By Joseph Maroon, MD, FACS
My life-changing story proves that the impossible really can happen, as long as you have a good action plan. At age 40, I was out of shape, depressed and going through a divorce. Today at age 75, I am a veteran of more than 75 triathlons and I am training for my ninth Iron Man triathlon. I also perform an estimated 300 spine and brain surgeries each year. I’m sharing my story in hopes of helping others turn around their lives.
A life-changing invitation
I was about 40 when I lost my father to a heart attack. I plunged from a bright career as a Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh to helping my mother manage my father’s truck stop in Wheeling, W.Va.
My metamorphosis back to a healthy lifestyle began months later when a local banker invited me to go for a run. I was exhausted after running just four times around the track. But that night was the first time I’d slept well in about a year. I started running more and feeling better. I became something like the Forrest Gump of Bridgeport, Ohio. A running injury led me to cross training. I learned how to swim, started biking, and soon competed in my first triathlon.
The exercise propelled me out of my depression and back onto my feet. I returned to the University as Vice Chairman of Neurological Surgery. I also started to investigate proper nutrition and dietary supplements. I realized this was important to continuing on the trajectory I was on.
My life-changing commitment to fitness, nutrition and exercise brought me professional recognition as well. Among my many accomplishments: I am regarded as a premiere specialist in the surgical treatment of injuries and diseases of the brain and spine, specializing in minimally invasive procedures. I have been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team neurosurgeon since 1981, and am the World Wrestling Entertainment’s medical director. I am Senior Vice-President of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. And I have been inducted into the National Fitness Hall of Fame.
Anti-aging is not complicated
We used to think that longevity was all genetic. It turns out that 20 to 30 percent of the diseases of aging is due to our genes. About 70 percent is environmental.
The anti-aging factors affecting long-lived people can be divided into four areas:
Diet: People in regions where longevity is common eat diets high in fruits, vegetables, fiber, fish, olive oil, olives and red wine.
Exercise/work: Long-lived people work very hard. Physical work and exercise increases brain cells and neuroplasticity, which is our ability to combine and use diverse amounts of information. If you don’t have a physically demanding career, it’s essential to build fitness into your lifestyle in other ways.
Environmental factors: The environments of long-lived people are not contaminated with BPA, mercury, lead, air pollutants and pesticides in their foods.
Control over stress. Stress releases cortisol, which contributes to heart attacks. It can lead to osteoporosis. It kills brain cells and literally causes your brain to shrink. Long-lived people generally have very strong family units. They meditate. They have strong spirituality. It’s how they control stress.
Our genes are influenced by all of the above. If we eat a burger with meat infused with hormones and antibiotics, from cows fed nothing but corn, and we wash it down with a big glass of phosphoric acid and high fructose corn syrup, then add trans fats from French fries, these foods will tell our genes and chromosomes to make inflammatory agents which contribute to heart disease, cancer and arthritis. In contrast, a diet comprised of lean meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, and olive oil will release anti-inflammatory agents that help to keep our brain and the rest of our body healthy.
My supplement regimen
In addition to the above, including appropriate supplements to your daily regimen will give you the best shot at a longer, healthier life. Here’s what I take every day:
- NIAGEN®: Every cell in our body contains 300 to 400 mitochondria, which produce our energy (ATP). If you don’t have enough ATP, your cells don’t function properly. And if enough cells don’t function, you get sick. To stay healthy, your cells need NAD+. NIAGEN® is a highly effective NAD+ booster. Other supplements that help to stimulate mitochondria as we age include L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid and L acetyl cysteine.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are natural anti-inflammatories recommended by the American Heart Association. Most people should be taking at least 1.0 to 1.5 grams of DHA and EPA. If you have joint problems, go up to 3 grams a day.
- Probiotics: These help to replenish the friendly bacteria in your intestines, where 70 percent of your immune system resides.
- Magnesium citrate: This is important for bone health as well as nerve and muscle function.
- Vitamin D3: This supplies some protection against multiple diseases and conditions. Take it with Vitamin K to get maximum absorption.
I feel at least 20 years younger than my chronological age. My life is an example of how you can improve your health regardless of your current age. I just finished a three-day, 70-mile hike with a group of soldiers. I am still a practicing neurosurgeon. I could never do what I do if I didn’t maintain a high level of physical fitness. True, my family sometimes thinks that I take it to an extreme perhaps, but for me it is just part of my life.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
About the author: Joseph C. Maroon, MD, FACS is Professor and Vice chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery and Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. In addition to being a renowned neurosurgeon, he is a sports medicine expert, health and nutrition expert and Ironman triathlete.