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Aging Gracefully

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Top model Valerie Ramsey tells how (not for women only)

Looking young is a $60 billion a year industry — that’s $1,600 worth of hormone treatments, plastic surgery, skin creams and supplements for every retiree in the US. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money to age gracefully — looking and feeling your best.

To help you start, Bottom Line/Retirement spoke with 69-year-old Valerie Ramsey, one of the most sought-after cover models in the country. This grandmother of eight is the “centerpiece” for print ad campaigns for fashion and beauty magazines and has graced the runways at numerous fashion shows. Ramsey is also a motivational speaker and has made regular appearances on the Today show, Fox Business News with Neil Cavuto and Extra. She’s never hidden her age or tried to pretend her hair isn’t gray. Her “grace” is as much about feeling great and staying healthy as it is about maintaining her looks…

MY STORY

My life has unfolded in a reverse direction. Until my 50s, I was a stay-at-home mom raising six children. Then, my husband and I moved cross-country to California, where I learned how to use a BlackBerry and a computer and got a job in public relations. Not long afterward, I discovered that I had uterine cancer as well as a severe case of cardiomyopathy (a weak heart muscle).

I wasn’t ready to retire and become an old lady with medical problems. I’ve always had a sweet tooth and rarely exercised when I was younger. In fact, I was famous in my family for doing “vertical laps” in the pool — bobbing up and down. But in the 1990s, I decided that I had to and would live a healthier lifestyle. I began nutritional and workout regimens and was able to beat the cancer and control my heart problem.

At age 63, a television producer I met liked my look and recommended me to a modeling agency. Out of the blue, the agency booked me to do a runway show in the Fairmont Hotel Grand Ballroom in San Francisco!

Standing backstage surrounded by 18-year-old waiflike models, I felt like Grandma Moses. What was I doing here?

But I also had a revelation — aging gracefully isn’t just about looking younger. That’s a losing battle with diminishing returns. It’s about feeling younger, making the most of the time you have by becoming happier and more content with who you are. It’s about choosing behaviors and attitudes that promote robust health. When you feel young inside, it creates a potent energy that bubbles out of you. Everyone notices it, and heads turn when you walk into a room. My secrets…

EATING WELL

Many of us fall into the trap of eating the same foods the majority of the time. So it’s easy to slip into eating habits you aren’t even aware of. Rules that I follow every day…

I drink an eight-ounce glass of water first thing in the morning, which helps me to rehydrate and wake up. (I drink a total of at least 64 ounces of water daily to hydrate my body and skin.)

At every meal I sit down — and eat slowly. Not only do I enjoy the food more this way, but I consume less.

I eat a big breakfast (half a grapefruit, one slice of whole-grain toast with butter and two scrambled eggs) or, at the very least, a snack within 45 minutes of waking, a balanced lunch (turkey or chicken with a complex carbohydrate, such as sweet potatoes, and veggies or half a tuna sandwich on whole-grain bread) and a light dinner (salmon, tomatoes and vegetables) by 7 pm. I also snack on fruit, especially apples, and protein drinks made with whey.

I never go longer than four hours without eating. Otherwise, I get too hungry and tend to overeat at the next meal.

I always opt for natural carbohydrates, the ones that come from the ground, such as rice, yams, sweet potatoes and beans… and whole-grain breads and cereals in moderation. And when eating carbohydrates, I add some fat or protein. When you eat a carbohydrate by itself, you get a bloated-belly feeling.

EXERCISE

I think of working out as the secret weapon that provides me with the stamina for everything else I want to do in life. I have a 30- to 45-minute routine every day that my daughter, who’s a personal trainer, prepared for me. This includes 30 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical trainer followed by 15 minutes of weights for my shoulders, biceps and upper body.

To find an exercise regimen that works for you: Do something you like enough to stick with. Try daily power-walking, join a class at your gym, play tennis, do Pilates. Or go back to what was fun when you were a kid, such as bicycling and/or swimming.

SLEEP

I try to get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Sleep is how your body repairs itself from the day’s activity. Our bodies are a chemistry lab, not a bank account. When you shortchange your sleep patterns, you’re not only tired the next day — you’ve also lost out on critical healing.

COMMUNICATION

I look people in the eyes and smile when I talk to them. When you greet someone, focus on sending out positive energy, and this energy will translate through your own eyes. People will experience you as radiating warmth — and, yes, youth.

ATTITUDE

Think positively all the time. According to the National Science Foundation, we have more than 65,000 thoughts per day, nearly 95% of which are the same thoughts we had the day before. We have the ability to create and shape our life experiences through our thoughts. This is essential for older people because it’s downright rejuvenating to believe that there is still plenty of time left to create positive experiences in life.

As you go through your daily exercise routine, practice turning every negative or fearful thought you have into a positive one. Examples…

You’re taking the car to the shop because you need new tires. Rather than dwell on how much they will cost, focus on how much easier and safer it will be to drive through snow and rain.

You are waiting for your spouse to come home so that you can go to a dinner party. You think, “I don’t want him to be late.”

Better: Turn the thought around and think, “I want him to be on time.” That small twist can alleviate a lot of tension when your spouse does arrive.

Other strategies…

Make a list of your best qualities and stick it on your mirror to read while you brush your teeth.

When someone compliments you, thank him and believe what he said.

Turn confrontations into positive experiences.

Example: If a situation erupts during a conversation, you can calm the other person down without speaking a word.

How: Imagine a band of gold light beaming down on the other person’s head. Keep the imagined stream of light steady as you listen when the other person speaks (or yells). The person will feel you relax, and that will diffuse his own tension.

On Cosmetic Procedures

I favor only minimally invasive, outpatient procedures with board-certified doctors. This prevents you from spending enormous amounts of money and from winding up with an unnatural, plastic look.

I personally have had treatment on my face to remove skin cancer and sun damage… photorejuvenation, a treatment performed with a cool-tip laser that reduces fine lines and age spots and stimulates collagen production… and copper bromide laser treatments to repair broken blood vessels and sun damage.

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Source:
Valerie Ramsey, coauthor with her daughter Heather Hummel of Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age (McGraw-Hill). She was public relations manager for the Pebble Beach Golf Resort, Pebble Beach, California, and is currently a fashion model represented by agencies in San Francisco and New York. www.valerieramsey.com.
Date: April 1, 2009 Publication: Bottom Line Tomorrow
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