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The numbers game
It's never too late to start living a healthier, longer life



With the help of her doctor, Diane Tolega has incorporated an exercise and diet routine that is helping her lead a healthier, happier life.

Diane Tolega may not be able to change the date on her birth certificate, but during the past few years she feels sheís shaved a few years off her chronological age through a combination of lifestyle choices and medical approaches.

"I am a meat, potatoes and bread sort of gal. I go out of my way not to eat fruit and vegetables," says Tolega, a Milwaukee grandmother in her late 50s, of her dietary preferences. "Due to family history, Iím also at high-risk for developing breast cancer."

When Tolega realized it was time for a change, she sought the help of Dr. Gojko Stula, an internist with Metro Physicians-Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group, and a practitioner of complimentary and traditional medicine. Under his care, Tolega has incorporated a number of changes that have made her healthier and happier.

"People are used to being taken care of by their physicians; now itís about showing patients how they can become active participants in health," says Stula. "You can definitely extend your life, not always by years, but definitely in quality."

Calculating real vs. chronological age has been made popular by Dr. Mehmet Oz, who first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. The concept is simple: Make changes to your life and roll back the clock.

"A lot of the things we contribute to Ďageí and the way that we age are impacted by so many factors in our individual lives," says Dr. Tiffany Mullen, a board certified family medicine physician at Aurora Advanced Health Care. "As we age, some function is lost, but it doesnít necessarily mean we canít continue living healthy, productive lives."

Mullen says there are a number of factors involved in the way we age, from our diet and exercise patterns to the way we view the world.

"The idea that these changes can impact our health has gone more mainstream, for a number of reasons," she says. "First of all, we can thank Dr. Oz for making people more aware. But we also have a much better understanding of how things like stress and chronic inflammation affect our bodies."

Itís a lesson Tolega has learned firsthand by working with Stula, who has used a variety of integrative medicine techniques to improve her health, from bioidentical hormones to nutritional supplements.

For her part, Tolega has made a commitment to work out, usually incorporating four to five cardio and strength training workouts each week, including spin classes. Though sheís still not a fan of fruits or vegetables, she now takes dietary supplements to help make up any nutritional deficiencies.

"I am not sure if I have added years to my life, but I know if I hadnít made these changes, my quality of life would be completely different," she says. "I know I would be quite obese, and based on the health conditions I was developing, I could see an existence where literally every bone in my body would hurt."

"Itís never too late to start," says Stula of the kind of journey Tolega has taken. "It doesnít matter if you are very sick, starting to show signs of diabetes or just have too much stress in your life. You can start today."

Mullen agrees, saying itís often the small steps that can lead to better health.

"Itís all about meeting people where they are," she says. "If youíre a smoker, maybe itís more realistic to cut back rather than to stop smoking, at least at first. If you are 400 pounds, as a doctor, the goal is not to first guide you into becoming a triathlete. Itís about starting to make better food choices. There are a variety of ways to get control over the situation and your own health."