Book Excerpt: Joan Collins on Staying Young

Sensational at 73, Joan Collins looks great and still has the claws for a glamorous catfight.

After a career that's spanned decades, she's slapping her old friend Linda Evans every night in the traveling stage production, "Legends," and is happier than ever with a husband 35 years her junior.

We should all be so lucky.

So how does she do it? She's telling us in her new book, "The Art of Living Well."

More than just a beauty book, it's a guide to living it up in every aspect of your life.

Chapter 1

You're as young as you look

Think young, live young, forget the word "old"

I never give my own age much thought. Whenever I see it printed in a newspaper, I subconsciously think, "that can't be right, it's impossible." You see, I truly believe you are as young as you look and feel. However much some journalists may criticize me, I know that I look, feel, and behave several decades younger than my actual age, and much of that is because I believe you are what you think you are. This is called positive affirmation and it's a really strong tool. Your mind can control the way you feel, and the way you feel is an important factor in determining how you look. If you feel well and happy your face will reflect this, but if you are down in the dumps and having a miserable time, your face will soon show this too. In fact, you get the face you deserve by the time you're forty, and one of the keys to looking and feeling younger is being active. The date on a person's birth certificate may not be the best measure of their age.

"Growing old is something you do if you're lucky"

I don't really believe that age matters or, that in this tremendously ageist society that we in the Western world live in, an individual's worth should be judged by the year in which they were born. Older people are sometimes derided and mocked by those who are younger, and it's often an attempt at weak one-upmanship. Yes, they may be younger but unfortunately, sometimes, they are also overweight, unhappy, and living a less-than-healthy lifestyle. Since hopefully today we're all going to live longer, it's essential that we live healthier, more fulfilling lifestyles whatever our age, and you're never too old to start this.

One of the main secrets to staying young is staying healthy. I've sometimes had to suppress a smile when some young lady, who has obviously not taken care of herself through diet or exercise, says admiringly, "Ooh, I hope I look as good as you do when I'm your age!" Although it's intended to be complimentary, it's actually a back-hander. I find the attitude of certain young people -- i.e., that being young is to be a superior being -- rather pathetic, and certainly short-sighted because being young doesn't last, and the less you take care of your inner and outer self, the sooner you will lose that glorious bloom of youth.

Let's face it, with today's life expectancy of eighty or more years for women in Britain and the States (around seventy-five for men), you will be truly young for less than a third of that time and for most of your life you will be officially classed as middle-aged. (I'm not particularly keen on that word either, but I guess it's the only one available.) Youth, as we tend to think of it, actually lasts a terribly short time. Not counting childhood, aged sixteen to thirty-five, youth is less than twenty years. Not much time, is it?

People started to tell me that I wasn't young anymore early on in my career. When, at twenty-five, I told a Hollywood producer my age, he informed me cynically, "Twenty-five? Honey, that's not young in this town anymore." At thirty-one, when I wanted to start acting again, after having two children, my agent told me: "Joanie, you're much too old to be in the movies anymore. Retire, dear, go back to being a housewife and raising the kids." Needless to say, I did not take her advice although she put forward a pretty good case for early retirement for actresses.

Then, when I turned forty, I took off most of my clothes and frolicked on a swing in The Stud, much to the shock, horror, and amazement of all and sundry. But I didn't give a damn. I knew I looked good, very good in fact, and my figure was better than it had ever been, thanks to working out and eating super-healthily.

The Stud became a huge hit, and it was because of that movie that I was given the opportunity a few years later to play Alexis Carrington in the hit TV series Dynasty. Interestingly enough, one of Dynasty's female producers tried hard to prevent me from getting the part because of my age (forty-seven). So if that other Hollywood male producer I mentioned thought twenty-five wasn't young anymore in this business, imagine what the other Hollywood producers, who were considering me, along with Sophia Loren and various other actresses, thought? Luckily for me, Mr. Aaron Spelling insisted on casting me, so against all the odds I journeyed to Hollywood once more to take on that juicy role and the rest is TV history.

At forty-nine I posed for a Playboy layout, and yes, I took off most of my clothes. By this time it had hit me how unbelievably ageist not only Hollywood, but most of the Western world was towards women over thirty, and I decided to figuratively thumb my nose at them by proving through my photographs that women "of a certain age" could still be sexy and alluring. So many older women have thanked me for "coming out of the closet," as it were and I was given much credit for being the forerunner of the movement who believed older women could still cut it. Today fifty is almost the new thirty-five and being in your sixties is comparable to how being in your forties was in the twentieth century.

When you're older there are so many views you can express that you don't always feel comfortable stating when you're younger. And there have been some great sayings about getting older too. For example, "Old age has a great sense of calm and freedom -- when the passions relax then hold them. You are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only but of many." Plato said that, but I don't agree with him -- particularly about the passions. The economist Bernard Baruch said, "Old age is always fifteen years older than I said, Old age is always fifteen years older than I am." That's brilliant. At seventeen I remember thinking thirty was ancient, and at thirty, I thought forty-five was pretty old, and then at forty-five, I thought I was in my prime. Think positively. As Groucho Marx said, "Growing old is something you do if you're lucky." I think that's great. I mean, so you're getting older? So what's the alternative? No one wants to die, however old they are, and as someone said to the late, great Billy Wilder, "Who wants to be ninety-five?" "Someone who's ninety-four," retorted Billy.

After nine years of playing that devious, loveable, and hateful bitch Alexis, in haute couture and various stages of deshabillé, I decided to go back to my theatrical roots. I did several more plays, television shows, and movies, and now in my sixties, I'm happily married to Percy Gibson, a wonderful man who is more than three decades younger than me. To him, it doesn't matter a bit how old I am, and it doesn't matter to me either. We are extremely happy together and astonishingly compatible in every way. He loves me not only for the way I look but also for my tremendous enthusiasm, energy, and joie de vivre, which I was lucky enough to be born with and intend to keep for as long as I can. When people ask me, sotto voce in surprise, "So what about the age difference between you and Percy?" I usually shrug, smile, and quip, "So, if he dies, he dies."

Actually, it amazes me that the older woman-younger man relationship comes in for so much criticism. More and more bright, intelligent, and attractive women are marrying and having relationships with men who are ten, twenty, and even thirty years their junior. Many of them say they've never been happier, and I have to say, I agree.

So how do you stave off the aging process? In this chapter, I shall attempt to impart the advice, wisdom, and knowledge I've gathered and studied pretty much since I was a teenager when I first started out in this business. From the moment we are born our skin starts to age, as does our hair, bones, and teeth -- everything. Just look at the skin of a newborn and that of a ten-year-old, then compare the ten-year-old's complexion with that of a twenty-five-year-old and you see the difference.

My mother, Elsa Bessant Collins, was really beautiful. Blonde and blue-eyed, she had the pale delicate skin that goes with the territory and she took great care of it, too. I always remember her using a product called Glymiel Jelly on her hands and knees, and she tried to get me to use it but it was so thick and gloopy that I wasn't tempted. Mummie and her eight sisters had excellent skin, as did my father's two sisters and my paternal grandmother, Hettie, and they had masses of paints and potions on their dressing tables. Fascinated, I used to watch as they anointed themselves and they really seemed to get pleasure out of the feminine arts of adornment.

Women weren't ashamed to enjoy pampering themselves with makeup, perfume, and hairdos then. And it worked. Looking at pictures of my family and their friends, they all seemed groomed and glamorous. But women seemed to age much earlier then than they do now, perhaps because they were not so well-nourished as today's women. If you look at a photograph of a twenty-five-year-old in the forties or fifties, she'll look thirty-five.

Although the life span for humans may be more than one hundred years, life expectancy is not anticipated to rise much above eighty-five today, even if cures are found for cancer and heart disease. Progressive natural loss of organ functioning puts a biological limit of about eighty-five years on life expectancy. Eliminating heart disease could add three years, and conquering cancer would, on average, add two.

It's important to distinguish between life span and life expectancy. Life span is characteristic of a species -- two or three years for mice, forty-five years for chimpanzees, and 110 to 120 for humans, although there have been reports of humans living even longer, but most scientists don't believe them. A fifty-year-old woman today has a life expectancy of eighty-five, and if you're younger than fifty you could hit ninety.

Life expectancy for a species is based on projections of how long 50 percent of a group will survive. Until about 1850, life expectancy for humans ranged between thirty and forty years. Then, in 1900, a person born in a developed country could expect to live an average of fifty years. By 1946, life expectancy had risen to sixty-seven, and today it averages out at about seventy-four.

While most people credit medical advances since the middle of the nineteenth century, evidence indicates that improvements in transportation (enabling more intermarriage and strengthening of the gene pool), nutrition, sanitation, education, and housing are largely responsible for the dramatic increase in life expectancy.

Slowing the clock

For centuries man (and woman) has searched for the elusive fountain of youth. Up to a point it can be achieved, and I'm going to show you some ways in which you can at least slow the clock. First of all, it's important to understand that aging and disease are two different things. Aging is the mysterious process that inevitably leads to death, while disease can be the result of individual lifestyle. It seems logical therefore that we can slow down the aging process by staying healthy and thus often prevent degenerative diseases.

Certainly, at thirty-five or forty you're not going to have the dewy cheeks of a twenty-year-old, but through discipline and knowledge you can keep that twenty-year-old skin and body looking as good as possible for years to come, and it's never too late to start. No one says it's easy, however. Scientists today increasingly report that debilitation in middle and old age is mainly caused by improper nourishment, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. There are few shortcuts to aging well and if you want to get the best out of life after middle age, you should start working towards that goal from a relatively young age.

However, if you're not in the first flush of youth don't despair. Even sixty- and seventy-year-olds can see a huge improvement through watching their diet carefully and exercising regularly. You've got to use it or lose it. Unless it's taken care of, nothing will work properly or wear well if it's not used and this is particularly true of the human body. Try not speaking for a few days when you've had a sore throat. When you next attempt conversation, you will be hard-pressed to make your tongue and vocal chords do what they were used to doing and the longer you don't talk, the longer it will take to get back to normal.

It's the same with any part of your body. If you rarely walk, your legs will become weaker, and if you loll around like a couch potato, they'll atrophy. And if you don't do some sort of exercise, which involves using every part of your body, at least two or, ideally, three times a week, you will eventually become lethargic and feeble. Then you will lose bone density, the flexibility of your joints and muscles will start to go, and after a certain age, you will almost certainly begin to shrink. If you were athletic as a teenager and you continue to be so, you could still be strong and healthy well into your seventies or eighties. At the age of seventy some swimmers can still do their laps or even swim the Channel almost as well as when they were in their twenties. This goes for runners and dancers too. I have a friend in her seventies, Gillian Lynne, the famous choreographer of Cats, among many other shows, whose body hasn't changed one iota since she was twenty. She says the main reason for this is that she has never stopped doing her daily barré exercises and she works with dancers a third of her age.

Now let's get to grips with this aging business to see what can be done about it. If we can't stop the clock, let us at least try to slow it down. Aging is a horrible word, which is all too often used in the most derogatory way by the media -- "wrinkly rocker," "aging actress," etc. It's almost as though it's used to denote total uselessness in a person. You can't help getting older, but you can help yourself from becoming old and infirm, in mind as well as body. In particular you should stop thinking that getting older bars you from the joys and benefits of youthful pursuits, such as sports or socializing.

In the past fifty years the number of people over sixty, many of whom are living extremely productive, happy lives, has practically doubled. The later years can be active and rewarding, and getting sick isn't an inevitable part of getting older. Research on both sides of the Atlantic indicates that self-healing can be achieved through appropriate choices in diet and exercise. With a rapidly aging and increasingly sedentary population in the Western world (the number of people aged sixty and over is projected to increase from 12 million in 2002 to 18.6 million in 2031).

Beating the clock

Osteoporosis and arthritis were once considered an old lady's lot. Lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, she would inevitably become so crippled and disabled that she would be condemned to a life of pain and be unable to take care of herself. Today, by the age of fifty the average woman has lost up to one third of her bone mass. Sadly, osteoporosis will affect one woman in two in later life and in some families the risk is even greater. It's an insidious disease that creeps up over the years. Bones slowly lose their tissue and become weaker and more brittle until they eventually waste away. Until fractures occur, this often goes unnoticed, by which time it may be too late to do anything about it. Although everyone suffers from osteoporosis to some degree, people who smoke and drink excessively, have more than six cups of coffee a day, who hardly ever exercise, and have small bones may be more prone to it and can start to suffer earlier.

Another natural stage in life is the onset of menopause. In Britain, half a million women go through menopause every year. About a third of these suffer from exceedingly uncomfortable symptoms, including night sweats and hot flashes. Menopause and childbirth are the highest contributory factors to the advancement of osteoporosis, which is why it's important to include plenty of calcium and iron in your diet in the form of dairy products (alternatively fortified soy milk and soy products such as tofu), green leafy vegetables, fish, and dried fruits.

Once they reach fifty, many women believe their productive lives to be over. When they look in the mirror they see a body they think is either too fat or too scrawny, skin that has lost its luster, and dull or graying hair. But there are plenty of things you can do to combat this. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) -- or Estrogen Replacement Therapy (ERT) -- is a controversial subject, but I believe it to be the greatest gift to older women, as significant in its way as the contraceptive pill is to those of childbearing age. Taken in the correct dosage HRT can help bypass many of the problems of menopause. It can help you retain your zest for life and radically slow down the aging process and help in the battle against osteoporosis. It can also improve your sex life (see page 165).

In my opinion, HRT is the miracle drug. Although many doctors still pooh-pooh or condemn it completely, it can prevent brittle bones, increase energy levels, improve memory and concentration levels, and make dull skin glow again. As I have experienced myself, HRT can keep your bones as strong as they ever were. When I was performing in a play recently I had two bad falls backstage. Once, while running down some steps, I slipped and fell, taking my entire body weight on both knees. The other time I managed to fall up the steps, landing hard on my wrists and elbows. Because I have strong bones, I suffered nothing more serious than minor bruising and slight discomfort. However, the incidence of brittle bone disease in older women is truly terrifying. For some, a simple fall can mean several bones, particularly wrists and hips, are broken and they may never heal properly again. Other HRT supporters in the public eye include the Iron Lady herself, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, actress Cheryl Ladd and supermodel Lauren Hutton.

Among the other great benefits of HRT is that it replaces vitality and provides a renewed zest for life that the menopause can take away. Many women in their sixties and seventies on HRT have begun lucrative second careers, written their first novel, taken up painting, given talks to women's groups, and even learned to fly.

However, if HRT doesn't agree with you -- which unfortunately, is the case for some women -- there are other ways to prevent osteoporosis and to help with some of the less welcome effects of menopause. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D or a supplement, and regular weight-bearing exercise, like walking or dancing, will help to keep bones healthy. Many women swear by red clover, and linseed oil and vitamin E are both good for dry skin: all are available as supplements.

HRT isn't a magic pill that will turn you into a young girl again, but it can most certainly improve the quality of your life in many ways. So run, don't walk to your nearest physician. If he turns out to be one of the nonbelievers, find a doctor who is a believer. But, and I cannot stress this enough, HRT must be prescribed in the correct dosage for you and that usually starts with the minimum amount. Also, although research is inconclusive, there are reports of an increased susceptibility to breast cancer. So if you do decide to take it, it's essential to have a yearly mammogram just to play it safe. My doctor has assured me that the benefits far outweigh the risks but, before you make up your mind depending on your own circumstances, seek professional medical advice.

Prime time

Once the kids have flown the nest (or you've retired), it's time to achieve your private ambitions, and even if these are not so ambitious as piloting planes or writing bestsellers, there's a whole world of things to do and achieve out there. Don't write yourself off simply because you've had a milestone birthday that ends in a nought. This may have been understandable at the beginning of the last century when the sands of time were definitely running out for a woman who reached forty, but today there are decades ahead for you to do so many things. Write, paint, sculpt, learn the piano, take up dancing, start a university or college course, fall in love all over again -- the possibilities are limitless.

Now is the time to be a little selfish. Many of today's older women have devoted their lives to a man, perhaps children or maybe to caring for elderly parents, so it's fine, when the big five- or six-0 hits, to take some time for yourself, to pamper yourself in every way. You've sure earned it, girl. After all, if you won't do it, who's going to do it for you?

I believe that to help keep bones strong and healthy in later life, HRT is essential. To this end, I also recommend you take the following:

1. A daily dose of vitamin E capsules.

2. A fish supplement, such as Maxepa or cod-liver oil.

3. Antioxidant vitamins to prevent the free radicals, which cause aging.

4. Calcium pills.

5. Vitamin A— -- which is a great healer -- and vitamin D to promote absorption of calcium into the bones.

6. MSM (Methyl Sulphonyl/Sulfonyl Methane). Essential for people over fifty with incipient arthritis or osteoporosis.

7. Plenty of the following foods: sardines in olive oil and other fatty fish such as tuna, smoked salmon, and haddock; milk, cheese, and eggs (but don't overdo the dair -- too much builds up cholesterol). To maintain healthy bones, it's as essential for older women as it is for infants and young children to get that calcium.

8. Beta-carotene. After vitamins E and C, it's the most powerful antioxidant. Not only does it fight free radicals, it also slows down and can prevent skin cancer. To boost your intake, eat as much as you can of the following: beetroot, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, papaya, watercress, tomato sauce, cantaloupe, plus at least one 85g (3oz) serving of green, red, or yellow vegetables a day.

By the way, there is a difference between osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. The latter is a form of arthritis in which the cartilage of the joint and bone are worn away, due to an injury or wear and tear on the joints, often caused by sports injuries. My father suffered badly from osteoarthritis in both his hands. I've inherited it slightly -- luckily only in my thumbs -- but I'm able to keep it under control. When I learned that certain kinds of arthritis were hereditary, I started to take precautions. I take several vitamin E tablets a day plus Maxepa, a fish oil supplement, and MSM, a rich source of organic sulphur. In addition to this, I sometimes wear a copper bracelet on my wrist and if my thumbs start to hurt, I occasionally take a teaspoon of cider vinegar with honey in hot water. Another new method for treating arthritis is magnets. I have a set of armbands with small magnets inside and although no one knows why and how they work, they ease the pain. I first discovered them at an American sports injuries clinic and although I was dubious, they really help.

Fight free radicals

Some of the outward signs of aging -- wrinkles, liver spots, lack of elasticity in the skin -- are caused by disruption of the internal workings of the cells and also certain cellular proteins, such as collagen, between the cells. The reason for this is oxidization, a cell-damaging process caused by molecular fragments known as free radicals. Antioxidants help to neutralize them and the best way to get them is through your diet. Here's a list of foods that will help combat this insidious enemy. Make sure you eat at least one or two portions each day. The best of the best are:

• Apricots, broccoli, cantaloupes, carrots, dark leafy vegetables, spinach, mangos, peaches, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.

Also beneficial are:

• Asparagus, brussels sprouts, green beans, peas, tomatoes, and watermelon.

So what are these free radicals that contribute so much to the aging process? They are tiny, highly reactive molecules created during normal metabolism and from our polluted world. They can inflict the kind of cellular damage that leads to heart disease, cancer, brain disorders, and other degenerative diseases including aging. And how can they hurt us? In their molecular structure, free radicals are unbalanced. They have an odd number of electrons in their outermost molecular ring and to be "satisfied" they either have to steal an electron, or give one up. This means forcibly snatching one from a nearby cell, or shooting an electron into a cell. While this satisfies the free radical, it also begins the destruction of the other cell and starts off a chain reaction. Each cell, in turn, gains or loses an unwanted electron. It's the same kind of reaction that occurs when butter becomes rancid. Can you imagine what happens to you when the fat in your body turns rancid? Chemical changes inside living cells can cause genetic mutation, alter the structure of important proteins, disable fatty molecules, and more. If the damage accumulates faster than the body repairs it, disease and premature aging can be the result. To survive, a cell needs a variety of defense mechanisms that will destroy the free radicals before they do any damage.

Unfortunately, free radical damage to certain types of cells is irreversible. It's a fact, however, that although 98 percent of free radicals is burned up for energy, unfortunately that leaves 2 percent available for nonproductive harmful activity. Three types of cells -- heart, muscle, and nerve cells, which include brain cells and certain sensor cells of the immune system -- cannot be replaced. To ensure a long and healthy life, damage to these cells must be prevented. After years of free radical assault, millions of cells are lost from major organs such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain. Cell loss is a major cause of aging and free radicals have been linked to a wide range of conditions associated with it. They pose a greater problem in later life because as you get older, the body's ability to neutralize free radicals and repair the damage they cause goes into decline. As free radicals are a by-product of normal metabolic processes, you probably produce more when you are younger and more metabolically active. Their extremely reactive nature means they have considerable potential for oxidative cell damage, including damage to cell integrity, harmful changes to capillaries, and damage to the collagen and elastin in skin.

But diet alone cannot protect you and that's why vitamin supplements are essential. vitamin E is the number one for counteracting the effects of oxidation. I call it the magic vitamin after vitamin C. It has many other benefits. Combined with vitamin C, researchers have discovered that vitamin E can help counteract cataract formation, which is caused by the oxidation of eye lenses. Vitamin E also delays the progress and reduces the severity of Parkinson's Disease. It also boosts the immune system (the body's defense against infectious diseases). Beta-carotene, too, can help combat free radicals.

In fact, the power of vitamins should never be underestimated. Some time ago now the New York Times reported provocative new evidence from researchers, indicating that "vitamins influence the health and vibrancy of nearly every organ, and that these enigmatic chemicals may help forestall or even reverse many diseases of aging."

I for one am not too keen on taking drugs and pills. Sure, they can be used to ease the symptoms of diabetes and heart disease, but I don't want to get sick in the first place so I take preventative measures through eating good food and exercising. I can't stress the importance of this enough and most scientists do now believe that exercise and proper nutrition can help to stave off everything from heart disease to diabetes, osteoporosis, and aging.

Whatever you do, you can't prevent the inevitable natural changes that occur with getting older -- skin, bones, muscles, teeth, hair, eyes, heart, lungs, over time these all change, and to function properly, the body needs a constant and balanced amount of the right nutrients and vitamins.

Some gerontologists believe aging results from the accumulated damage done to cells throughout the years, usually caused by toxicity in the environment, pollution, and food preservatives. Others believe genetics determines aging -- if your parents looked good for their age, the chances are that you will, too. This is true, but only up to a point so you've still got to take care of yourself. Anyway, doesn't a not-so-attractive person who has aged well look better than an attractive one who hasn't paid attention to this?

Obesity is spreading (literally)

One of the major health problems the Western world faces today is obesity. Except in extremely rare genetic cases, obesity is basically caused by eating too much and not exercising enough. So plump children become fat teenagers, who will then become obese adults, who will almost certainly contract life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and strokes. In America, the number of obese adults has doubled in the past ten years, and the number of grossly obese people (overweight by 98 pounds or more) has grown even more. One in eighty American men and one in two-hundred women now weighs more than 294 pounds, a leap of 50 percent in four years. A growing number of people over the age of forty are now developing late-onset (or Type 2) diabetes, but have you noticed that there are very few obese seventy-year-olds? Sadly, they don't live that long.

All the excuses you hear from overweight people -- that it's genetic or glandular -- are often wishful thinking, I'm afraid. The reason why fat is stored in the body is because it's not used for the day-to-day energy the body needs to function. To put it bluntly, by eating too much, they are digging their own graves with their teeth. Without doubt, obesity is one of the most dangerous contributors to aging and the precursor of many deadly diseases. Doctors predict that obesity will be the major health crisis of the next generation. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) has thrived since 1972. Their arguments are that there's no such thing as permanent weight loss and their members are fat because of genetics, not because they eat too much. With respect, these arguments are much too weak to promote the acceptance of obesity and certainly it's as wrong to discriminate against the obese as it is to discriminate against any other group. But to condone obesity is to ignore the fact that overweight people face very serious health risks in later life and this is being proven all the time. Not only this, but being overweight also prevents people from making the most of life. They tend to have less energy and feel tired; they may also suffer from poor self-image and it's much harder to get around.

During food rationing in the first World War there was a huge reduction in the obesity of the citizens of Europe and the States. With that came a reduction in the obesity-related diseases of diabetes and hypertension. Doesn't that tell you something about our diets today? In the thirties, experiments were conducted on laboratory rats at Cornell University. One group was fed as much as they liked for twenty-four hours a day while another was calorie-controlled and given just enough to live on. When they all finally died, it was found that the group who grazed all day lived for an average of 483 days, while the calorie-controlled rats survived for an astonishing 900 days (almost twice as long). Those scientists also discovered that the calorie-controlled rats acted younger, looked younger, and by the physiological standards of aging, actually were younger. Now, it has been ultimately proved that eating less extends your life span. But, and it's a big but (and I'm sure you don't want one of those!), if you eat less you must make sure that what you eat is nutritionally sound and enriched with the correct amounts of vitamins and minerals.

In 1970 only 4 percent of American children aged six to twelve were overweight. Today, that number is over 15 percent. Who knows what it will be in the next decade? It's a terrifying thought. We live in the fast-food era where many kids and adults eat fatty hamburgers or hot dogs or rich takeaways, prepackaged and packed with additives, or frozen food that just needs to be reheated, for most meals. Although many people say they don't have time to cook, healthy stir-fries and pasta with tomato sauce do not take that long to prepare.

Junk food is just that -- junk. Although I rarely ate hamburgers, I stopped eating them altogether when I saw a picture of a woman who had taken a bite out of one in a burger joint and found she had bitten into a mouse! Ugh! If I ever had a reason to stop, that was it. Nevertheless, the fast-food industry is a multibillion dollar business, and I'm sure they must put something addictive in those burgers for everyone to crave them so much and so often. One of the most chilling statistics I discovered when writing this book was that a third of all human cancers are directly related to diet. Another recent report by Britain's Office for National Statistics confirmed that the number of diabetics in Britain could double by 2020, largely due to the British dislike of healthy food, and some scientists have linked this to bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and obesity. But there is some positive news. In a move designed to protect companies from the kind of lawsuits brought against the tobacco industry, junk food companies in the States are to warn consumers that eating too much of their products could fatten them up. The project, which is backed by the International Food Information Council Foundation, could lead to packaged foods such as chocolate cookies and chips having similar warnings.

Sugary fizzy drinks are also bad for your body. They are loaded with sodium, artificial additives, and colorings, and the bubbles can make you extremely bloated. I never drink sodas and I might have a couple of Coca Colas a year, but never Diet Coke as I believe the ingredients in it, particularly the artificial sweetener and aspartame, are bad for you. And I've been told they can make you depressed or feel tired. I've never allowed my own children to drink fizzy or so-called energy drinks. I always gave them natural fruit drinks.

So, for super-youth, here is my list of super foods to help halt the onset of the disease and aging process:

• Chicken -- white meat only, not the skin

• Lean beef (but only occasionally)

• Salmon and mackerel

• Tuna, trout, haddock, and cod

• Skimmed or low-fat milk

• Non-processed cheese

• Low-fat yogurt

• Skimmed mozzarella cheese

• Leafy green vegetables, especially broccoli

• Fresh vegetables

• Fresh fruit and juices, but not from a can

• Whole grains

• Brown rice

• Whole-wheat flour

• Couscous

• Pinto, haricot (navy), and kidney beans

• Olive oil

• Sunflower oil

• Peanut oil

• Safflower oil

• Hummus

• Taramasalata

• Anchovies (canned or fresh)

• Sardines in olive oil

• Nuts (particularly almonds, which are reputed to have cancer- preventing qualities)

• Wine (in moderation). Studies of 1,555 New Yorkers by scientists at the University of Buffalo prove that people who drink wine, particularly white wine, have healthier lungs than those who drink beer or spirits. Red wine, too, brings down cholesterol as it thins the blood.

• Chocolate (also in moderation)

• Still mineral water. The British Dietetic Association guidelines state that the average adult should consume 2.5 liters (41/2 pints) a day. Of this, 1.8 liters (3 pints) must be obtained directly from water (the equivalent of six to seven glasses per day). To avoid dehydration, intake should be increased in hot weather and during as well as after physical activity.

The Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon (1474–1521) was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who was obsessed with tales of the Fountain of Youth, a mythical fountain was reputed to flow with water that cured illness and granted the drinker eternal youth. As he searched for it, he became the first European to explore Puerto Rico, Florida, the Florida Keys, and parts of Mexico. But Ponce de Leon never found the Fountain of Youth because it's within us all. You've just got to work to find it, so here are my rules for the real Fountain of Youth:

• A positive attitude

• Staying healthy, which means eating healthily with optimum nutrition

• Regular exercise (at least three times per week for forty minutes)

• Relaxation through avoidance of stress wherever possible

• Love, whether with a partner, child, pet, or friends.

And here is my list of No-No's or destructive elements:

• White bread

• White sugar

• Doughnuts and cookies, which are drenched in fat and sugar

• Hamburgers

• Processed meats

• Processed cheese

• Smoked meats (except smoked salmon in small quantities)

• Rancid fat and stale food of any kind

• Barbecued meat

• Burnt toast

• Pizza

• Salt and pepper

• Saturated fat and fried foods

• Food that's heavily spiced

• Store-bought cakes

• Butter (unless in moderation)

• Alcohol

• Tap water