A patient asked me recently about how to grow older without getting “old.” From the time of Ponce de Leon to the here and now, it’s human nature to seek the fountain of youth. I got some interesting perspective on this recently when I had the pleasure of meeting Mel Zuckerman, the spry 84 year old founder of Canyon Ranch Resort and Spa. He was a 50 year old, overweight, stressed out real estate developer in Tuscon who’s doctor told him he had the body of a 75 year old. Mel’s epiphany for change happened when his father died of lung cancer, who spent his last months repeating “If only I had….”Healthy Living

Mel checked himself in to a weight loss program in California that he dubbed a “fat farm.” The clientele were mostly women, and he felt out of place, but a fitness instructor took pity on him. Through this person’s mentoring, Mel went from being unable to walk a mile to running 1.5 miles in 11 minutes in less than 2 weeks. Extra pounds quickly released, and he felt boundless energy. He spent 4 weeks on the “fat farm” and felt transformed. His doctor later confirmed that his bio markers were turning around, and that he tested out younger than his real age.

He decided his purpose in life was to create an even better place than the spartan “fat farm” for people to transform their lives through healthy living, and Canyon Ranch was born less than 20 months after his return in 1978. Built on an old dude ranch, it is now the pinnacle of luxury, with an amazing spa, hundreds of fitness and yoga classes, hiking, meditation, and metaphysical practitioners. There are also on-site physicians, trainers, counselors and nutritionists, and Mel feels that the assembled team truly serves the mind, body and spirit of his guests.

Mel went on to tell us about the ancient Greek concept of fitness and physical health which was “to die young, as late as possible.” We all have chronological clocks, determined by our birth date. We don’t get to choose our date, nor do we have control over the passage of time. But we do have significant control over our biological clock, and usually we our taking control of this clock has nothing to do with going to the doctor.

The premise is simple: Exercise, Eat Well, Sleep Well, Manage Stress and Mood, and Cultivate Spirituality and Purpose. Implementing these simple words would do more for health care than any government program or biomedical breakthrough, beyond our wildest dreams. The disconnect lies between what we know and what we are willing to do. I certainly have my struggles. I think the magic happens when we realize how much small positive changes can improve our situations. In this age of information overload, it’s so easy to feel paralyzed by complicated books and theories about what we should be doing.

What if we tried to make it simple?

  1. If you are starting from scratch with exercise, just make a small commitment to yourself, just 5-10 minutes of fun movement…walking, dancing, running, stairs, easy stretches or even marching in place. Just do something, begin a ritual of movement, and build from there as you realize how good it feels. The ultimate goal would be to work up a sweat for 30-40 minutes 4 times a week, lift some weights 1-2 times per week and stretch daily.
  2. Eating well doesn’t have to be complex either. Learn how to make 4-5 fast, easy recipes that include lots of leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of lean protein. Limit white foods such as flour, sugar and artificial sweeteners, though cauliflower, garlic and onions are ok. Say no to sodas and junk food, and never eat sweets on an empty stomach as it elevates you blood glucose and insulin levels. Never skip breakfast, and make sure to include protein and a little bit of fat to give your breakfast some staying power. Hydrate with 8 glasses of filtered water daily. Avoid the plastic bottles if you can.
  3.  Adequate sleep is finally getting the respect and attention it deserves. Sleep is a time for the body to restore and is a lot of hormonal activity that affects our metabolism going on as we sleep. Make your bedroom a cool, peaceful and dark environment and structure your activities so that you can start to wind down after 8pm. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep.
  4.  Just breathe…this simple step helps us manage our stress and moods, and can be combined with prayer and meditation to help us be our best selves.

Seems to me that the fountain of youth lives between our ears. It’s making the decision to live a healthy lifestyle. Start simple, celebrate your decision and live younger longer, like 84 year old Mel Zuckerman.