Good health and fitness habits: The key to looking and feeling young?

Aug 02, 2011

Ever wonder what the trick is to looking younger than your age? Join Post writer Margaret Pressler and her husband Jim, who's often mistaken for being younger than his 62 years, as they chat about the secrets to looking and feeling younger. Have a question? Ask now and join the chat Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 1 p.m. ET.

Related: How this 62-year-old stays young

Hi everyone -- Jim and I are happy to be here to answer your questions. It's been a lot of fun reporting this story. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it. Ask away!

Hi Margaret, Could you pls advice how to avoid oily skin . Also tell me which fruits\diet will keep us always young.

Margaret: The dermatologist I spoke to said pretty  much all skin types should do the same thing: wash your face with a simple cleanser or soap - but he specifically said if you have oily skin, mild cleansers such as  Cetaphil will not be strong enough to clean up all the oil. And moisturize before you skin gets too dry.

Jim: I have oily skin, but it has gotten less oily over the years. I have found that washing my face too often increases my skin's oil production, so on most days I wash my face just once, usually when I shower in the morning. I avoid washing my face more than twice a day.

Margaret: as to the question about fruits and diet, there is strong evidence that a diet high in antioxidants is beneficial for all the cells in your body. Antioxidants are most prevalent in darker vegetables and fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries, romaine lettuce, spinach and the like.

Doing the quick math, there is a 17-year difference in your ages. You were respectively 23 and 40 when you married. Perhaps that's the reason for both parties looking younger? I am in a similar situation, btw. Suspect there is great benefit found in diet, sun avoidance, exercise and young kids...

Jim: I believe that our age difference works in our favor. I defnitely have a more youthful day to day life with a younger wife and young kids.

Margaret: But of course diet, exercise and not baking in the sun are super important! I echo what Jim said about a youthful environment, and my reporting supported that. Being engaged and happy in your life makes a big difference in how you age, according to many scientific studies. Our kids have been a real joy and keep us happy!

I am in my mid 30s and my sister is two years my elder and looks, well, a whole lot older than me -- does being a parent, lack of sleep and stress have anything to do with her looking years older than me? (Friends and some family find it difficult to believe that she is just two years older than me. Does being single, with no kids make one look younger?.

Margaret: Without a doubt. In fact, the stress that ages you is the kind of stress that hangs over you for long periods, according to the researchers I spoke with. Having kids can definitely do that. But it's important to manage that stress, and sleep is a key ingredient, but so is having full support from a partner so you don't feel like you're shouldering the experience alone. Having a creative outlet that you share with someone else (it's the sharing that's important) is also strongly linked with a more youthful appearance.

Jim: I have a very stressful job and adequate sleep is one of the most important aspects of my ability to handle it well. I try to get 7 hours of sleep every night.

Margaret: He is forever forcing me to go to sleep when it's 11:30 and I'm emailing with other mothers about school or playdates or whatever. Seems like that's when a lot of people have time to get things done! But I have learned from Jim that when I walk away from it and go to sleep, I can get even more done the next day and feel less anxious about it.

Why is old age something to be ashamed of?

Margaret: It totally  isn't! Hopefully that's not what you took from this story! Jim has never done the things he's done to take care of himself because he doesn't want to grow older; he's done it to feel good and have plenty of energy. The side benefit has been that he looks great for his age. Right Jim?

Jim: Yes, I actually feel better about my age now than I did when I was 50 or 40. Obviously I'm aware of getting older but the things I do make me feel better about myself. So aging is really a state of mind.

As someone who is fanatical about sunscreen (year round), hats, and generally staying out of the sun, I'd like to know how important protecting your skin from the sun is when it comes to looking young(ish). I'm in my 20s now and hope my efforts will pay off later as well. Also, what are the best foods to eat in order to facilitate healthy skin?

Margaret: Every doctor and researcher I spoke to pointed to these same important factors in looking (and feeling) young: not smoking and not getting sun damage. Sunscreen is vital. I put it on every day - face and hands especially.

Jim: I eat a lot of fish and fruits and vegetables. I rarely eat red meat or fatty foods. I actually think my diet contributes to my healthy skin.

Margaret: My research bears that out. Dr. Michael Roizin of the Cleveland Clinic said the latest research on red meat, especially processed red meats such as hot dogs, etc., cause inflammation in the circulatory system. Therefore, even sensitive skin cells that are nourished by tiny capillaries are affected. Something to think about!

My husband had a health scare when he was 30 -- a mole was found to be a malignant melanoma. It was caught in time and all was well, but it meant that the two of us got a fast education on the importance of sunscreen. 15 years later, we've heard more than once that we haven't aged much. I think it's the sunscreen (especially on the face). I read an article a few years ago in which dermatologists were asked what one product fought aging better than any other. They all answered "sunscreen."

Margaret: I heard the same thing in my reporting. Good for you! It's really a simple habit to incorporate into your daily routine, especially now that so many lotions have sunscreen in them.

Jim: I tend to tan and not burn, but even so, I still put sunscreen on when I'm going to be out in the sun for any length of time.

I am looking for a link to this story. And hitting background information above, just leads back to the chat...

How do you restrain your mind and body from reacting to the stress and pressures of everday life? Obviously this would minimize the negative impact to your facial appearance!!!

Jim: I have a very stressful job and I learned that establishing and maintaining a regular routine of moderate exercise is the first step to controlling the stress. I also keep my weight down, which acts to keep my blood pressure under control. Adequate sleep, good exercise and a good diet have worked for me.

Margaret: I think Jim doesn't realize how much he also helps his stress by including me in his work life -- that is, we talk about things a lot. If he is stressed out, rather than shutting down, he usually starts a conversation, and he always feels better afterwards. Also, having a hobby as a creative outlet is shown to help with stress management too. Jim's is photography. But he also loves to go work in the yard (with sunscreen!).

Jim, Please go into details of your moisturizing routine and mention what products are used.

Jim: For 40 years, I have used Neutrogena soap for my face, followed by Olay moisturizer (it used to be called Oil of Olay).I wash my face with warm water, dry it gently, then I splash cold water on my face, dry it again, and put on moisturizer before my skin has completely dried.  I think this routine has made a difference in the condition of my skin. 

Margaret: From the dermatologists I spoke with, it IS important to put on moisturizer before your skin has completely dried. Moisturizer forms a barrier to prevent evaporation of moisture from your skin. So act fast when you get out of the shower.

I would also like to add that it slays me that Jim has used the same two products for 40 years, as someone who switches brands every time the bottle runs out!

I take good care of my face by using sunscreen, but what about that hands. I wash them so often that it doesn't make sense to slather the sunscreen on them. I fear that I will maintain a youthful face with tell-tale wrinkled hands.

Margaret: I keep a little stick of sunscreen in my purse and roll it on the backs of my hands several times a day. Easy once you get used to it. I'll let you know in 20 years if it's worked!

I'm 43 and trying to follow a healthy lifestyle but have troubles. A lot, I think, are due to the fact that my wife and I have two sons, four and two years old. It's impossible to get a good night's rest many nights and food is often the fast food we get after coming home late from our jobs. My question is did you find the same situation when your children were very young and was it something that you just had to endure? Or were you able to keep your heatlhy habits in spite of the loss of control over your schedule that comes with raising young children? Thanks

Jim: It sounds like your experience was much like ours -- having young kids is just difficult at times. But we were never fast food eaters, and it was not an option for us when our kids were young.

Margaret: I am the primary cook in the family, so figuring out what to do on these days was largely my domain. I have found several quick meals that are healthy and feel better than fast food. They are our go-to meals when it's 8:30 or 9 and need to eat, fast. A rotisserie chicken from the supermarket is a great option, with maybe a microwaved sweet potato (try lime juice on it -- yummy) and a quick salad. Or we make a scrambled egg, careful not to overcook it, and have sliced tomoatoes and toast. Making something yourself that is simple and healthy doesn't take any more time than getting and eating fast food. Plus you feel better.

Jim: I'm a big believe in the old adage, "you are what you eat." Eating good healthy food has a tremendous impact on how I feel on a day to day basis.

Margaret: And I should add that we are not crazy health nuts. We usually finish dinner with a small dessert - a chocolate chip cookie or small piece of cobbler or something.  

why is it that important to look younger than you are? Better to celebrate being healthy and looking good for the age you are - we spend too much time trying to recapture the past instead of enjoying the present. I would rather laud Dame Helen Mirran, who though she does look her age looks WONDERFUL.

Margaret: LOVE Helen Mirren! We do not emphasize looking young as a goal. It is a byproduct of what we do. We agree with you completely that being healthy and enjoying the present is the ultimate goal. If you do that, you will likely look good for your age. The point of the story is that we believe all these things Jim does contribute to his youthful looks. But that's not why he does them.

Jim: My  main goal is feeling good for my age.

So, you're saying that there are studies that support the antioxidant benefits of Vitamin E? Is Vitamin C also good to take--as an antioxidant and to ward off colds? I think eating almonds is also a good idea. Thanks. Who need's the Pirates of the Caribbean's "Fountain of Youth?!"

Margaret: Jim has always believed that Vitamin E is playing an important role in keeping him young. In lab tests, Vitamin E, which is a powerful antioxidant, has prolonged the life of cells in animals. There are many researchers who believe it does the same thing for people. The problem is, in several major studies of Vitamin E, those benefits have not been obvious. However, there are a few studies that have shown quite remarkable properties for Vitamin E. Most researchers agree that the vitamin  needs to be studied further to get scientific proof. But the Vitamin E experts I spoke to all take supplements themselves.

Sometimes looking young for one's age really is mostly genetic. I'm 34, get carded regularly when buying a drink, and am often asked if I'm a college student. It helps that I'm a petite woman and do not wear makeup. I don't lead a particularly healthy lifestyle--I don't exercise and I don't eat well and I've had my share of health problems. However, through it all, the youthful appearance has remained. Don't you think you are over-generalizing and underestimating the role of genetics just a bit? Lifestyle may be a factor in Mr. Pressler's youthful appearance, but some of us just look really young, even though we're not leading a particularly healthy lifestyle.

Jim: All these things applied to me when I was your age. But I have found as I've gotten older that to maintain that youthful appearance you have to put some effort into it.

Margaret: Again in my reporting, this is what I heard. Genetics is a factor, and a bigger factor when you're young. But as you age, what you do becomes much more important. So that by the time you are 50, it is 70 percent what you do and 30 percent genetics. There is a whole evolving field of epigenetics that is finding that what you do can turn certain genes off and on, suggesting it's not just a combination of genetics and behavior, but that behavior actually affects genetics.

I know the basics: eat well, exercise, etc. What about a positive attitude? How important is that, in your opinion?

Margaret: Every researcher I spoke to  asked me if Jim was happy because research clearly shows that happier people age better and look younger. 

To what degree is heredity a factor in "looking young"? I mean, I have very little grey hair at age 65, my mother didn't turn completely grey until her 80s......

Margaret: There is lots of new research being done on gray hair and hair loss, as it was just recently discovered that both of these processes are controlled by stem cells in the hair follicle. Research suggests it's a combination of genetics and external factors that affect the graying of hair, maybe more so for some than others.

Does Jim use any hair coloring? If not, what does he attribute the dark color to at his age? What skin moisturizer does he use? And does he think it important to eat organic food?

Margaret: I expected lots more questions about his dark hair! And the answer is, emphatically, no he does not color his hair. I have joked that if he did, he would need my help, so I know for sure. You can tell if you see him in person that it's all natural because he has lots of natural highlights and variations in color through his hair, as all naturally colored hair does. 

Jim: I have used Olay moisturizer for many, many years. It works for me. 

Margaret: We eat some organic food; only organic milk. But more important to  us is simply lots of fresh fruit and veggies -- and of course wash them well!

In the comments, a number of writers seemed to believe that Jim dyes his hair and maybe had some procedure around the eyes. Any comment?

Margaret: I knew people would think he dyes his hair, but he definitely does not. He has been going to the same hairdresser, Lisette Attias at Piaf hair salon, since 1975. I should get her to do an affidavit! 

And as to plastic surgery, none whatsoever. His eyes look remarkably young. He actually looks younger in person than he does in photographs, includings the recent ones shown in this article. 

How do you prove to people he has not had plastic surgery? I would let any plastic surgeon look him over and they would obviously find no evidence of it. Not sure if we can satisfy you on this, but Jim is not a plastic surgery type of guy. 

I understand Jim avoids red meat. Does he eat chicken? And is it important to eat organic food?

JIm: I eat mostly fish and chicken and turkey. Some organic food, but not exclusively at all.

In your opinion and experience do you think good sex frequently keep you young and healthy?

Jim: Yes.

Margaret: Uhh...yes?

a major factor?

Margaret: Less and less as you age!

Jim, did your parents live long lives and other than your high blood pressure that was caught early, is there any history of early health problems in your family? If you have siblings, how do their health and appearance compare to yours? Just wondering, since my dad and my sibling (who both had unhealthy habits) both died relatively young men (both under 55) and there is a history of heart disease on my mother's side. Despite trying to lead a healthy lifestyle via a long-standing diet and exercise regimen that is very similar to yours, the tests say that I'm having a tough time outrunning my genetics.

Jim: My father died of complications of diabetes, and one older brother died of lung cancer, but he was a smoker. My mother is alive and well and living independently at age 89.

Margaret: She is awesome.

Sorry we couldn't answer all the questions -- we've been typing furiously for an hour and there are still many more to answer. Great questions and thank you so much!

In This Chat
Jim Pressler
Margaret and Jim
Margaret Pressler has been at the Post for 22 years and currently writes for the paper's KidsPost section, where she especially enjoys writing stories that are health- and science-related. She is 45 but likes to think she looks younger than that. Jim Pressler is managing partner of Pressler & Senftle, P.C., a boutique civil litigation firm in Washington, D.C. He has a long history of representing D.C. police officers and other law enforcement personnel. He is also general counsel to the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers in the Metropolitan Police Department. He is 62 but definitely doesn't look it. Married for nearly 20 years, the Presslers live in a 113-year-old house in Washington with three children, two cats and a guinea pig.
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