About 10 years ago, Washington Post reporter Margaret Webb Pressler visited the West Virginia State Fair with her husband, Jim, and their small children, and came across a small wooden booth with a sign that read: "Guess your age within 2 years. $2."
They thought, "why not give it a try?" The Presslers got in line behind a pair of middle-aged women. To their astonishment, the man at the booth guessed the women's age -- 51 -- exactly. Undeterred, the Presslers went forward. After looking Jim up and down, the man surmised he was 37, only to be stunned to hear he was actually 55.
Since then, Pressler has watched her husband barely age, witnessing conversation after conversation in which Jim has been asked "how he does it." She decided to find out. By interviewing a variety of scientists and experts on aging -- and by closely monitoring Jim's habits -- Pressler said she uncovered the simple diet, exercise and lifestyle changes that people can make now -- no matter how old they are -- to slow down the aging process.
In "Cheat the Clock," a book coming out Dec. 4, Pressler talks about the science behind the minor adjustments one can make to feel and look younger -- just like her husband, Jim.
"We've been married 21 years. I was 26 when we married and he's 17 years older. It was more obvious then that he was older than me than now. He's always looked good for his age. But he looks better for his age now than he did then," Pressler said in an interview. "Very few people ever think today that there's any age difference between us. People who haven't seen him for years are always saying 'wow, man, you aren't aging'.
"That got us talking. I listened to Jim explaining his routine and I wondered if there was something to it that was keeping him young," she added. "After all, when it comes to how long you're going to live, genetics only plays a role of about 25 to 30 percent."
And so, after months of researching her husband's routine, and studying how people in general age, Pressler determined that it's not one big thing that slows down the aging process -- but a lot of seemingly inconsequential things combined.
"When people think about aging well, they tend to think about getting fit and about doing some kind of big makeover like joining a gym or cutting out carbs completely," she said. "But what is really much more effective is to pick smaller things that are more manageable. If you do smaller things, this will make a bigger difference over time."
What are a few of these smaller things? Many, she said, are related to nutrition. Add one fresh vegetable to one meal, once a day; pick a fruit you like and eat it once a day; let yourself get really hungry before you eat.
But you don't have to change your diet dramatically, Pressler insisted, "We're not vegetarians but we rarely eat red meat ... once a month perhaps ... and then about the only thing I can get Jim to eat is filet mignon," she said. "You can still eat meat but you don't have to eat the 20-ounce porterhouse steak.
"The thing is, we're not obsessive or weird about anything," she added. "Jim still has a glass or two of wine at night. Everything in moderation."
Even so, Pressler said her husband -- who now understands how eating well impacts the aging process -- would have to be sedated before consuming a Cinnabon in an airport terminal.
When it comes to nutrition, she said you can notch it up in surprising -- and small -- ways. Watermelon, for example, not only is filled with vitamins, but also contains potassium, fiber and amino acids -- and there are only about 30 calories in one cup to boot. According to Pressler, scientists also have discovered that going with no food, or almost no food, for a day or two every so often, maybe once a week, has many of the same beneficial effects as regularly limiting the amount of food you eat. And replacing one serving of red meat a day with poultry lowers the risk of stroke by 27 percent.
"In addition, there are huge benefits to eating just a single bowl of whole-grain cereal every day," she said. "A study found that people who ate just one bowl a day decreased their risk of heart failure by 29 percent."
Pressler said these are just a few examples of how tweaking your diet in a minor way can add up over the years. The same goes for exercise: Just 10 minutes of walking a day can make a huge difference over time, she said.
"People want to immediately be able to fit into a bikini so they don't talk about long-term benefits as much," she said. "But wouldn't you rather live a couple of years longer? Jim exercises three to four times a week and he does anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes each time.
"He does some kind of aerobics on a bike or rowing machine and then he does some resistance exercises," she added. "For healthy aging, this amount of exercise has been found to be optimal."
Pressler, a consumer and business reporter for The Washington Post for nearly 20 years, doesn't pull any punches when she said nothing will age a person more, and faster, than smoking. But also harmful are so-called "added sugars," refined carbohydrates found in everything from cakes to pasta and saturated fats.
"The overall main problem people have is that they want to see quick results and small changes don't show results in a week or two," she said. "But if you understand the science, you'll realize you can add years to your life."
And what about Pressler? She said that, at age 47, she probably looks a bit younger than her age, simply because she's adopted many of her husband's habits.
"My 30th high school reunion is coming up in April," she said. "That will be the real test."
For more ways new science can help you look and feel younger, check out Pressler's other tips in our slideshow.