"I've learned from the literature, especially the groundbreaking MacArthur Foundation study, that lifestyle choices trump genes. Not always. Not for all people. But to know that how and how quickly (or slowly) we age is determined 30 percent by genes and 70 percent by choices within our control is huge, empowering, energizing news for everyone — but especially for someone like me whose mother died of Alzheimer's and whose father suffered from coronary artery disease.

"I've learned that the healthy, youth-promoting lifestyle advice that is so frequently and ubiquitously given and now seems so obvious that it's not worth mentioning anymore is not obvious to more than 90 percent of us and is very much worth mentioning. I was floored by the findings of a retrospective study published in the American Journal of Medicine that looked at midlife and older adults' adherence to the five behaviors most associated with vitality and health: eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, engaging in regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol. Nothing earthshaking there, no medical breakthroughs, just the ho-hum we know so well, right? The study found that in 1988, 15 percent of adults ages 40 to 75 followed all five behaviors. Fifteen. Catch your breath, because in 2006, according to the study, only 8 percent were following those behaviors. Astonishingly, amid the backyard-farmer, farmers' market, locavore, and organic movements — not to mention the medical-media juggernaut touting a healthy diet — those who regularly ate five servings of fruits and vegetables a day decreased from 42 percent in 1988 to 26 percent by the mid-2000s. (During the same period, and undoubtedly related to it, the rate of adult obesity went from 28 to 36 percent.) The lesson I take from this is that many of us, far too many of us, are making our own beds and will be lying — permanently — in them. As in eternal rest. And too soon. It is the underside of having all this control over our own health and aging."