Bob Greene, famed as Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer, has a new book out, “20 Years Younger,” and will be sharing tips from it — and a few free copies — this evening from 7 to 9 at the Natick mall’s first floor atrium.
The Empire of Oprah can sometimes venture into some, shall we say, non-peer-reviewed advice? But his prescriptions have always tended to strike me as sensible and backed by reasonable evidence. Before we get into “20 Years Younger,” I asked him to formulate today’s “Why To Exercise.” His response:
Successful people look at today and find ways, even if their life is falling apart, to be happy today and feel good today and treat themselves right. And exercise and eating right is nurturing yourself every day. Whether or not the world is doing that, or close friends and family are doing that, you have the opportunity every day to nurture yourself, which is the most important thing to do because it also affects others.
Now for the book. Our conversation, lightly edited:
Funny coincidence about the title of your new book, “20 Years Younger.” I was just talking to a friend who recently returned from a high school reunion of 50-year-olds, and she said it looked sort of like two separate reunions, one of 40-year-olds and one of 60-year-olds. What would you say is the lesson there?
You know genetics comes into play. However, I think a lot of people — especially with weight loss — can use that to kind of de-motivate themselves, to give up, or as an excuse. The truth is, we’re dealt a hand of cards, genetics does dictate a piece of the pie. However, our lifestyle is turning out to be much more important than that.
If you take smoking, for example — I quote one study in the book of identical twins, one who smoked and one who didn’t. And it’s exactly like your reunion analogy, it was like one twin was 15 or 20 years older than the other twin. So the lifestyle issue is huge, and that’s what it is about. I chuckle because my 20-year reunion was pretty much exactly what you described.
Could you sum up the message of ’20 Years Younger?’ At first glance, it seems to be diet and exercise plus sleep and skin care?
The main thing is that there’s a lot you can do to both slow down the effects of age and actually reverse the effects of age. I’m a scientist by nature, that’s my graduate degree and I have never promised crazy results or gimmicky things, even though people said you need to do that because that’s what sells books.
The truth is the Oprah show came to me and said, ‘Let’s take 20 women,’ and by the way all 20 had just amazing challenges in their lives, because it’s the Oprah show and they want to make an interesting story — and they said, ‘We’ll give you two months to do on this program.’ Part of it was diet and exercise, and of course in two months that won’t show up much — even if you lose 40 pounds, you barely see much of a difference on TV. So I was nervous, but the results were crazy.
You can exercise and that will take you so far, but when you start interacting that with getting the right sleep and eating the right food and the skin care component, it was crazy results. I can’t even explain them. People who were diabetic no longer had diabetes; chronic hypertension was reversed. I know all this can happen, it just doesn’t usually happen within two months. The diet is really strong, using superfoods, and we had them taking calcium and Omega 3-s. They just did everything right, and we controlled for those four areas in the book.
We didn’t just ‘throw in sleep and skin care,’ it was more that those were the areas that really vetted out, where you can make drastic changes. The sleep side is highly ignored. I won’t say it’s simple, because it usually means readjusting your life to accommodate a sleep schedule, but every disease and ailment is accelerated if you don’t get the right sleep. And as you age, it’s harder to sleep, your sleep drive decreases. It’s that third stage of sleep — not REM sleep — where the body repairs itself, and most of us are getting very little if any of that reparative sleep, and there are simple things you can do to change that.
I just glimpsed Oprah on TV this morning and she was looking great, but a couple of years ago she was very public about having hit a really major crash in her efforts to be fit and healthy, and was back up over 200 pounds. Again, what’s the lesson? Are we doomed to just keep on falling off that horse again and again, and getting back on?
A lot of people write that Oprah has so much money, she can afford to work with me and have a chef and fly in healthy food. That’s irrelevant because people don’t look at the real challenges for everyone.
Some people say to me, ‘Isn’t your livelihood tied to her results?’ and in some ways it is but in some ways my message is actually stronger when she’s struggling. The truth of the matter is, when you really understand it, it’s so silly when people pin it on a diet or a workout. It’s all psychology. It’s: Do you want to invest in yourself a little bit every day, and do you have the patience to do that? And for most people, unfortunately, the answer is no.
When I write a book, I have no illusions; If I can reach even 10 or 15% of the people who buy that book, I’m doing a really good job. The hardest thing for humans to do is to change. That’s why you need new ways to motivate people. And to be honest, if you look at the group that’s successful, most of them had seven or eight tries and failures before they got it.