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The Way BackAGING GRACEFULLY is both an art and a science by ALISON SINGH GEE /illustration by DAN WINTERS I’ll alway s think of it as the m om ent when ev ery thing changed—when I crossedthe line from y oung and alluring to m iddle-aged and inv isible. I was in m y officeat the m agazine where I worked, when I found a fav orite photo from m y recentpast: m e in India, dressed in a sari, sm iling and shielding m y ey es from the sun. Iplaced the picture on m y desk, and m y colleague—a rogue of a guy so handsom ethat Holly wood publicists I’d nev er ev en m et would call try ing to get the scoop onhis relationship status—cam e in.
“Wow!” he said, gazing down at the photo.
“Oh, y eah—in India,” I said, try ing to disguise m y blush.
“Yeah, wow.So, who is that?” He asked, ey es gleam ing.
“What do y ou m ean, who is that?” I snapped. “It’s m e.” Silence. I was positiv e he would backpedal with platitudes such as, “Oh, of courseit’s y ou. What was I thinking?” Instead, he cleared his throat and said, “Gosh, uh,how long ago was that?” “Sev en. Years. Ago,” I said, silently willing him to disappear. I glared at him , buthe was too busy wondering what the hell happened to that luscious girl in thosesev en y ears.
I passed from m y rose-still-in-bloom thirties into m y petals-suddenly -falling-offforties, that’s what happened. I gav e birth, endured a two-hour com m ute for sixy ears, gav e up facials and the Stairm aster for play dates and preschool co-opm eetings and liv ed m y life on six hours of sleep a night. I gained 20 pounds, dev eloped a constellation of age spots, lost m y cheekbones, stopped bothering withm ascara and dev eloped an am orphous jaw line. I transform ed from a Miss into aMa’am . I undeniably lost the heat.
As we cross from our thirties to our forties, the lev els of horm ones that onceregulated our skin tone, m uscle m ass, libido and brain function begin to decline.
Our reserv oir of enzy m es, which helps us digest food and transform v itam ins andm inerals into nourishm ent, m ay start to dim inish. As a result of shrinking m uscletissue, our resting m etabolic rate becom es slower. We can no longer eat the sam eam ount and expect to m aintain the sam e figure.
Wom en lose m uscle tone in their arm s, legs, abs and buttocks and start to pack onsom e fat, while our skin becom es slow to regenerate. Ev en our hair—the essence offem ininity —thins and loses its ability to grow long, turning gray and brittle.
Grav ity pulls at ev ery thing, leav ing us looking like exhausted v ersions of oury ounger selv es. The G-force works its v oodoo on our spines as well, causing us tocom press and stoop. Not exactly the m ost captiv ating look.
Men in their forties go through the m ale m idlife shift—andropause. Testosteronelev els decline, which leads to m uscle loss and fat gain. Many a form erly fit guytransform s into a pear- or apple-shaped frum p. Add to that a blurring jawline,m ale-pattern baldness, dilated blood v essels and horm one-induced m idlifedepression, and y ou’v e got a guy who’s gone decidedly tepid.
Want m ore good news? In our forties, both m en and wom en start to see their libidosfade. “At this age, y ou hav e to work hard to create the m agic,” say s Dr. KarlisUllis, m edical director of the Sports Medicine, Anti-Aging & Prev entiv e MedicalGroup in Santa Monica and author of Age Right: Turn Back the Clock with a Proven,Personalized, Anti-Aging Program. “You can’t just schlep around. If y ou want to behot again, now’s the tim e to get it back.” But how? I want to look like the m e in that India photo, not a shiny , sy ntheticcaricature. So plastic surgery is definitely out. At the sam e tim e, I don’t want toerase the 1 0 y ears of inner growth I’v e already experienced.
I know it is possible. After all, Sophia Loren at 7 6 and Catherine Deneuv e at 66both capture a tim eless sex appeal. Closer to hom e, Dem i Moore, 47 , hit her fortieslooking hotter than ev er. On the cov er of a recent Vogue, Gwy neth Paltrow, 3 8,looks as though she is aging in rev erse.
“Gwy neth does an am azing am ount of phy sical activ ity ,” explains Dr. Oz Garcia,the author of Redesigning 50: The No-Plastic-Surgery Guide to 21st-Century AgeDefiance, who teaches people—including Paltrow—how to m aintain and enhancetheir bodies. She is a liv ing testam ent to the powers of self-m aintenance througheducation and application. “Ev ery thing flies off of being fit, hav ing foodintelligence, getting adequate sleep and understanding y our horm ones. Whenthings start to shift in y our forties, y ou can’t toss in the towel.” So, will it ev er be possible for m e to get thelooks and allure of m y thirties back? I ask Garcia. “You can.” he say s with a pause,“but y ou hav e to earn it back.” I can earn m y hotness back—six words hav e nev er sounded so good. But just how m uch currency —m eaning tim e, m oney and effort—will it take? I em bark on a one-m onth SKINEv en if we labor ov er our skin as adults, there’s no escaping the dam age we m ighthav e done when we were y oung. I, for one, hav e taken scrupulous care of m y skin since m y late twenties. But ev en m y costly ,focused and com m itm ent-heav y routine seem s to hav e failed lately . Gone are theday s when I can roll out of bed and start the “At this age, y our skin becom es a journal ofy our life,” say s Dr. Jessica Wu, a Harv ard-trained derm atologist who treats m anyboldface nam es in her West L.A. office. “You know those sum m ers y ou spenttanning on the beach? That’s those dark spots right there. I’d say y ou hav e m ild tom oderate sun dam age.” For the crow’s feet and forehead wrinkles, sherecom m ends Botox, “to soften y ou up and m ake y ou look less tired.” As for the fat pockets form ing on m y jawline? Losing weight, as is m y plan, m ightm ake those disappear, she say s. Otherwise she recom m ends artificial fillers to ev enout m y v isage. She teaches m e her fav orite facial exercise for firm ing the m usclesunder the chin: Curl the tip of m y tongue up and back and press it against the roofof m y m outh, then hold for fiv e seconds; repeat fiv e tim es. I now do the m aneuv erwhenev er I’m at a red light or trawling through em ails.
I’m not interested in Botox—it seem s half of Holly wood are frozen-faced StepfordWiv es. As far as treating m y fine lines and age spots, she tells m e I hav e options.
The first is a fractionated laser treatm ent (between $1 ,000 and $2,000), whichev ens out skin tone. The laser drills thousands of tiny pinholes into the skin,shrinking and tightening the epiderm is while stim ulating new collagen. Thedownside? “After the treatm ent, y ou look like y ou hav e a sunburn,” say s Dr. Wu.
I look up photos of laser-treated patients, and it’s not a pretty picture. The sunburnlooks m ore like a second-degree scorch, and the ensuing “crusting”—as the peelingof the scalded skin is called—can last up to 1 0 day s. “But afterward, y ou look likey ou’v e turned back the clock about 1 0 y ears,” say s the doctor.which alm ostm akes it sound worth the pain.
Another option is decidedly less radical—a series of three LHA (lipo-hy droxy acid)peels, with roughly the sam e benefits as a laser. Most patients go back to work thenext day . The best part: Ev en a series of three peels (at about $3 00 per peel)—costsless than ev en one fractionated laser treatm ent.
Because both treatm ents should be done when y ou won’t be in the sun at all—andthat is not som ething I’m ready for—m y skin-renewal process will start with aprescription for Renov a, which com pany literature say s helps replace dam agedskin with new skin.
Within two m onths, I supposedly will see wrinkles soften. After six m onths, Ishould expect a reduction of fine wrinkles and a fading of brown spots. Thedownside? I hav e to wear a strong sunscreen and a hat, or the spots m ight com eback ev en darker. And no facial waxing, Dr. Wu cautions: “You’ll rip the skin rightoff y our face.” Sounds fair. I start the prescription that night.
But Renov a won’t erase m y jowls. My chicest friend, Coralie, tells m e of ArconaStudio’s “signature” facial contouring m assage. “The next day y our cheekbonesare out to there,” she coos. Sounds intriguing—and it doesn’t inv olv e kniv es orsy ringes.
It is a workout m y face won’t soon forget. Prim ing her hands with an em ollientm ade of naturally activ e ingredients, Chanel Jenae, the spa’s lead aestheticianand a wom an known to Holly wood cognoscenti as the Sculptress, attacks m ycheeks, lips and forehead with a series of upward strokes. Com pany theory is thatthese actions counteract the aging forces of grav ity .
“It’s like sending y our face out for a Pilates class,” she say s. Die-hards book facials(about $85) weekly , and Jenae say s the m ore y ou hav e it done, the better theresults: “Just like going to the gy m .” Still, ev en one treatm ent releases tension,“and tension affects how we look and relate.We don’t m ake any claim s, but ifpeople weren’t happy , they wouldn’t com e back. And they ’re definitely com ingback.” The next day , I notice som ething is happening, howev er subtle. My v isage lookslike a cubist painting, all angles and shadows. My ey ebrows seem raised, m akingm y ey es look m ore aliv e. Som ehow m y cheekbones hav e com e hom e—hurrah!—and m y skin glows. I m ake a m ental note to apply m oisturizer religiously to m yface in upward strokes. And then I walk to Starbucks without m akeup.
BODYSports Medicine, Anti-Aging & Prev entativ e Group’s Ullis is a form er UCLAphy sician trained in regenerativ e m edicine. Treatm ents can include horm one-replacem ent, prescribed supplem ents, nutrition plans and posture and fitness From the photos of high-profile actors and sports stars lining his office walls, Irealize a steady stream of this town’s y outh-obsessed citizens hav e probably com ehere. “My focus is the whole person,” he say s.
If I subm itted to blood work and a full-spectrum diagnosis, Ullis say s he coulddeterm ine m y biological age (which can differ radically from chronological age),how efficiently m y body is absorbing v itam ins and how the chem icals in m y bodyare affecting m y weight and m uscle m ass.
Today , he sim ply exam ines the way I hold m y self and walk. He looks at m e head to toeand notes from m y posture—and not the loaf-size roll of flab around m y m iddle— that I’v e been through childbirth. “Musclesdisconnect from the brain to accom m odate the baby ,” he say s. “Your stom ach sticksforward, y our rear end is tucked in. This m akes y ou look perpetually three m onths’pregnant.” Okay , posture not attractiv e—I Does the way I stand age m e? He notes that m y left knee turns out, which could lead tohip problem s, and m y Achilles tendons are especially tight, which m eans a decreasedrange of calf m otion. He runs his handsalong m y sides. “For wom en, the key tolooking y oung and v ital is a low waist-to-hip ratio. You still hav e a sm allish waist, but y ou’v e got to knock this out.” He reaches around and jiggles m y belly . “Youhav e a little bit of this, too,” he say s, shaking the flab on the back of m y arm s.
Once I’v e regained m y powers of speech, I ask how I can take 1 0 y ears off. He say sm y routine—30-m inute walks four tim es a week and 20 m inutes of Tae Bo v ideostwo tim es a week—doesn’t build enough m uscle, and at this age, the only way I’llget m y body back is to strength-train hard sev eral tim es a week. “You hav e a lot ofbody parts to work on.” To that end, he sends m e to his associate Michael Greenspan, a neurom usculartherapist who works with sports stars and regular folks who, because of postureissues or injuries, find them selv es in intense pain. His brand of healing is agrowing industry —“Bill Gates put m e in business,” he say s with a sm ile. The deskworker of today ’s society spends his day s sitting—in the car, at the key board andon the couch. This lim ited em ploy m ent leads to the weakening of essential m usclesand poor circulation.
Optim al circulation is one of the key s to anti-aging, Greenspan say s. “Withoutblood flow, toxins rem ain in the m uscles.” He teaches how to strengthen andsupport the load-bearing joints; the goal of these phy sical routines is to realign thebody to its natural posture, thus increasing circulation.
“Aligning y our posture by exercising y our antigrav ity m uscles is the m ost anti-aging thing y ou can do for y ourself,” Greenspan say s. “That allows y ou to stayactiv e and pain free, ev en as y ou age chronologically .” He prescribes 1 0 exercises to “rebuild the integrity ” of m y pelv ic floor, strengthenm y back and correct m y posture—all repairs that will keep m e from stooping.
I decide to take action—literally —and redeem a gift certificate for Curv es, thewom en’s gy m that dev ises 30-m inute cardio and strength-training workouts.
After m ov ing from m achine to m achine and prancing in place to a MichaelJackson com pilation tape, I feel like I’v e awakened long dorm ant m uscles. It’s alsofun—I end up working out fiv e tim es in m y first week.
“Exercise is the best fountain of y outh we hav e found,” say s Dr. Ev a Ritv o, a SouthBeach–based psy chiatrist and, with Bev erly Hills derm atologist Dr. DebraLuftm an, coauthor of The Beauty Prescription: The Complete Formula for Lookingand Feeling Beautiful. She say s to find a form of exercise I lov e—and look forward toeach day of it.
HAIRThroughout this m onth-long quest, I realize there’s one aspect of m y self I rarelycom plain about: m y hair. Instead of losing hair when I was pregnant nine y earsago, m y m ane actually got thicker and wav ier. And thanks to genetics, I hav enev er had a gray hair.
But when a sty list recently assessed m y locks and noted, “It has started to thin,” Ireeled. My sisters hav e all suffered noticeable hair loss, but I foolishly thought itwouldn’t happen to m e.
Researching fem ale hair loss, I com e across Dr. Alex Khadav i, associate professor ofderm atology at USC and the creator of Rev iv ogen, a line of products based onnatural ingredients that purports to inhibit hair loss in m en and wom en.
When we m eet in his Santa Monica office, Khadav i explains a widely sharedm edical theory on hair loss: As m en and wom en age, testosterone com bines withan enzy m e called 5-alpha reductase (5AR) and transform s intodihy drotestosterone (DHT), a horm one that binds to hair follicles and causes hairto m orph into finer, thinner strands—a process called “m iniaturization.” Youngerwom en are protected from the effects because their bodies still produce estrogen,but when a fem ale crosses into her forties, those lev els plum m et.
In Khadav i’s experience, hair-recov ery products that contain m inoxodil dostim ulate hair growth. “But once y ou stop using it, y our hair falls out,” he warns.
Another treatm ent for m ale-pattern baldness, the once-daily , FDA-approv ed pillPropecia—which specifically should not be taken, or ev en handled, by wom en—hasbeen prov en to reduce DHT. Com pany literature say s 9 out of 1 0 m ale usersreported v isible results, but rare side effects could include a lowered libido, erectiledy sfunction and decreased sem en production.
Khadav i say s his Rev iv ogen works in the sam e way as Propecia, inhibitingproduction of DHT, but it is applied to the scalp and does not bring about the sam eside effects.
When I ask what is going on with m y hair, he say s, “Well, I can see them iniaturized hairs all ov er y our scalp,” he say s. “You actually hav e classicfem ale-pattern hair loss.” The room starts to spin, and I clutch m y locks, barelystifling a gasp.
“If y ou start addressing the problem now, y ou hav e a chance of restoring y our hairto where it was one to three y ears ago,” he say s. “You won’t ev er return to wherey our hair was 1 0 y ears ago—no product can do that—but y ou probably will be ableto m aintain y our head of hair.” I weigh the pluses and m inuses. At $1 1 9 for a three-m onth supply , Rev iv ogenusage will m ake a serious dent in m y budget. And apply ing it nightly is m essy ,odorous and laborious. But ev en though I won’t see any v isible results for at leastthree m onths, I decide to giv e it a go.
So, how do I feel a m onth after em barking on m y quest to return to the thinner,prettier, hotter m e? Well, strength-training has flattened m y abs, tightened m ythighs and defined m y arm s. I hav e lost about six pounds, and m y clothes arefitting great.
My new skin regim en—Renov a and a light antioxidant-fueled program fromArcona’s line—has left m e glowing. My age spots hav e faded, and the fine lines onm y forehead seem to be softening. My cheekbones are m ore prom inent and m y jawis less flabby —but whether that is from m y DIY daily facial m assage or m y weightloss, I can’t be sure. As for the posture-aligning exercises and attem pts to stem m yhair loss, the jury is still out.
Som ething about m e is surely shifting. At a press trip a few day s ago, I noticed ahot y oung journalist following m e from ev ent to ev ent, and lately retailers andwaiters hav e started to address m e as “Miss” again. Ev en m y daughter hasnoticed. “Mom m y ,” she say s, as I em erge for the day , “y ou look really pretty .” The biggest change has happened within—m y confidence is back. I no longer feel Iam aging uncontrollably . After a m onth of intense self-focus, I’m not back to whereI was a decade ago, but I believ e I can get there. Perhaps best of all, rather thanfeeling rav aged by tim e, I now feel I’v e m erely been kissed by it.
ALISON SINGH GEE is an aw ard-w inning journalist and author. Her I ndia-based
memoir, The Peacock Cries for Rain, is due out in 201 1 .
Categories: Feature Story / Health+Wellness You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.
Interesting article and it's great especially to hear someone's story once again of what So much of aging gracefully is about embracing aging, instead of dreading it. We were born to age, and it is an honor to grow old. So many people forget this.
Posted by : Lines of Beauty | 10/05/2010 at 08:07 AM That's not embracing aging. That is fighting a losing battle. You can't age gracefully inside if you spend all your time (and money that most of us don't have) pretending to be Posted by : Ruthie | 10/15/2010 at 02:03 PM What a story. I was on a total high after reading it. Funny but real. I love all the details. I'm going to contact every person on this list and give it a go. I think you can put more focus on yourself an dstill grow inside, I don't see a conflict there. What I liked was that this person had kind of thrown in the towel after having her baby but then when the time was right turned her attention back to herself. I think most parents, men & women, can relate to that. I wonder if a month is enough for this kind of experiment. But I like knowing that youcan see some results in that short of time!!! Posted by : Laurie Moore-Wilkes | 10/21/2010 at 01:53 PM Can Indians do as well as Whites, Brits or Americans? Posted by : Emmanuelacain | 10/22/2010 at 08:53 AM You have said Everything I have Felt and experienced.
Im 64 and un-happy with my face & body. I was once beautiful also. Now, Im just granny.
Posted by : EnigMaNetxx | 10/22/2010 at 02:13 PM Amazing story. I was on a total high after reading it. Funny but real. I love all the details.
I'm going to contact every person on this list and give it a go. I think you can put more focus on yourself and still grow inside, I don't see a conflict there. What I liked was that this person had kind of thrown in the towel after having her baby but then when the time was right turned her attention back to herself. What parent, man or woman, doesn't go through this. I wonder if a month is enough for this kind of experiment. But I like knowing that you can see results in that short of time!!! Posted by : Laurie Moore Wilkes | 10/23/2010 at 01:24 PM There are two sides to every question.
There is a skeleton in the cupboard.
There is kindness to be found everywhere.
There is no general rule without some exception.
Posted by : Nike Air Max 95 | 11/08/2010 at 05:53 PM 64 yr. old granny must be a dried up, wrinkle sagging skin white woman.i'm a 70 yr. old african american woman and look 50 wheeee !!! Posted by : beau | 12/06/2010 at 02:32 PM Exactly how much your Physician really matters can't be emphasized enough. Beyond his terrific credentials, Karlis Ullis MD is truly a gifted Sports Medicine Doctor. His physical exam, diagnostic skills, experience and ability to think outside the box are top notch.The scope of his practice incorporates an Integrative Medicine component, that is he utilizes both Western and Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) approaches.
Having access to the 'Best Of Both Worlds' is an indispensable resource for any patient.
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DAVID SLOAN WILSON Trinity Institute, The Good News Now – Evolving with the Gospel of Jesus It is an honor to be invited to join this conversation. Some people have physics envy. I have preacher envy, and so this is my big, big chance. So I thank you and I look forward to communing with you during the next four days. And also, hello to the Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton, New York,