 100years to begin to exercise.

Exercising can literally make your cells, organs and body younger! And after you get into the routine of doing it, it does become easier, and you feel better, and younger.  Exercise, actually helps your genes to either slow down or reverse the aging process.

I must admit, with my busy schedule, I haven’t exercised as often as I should.  Part of my problem, or I should say challenge has been not only to find the time, but to really commit myself to doing it. So I did and I haven’t felt this good in years.  I am doing a couple of dance based exercise programs, and having a ball.  I can literally feel my body thanking me for doing this. My mood is better, I’m losing weight (just in time for yet another high school class reunion), sleeping better, and feeling, quite honestly younger and healthier.

My parents taught me a lot about health.  They were two of the healthiest people I’ve ever known. They were active all of their lives, and had a love of life that was inspiring.  The gardened, exercised, and did so many other physical activities, I can’t remember half of them.

But I do remember one critical moment that changed my life. I took them on a trip to the Carribean when they were in their early seventies and I was in my mid thirties.  The guest house we stayed at was on the top of a very steep hill.  I was worried that they would have a challenge walking up the hill, and  for the first couple of days we rode a cab back from the beach, until they informed me I needed to save my money and we could walk up the hill.  After the first walk up, the next day we stopped half-way, rested for about ten minutes.

My mother asked me, “Are you ready to go up?” I said no.  She replied, “See you at the top.” I sat there, out of breath and out of shape, watching her and my father easily glide up the rest of the steep hill. In that moment I realized how out of shape I was.

I asked myself, “They’re in the seventies, and you’re in your thirties.  What is wrong with this picture?”

I knew I needed to exercise.  When I returned home, I signed up for a membership at a local health club, and for the next ten years exercised there at least three days a week.

If you’re thinking about staying young, the best thing you can do is to get off the couch, or step away from your computer, iPad, or other amazing technological gadget and move!

When you do, your body will reward you.

Yours in good health,

Elaine R. Ferguson, MD