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The Health Issue

The Best You Now

Well-being and health--along with a growing appreciation for the age you are now--have come together in an era of unprecedented longevity

July 29, 2007|Stacie Stukin | Stacie Stukin is a West Hollywood-based freelance writer

A funny thing happened on the road to perfection. Suddenly, enjoying your exercise routine is more important than going for the burn. Meditation is edging out the shrink's couch. And trying to turn back the clock is passe as a quiet revolution emphasizes that well-being is the key to quality of life and peace of mind.

"I like to call it 'pro-aging' or 'successful aging,'" says Miriam Nelson, an associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. "There are still those who panic about getting older and get depressed with each passing year. Then there is another, growing group of people who are thinking about what they can do to be as vigorous as possible to reduce their incidence of age-related disease by eating well, exercising, managing stress and being happy and connected."

"It's a move to adapt to aging, to value it and honor what it means to grow old in this era of unprecedented longevity," says Fernando Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA. "People are . . . taking responsibility for their health without relying on quick fixes like pills or surgery."

Integrative medicine proponents such as Andrew Weil have built businesses on books and beauty and health products. Medi-wellness spas, such as David Murdock's California WellBeing Institute at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, offer the best in medicine with alternative approaches to prevention.

The following primer outlines some of the freshest approaches to looking and feeling your best now. And throughout this special health issue, you'll meet people who are shaping and defining ideas about health--from pregnancy to prostate surgery, from the TV shows we watch to the cakes we bake--for a generation of Americans who are embracing every stage of life as "prime time."

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Beauty

With all this talk of pro-aging, it's hard to avoid the subject of cosmetic surgery. Although it's a popular option for many, some simply don't want a nip and tuck. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of face-lifts declined 4% between 2005 and 2006. Beverly Hills plastic surgeons such as John Vartanian are noticing a shift. Vartanian says about 25% of his patients just want to improve what's already there. "There's a subpopulation who are maturing and who grew up with the option of cosmetic surgery," he says. "But they don't want an extreme look; they want to look natural." Part of this is due to new options in the surgeon's toolbox. In particular, nearly 9 million Americans opted for minimally invasive procedures in 2006. Those scalpel-free procedures leave no scars and require no downtime or hiding. People are resurfacing their skin with lasers, filling in fine lines and wrinkles with injectable material and using Botox to prevent lines and crevices. "I love those patients," says Vartanian. "They have common sense, they don't want to look freaky and I can make them happy."

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Spirit

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 90% of Americans turned to religion to cope with the stress. Although that finding echoes many national surveys about the prevalence of religious participation among Americans, particularly those 65 and older, the medical scientific community is just beginning to understand how personal religious belief systems affect well-being and health. "In the last 10 years it's become more and more evident that there is a positive relationship between religion and health," says Harold G. Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University who has authored some of that research. Koenig says religious people are happier, more hopeful, recover more easily from illness and adapt better to changes that come with aging or challenging situations. Because religion, or any spiritual pursuit, promotes a positive attitude toward aging, there's evidence that that attitude will, in fact, help you live longer.

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Mind

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