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Dr. Andrew Weil: Living longer, better

Dr. Andrew Weil believes that good medicine begins with the premise that the body can heal itself.


(CNN) -- Dr. Andrew Weil is arguably America's foremost practitioner of alternative medicine, or as he likes to call it, integrative medicine. He believes the key to a long and healthy life lies in staying active, eating more fruit and grains, and practicing massage and meditation in order to shed stress.

Weil's new book is "Healthy Aging," a subject he discussed recently with CNN correspondent Heidi Collins. Here is an edited version of their discussion.

COLLINS: Can you make me live longer?

WEIL: I don't know. Possibly by reducing your risks of the age-related diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. But, my emphasis is not on life extension. It's on healthy aging. So, I'm trying to keep you healthy as long as possible.

COLLINS: So, what is the key to longevity?

WEIL: I think the key to longevity is delaying the onset and reducing the risk of age-related disease. Age-related disease are these big categories of illness that become more common after age 60 and that account for a great deal of premature death and disability. So, the big ones are cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease and its relative. So, I think the emphasis is on preventing those, showing you how to reduce the risk or delay the onset. And if you came to me as a patient, I would look at your family history, personal history to see where your greatest risks were. And then I would concentrate the preventive efforts in those areas.

COLLINS: So, I mean, this isn't all that complicated?

WEIL: I don't think it's all that complicated. It just means doing some work, though. It means doing some homework and then learning the information that you need then applying it. And it's applying it really in all areas of your lifestyle. It means looking at how you eat, how you use dietary supplements, how you exercise, how you handle stress, how you sleep, how you rest, how you deal with your mind. You know, you really need to work in all those areas to ensure healthy aging.

COLLINS: So, if I breathe, if I put flowers in my house, if I get massaged by love, if I have spiritual health, if I walk, dance, golf, and couple other things, I am going to feel better longer?

WEIL: Yes, probably. But, if you ...

COLLINS: I forgot eat fruits and vegetables.

WEIL: Correct. But, if you are smoking also, I probably can't do much for you. And if you're not paying attention to weight and not paying attention to your cholesterol and not paying attention to other medical risks that you may have, you know, you can put all the flowers you want in your house and it's not gonna help. So, you know, we have to attend to that part of you as well.

COLLINS: What's the bottom line with stress? How do we learn to maintain nonstress?

WEIL: There's lots of ways of doing that. Everything from doing yoga to listening to relaxing music to getting massaged. My favorite techniques are breathing methods because they're so cost efficient and time efficient. And these mostly come from the yoga tradition. But, they're simple. I mean, there's a relaxing breath that I teach that takes all of two minutes a day to practice that has a remarkable effects if you do it regularly over time.

COLLINS: How much of being healthy and living longer is really up to the individual?

WEIL: Well, I think most of it's up to the individual. You know, a lot of people ask me how much is genetics and how much is environment and lifestyle? I think it's always both. My way of thinking of this is that we're all dealt a certain hand of genetic cards, some good, some bad. But, it's up to us how we play them.

COLLINS: Okay. So, we'll keep this one simple. But if you were to give me the sort of outline to walk away with today, diet-wise.

WEIL: Eat fewer foods of animal origin; more fruits and vegetables; more plant-based protein from soy foods, for example. Make sure you've got omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, either from oily fish, or fish oil supplements. Try to reduce consumption of quick-digesting carbohydrate foods, which are the ones made from any kind of flour, sugar, high fructose corn syrup.

And try to eat more of the slower-digesting carbohydrate foods, which are beans, whole grains, packed grains, winter squashes, sweet potatoes. Really learn the differences between good fats and bad fats. Use olive oil as a main cooking oil. Include nuts, seeds, avocados, in your diet.

Take a good multivitamin, multimineral supplement. Add things to the diet, like green tea and dark chocolate and red wine, in moderation, if you want their antioxidant effects.

COLLINS: Should we have dogs?

WEIL: I can't imagine life without dogs. It doesn't have to be dogs. There's very interesting medical research showing that people who have pets recover faster from illness. They get out of the hospital faster if they have surgery. So I think there's a lot of benefits to being involved with, you know, other things than yourself.

COLLINS: Anything else?

WEIL: Well, I think aside from eating right, you want to maintain physical activity throughout life. And that doesn't mean you have to run marathons, or go to aerobics classes. Walking is a perfectly good physical activity if you do enough of it regularly enough. You want to learn some method of stress management. You know, as I said, I like breathing exercises. But, you know, anything you can do. You want to really try to identify negative thought patterns that lead to negative behavior, and see how you can change them.

I think you want to keep your mind active, whether that's by learning another language, or changing your computer operating system frequently. You want to stay connected and involved with life. I think you really want to try to focus on the positive attributes that come with aging, as well as the negative ones.

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