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You can live longer and enjoy life more

"The daily habits of people have a great deal more to do with what makes them sick and when they die than all the influences of medicine." _ Lester Breslow, M.D.

The aging process, the microscopic breaking down of body cells, begins relatively early in life. The good news is that we can do much to slow this gradual but progressive damage to the body, which begins around age 35.

A current epidemic responsible for more than half of all deaths is diseases of lifestyle. Be aware of the lifestyle choices you make. We have the power to play a leading role in the drama of our lives. As our life unfolds, we can take responsibility for selecting healthful habits that can ultimately extend and enrich life expectancy.

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Here are some suggestions to give a healthful boost to your lifestyle:

Quit smoking. Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of illness and premature death in America. Replace your cigarette addiction with an exercise addiction. Studies show that quitting this habit has numerous benefits, including better oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood, improved night vision, lower blood pressure and greater effectiveness for prescription drugs. The "repair time" for heart disease caused by smoking is 10 years; 10-15 years for cancer.

Eat a well-balanced diet. Stay away from fad diets. There are 40 nutrients essential to good health. The best way to be sure you are getting adequate amounts of these nutrients is to eat a variety of foods, cutting back on fatty, fried and high-sugar foods. The food groups are the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group; the fruit group; the vegetable group; the meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts group; and the milk, yogurt and cheese group. If you want to keep the calories low, select smaller servings.

Avoid becoming a "couch potato." Leading a sedentary life can place you at risk for heart disease and many other illnesses. In 1993 the American Heart Association included physical inactivity among the major risk factors for developing coronary artery disease. Build exercise into your daily life habits. Aim for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. (It's great if you can handle 60 minutes). You have a large selection of activities to choose from: fast walking, biking, swimming, yard work, treadmill, dancing, aerobic dance classes, water aerobics. Words of wisdom written by a Chinese physician 1,300 years ago: "Flowing water never stagnates; active hinges never rust."

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Defend your body against free radicals. On the cellular level, think of your body as fighting a war against infection and disease. The antioxidants are the good guys and the free radicals are the bad guys. The antioxidant team has good warriors on its side. They live in the foods and vitamins that we eat and their names are vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A. This team of antioxidants will fight to deactivate the free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that attack cell membranes, proteins and our DNA. They have been associated with heart disease, cancer and dementia. More recently, evidence suggests that they are responsible for a decline in the immune system. Scientists believe that antioxidants keep free radicals from attacking cells, which causes DNA damage.

Create a strong body. When people begin to fatigue more easily and feel weaker as they become older, it usually is because their muscle mass has become smaller. Age-related muscle reduction is called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia results not so much from aging as it does from general disease of the muscles. Strength training is just as important for the health of the body as is aerobic exercise. For safety, beginners should begin a strength-conditioning program using lighter weights with more repetitions: 12-15 repetitions, performing just one or two sets of each exercise (12-15 repetitions would be one set). If you can't do 12-15 reps, don't worry; just do what you can. Gradually you will progress to slightly heavier weights and fewer repetitions (10-12 reps). When those weights becomes fairly easy to lift, move up one weight level. Stretching the muscles before and after the workout is important.

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Practice relaxation skills. It is imperative for good health to allow ourselves time to be physically quiet: listening to music, relaxation breathing, listening to the rain, just looking out a window. To elicit the relaxation response, simply add the element of mental focus. Focus on a sound, phrase or movement, and every time you notice your mind wandering, return to that focus. By meditating, even for a short time every day, you can decrease the level of stress hormones, resulting in lower blood pressure, reduced muscle tension and lower heart rate.

Keep your brain alive. That old saying "Use it or lose it" applies to the brain as well as to the muscles in the body. For optimum health, it is important to be active mentally. Some activities to keep that brain alive are reading (if small print is difficult to read, get large-print publications or books on tape); working crossword puzzles; participating in volunteer groups; taking classes in subjects which interest you; learning new skills such as playing the piano; participating in church groups and becoming involved with others; developing a new hobby. An active brain is a healthy brain; inaction leads to reduced brain fitness.

"Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order," said John Quincy Adams.

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Try this healthful recipe that demonstrates how taking care of your body needn't be drudgery.

Write to Sally Anderson in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Donna's Tomato and Garbanzo Pasta

1 can (14{-ounce) diced tomatoes seasoned with basic, garlic and oregano

1 can (15-ounce) drained garbanzo beans

Fresh baby spinach

Any short pasta (penne, rotini), cooked

1 tablespoon olive oil

Feta cheese

In a skillet, combine tomatoes and garbanzo beans. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add {-pound spinach; cook until wilted. Combine with cooked pasta.

Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle feta cheese over the pasta.

"The daily habits of people have a great deal more to do with what makes them sick and when they die than all the influences of medicine." _ Lester Breslow, M.D.

The aging process, the microscopic breaking down of body cells, begins relatively early in life. The good news is that we can do much to slow this gradual but progressive damage to the body, which begins around age 35.

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