New research shows you can affect your future health with simple changes and it is never too late to start.

At 44, I feel like an old woman. I´m bothered by aches and pains. I have trouble remembering things. My digestive system is becoming ever more cranky. Plus, I am exhausted much of the time–a real problem because I have a 4–year–old son to chase around. I have a lot of worries now about how I´ll keep up with my little dynamo, and whether I´ll be able to find the strength and energy to enjoy my life in the coming years. But when I recently confided my anxiety to a friend, she said: “What are you talking about? Your skin is fantastic! You look like you haven´t aged one bit!”

Her response prompted an epiphany: While I´ve always taken anti-aging quite seriously, my efforts were limited to skin and hair care. As an up–until–now unrepentant shallow American, I thought the smartest thing to do was to focus my efforts on looking younger, longer. But now I´ve realized that my glowing complexion needs a healthy, vital body to carry it around town. By the same token, my happiness and inner strength are hardly powered by my outward glow.

Clearly, something needs to be done. But will my efforts be worth making? I´ve already reached the dreaded “middle age.” I can´t go back and undo the lifestyle mistakes of my past (and believe me, there are plenty). Plus, scary diseases like Alzheimer´s, heart disease, digestive problems, and diabetes loom large on every limb of my family tree. Should I even bother? Yes, says Dean Ornish, M.D., a California–based mind-body cardiologist, physician, and author of The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health (Ballantine Books). “Heredity is not destiny,” he says. “You can influence the way your genes are expressed.” Making an effort to improve your health will improve your health, Ornish promises. “We published a study that showed that within three months, you can turn on disease-preventing genes and turn off disease-promoting ones,” he says. “Within hours, you can have improved blood flow to the brain, grow new brain cells, and feel energized.”

That´s good for me and others like me who are feeling time take its toll—and for younger women who want to get a jump–start on lasting health. Here´s a guide to aging gracefully in every area of your life, no matter how old you are. Of course, the basics—eating mostly plant-based foods, getting plenty of exercises, and stressing less—are crucial. But if you’re doing everything right and still looking to feel a little better, these are a few of your best bets for realizing Ornish´s promise, and experiencing health and vitality no matter your age.