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Investigations: Michael Roizen

image: Research headerGrowing younger In 1994, Michael Roizen met a patient in his pre-operative clinic who was being treated for elevated blood pressure. The 47-year-old man informed Roizen, professor and chair of anesthesia and critical care at the U of C since 1985, that many doctors wouldn't treat his borderline case because it wasn't that serious.

But, Roizen explained, the patient's condition actually made his body function as if he were five years older than if he had a blood pressure in a more normal range. "You live with the arteries of someone who's 52," Roizen said, to the chagrin of the patient, Martin Rom. In fact, the observation hit Rom so hard that, with Roizen, he soon started a company devoted to determining "real age."

The partners' RealAge, Inc., has since spawned a well-trafficked Internet site, a best-selling book, a nationally syndicated column, and a second book deal. Their RealAge method yields a "net present value" of age that accounts not only for biological factors but also for 126 behavioral, environmental, and social influences.

"These factors influence how well and how long you live, and you control over 70 percent of them," says Roizen. "I wanted to let people know there are specific choices, the value of their choices, and that they can control their health."

Some 40 to 100 pages of health-related articles cross Roizen's desk every day, so he is well aware of the need for clarity. "If I'm confused by it, the public's got to be confused as well," he says. "And so what RealAge tries to do is set criteria." The RealAge criteria fall into three categories: things that increase your real age, things that decrease your real age, and things that have no effect on your real age. The RealAge methodology is based on data that give the "real" effect of certain behaviors on the body. Flossing, for example, has a huge effect--6.4 years younger--on real age, says Roizen, noting that flossing is 300 times more powerful than getting a flu shot, which can have a mere six-day effect. By contrast, he says, smoking can increase real age by as much as eight years.

In 1996, RealAge launched a free Internet program ( to spread the message. At the same time, Roizen decided to write a companion book so that RealAge information would be available to everyone. RealAge: Are You as Young as You Can Be? (Cliff Street Books) went through 53 versions, with each chapter reviewed by five physicians and three scientists. Almost five million people have taken the RealAge test on the Internet, and Roizen's book has topped the best--seller lists in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Brazil.

In November, Roizen began a syndicated column, "The Real-Ager," that has been picked up by 11 newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Atlanta Journal--Constitution. Currently Roizen is working on a second installment of RealAge, called The RealAge Café: Eating In and Eating Out to Keep Your RealAge Young.

"My goal in this is to change the health of the nation," Roizen says. "It's not a small goal. But even if all you're doing is getting people to realize how important lifting weights is or how important taking calcium is, you're having a real effect. Is it changing the health of the nation? No, but give it a little while." --B.B.

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Gift trapped

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