At 62, James Pressler looks remarkably young for his age. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON…)
How old is the man in the photo below?
Hint #1: His first full-time salary as a lawyer was $12,000 a year.
Hint #2: He drew a low number in the Vietnam War draft lottery.
That my husband, Jim, looks good for his age has been true throughout our 20 years of marriage, but never more so than now. He is 62.
It’s been a fun parlor trick. When the “Guess Your Age” guy at the West Virginia State Fair guessed he was 37, Jim had to whip out his driver’s license to prove he was really 55. “Man, you look good,” the carnie said.
I have always assumed that my husband benefits from especially good genes. But now that Jim is in his 60s, people aren’t just shocked to learn his age, they also want to know how he does it. It has made me wonder if the real reason he’s aging so well is the nutrition-
lifestyle regimen he has created for himself. Jim has been honing his routine for decades, ever since he was deferred from the draft, at the age of 22, because of high blood pressure. “I knew I could do something about it, and I didn’t want to take drugs,” he recalls.
If the health and fitness habits he’s been developing since then are the reason he looks so young now, that would be really good to know.
I took the question — and Jim’s picture — to experts in aging, nutrition, cell function, dermatology, genetics and vitamin research. The answer, pretty clearly, is that his efforts have in fact had a big impact on the way he looks, good genes or not.
“The older you get, the more influence you have, so that by the time you’re 50, it’s about 70 percent choices, about 30 percent genetics,” said Michael Roizen, chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Roizen has spent years studying aging and runs a hugely popular Web site, RealAge.com, that offers health and fitness advice. Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director at the National Institute on Aging, agreed that genes are only a piece of the puzzle, and probably not the biggest.
As director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, which has followed about 5,000 people since 1958, Ferrucci has been able to see firsthand what makes a difference in the way people age.
“You don’t get the genes for being younger,” he said. “You get the gene that allows you [to] do the right things to slow down your aging process.”
So let’s look at what Jim does.
Avoids the big no-no’s
Virtually everyone I spoke with listed one or more of these factors working in my husband’s favor right from the start: He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t have sun damage and drinks only moderately. The vigor with which these researchers voiced these opinions reminded me to scare my kids even more about smoking and drinking — and about the importance of sunscreen.
Gets moderate exercise
Ferrucci calls exercise “the strongest beneficial behavior intervention that we know about.” Moderate exercise makes the biggest difference, he said.
That would be Jim’s style. His exercise routine is limited by a busy law practice, three young kids and a wife who also works. So he squeezes in a 20- to 30-minute aerobic workout on the bike or rowing machine three to four days a week in our basement, followed by 10 to 20 minutes of weight training.
Roizen said he laughed out loud when he read an e-mail from me outlining my husband’s exercise program: It was almost the exact same workout plan Roizen promotes as the ideal routine to retard the effects of aging.
Eats a healthy diet
and eats moderately
Jim’s weight has never fluctuated much, but in the past five to 10 years he has eliminated many unhealthful foods from his diet and reduced his portion sizes, causing him to drop 10 pounds without much effort. The trick, I think, has been making these changes gradually so the adjustment has been easy.
Despite a weakness for chocolate chip cookies, Jim now eats more whole grains, much less fat, more fish and more fruit and vegetables. He also eats virtually no red meat, which Roizen applauds.
“It could be the saturated fat; we’re not sure. But something in red meat accelerates inflammation in arteries,” he said. “And it turns out that inflammation in arteries ages your skin, ages your heart, ages all the things where your blood vessels go.”
Eats a diet high in antioxidants
Jim devours dark fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, blackberries, watermelon, dark romaine lettuce and other dark greens. I scour the supermarket ads for BOGO deals: buy one for Jim, get one free for the rest of us.
These foods are good because they are full of antioxidants, which are thought to bind with the unstable molecules that are constantly released as a byproduct of metabolism.