Ecks and the City: How old do you think I am?


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At the Cleveland Clinic, Eckler is subjected to a number of treatments (blood pressure, oxygen consumption and grip strength) assessing her so-called ‘real age’

I’m not sure I really want to know my “real age.” Technically, I’m 40. But the latest trend is finding out your “real age” — either by doing Internet quizzes or visiting a place like Toronto’s Cleveland Clinic.

The RealAge test is a unique calculation of your body’s health age, revealing your body’s true age, the effect your lifestyle has on aging, and how it will affect your life expectancy. Questions probe your exercise regimes, how much alcohol you drink, how long you are sitting down a day, how many people you can go to in times of trouble and your income level. Basically, it tells you if you are aging gracefully or not.

For example, a five-foot, five-inch woman aged 35 who exercises regularly, eats well and drinks a daily glass of alcohol, could have a body age of 30. But without exercise, she could jump to 33. A tall, 52-year-old man who does low-intensity exercises, eats moderately but drinks two beers a night may have a real body age of 56.

I did Oprah’s RealAge quiz online, answering a half-hour’s worth of questions. I was actually pretty disappointed with the results, since I don’t drink (that much), exercise regularly, and have great friends. I act like I’m 22; in my head I’m 28; but usually I feel about, well, I think 40. (After no sleep because of a crying baby, I feel 80.) I learned that my “real age” is not 40: it’s 38.1 — just over a year and a half younger than my actual age!

But the calculator, aside from being a fun procrastination tool, does serve a purpose —  it got me thinking about aging gracefully and preventative steps, so I won’t be a 45-year-old with a “real body age” of 76. I’d rather be a 76 year old with a “real body age” of 55.

So, I headed down to the Cleveland Clinic to take part in their Executive Health Evaluation. Truth time. I was not supposed to drink any alcohol the previous night but had a glass of wine, causing me to arrive at the clinic thinking, “Now they’re going to tell me I’m actually 87!”

But I do want to be proactive. First I meet with registered dietitian Mary Bamford to have a talk. She says people of all ages are being proactive by taking their tests, so they can age in a healthy way. Because people are living longer now, patients want to live their glory years as healthy as possible.

“With our tests, we can give you a pretty good predictor of your overall health and how you can add years to your life,” Bamford says.

In the past, the clinic was used solely by top executives and NHL players. Now it’s 50 per cent execs and athletes, but they have just as many individuals coming in for testing. “It’s about quality of life. If we can guide you, after testing, then you will feel a couple years younger,” she says. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘If only I knew about this 10 years ago!’

Unfortunately, genetics can come into play. “Not everything is under our control,” Bamford says. “But we can keep optimizing you for a great quality of life.”

I can’t help but ask, “Isn’t it all about common sense? Eat in moderation? Exercise?” She says it’s no longer that simple. Along with all the fad diets out there, it can be hard to use common sense.

“Some people may need a mix of the Atkins diet with the Mediterranean diet. We figure out what’s best for you. It’s very personalized.”

My blood pressure is taken (on the low side, but it always has been), and the circumference of my waist is measured (none of your business!). Then the fun (not) part begins. I meet Horacio Pizzanelli, the exercise physiologist who puts me through a number of tests, which he records on his iPad.

First I do the VO2 max, which measures my volume of oxygen consumption. (A mask is put on my face and I’m wearing a heart monitor, too.) I start jogging on the treadmill, and every two minutes he ups the climb, checking my cardio activity. I stop at 10 minutes.

Next he tests the flexibility of my hips. We move on to leg presses, grip presses and even high jumps.

“There are many right ways to eat and exercise, but it’s not one size fits all. That’s why we can personalize it for our patients, so they can have a quality lifestyle for as long as possible,” he says.

We head into Pizzanelli’s office where he’s printed out my results. There is some good news … and some not-so-good news. My hydration is good, but I’m underweight, which means my lean body mass and body fat mass is below normal. However, I’m “excellent” (strong) in my stomach and both legs, but my grip strength is weaker, which could cause problems later in life. My right arm is “excellent” in its muscle mass, while my left arm is a little under where the “normal” muscle mass should be. I also did “much better than average” with my cardio test.

A full-on test at the clinic takes about five hours — a head-to-toe medical evaluation with physicians and clinicians from different disciplines assessing your overall heath needs. So, now, as a preventive measure and to kick oh, seven years off my life, I’m going to start strength training again, which makes me hungry, which will make me gain weight. Cleveland has given me the insight I needed about my body to be proactive.

“People are living longer but not necessarily longer, healthier lives, and that’s why we are here to help,” says Bamford. And though my actual age is 40, my real age, according to Oprah’s website, is 38. So I’m not really lying, at all, when I tell people I’m 38.

Post City Magazines’ columnist Rebecca Eckler is the author of Knocked Up, Wiped!, and her latest books, How to Raise a Boyfriend and The Lucky Sperm Club.

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