'20 Years Younger': Bob Greene's Advice for Living Well, Eating Healthy and Looking Great As You Age

Oprah's trainer on how to live healthy and look great as you get older.

May 4, 2011 — -- Fitness guru Bob Greene is the founder of the Best Life diet plan, and he has written several books that have helped people to lose weight and live better.

Greene is well-known for being Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer.

In his latest book, "20 Years Younger: Look Younger, Feel Younger, Be Younger!" Greene gives advice for living well and looking good as you get older.

Read an excerpt from "20 Years Younger" below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library.


Several years ago, I spent part of the spring cycling my way across the country, riding from Long Beach, California, to New York City. It was something I had always wanted to do, and the opportunity presented itself when I was booked on a multicity tour to promote a book I'd written. I knew that the 3,600-mile trip would be grueling, but I thought it would actually be less stressful than racing from one airport to another, which is how a typical book tour unfolds. To prepare, I trained hard so that I'd be able to hit my target of riding about one hundred miles a day. I planned to sleep in a different town every night and visit bookstores, malls, and fitness centers in more than thirty cities along the way.

I wasn't far into the trip when I began to feel dramatic changes taking place. By the time I hit Arizona, I had a mental and emotional clarity that I'd never before experienced. At times, I'd be riding for eight hours or more with nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the beat of my heart in my ears. As I looked around me, colors seemed brighter, the world smelled fresher, sounds seemed sharper, the things I touched seemed more textured. All my senses were amplified. And nothing rattled me -- not a dog giving chase, rain on my back, a treacherous ascent. As my legs cycled rhythmically, the pedestrian concerns of the everyday slipped away and I'd find my thinking stripped down to the essentials. I contemplated the scenery and I contemplated my life. What was important to me? What did I want out of life? While I was on that trip it all became so much clearer.

As I edged toward Chicago I became aware that I was also going through extraordinary physical changes. I'd been hailed on at the Grand Canyon and twice climbed more than 11,000 feet in the still snowy Rockies, and I felt invincible, virtually bulletproof. Every night I slept like a rock. In my early forties at the time, I thought I was pretty fit going into the ride, but that extreme physical challenge left me much stronger than I'd ever been in my life, even in my twenties.

While I knew riding cross-country would be a challenge and that I'd come off the bike fitter than when I started, I hadn't realized how much the trip would transform me both physically and emotionally. I was particularly amazed at how clearheaded I felt. I was able to look at my life and see exactly where I wanted to go. By the time I reached the East Coast, I was operating on all cylinders and had regained (and even significantly surpassed) the strength, power, energy, lucidity, and drive of my earlier years.

Graduate students in exercise physiology learn about the anti-aging benefits of physical activity, and I was no exception. In fact, I'd had a longtime interest in the science of aging and the prevention of age-related decline. But once my cross-country trip allowed me to see the possibilities for myself, I became passionate about the subject. It wasn't long after I completed that cross-country tour that I started exploring ideas for this book.

It's not practical for most people to get on a bike and ride for a month (it's not something I could easily fit into my life anymore either), but I wondered if there were adjustments you could make to your everyday life that would have a similar de-aging, life-enhancing effect. I knew that a good fitness plan could go a long way toward turning back the clock, but what else was possible? To find out, I spent the next few years talking to experts in other fields, learning about the latest advances in anti-aging science and determining what aspects of that research could be translated into a workable plan for daily life.

After a time, it became evident that there are four main fronts on which you can vigorously fight back against the effects of aging: exercise, nutrition, skin care, and restorative sleep. Addressing any one of these areas with an eye toward shaving off the years can have a tremendous payoff, but it pales in comparison to the combined impact of all four -- especially when you also control the stress in your life and practice positive thinking, two other aspects that can significantly slow the aging process. A well-rounded comprehensive approach can not only help you look and feel younger, but can actually make your body reverse course, even at the cellular level. At this point there's little doubt: Good anti-aging strategies can both extend your life and substantially raise the quality of it.

By calling this book "20 Years Younger" I'm making what some might think is an exaggerated claim. But most people these days are living lives that predispose them to early aging. If you grab ahold of your health and actively pursue greater well-being, I don't think it's extravagant to say that you can dramatically turn things around. It's commonly accepted that the body undergoes certain changes with age, and to some extent those changes are inevitable. Even works of art maintained under pristine light and temperature conditions eventually begin to wither. What is less known, though, is that the life you lead and the decisions you make every day are largely responsible for how quickly, profoundly, and noticeably you age. In fact, much of what we think of as aging -- wrinkles, weight gain, memory loss, lack of energy, certain types of illnesses -- is not primarily attributable to the passage of time. Rather, it's a direct result of sedentary living, poor diet, lack of sleep, insufficient (or nonexistent) skin care, too much stress, and even a defeatist attitude. It stands to reason, then, that if you reverse those habits -- if you get moving, eat longevity-promoting foods, sleep soundly and adequately, protect and nourish your skin, and improve your outlook on the world -- the signs of aging will reverse themselves, too.

Some people have gotten the message that the life you lead can indeed turn back the clock. But I feel others have misinterpreted the message to mean that they should zealously pursue any program that promises everlasting youth. Extreme exercise regimens, severely restrictive diets, unproven hormonal therapies, cosmetic surgery makeovers -- they may all seem like quick and effective ways to return the body to its youthful self, but more often than not they're counterproductive. What we're offering you in this book instead are natural, research-based strategies for getting your body (and mind) in top form and even lowering your physiological age. The goal isn't to help you turn yourself back into a teenager but rather to help you lead your longest, fullest, and healthiest life. Stay strong, energetic, mentally sharp, and confident, and your age will not define -- or debilitate -- you. Instead it will be incidental; something noted on your driver's license but not indicative of your health or capabilities.

I'm in my fifties now and I've always prided myself in trying to live a healthy life. Some of those habits, as it turns out, have helped me when it comes to aging. I've been extremely conscientious about exercise, of course, and I'd give myself a pretty good grade in healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and controlling stress, too. The one area where I wish I'd been more diligent is in caring for my skin. It's long been my Achilles' heel. Like so many people, I grew up before the widespread use of sunscreen. Nobody had heard of SPF back then, and while we knew that getting sunburn hurt, we hadn't been clued in to the dangers of sun exposure. I've always had rather fair skin, and when a friend of mine in my elementary school suggested I get a tan, I began to feel self-conscious about how pale I was -- an insecurity that lingered well into early adulthood. I never was that successful at getting a tan (I always burned instead), but that doesn't mean I didn't try.

A number of years ago Oprah and I were training for a race when, probably annoyed at me for urging her to "push harder," she turned to me and said, "I've never met anyone so together. Is there anything you struggle with?" "Well, I don't tan very well," I replied, giving an honest answer. Oprah burst out laughing. I know she thought I was kidding, but I was genuinely insecure about my fair skin!

As I gathered information for this book and went looking for an expert to contribute a chapter on skin care, I thought I might be able to use myself as a guinea pig. By now I was regretting every unprotected minute I'd spent in the sun, and I needed some help in rejuvenating my skin. My plan was to interview several top-echelon dermatologists, try their products and advice, and see how well they -- and I -- fared.

By the time I met Harold A. Lancer, MD, I'd already talked to a few different doctors and tried their plans, but with less than stellar results. When I went in to see Dr. Lancer, both his knowledge and his demeanor immediately impressed me. During my appointment, he had me take off my shirt so he could assess the skin below my chin, and then he proceeded to call in his staff of assistants and nurses. There I was, with a group of women looking at me as if I were in a petri dish, when Dr. Lancer said, "Look at him. He has the body of someone decades younger." Just when I was starting to feel a little puffed up, he added, "His skin, though -- that's just about right for his age." He started to point out all my sun damage and age spots. I was hoping for a better report, but given that I have the kind of skin that wrinkles if you look at it too long, I wasn't surprised. And Dr. Lancer, as you'll see when you read his chapter, tells it like it is.

What I like most about Dr. Lancer's approach (and I think you will, too) is that he has shown that you can get your skin to behave younger -- not just look younger, but actually be younger -- with three simple skin care steps. To his mind, all the popular cosmetic procedures, ranging from lasers and fillers to neurotoxins, are really beautifiers of the last resort. He sees the trend starting to go away from these more invasive interventions and toward a more cost-effective, natural, do-it-yourself approach to skin maintenance. I can say from personal experience that it really works.

Another expert whose contribution to this book offers great benefits is Ronald L. Kotler, MD. Dr. Kotler and I met when we happened to be appearing on "Good Morning America" on the same day. I watched his segment on sleep and admired his approach to getting a good night's slumber and the user-friendly way he conveyed the information. In his chapter, Dr. Kotler, who is also the coauthor, with Maryann Karinch, of "365 Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep," explains how sleep changes as you get older and how you can offset those changes with some simple strategies. It turns out that adequate sleep not only affects the way you look and feel but is also connected to lowering the risk of many life-shortening diseases.

I like to keep my website updated with the latest information about health, exercise, skin care, and nutrition, including vitamin, mineral, and other dietary supplements. But I'd been feeling frustrated by the quality of the supplements on the market as well as the information supporting them. They always seemed to have too much of one thing and too little of something else. I was so disappointed by what I found out there that I started thinking about developing my own line. That's when I met Diane L. McKay, PhD, to whom I turned for advice on both the efficacy and safety of supplements. Dr. McKay has done extensive research on vitamin and mineral supplementation, is up on the latest studies, and brings a bit of sanity to a topic that can be confusing and somewhat controversial. Her contributions to the book have been invaluable. In chapter 3, Dr. McKay helps separate the supplements that have true anti-aging and overall health benefits from the ones that are a waste of money, and she provides a guide to safely adding supplements to your diet.

Someone once asked Woody Allen how he felt about the aging process, and Allen answered, "Well, I'm against it." I laughed when I read that and thought to myself, Me too! But the truth is, I'm not really against aging. I'm simply for aging well. Accepting that you're growing older is not the same thing as accepting a life that's limited by age-related maladies or where you don't look or feel your best. Age, as they say, really is just a number. It's how well you're able to live your life that counts. Another showbiz guy, the comedian George Burns, once said, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." And Burns knew what he was talking about. He lived a vigorous life until the age of one hundred.

I'd like to live to one hundred, too, as long as I could still live a high-quality life at that advanced age. I'm sure most people would, but as the father of two young children, I have a particular reason for wanting to live long and have the strength and vitality to enjoy my family for many years to come. I came late to fatherhood -- I was almost fifty when we had our first child -- and it's given me incredible incentive to stay as energetic, healthy, and youthful as I can. If I've learned anything during the time I've spent exploring the aging process, it's that motivation is key, just as it is for achieving anything worthwhile. You can't be complacent if you want to age gracefully. It takes some discipline and hard work to slow down aging -- if it were easy everyone would look and feel twenty years younger. When you commit yourself to all the elements of this plan -- staying fit, eating right, caring for your skin, sticking to good sleep habits -- you're distinguishing yourself from the crowd. And you'll be richly rewarded for your efforts. Examine your current lifestyle, readjust your schedule, direct your passion and drive toward adopting a new, healthier anti-aging lifestyle, and -- trust me -- you'll get amazing results.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.