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Old Or Young, You Can Slow Your Aging Clock

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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The cool thing about Dr. Judith Reichman is that she walks the talk.

She's not afraid to take a controversial stand. She shares intimate details about her own aging.

She understands the pressures women face at midlife.

Reichman knows we want it all: good health and vigor; respect and position that come with experience; financial rewards for years of work; loving and sustaining relationships built on trust and commitment.

And while we're at it, we want to be like the gals on "The Swan," cosmetically enhanced and beautiful, all signs of age erased.

Reichman has no magic pill to deliver all of the above, but she does have a prescription for a better midlife. It's based on her own experience.

"Before I was a doctor, I was a woman," she tells me. "I want to look good; I don't want to be a burden to my kids. My patients are women in their late 30s to late 50s, and I tell them, `I'm in there with you.'" Her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down" (William Morrow, 2004), ends with a chapter about how the doc does it - her exercise program, the vitamins she takes, the foods she eats, even the makeup she uses and the cosmetic procedures she's endured.

Reichman, 58, a medical correspondent on the "Today" show and "Oprah," says aging is inevitable, but a little tinkering here and there can slow down the process for most women. Well, sometimes more than a little tinkering. She opted for a bilateral mastectomy when a biopsy showed many cells in her breasts that were atypical but not yet cancerous.

"I didn't wait to be in a situation of having breast cancer," she tells me. "And I want to be there for my patients, not in transference, thinking about my breast cancer while I'm treating them."

She points out that her personal decision for breast-cancer prevention was the ultrasound that led to a diagnosis of precancer. She now orders ultrasounds in addition to mammograms, particularly for patients with dense, lumpy breasts.

Reichman also wants women to make decisions about hormone replacement therapy based on medical facts instead of scary studies she considers incomplete. For many women, she says, HRT comes down to a quality-of-life issue, eliminating hot flashes, mood swings and memory fade.

For years, Reichman has been a member of the pro-HRT camp. She maintains data is not complete, and the risk still is low.

For example, she does not equate HRT with her own precancerous breast cells. Research suggests that if HRT does anything, it may stimulate the growth of already-cancerous cells, she says, but that it doesn't cause normal cells to become malignant.

Other specialists are equally vehement in opposition to Reichman, of course.

And, while Reichman's views are controversial, her conclusion, she says, is based on experience:

"We are really talking individual decision here," she says. "Many women decide to face life without HRT, but 50 to 60 percent have gone back on."

It comes down to a good night's sleep, she says. And looking good.

"We don't want to look or act like our mothers or our grandmothers. And we don't apologize for it," Reichman says. "We're selfish and self-involved, perhaps, but we are talking here about a woman's health issues."

Not always about physical health, either. The doctor is not averse to cosmetic procedures to maintain good mental health.

She's a big believer in combining disease prevention with staying young in mind and heart.

Reichman sets herself a heavy activity pace, including flying coast to coast twice a month to participate in "Today" interviews. She works out on a treadmill and walks her apricot standard poodle Lucy around Los Angeles.

She believes everything she does is keeping her younger and more fit for a longer time. The ability to keep ourselves young in body and spirit is a bonus, a unique bonus to 21st century longevity.

At any age, you can improve, Reichman says.

"You can slow your clock down and make changes at any point in your life. I don't call it longevity. I call it `wellgevity.'

"And we are so lucky we can make a difference and have the ability to choose."


(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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