I had a birthday recently. I took the day off and worked out in the morning, and a friend treated me to lunch at Pure Food and Wine, a luscious raw-food restaurant here in NYC. I got a manicure and pedicure in the afternoon and dined that evening with my family at Zen Palate. Then we saw "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway, which was way more "South Park" than "South Pacific" but somehow uplifting and altogether satisfying. I'm ready for a great year.
And yet my culture tells me that I shouldn't be. I'm over the hill, maybe even the whole mountain range, but I don't see it that way even one little bit. One of my mentors on this issue is Cherie Soria, founder and director of the Living Light Culinary Institute, an academy for raw gourmet chefs in Fort Bragg, Calif. Cherie is a woman who defies chronological age, and people often comment on how well time treats her. "But that's not it," she says. "I'm aging normally: everybody else is aging too fast."
She has a point. The lifestyle typical of most Americans couldn't be more pro-aging. We're stressed to the max and call that good -- we're going to succeed, by golly, and once we do, we're going to stay on top! We don't sleep nearly enough. We work at desks and entertain ourselves in front of computer and TV screens. We drink coffee and soda and dirty martinis, figuring our kidneys are stupid enough to accept these as water. Most of our food has been either literally slaughtered or simply processed to death, and yet we expect, either through good genes, good luck, vitamin supplements or cosmetic surgery, to get that full-of-life glow. It's an illogical premise.
Enter the feel-great/look-amazing/age-later lifestyle encapsulated in the acronym M.E.N.D.: Meditation, Exercise, Nourishment, Detoxification. Anyone who incorporates these regularly into his or her life can make peace with the calendar. Here's how it works.
This can be interpreted broadly as quiet time. You can use it for journal writing, prayer or sitting with a cup of tea and pondering life. However, if you want it to slow the aging process, you'd be smart to invest some serious time in classic meditation -- in other words, focusing on your breath or on a word, sound, phrase or image and gently bringing your mind back there each time it wanders. You can start slowly -- 10 minutes in the morning -- but have the intention of working up to 20 minutes upon awakening and another 20 in the late afternoon or early evening. That's the routine that Transcendental Meditation practitioners use, and they've been the subjects of most of the clinical research on the benefits of meditation, such as the study that showed that people who'd meditated regularly for five years or more were a whopping 12 years younger physiologically than non-meditators.
The complex machine you're living in was designed to move. I was a fat kid who didn't discover the joys of active play at the time of life when we're supposed to be imprinted with a love of movement. That means that I'd rather be called for jury duty than go to the gym, but I go anyway. In "Younger Next Year," Chris Crowley and Dr. Harry Lodge contend that, at a cellular level, only two states of being are recognized: growth and decay. If you're moving, the cells sense growth and do their darndest to take care of you; if you're sedentary, they sense decay and they help you "rot."
We get hung up on "nutrition," the clinical study of the chemical reactions of various properties in foods and supplements. Nourishment, however, is much more than this. We're nourished by everything we take in -- our immediate environment, the scenery, conversation, music, movies. A chronically messy room isn't nourishing. Neither is a hostile encounter, murder or mayhem, even on the silver screen.
When it comes to literal nourishment, the food we eat, life begets life. Fresh, colorful foods from the plant kingdom, minimally processed so that their life force stays intact, keep us young, energetic and beautiful. Beauty at 70 years old isn't the same as beauty at 20 years old, but t is stunning nonetheless. If you want that kind of beauty then, start now by eating real food, lots of colors but mostly green. If you're willing to go vegan and 80-percent raw, you may well be dazzling us all when you're 80 and beyond. If you can't see yourself going all the way with this, go part-way. Every step is a step in the right direction.
Drink fresh juice with greens in it. Eat really big salads; toss in some beans or sauteed broccoli or a chopped, steamed sweet potato. Discover fruits and vegetables that are new to you, and whole grains like millet, faro and quinoa. Make desserts from fruits and nuts, and sweeten your treats with whole dates or "date sugar" (that's just dehydrated dates) so that everything you eat -- that includes the chocolate cake and blueberry pie -- is rejuvenating you.
"Detox" is such a buzzword these days, but it simply refers to reducing the body's toxic load. Start by removing from your diet and environment whatever toxins you can: processed foods with added chemicals; animal products that carry a "biointesified and biomagnified" load of agricultural toxins; conventional cosmetics and toiletries (you absorb those chemicals through your skin); and whatever electromagnetic radiation you can cut down on by, for example, having a land-line phone that attaches to the wall, and charging your cell phone and computer somewhere other than in the room where you sleep.
When your diet, home and lifestyle are as clean as you can get them, your body itself will initiate a detoxification process. To help out, consider a few days of juice fasting if you're a good candidate for it (i.e., you don't have diabetes, hypoglycemia or an eating disorder, and you're not on prescription drugs). Or try these more elementary detox tactics: Pick up a tongue scraper in the toothpaste aisle of the pharmacy or health food store and remove the coating that forms on your tongue each morning. While you're shopping, get a dry skin brush and give your body an invigorating brush-up, toes to neck, before your bath or shower. Bounce on a mini-tram or, seated, on a big exercise ball; this will help your lymphatic system with its detoxifying efforts. Sweat -- with exercise, hot yoga, time in the sauna -- and drink plenty of water (all those fruits and veggies give you lots of naturally distilled water, too).
The upshot of it all? You get to have happy birthdays, even when you need a second cake to hold all the candles.
Victoria Moran, H.H.C., A.A.D.A., is a certified holistic health counselor with a private practice in New York City and phone clients around the country. She is the author of 10 books including "The Love-Powered Diet" and "Younger by the Day." For a tip sheet, "How to Look Great and Feel Amazing at Every Age," go to www.victoriamoran.com.