Book review: ‘Cheat the Clock’

May 17, 2013

Jim Pressler looks good for his age. Very good. “Although I’m 17 years his junior and firmly in my 40s,” writes his wife, Margaret Webb Pressler, “few people ever think there’s any age difference between us at all.”

So how has her husband retained his youth well into his 60s, with his smooth skin, trim bod and full head of black hair? Did he sell his soul? Is he just lucky? Or does he do something special that the rest of us can learn from?

A science writer for The Washington Post, Margaret Webb Pressler decided to unravel the mystery of her husband’s biology. In the course of her new book, “Cheat the Clock,” she describes the many small steps Jim has taken over the past few decades that have paid off. He moisturizes. He flosses. He gets enough sleep. Doesn’t stress out too much. Has a great hobby, a positive outlook and a good sex life. And he has incrementally improved his diet and upped his exercise levels without trying too hard.

These are all things that science has demonstrated can lead to a long and healthy life. Take the flossing: Yes, it can keep your teeth looking good, but it may also stave off the slew of chronic diseases that have been linked to poor oral hygiene. It’s a great example of the seemingly unsubstantial, mundane actions that can pay off big-time. Indeed, what is striking about the healthy behaviors trumpeted in this book — and backed up by science — is that they tend to be moderate, small-bore and, dare I say, achievable. What’s more, Pressler points out that making these changes well into middle age can still reap benefits. It’s not too late!

“Cheat the Clock” gives a fairly comprehensive review of current mainstream scientific thinking about aging and wellness, including clear explanations of the molecular processes that can wreak havoc on our bodies. Pressler’s hope is that understanding the research can help us all make good choices. “Just follow the science,” she writes. “It’s like a cheat-sheet for staying young.”


(Courtesy of Penguin Press)

Well, perhaps, but given the nature of scientific inquiry, that’s a pretty massive, complex and ever-changing cheat-sheet. And while she doesn’t delve much into her husband’s genetic makeup or the environmental effects of his childhood, we can assume that he has had at least some luck there as well. “Cheat the Clock” may be a good guide to a common-sense approach to healthy living, but sadly, we still can’t pick our parents.

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