‘Counterclockwise’ review: A dive into anti-aging ideas surfaces some good advice | OregonLive.com

| June 9, 2013 | 0 Comments

As anyone who has attended a high school reunion after more than a couple of decades can tell you, we all age at different rates.

But don’t blame Mom and Dad if you look or feel older than your peers. The voluminous research cited in Lauren Kessler’s “Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging” suggests that only 30 percent of aging is determined by our genes. The rest is determined by how we live.

So how should we live? That’s what Kessler’s yearlong immersion in anti-aging therapies aims to determine, and all I can say is, better her than me. Not because I don’t want to stave off old age — who doesn’t? — but because you could not hope for a smarter, savvier, more committed guide to the multibillion-dollar anti-aging industry than Kessler, who teaches at the University of Oregon.

As a participatory journalist, she definitely puts skin in the game. Before she embarks on her year of diets, supplements and exercise regimens, clinicians measure her baseline “biomarkers,” including her lean body mass, strength, metabolism, body fat, aerobic capacity, glucose tolerance, cholesterol and bone density. She even tests the length of her telomeres (the tiny caps on chromosomes that keep DNA from fraying) and gets a muscle biopsy to assess her mitochondria (the cell parts that convert food into oxygen and energy).

On the theory that “you don’t paint over a dirty house,” she decides to detoxify her body of the residues left by pollutants, heavy metals, preservatives, dyes, etc. She rules out colon cleansing, a practice that comes with its own risks, as well as high-intensity saunas — it turns out sweat is highly overrated as a toxic cleanser. Instead she undertakes a nutritionist-recommended diet free of processed food, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, meat and dairy products, and feels surprisingly better after two weeks of primarily fruits, vegetables and legumes.

She explores the mind-body connection with hypnosis. She reviews the latest medical/nutriceutical literature and makes a list of supplements to take for a year. She also delves into “superfoods,” methodically comparing research on diets in long-lived cultures to determine the top 20 foods (the top six appear to be occoli, blueberries, salmon, almonds, spinach and beans but, yes, dark chocolate does make the list).

But Kessler’s real enthusiasm is for exercise. By an overwhelming scientific consensus, regular exercise is the only anti-aging regimen that truly works — for body and mind alike.

“There’s nothing quite as boring as listening to the details of someone else’s workouts,” Kessler writes (boy, is that true), but I laughed out loud at her descriptions of hot yoga, Tabata, Cross-Fit, and “burpees.” And I was rooting for her at the big reveal: Would her year of effort make her biologically younger? The answer is yes — with few exceptions (“My bones are old enough to be my eyes’ mother”), all her biomarker scores look better than ever.

What’s heartening about all this is that anyone, at any age, can begin turning back the clock without resorting to the extremes that Kessler subjected herself to. As she notes on her blog, all these actions are free for the taking: Breathe deeply, drink water, care for your teeth, eat plants, keep moving, get plenty of sleep, stand up straight and stay curious. And, she might add, smile.

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