Aging Well Starts Young

By Mimi Whitefield
The Miami Herald.

MIAMI

Astrid Flaherty nimbly hops off a low platform and then swoops from side to side touching orange plastic cones.

Though she is 70 years old and a breast cancer survivor, she seems barely winded. Her secret: lifelong exercise and healthy eating.

“Exercise is the best anti-aging pill you can take,” says Dawn Davis, a fitness instructor at Shula’s Athletic Club in Miami Lakes, Fla.

And Flaherty has discovered on her own what doctors and fitness experts are saying: people can age more successfully if they develop a healthy lifestyle when they’re young that includes exercise, a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and watching their weight.

The Miami Lakes resident still hits the gym three times a week and plays tennis on Saturdays. And her diet emphasizes fresh, natural foods.

Being in good shape also helped when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. “My doctors were amazed that I was able to come back from my chemo sessions so quickly,” she says.

“People need to think about the aging process throughout their lives. I know it’s hard when you’re 20 years old,” says Dr. Sara Czaja, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the scientific director of the Center on Aging at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

“It’s really important to take advantage of what we know,” Czaja says, “and we do know a lot about how to age healthily.”

That includes staying socially engaged throughout life and being mindful at a young age of the dangers of smoking, the links between skin cancer and overexposure to the sun, and having recommended preventive screenings, Czaja says.

“A lot of chronic disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, may be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout life too,” she says.

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