The Pyramid Plan
Denise Austin's Anti-Aging Pyramid
Congratulations! Just by reading these words, you've already taken an important first step toward improving your life and your health: You've made the decision to do it. But now you're not sure what to do next. You know that you need to exercise more. You definitely want to lose those love handles. And you would love to diminish your wrinkles and get rid of those brown spots on your skin. So where do you go from here? And how can you create a program that can tackle all of these different issues?
Before we delve into the program itself, let's take a closer look at the aging process and some of the major changes that women face as they grow older.
In Your 40s
Maybe the kids are out of the house (at least in school during the day, like mine) and you've finally gotten a chance to sit, relax and catch up on the latest books. Or maybe you're focusing on your career and spending most of your time sitting behind a desk. Either way, you're probably not getting enough exercise.
Without regular exercise, muscles shrink at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per year. The more muscle you lose, the slower your metabolism gets and the fewer calories your body burns. If your eating habits don't change, your waistline starts to expand and your pants get tighter. You can expect to gain about 10 pounds between the ages of 40 and 50.
All that sitting around combined with a poor diet and perhaps cigarette smoking (please quit now) as well may also be causing your bones to get steadily weaker. Your muscles start to atrophy due to inactivity, and your joints (especially your knees and hips) are beginning to feel stiff and creaky.
If you haven't been taking proper care of your skin, sun damage might appear in the form of wrinkles around your eyes and on your forehead, especially now that the production of collagen--a protein found in skin tissue that gives it elasticity and firmness--has begun to slow down.
In Your 50s
The average woman experiences menopause at age 51, after which estrogen levels decrease by as much as 75 percent. A decline in estrogen causes cholesterol levels to rise and blood vessels to become less elastic, putting your heart at risk. As estrogen levels plummet, bone loss becomes more rapid, upping your risk of fractures. Fat--which had previously been stored in the hips and buttocks, primarily for breast-feeding--begins to collect more in your abdomen and you develop a "pot belly."
Your skin also becomes thinner, drier and less elastic due to this drop in estrogen as well as years of sun exposure and lack of proper nutrition. Wrinkles may begin to appear at the corners of your mouth and become more prominent on other parts of your face and body. Reduced circulation may cause your once-rosy cheeks to look pale and colorless.
In Your 60s
If you remain inactive, your muscles and ligaments keep getting weaker. Your joints get "rusty," and you lose your flexibility. Your weight distribution has also changed due to more fat around your middle. As a result, you lose your balance more easily.
As your muscles and bones continue to shrink, your posture may become slumped. With the exception of your pot belly, your body seems to be getting smaller. Next to you, your grown-up kids appear to be getting taller and taller.
Remember: If you don't use it, you'll lose it. If you rest, you rust.
If you've continued to neglect it, your skin becomes slacker and wrinkling increases. Skin pigmentation starts to clump in some places, causing brown spots. Due to a higher cell turnover, skin cells become irregularly shaped, and precancerous lesions are more likely.
Many of these changes result from the shifting in hormones that occurs as our bodies, no longer primed for childbearing, go through perimenopause (the months or years immediately before our periods stop) and menopause, when they actually do. While most of our mothers sat down with us and rather awkwardly and tenderly explained menstruation, all too often the subject of menopause is overlooked. Even our doctors may be slow to advise us of this natural biological transition. But if we're going to beat the aging process, it's important to understand exactly what's going on inside our bodies and how it can affect our health and appearance--if we don't take action, that is!
For most women, this change in hormones usually begins in their 40s as we begin to lose estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Many women barely notice the transition taking place; others experience headaches, depression and insomnia. One major side effect--and one of the first that many of us notice--is weight gain. But other studies have shown that menopause alone is rarely the culprit, and that calorie consumption and exercise habits are equally responsible for those added pounds. Experts say that after the age of 40, a woman's metabolism slows about 5 to 7 percent each decade. You may have consumed over 2,000 calories a day as a young woman, but after the age of 40 you should probably limit your caloric intake to approximately 1,700 if you want to avoid middle-age spread. This drop in metabolism is partly the result of a decrease in muscle mass--primarily due to a more sedentary lifestyle--that reduces our ability to burn calories.
My Anti-Aging Pyramid consists of five parts: exercise, nutrition, health, beauty and attitude. Each piece of the pyramid works in conjunction with the others to create an overall plan for reversing the aging process. Don't forget: Well-being is more than just exercise. It's more than just eating soy and broccoli. To be truly healthy and defy the aging process, you need balance in every aspect of your life, including your workouts, your diet, your job, your relationships and your outlook on life.
To better explain, I'll use one of my favorite analogies. Your body is like a sophisticated machine--think of it as a Mercedes. If the gas tank is empty, the brakes are shot or one tire is flat, that car is going to sit in the driveway, eventually getting old and rusty. In neglecting to tend to a single problem, you eventually lose the entire machine. Similarly, if you approach your day with negative thoughts, grumbling about your hectic schedule or the lousy weather, chances are you'll lack the incentive to eat well and hit the gym, which in turn can put you in an even worse mood and leave your stress levels soaring as you count up your calories at the end of the day and worry about fitting into that new dress you bought. It's all connected.
Throughout the book I'll talk about each section of the pyramid separately, starting at the bottom and working our way up. Since each building block is interconnected, you may notice some overlap. For instance, water is essential to keep you hydrated while working out, but it's also vital for beautiful skin and hair. So you'll find references to drinking water in both the exercise and beauty departments.
I've specifically placed exercise and diet at the base of my Anti-Aging Pyramid because I firmly believe that a healthy body and happy life start with a regular exercise plan and good eating habits. They are the two most critical parts of your battle against the aging process. Without them you won't have the strength and energy that you need to defend your body from disease and lead a full, productive life.
But don't underestimate the importance of the top of the pyramid, either. Good health and longevity are dependent on doing breast self-exams and getting mammograms, seeing a doctor regularly, and even flossing your teeth. And a positive attitude has been shown to boost your immune system and help stave off illnesses like heart disease and cancer--in my mind, it's one of the most underrated health and beauty tips around!
Just remember: Every little change, no matter how small it seems to you, is a plus. And it will serve as a foundation for the next change. Over time, as your new behaviors become habits, you'll be able to bring them all together easily and effortlessly.
The 28-Day Challenge
The goal of this book is to help you develop positive habits that will last a lifetime. Setting small, short-term goals like wearing sunscreen or eating more fruits and veggies is important because these serve as stepping stones to your ultimate, long-term goals--things like more energy, better health and a positive self-image. Your goals, both short- and long-term, are important signposts that will keep you motivated and moving forward.
The Gauge Your Age quiz on pages 14 to 23 will help you determine what these personal goals are going to be. Of course, it's possible that you already know what you want to achieve, whether it's losing five pounds, eating to fight disease or regaining the radiance of your 20s. Either way, be sure to put it all down on paper.
At the end of each section of this book you'll find a place to write down your specific goals for the next four weeks. Lists can help you determine your priorities and stay focused on your mission. You can post your lists around the house, in your car or in your office. Carry copies in your pocketbook. The more reminders, the better--and not because I think that you're going to have a menopausal memory lapse!
Instead of just focusing on exercise or healthy eating goals, you'll work on mastering one goal from each of the five sections (exercise, diet, health, beauty and attitude) each week. That's a total of five weekly goals. I've designed it this way so that you grow to understand the importance and interrelatedness of all five parts of my Anti-Aging Pyramid and begin cultivating a balanced approach to staying young.
Because exercise is fundamental and everyone needs it, I've listed your goals for you. This is the minimum that I want you to do for good health and to get started down the road to a more youthful appearance. If you want to do more, feel free to scribble in your revised agenda for the weeks ahead. Your goals in other areas are, of course, up to you.
I know that some of you will be in a rush to completely overhaul your life and see those amazing age-defying results. But trying to make too many changes all at once can backfire. Instead we'll be tackling five goals at a time--one from each section of the pyramid per week. At the end of four weeks you'll review your progress and count how many successful changes you were able to make. Were you able to stick with your exercise goals? Have you been taking precautions against skin cancer? Are your eating habits improving or have you reverted back to living on junk food? If you don't achieve all your goals, don't despair. I don't expect you to get it all right the first time. Depending on how you fare in the first four weeks, you can continue working toward the same goals or set new ones.
Can you do it? Absolutely--if you're smart and committed and take it one step at a time. That's your 28-day challenge! To help ensure your success over the next four weeks, follow these five great tips:
1. Plan ahead. Break your weekly goals down into daily tasks, then get a day planner and write it all down. Schedule time for workouts, grocery shopping, skin care and other important routines. Be as specific as possible. At the outset of the first week make a detailed shopping list of items that you'll need to start your program--for instance, new workout shoes, a set of dumbbells, water bottles, sunscreen and a supply of healthy food. It's important to start off on the right foot, and the time you put into organizing and planning will pay off later.
2. Prevent pitfalls. If you've been on a variety of different weight loss diets--all of which have failed--or have never been able to stick with an exercise program, stop and think about what went wrong. (Indeed, about 95 percent of all dieters regain lost weight within a few years.) What can you learn from those experiences and how can you keep them from happening again? Knowing your specific barriers to success can help you overcome them. For instance, if last-minute meetings have kept you from getting to the gym after work, you may need to start working out in the morning. Or if you can't seem to resist your husband's chocolate ice cream, why not buy a lower-calorie alternative like frozen yogurt or fat-free pops to store in your freezer? The best offense is always a good defense!
3. Don't get discouraged. What if you blow it by bingeing on greasy pizza or downing a sinful piece of Death by Chocolate? What if your kids are sick and you miss two, three, four days of exercise in a row? Get right back on that horse and whatever happens, don't call it quits! Remember, you're developing lifelong habits that will help you for years to come--and slowing down and reversing the aging process takes time. So a little slip here or there isn't going to topple your efforts if you resume your diet or exercise regimen the very next day. Furthermore, the ability to overcome adversity and bounce back is one of the greatest measures of success in life. So follow every little step back with a giant step forward.
4. Pat yourself on the back. Most of us spend way too much time being critical of ourselves: "I can't do this," "If only I was more of that." Instead of focusing on the negatives, why not accentuate the positives? You only lost three pounds? You also gained strength and muscle tone--and you're three pounds closer to your ultimate goal. To teach yourself to focus on the positives, give yourself a reward--a massage, a manicure, a shopping spree or a night out with friends--whenever you reach a goal. Or if you're on a budget, treat yourself to a bubble bath or an hour of reading magazines. Rewards will help keep you motivated to keep moving forward.
5. Update your goals. At the end of four weeks I want you to assess where you are and where you'd like to go next. Congratulate yourself for all the goals you were able to achieve. Renew your vows to master those you haven't. Think about what other improvements you'd like to make, set your goals and form a new plan for success.
Above all, be patient! You're creating a healthier lifestyle for yourself that will offer benefits both now and for the future. Change is good, but change takes time. If you find your enthusiasm waning, picture yourself slipping into those great jeans you had five years ago (a size smaller than the ones you're in now) or wearing a silky-smooth complexion. Stay committed and your efforts will pay off, I promise.
Excerpted from Fit and Fabulous After 40 by Denise Austin. Copyright © 2002 by Denise Austin. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.