"Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven't committed" - British author Anthony Powell in Temporary Kings, 1973

Done right, aging needn't feel like a punishment. Studies show that people who live to age 100, as a rule, feel fine into their 90s. But commit crimes against your body - the body you're stuck with for as long as you survive - and the passing years can wreak havoc on your health before you're 50.

Some survival strategies require little elaboration:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid coronary heart disease and other killer conditions associated with being overweight by keeping your weight in check: Eat fruits and vegetables and limit your intake of fat and calories. And work out regularly, being sure to combine stretching for flexibility, aerobics for endurance and weight training for strength.
  • Don't smoke. Quitting reduces your risk of heart disease almost immediately, and over the years also reduces your chance of getting lung diseases, including cancer.
  • Protect yourself from the sun's deadly rays. Age is a risk factor for skin cancer, a sometimes deadly condition that is diagnosed in more than a million Americans each year. To lower your risk, try to avoid unnecessary sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. And when you are outdoors, wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
  • Don't drink to excess. While studies have shown that a single drink each day might not harm health - and might even have some beneficial effects - too much alcohol can damage almost every organ in the body and weaken the immune system.

Other strategies in the quest to stay forever young are not so simple, but are also within your power to affect.

"Until recently, we thought the best recipe for a long life was to have long-lived parents," says Daniel Perry, founder and executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research. "Now we know that a vast amount is up to us, by our choices, our behaviors and the environment we live in."