The biggest factor that determines how well you age is not your genes but how well you live. Not convinced? A new study of 20,000 British citizens published in the British Medical Journal shows that you can cut your risk of having a stroke in half by doing the following four things: being active for 30 minutes a day, eating five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding cigarettes and excess alcohol.
"Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "It's like the oil-and-lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better." Study after study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve mood, mental acuity, balance, muscle mass, and bone health. "And the benefits kick in immediately after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if you're not a gym rat. Those who see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go from doing nothing to simply walking around the neighborhood or local mall for about 30 minutes a day. Building muscle with resistance training is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training effects if you're not into weight lifting.