'Counter Clockwise' Offers Thought-Provoking View of Healthy Aging

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I never really thought about aging until 2008. One evening that year, I was playing tennis with some friends when all of the sudden I was stopped literally in my tracks with the most awful pain in my foot. That pain, which felt like someone was stabbing a knife into the sole of my foot, was plantar fasciitis. While it isn’t a symptom of menopause, this condition develops most often in people between the ages of 40 and 60. And it was my first major injury – and one that didn’t heal very fast.


    Since that night, I’ve identified more signs of my body’s aging, many of them coming during the menopausal transition. Seeing those changes in myself and other women my age along with serving as a caregiver for elderly parents has caused me to really start thinking about healthy aging. But what does that mean?

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    Thanks to a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Year’s Best Books for the Road Ahead,” I found a guide. Her name is Lauren Kessler and she describes herself as “an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and self-designated guinea pig journalist.”  She also serves as the director of the Literary Nonfiction Program and professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Her book is called, “Counter Clockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate, and the Other Adventures in the World of Anti-Aging” and it is well worth a read.


    After purchasing this book in December, I dove right in and was instantly taken with her writing style. Kessler not only looks into the various types of anti-aging claims and research out there, but she also serves as our surrogate in testing these recommendations. And she delves into a variety of topics, including supplements, plastic surgery, diet, calorie reduction, cleanses, exercise, mitochondria and health numbers.


    Early in the book, Kessler points out that we each have two distinct aging processes going on in our bodies. The first is primary aging, which consists of the body actually aging itself. The second type of aging, which actually overlaps primary aging, is called – surprise – secondary aging. And what’s surprising here is that secondary aging – what we do or don’t do – can alter primary aging. She points out that many researchers estimate that secondary aging is responsible for 70 percent of how quickly or slowly we will age. That number should definitely get your attention and cause you to start asking questions about how well you’re taking care of yourself!


    What I really liked about Kessler’s book is that she showcases the science but also includes the various stakeholders that are trying to claim their space in the aging market. For instance, one of her first chapters starts with a report from the 18th Annual International Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine and Regenerative Biomedical Technologies. During the conference (which she describes as the frontier of anti-aging), she explores hormone replacement therapy, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, Earthing and Redox Signaling.


  • But she also looks at topics closer to home. For instance, Kessler completes many of the “Find Out Your Real Age” tests that are readily available online. And she participates in a comprehensive physical assessment to determine her fitness rate. She also describes the cleanse she consumes, as well as the calorie –restricted diet she tries.

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    But most importantly, Kessler evaluates the psychological aspect of anti-aging. And it was this chapter – entitled “Thinking Young” – that I applauded the most. In this section, Kessler equates having a positive attitude to the placebo effect in research studies. That’s because people’s mindset can affect their bodies. For instance, Kessler points to research that men and women who have positive attitudes live more than seven years longer than people with negative attitudes. That doesn’t seem surprising until you learn that the health of some of the people who live longer wasn’t as good as the participants who had negative attitudes.


    Finally, I also appreciate the conclusion that Kessler comes to after reading all the research and serving as our guinea pig. She believes that what we need to do is to stop focusing on the quest to remain young and instead focus our energies on high-level wellness so that we have the physical and mental capacity to live an invested life. And that’s something to which we all should aspire!


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    Kessler, L. (2013). Counter clockwise: My year of hypnosis, hormones, dark chocolate, and other adventures in the world of anti-aging. Rodale Books.

Published On: January 30, 2014