Straighten up

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Straighten Up
Okay, I'm setting my alarm later, whitening my teeth, avoiding the hairspray, and slathering on sunscreen. But all the gorgeous older women I know carry themselves handsomely; what's that about? "You need to maintain bone strength for good posture," says Lesley Fein, MD, director of the Women's Health Program at the Princeton Longevity Center in New Jersey. You lose .5 to 1 percent of your bone density every year after you turn 40, and that rate can increase to 3 to 7 percent after menopause. Calcium and vitamin D help mitigate the loss, though. In one study, postmenopausal women who took 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily lowered their rate of bone loss by almost half.

You should also develop strong back and shoulder muscles through weight training, says Chris Volgraf, an exercise physiologist at the Longevity Center; research has shown that both strength training and resistance exercise can slow and even reverse bone loss in healthy postmenopausal women. As I wash down a vitamin D supplement with a glass of milk and reach for a five-pound barbell, he tells me that good carriage also comes from practice. So I call Steffany George, a dancer and movement teacher at New York City's famed Stella Adler Studio-of-Acting, who suggests that I root my feet to the ground, breathe deeply into the width of my ribs, and lift the crown of my head toward the sky. "People interpret hunched posture as a sign of gravity's triumph, and straight posture as a sign of energy, confidence, and engagement," she says, adding that she often envisions her spine as a strand of pearls that mustn't hit each other. She tells me about Elizabeth Parrish, an older, master acting teacher who moves "like a silk curtain in the wind." I ask Parrish for her secret. "Some women have a fit when they turn 40 or 50, but instead of gluing yourself to a number, glue yourself to life," she says. She seems to have a very positive view of aging, I say. "And you better have it," she says. "Why," I say, "because it's going to happen to me?"

"If you're lucky," she says.