As reported by The Hartford Courant, April 10, 2005.

Staying Fit Beyond 50

Authors of 'Younger Next Year' Insist Rigorous Exercise and Eating Right Can Keep Us Young Until We're 80 and Beyond

By Steve Grant

Chris Crowley, a 70-year-old retired lawyer and co-author of a new self-help book, was skiing at Aspen in Colorado recently with friends and acquaintances in their 30s and 40s.

High above the reach of the chairlifts they climbed, carrying their skis to the summit of Highland Bowl, a literally breathtaking 45-minute ascent to an elevation of 12,392 feet, from which skiers descend expert trails with pitches up to 45 degrees.

Crowley bounded up the trail like a goat and got to the top first, pulling out his camera to photograph the others as they arrived.

Among them was Cromwell Coulson of New York, CEO of Pinksheets Inc., a software company. Coulson, 38, had a few words for Crowley.

"OK," he said, reaching the top. "I'll buy the [expletive] book."

He bought one for his 82-year-old father, too.

Which is how it goes with "Younger Next Year," in which Crowley and co-author Henry S. Lodge, a Manhattan internist and member of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, insist that people can essentially feel 50 and fit until they are 80 and older if they exercise strenuously, eat right and remain socially engaged.

Issued by Workman Publishing late in 2004, "Younger Next Year" has sold more than 110,000 copies and is in its sixth printing. It is a near cult-item among some baby boomers, who appear to be fueling a good part of the sales through word-of-mouth, with one reading it, then pestering a friend to get a copy.

Its popularity comes despite the book's advice, which, while seemingly obvious, almost conventional, is routinely ignored by most Americans, at least if national data on exercise habits and dietary choices are anywhere near accurate.

Of course, when Crowley and Lodge say exercise they don't mean mall-walking, though they don't bash mall-walking either.

"Harry's First Rule" is "Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life." No exceptions. Four days a week of aerobic exercise, two days a week of serious weightlifting. Sweat and strain are assumed. For the rest of your life.

Mercifully, a 5-mile hike on a sunny spring day, a day paddling a kayak, a long bike ride on a country road or a romp through the woods on cross-country skis all count, and are encouraged as ways to keep exercise enjoyable over the long haul.

Seven years ago, after Lodge had been practicing for a decade, he stepped back and took a look at his patients as a group. What he saw troubled him deeply. Patients in their 50s and 60s were having strokes, heart attacks, developing diabetes and suffering falls and fractures.

"The more I looked at the science, the more it became clear that such ailments and deterioration are not a normal part of growing old," he writes. "They are an outrage."

Drawing upon the scientific literature over the past decade, especially that dealing with human evolutionary biology, Lodge, 46, says the human body still assumes it will be used for hunting and gathering, the lifestyle of our long-ago ancestors. When we don't exercise adequately - enough to convince our bodies that we are hunting and gathering - our bodies decay. Lodge estimates that 70 percent of premature death and aging is actually lifestyle-related.

"Most of what we call aging, and most of what we dread about getting older, is actually decay," he says. "That's critically important because we are stuck with real aging, but decay is optional."

Crowley is a patient of Lodge's and writes with the zeal of a convert. He took Lodge's advice and today says he feels functionally younger than he did a decade ago. The two authors more or less alternate chapters, Lodge providing the science behind the recommendations, Crowley the pep talk from a patient who has seen the results.

"We are believers in this. We believe it is true. We'd love to see fundamental change," Crowley says during a recent interview by cellphone from a chairlift at Aspen, where he was practicing what he preaches.

At his side was his wife, Hilary Cooper. Lodge and Crowley say the companionship of a spouse is also important in aging well, and they urge people to remain active socially in retirement through volunteer work or anything that keeps you involved with other people. When it comes to exercise, golf may not be exactly what they have in mind - but they say golf is a wonderful way to interact with friends.

Scientists who study human aging have some reservations about the book's message - they fear that some people will be put off by the exercise regimen and avoid exercise altogether - but overall they do not disagree with the essence of the book's recommendations, which do not deviate greatly from the latest government guidelines for exercise and diet.

"They are right that diet and exercise is good," says Leo Cooney, chief of the geriatrics section at the Yale University School of Medicine. "I certainly agree that diet and exercise are generally associated with positive outcomes at any age."

But most people are a long way from four days of aerobic exercise and two days of weightlifting week-in, week-out, for life.

"If we could get every American on a walking program I would be delighted," Cooney says. "We know that has a very positive impact on heart disease and overall function. And it also has a positive outcome on osteoarthritis."

As for weightlifting, Cooney says, there is "not a lot of evidence" that it does people a lot of good, though he added that that does not necessarily mean that it doesn't help, only that benefits are not proven.

George A. Kuchel, director of the University of Connecticut Center on Aging and the Division of Geriatrics, says the book clearly tapped the latest science on aging, but he, too, offers a couple of caveats. Studies have demonstrated that restricted caloric intake can prolong aging, he says, but it has not been demonstrated conclusively that exercise retards aging. Still, study after study suggests that it does, he agrees.

Like Cooney, Kuchel wonders if the book's call for rigorous exercise might discourage segments of the population unwilling or unable to exercise at the level Crowley and Lodge insist upon. Cooney notes that many older people have chronic diseases that could make strenuous exercise impossible or unlikely.

"I would hate to deny both the real and potential benefits of exercise and increased mobility to all the other people who are not quite as vigorous by focusing too much on this group," he says of those over 50 who are ready for strenuous exercise.

The authors acknowledge that aging is inevitable, with some continuing loss of physical function, but they stress that the latest science indicates it needn't be as rapid and debilitating as it is for so many people in the United States. Still, the experts on aging caution, and the authors acknowledge in the book, that there is a genetic component to aging: Some people will break down sooner than others.

Even the authors concede that exercise and good diet can't ensure you won't wake up one day with a brain tumor.

The book is not intended solely for men, but much of the Crowley text is a chummy, guy-talk style. Says Lodge: "The book is for everyone and the biology is for everyone."

Some readers ask if the advice is affordable for everyone. The authors say joining a gym is important, and, because both of them are skiers, they sometimes use skiing as an example of the kind of recreation that can have significant exercise benefits.

But both of them insist that people of any income level can benefit from the advice. "Money should not be a barrier to working up a sweat," Lodge says. "Walking is free."

Another reader asked whether exercise might be bypassed in winter, if perhaps ancient hunter-gatherers took it easy during the cold months.

Nice try, but Lodge says most of our evolution occurred around the equator. "I don't think there is any big biological reason to slow down in winter," he says.

As for diet, Lodge and Crowley say diets don't work. Instead, they suggest that people eat what they should, and they say that people know by now they should be eating vegetables, fruits and grains.

"Shove as much good stuff in there as you can, and don't worry so much about the bad stuff," Lodge says. "If you fill up on the good stuff, there won't be as much room for the bad."

"Harry's Sixth Rule" is "Stop eating crap." That would be things like French fries and many other fast foods and many processed sweets and snacks.

Meals that you don't really care strongly about can be made really healthy. Lodge, for example, says he doesn't give a hoot about breakfast and doesn't care if he eats oatmeal every morning for the rest of his life.

"Save your sins for when you really care about them," he says. If Lodge sounds like a little like a New England Yankee, it's in his genes. His great-uncle was Connecticut Gov. John Davis Lodge, and his grandfather was Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. of Massachusetts, the U.S. senator and ambassador.

Meanwhile, until the magic pill is found, the Lodge and Crowley prescription will have to suffice, sweat and all. Kuchel says he knows what plenty of people would like.

"Patients and pharmaceutical companies would much prefer a pill with the benefits of exercise without having to exercise," he says.