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'Paths to Healthy Aging' touts the benefits of diet, exercise

"Paths to Healthy Aging" gives older adults guidance on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle that can help keep them physically and mentally vital.

There's probably no one over the age of 50 who hasn't at least thought about trying one of the myriad "anti-aging" products that are so readily available. From skin creams to vitamins to nutritional supplements, many promise to turn back the clock. But none of these products can halt or reverse aging.

"They are really not contributing to better health, and some of them can be dangerous," says Dr. Mehrdad Ayati, a geriatrician and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Ayati is the author of "Paths to Healthy Aging" (CreateSpace, $13), a workbook that gives older adults guidance on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle that can help keep them physically and mentally vital.

Instead of looking for a magic pill or potion, Ayati recommends that older adults follow a traditional approach to wellness: Eat a balanced, nutritious diet, get some physical activity and participate in mentally stimulating activities.

Ayati says good nutrition begins with healthy food, and going to the supermarket to buy the ingredients requires some physical activity. At the market, there often is social interaction, which can help reduce stress and lower the risk of depression. And reading a recipe or thinking about how you will cook the meal offers mental stimulation. "It can be a very good ritual," Ayati says.

Physical activity is crucial to good health because it can help avert and even reverse frailty, a condition that can spiral into debilitating conditions and cause life-threatening problems. If you haven't exercised in years, start slowly. "You can start with just walking," Ayati says. "You can start with just gardening." As you get stronger, gradually increase the intensity of your physical activity. But the sooner you start an exercise regimen, the better the chances are you will remain physically healthy. "If you wait until frailty becomes a very advanced stage, there is no chance you can reverse it," Ayati says.

While many people believe geriatrics is a branch of medicine that deals only with very old people, Ayati says adults beginning at age 65 can benefit from even a yearly visit to a geriatrician for an assessment. Some of Ayati's patients aren't even seniors. "They are starting to come to me at the age of 50 because they see the change in their bodies both physically and mentally," he says. "They want to plan for happy and healthy aging."

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