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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

What's Your Real Age?

Have you ever wondered if your body is as old as your calendar years suggest? Are you older or younger than the average person your age? If so, by how many years? How much difference do specific lifestyle changes make? What's the cumulative effect of many different health behaviors? For example, what's the total impact of exercise, diet and taking vitamins or other supplements? If you make a change at 60 will it have more or less effect than the same change made at 30? How much difference do genes make? How much control do you really have over how well and how long you live?

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., an internist and preventive gerontologist and his team of scientists have pored over 25,000 medical studies, evaluating what they tell us about aging and the prevention of aging, and developed a computer-based program which promises to answer these questions and more. It's called RealAge.

Dr. Roizen's book RealAge (Cliff Street Books, 1999) explains the benefits of the program and how it works. The program takes into account 125 factors that affect your health and your youth -- everything from average life expectancy to specific habits (for example, smoking) and conditions (blood pressure) to how often you exercise and what you eat -- and develops a unique RealAge for you.

Best of all, RealAge quantifies the age benefit of a long list of specific behavioral changes, each ranked in terms of difficulty. According to Dr. Roizen, it's relatively easy for a 60-year old to reduce his or her age by five to eight years and only somewhat more difficult to reduce it by fifteen or sixteen years. What's more, the effect magnifies with age. Listen to Dr. Roizen: "At fifty, you may have a RealAge of forty-five, but by seventy-five, if you continue on the RealAge program, your RealAge may be only fifty-five." Roizen says maximum reductions over a lifetime of up to 25 years are possible! In other words, at 70, you could have a biological age of 44 or 45.

Most people start aging between 28 and 36 years of age, according to Dr. Roizen. After that the lifestyle choices you make determine to a large degree how fast or slow you age. Some people show a dramatic decline and others show practically none. "For every seventy-year-old who's debilitated from cardiovascular disease there's another who's running road races," writes Dr. Roizen.

RealAge is a calculation of your relative risk of dying versus that of the population as a whole. If your relative risk matches that of the average person ten years younger, that means your RealAge is ten years younger. For example, a 60-year-old female who doesn't smoke has the same life expectancy as a 52-year-old smoker, and therefore, the non-smoker is effectively eight years younger. The RealAge program applies this process to a whole range of behaviors and conditions, using complex statistical techniques to blend them together and arrive at your biologic age.

It's a complicated process, but all you have to do is answer a series of questions. (You may have to get a medical exam to answer some of the questions accurately.)You can do it two ways: by completing the 22-page survey in the book or by doing the survey on the RealAge web site. If you complete the questionnaire online the computer does the calculations for you. If you use the charts in the book, you add up the plus and minus scores yourself. Dr. Roizen says the computer program online is customized to you, whereas the charts in the book provide accurate but more general approximations of your RealAge.

That may be true by the time you read this, but when I completed the questionnaire online it was far less detailed and more general than the survey in the book. The RealAge customer service representative tells me they are hard at work improving and updating the original full-size versions of the program and that they should have the full extended version on their web by March 31. They say the new version allows you to store your details in your personal profile account, which you will be able to update at regular intervals to keep track of your progress. By the way, the service is free, at least for now.

I urge you to read the book -- it's well written and very comprehensive -- and complete both surveys. As indicated above, I liked the survey in the book better than the online version. It gave me a RealAge of 41.2 (61 minus net RealAge changes of 19.8 years), so what's not to like. When the full-blown online version is up and running, I plan to determine my RealAge there as well.

RealAge is an exciting concept, because it makes the results of the choices you make seem less remote. It tells you the effect of specific health behaviors - including some that may surprise you, such as flossing your teeth - right now, rather than years down the road. As Dr. Roizen says, it's revolutionary in that it give you the ability to calculate the effect of complex and multiple behaviors all at once. What I like best is that it provides scientific evidence that each of us, in large measure, have the power to control how well and how long we live.

Go RealAge. Do it now.

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108. Phone: (505) 266-5858, FAX: (505) 266-9123, e-mail: cncbass@aol.com; Business hours: 8-5, M-F, Mountain time.

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