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Why Glorious Women Never Age

Dr. Christiane Northrup's new PBS show teaches growing older gracefully

By Suzanne Gerber

It’s been five years since Dr. Christiane Northrup’s last PBS show, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, in which the women’s-health pioneer shared secrets for embracing our innate inner wisdom and transforming the second half of life. And for five years, millions of women have been waiting — if not breathlessly (Northrup wouldn’t approve of that), then certainly with bated breath for the next one.
Now it’s here, airing on PBS stations in March (check your local listings). It was worth the wait.
In Glorious Women Never Age, Northrup lays out her seven-step program for growing older with strength, vigor, vitality, optimism and, yes, sexiness. To kickstart her research, she crowdsourced ideas about aging gracefully from her large Facebook following. Responses ranged from “with dignity” to “like Katharine Hepburn.” But Northrup's personal favorite came from a woman who said she wanted her obit to read that she’d fallen off her platform shoes pole dancing at the senior center and died instantly at age 104.
(MORE: ‘There is No Cure for Aging’ — So Embrace It)
What Determines How You'll Grow Older

“How you move through time is what determines how you’ll grow older,” says Northrup. “It’s also dependent on the ‘cultural portal’ you inherited and what you are doing with it. This is Epigenetics — the study of how environment, diet, beliefs and behavior affect how your genes are expressed.”
In her eighth PBS special, Northrup describes a remarkable study by Harvard’s Ellen Langer, in which men in their 70s and 80s were taken to a monastery. Half were told to live in the present; the other half had a 1950s scenario recreated and were instructed to live as if they were in their prime of life. After one week, the “regressed” group looked 10 years younger and tests of their memory, eyesight, hearing and even muscle mass had improved measurably.
This is the understanding behind Northrup’s first step, Reframe Aging.

“Aging means deterioration and decline in our culture,” she notes. “Gerontology is the study of the pathology of aging — not of getting better or taller because you do yoga. Modern medicine is about disease. It’s about lifeboats trying to save you. But I want to work way upstream, before the problems set in.”
(MORE: What If We Stopped Fearing Aging?)
She’s passionate about getting this message out — now — while we have sufficient time to make the shifts in our lifestyle and belief system that can prevent the degenerative diseases whose risks heighten with age.
“This pledge special is so important because of the enormity of the demographic,” she says. “The media and advertising worlds think we’re feeble and useless, but baby boomers are the third largest economy in the world. And that realization — that you’re part of an economic machine that has driven an entire culture since you were a teenager — can dismantle the disempowerment that runs throughout your life after age 50. We need to tell them, ‘Hey, sell me something that’s not a diaper.’ Do you know the demographic that buys the most new cars? 75 to death.”
Right From the Start
Northrup grew up bucking a system she never bought into. “I spent the first half of my life studying everything that can go wrong with a woman’s body and figuring out how to fix it. Now I’m devoted to teaching women everything that can go right,” she says. “But for most of my career, I was paddling a little far ahead of the wave. I think I’m finally right at the crest.” (Or perhaps the world has finally caught up?)
Lucky for Northrup, her parents supported her every step of the way. As a young girl, her mother became disenchanted with the Catholic Church after a cruelly oppressive experience. “If this is religion,” she said, “I don’t want any part of it.”
When her mother married an observant Episcopalian, she told him he could go to his church and she’d go to hers. Then she’d take a long walk in nature or stay home and cook whole foods for her growing clan. That Episcopalian became a holistic dentist, and he’d bring his wife’s homemade organic yogurt to his patients who were on antibiotics.
“My parents always listened to their children,” Northrup recalls. “They weren’t the curmudgeonly old ‘I know better than you do, young people.’”
And guess who’s in the front row of this special? Eighty-eight-year-old Mom, who recently bought a new Subaru SUV, eschewing help from her children and adding another tally to the largest auto-buying demographic.
7 Steps to Agelessness
The inspiration for Glorious Women is Northrup’s most recent book, Goddesses Never Age. (Two of her previous books, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause, were New York Times bestsellers, and the third, Mother-Daughter Wisdom, was voted Amazon's No. 1 book of the year in both its parenting and mind-body health categories.)
But don’t expect to sit passively on the sofa for this special. Northrup practices what she preaches, and when she comes to Step 5, she has the entire TV audience up on its feet, moving and grooving — and clearly having fun. “My dress was specifically designed to not cling and to move well for that part of the program,” she says.
The second step in this age-defying show is Change Your Cultural Programming. Attitudes are far more powerful than your genes, Northrups stresses. “One study found that people who believe there are things worth living for live on average more than seven years longer,” she adds.
(MORE: The True Power of Oldness)
For the rest of the hour, dynamic in that silky cobalt blue dress, Northrup explains the other steps: Stop Participating in Ageism (one hint: ban the phrase “senior moment” from your vocabulary); Enjoy a Sweet Life While Keeping Blood Sugar Stable (the only “diet” advice in the program); Don’t Take Life Sitting Down (and prepare to rise and shine); Develop Centenarian Consciousness and Establish a Subculture of Agelessness.
Those familiar with Northrup know that what sets her apart from the pack is how she blends evidence-based science with heart-centered compassion — and more than a dash of wicked humor. This is a woman who joyfully swallows her own medicine.

And if she’s proof of its effectiveness, why aren’t we all following her lead? It’s not that simple, she acknowledges. “We don’t need another book on diet or exercise. We know what to do. The question is: What’s keeping us from doing that stuff?”
This inspirational show, focusing as it does on attitude and beliefs, might help us get to the heart of that.

Suzanne Gerber, former Living & Learning editor for Next Avenue, writes about inspirational topics including health, food, travel, relationships and spirituality. Read More
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