Can a simple stretching program erase pain or even reverse aging? In her new book Miranda Esmonde-White talks about how her fitness program can literally turn back the clock.

Here, some top myths about the aging process and how a simple exercise program can have a big impact.

cover-aging-backwardsThe following is excerpted from Aging Backwards: 10 Years Younger and 10 Years Lighter in 30 Minutes a Day.  Copyright © 2014 Miranda Esmonde-White.  Published by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Every day, no matter what our age or current health status, we have a very clear choice: We can grow older or we can grow younger.

I mean this quite literally.

Some people might not see aging as a choice -- they see it as something they have no control over, just like the passage of time. But with the information I share in this book, I hope to convince you that you absolutely do have a choice in the age of your bones, your muscles, your internal organs, and your skin.

You can decide if you want to spend your days feeling vital, energetic, and healthy, and joyfully use your body to exercise, travel, and play with your children (or grandchildren) -- or if you want to be confined to a life of joint and back pain, limited mobility, and a lack of physical strength that keep you sitting on a bench and watching others do the things you once did.

The difference between these two extremes is a matter of 30 minutes a day-that's all.You already possess the power to determine your body's true age. The choice is yours: Passively allow the aging process to take over, or actively counter the aging process in a mere half hour a day.

Me, I like that kind of deal. I plan on staying young forever (or as close to it as I can manage!). And I hope you do, too. I can show you how.

Until very recently, medical researchers believed that many of the negative effects of aging were inevitable. As we grow old, conventional wisdom has told us, our skin sags, our muscles waste away, we gain weight, and we eventually develop a chronic disease, such as heart disease or cancer, which will kill us. (Is it any wonder we are such a youth- obsessed culture?)

But in the past few years, scientists have made tremendous discoveries that offer a different picture of what it looks like to get older.

Consider these common myths about aging that have recently been disproved:

Myth: Our brains grow only until we’re in our twenties— and then they start to die.

Truth: Neuroscientists have proved that, as long as we stay mentally active, our brains can actually keep growing and adding brain cells well into our twilight years, through the miracle of “brain plasticity.” (And the most powerful booster of brain plasticity? Exercise.)

Myth: Our metabolism slows down when we hit 40.

Truth: If we do absolutely no exercise, yes, our metabolism will start to take a hit at 40. But study after study over the last 25 years has proved that people who consistently exercise three times a week can completely avoid age-related metabolic slowdown and actually retain the same metabolism as people almost 40 years younger.

Myth: Our skin will inevitably age and wrinkle—our only defense is good genes.

Truth: We know now that many, many factors have an impact on the health of our skin. And, luckily, the amount of sun exposure can be countered with sunscreen. The amount of free radical activity can be countered with a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet packed with free radical–fighting antioxidants. The impact of gravity on the skin’s elasticity and firmness can be lessened with plenty of fresh water, enough deep sleep, and—you guessed it—exercise. (Recent research found just 3 months of exercising twice a week can restore the skin of 60-year-old sedentary folks to the same state as that of a 20- to 40-year-old!)

Myth: Our muscles inevitably fade away with each passing decade.

Truth: If we don’t use it, we will lose it. But if we do use it—meaning, if we engage our muscles—we don’t need to lose a single ounce of muscle. One University of Pitts- burgh study looked at a cross section of 40 recreational athletes aged 40 to 81 who exer- cised four or five times a week. They underwent MRI scans, body composition testing, and quadriceps strength testing; the researchers measured their muscle mass and the amount of fat under their skin and between their muscles. The researchers found that, with exercise, the athletes could retain exactly the same levels of lean muscle mass from their forties into their eighties—in fact, some of the older exercisers had even more lean muscle tissue than the younger athletes.

Myth: Our joints are destined to fail.

Truth: Our joints fail not from age but from mismanagement. If we learn how to pro- tect our body from intense impact (by learning to walk gently), pay attention to range of motion in our training, and learn the proper ways to support our joints with flexible muscles, our original joints—the ones we are born with!—should remain healthy until our very last days.

Myth: Everyone gets cancer/diabetes/heart disease eventually.

Truth: Up to 34 percent of cancer risk is directly attributable to lifestyle choices.6 Every kilogram of weight loss lowers your risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent—so losing just 10 pounds could reduce your diabetes risk by over 60 percent.7 A study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 82 percent of heart disease and heart attacks in women can be attributed to factors such as smoking, not exercising, being overweight, or eating a high-glycemic-index diet.

If these truths seem hard to believe, I’m not surprised.The dogma has long held that we are powerless against the march of time. After all, research had long found that, between the ages of 40 and 50, adults lose up to 8 percent of our muscle mass, with the loss accel- erating to over 15 percent per decade after we hit 75.9 The assumption has always been that this muscle loss was simply an inevitable consequence of aging.

But just in the last five years, the field of aging research has exploded with new clin- ical findings.Those scientists from the University of Pittsburgh and other well-respected medical centers have been proving just how wrong the assumption that age equals muscle loss has been. They’ve found that aging is far more a consequence of lifestyle choices than of calendar years. In fact, many of the symptoms we associate with aging are actually the result of not just the wear and tear on our bodies from years of use but also the negative effects of disuse. In our muscles are the keys to our longevity—the mystical wellspring of youth, called the mitochondria—the powerhouses of the cells. If we can keep these mitochondrial fires burning, our muscles—not to mention our bones, hearts, lungs, skin—can all enjoy the vitality and energy of youth, right up until our final days.

The secret to keeping these powerhouses well fed and burning strong may surprise you. You don’t have to run marathons. (Unless you want to.) You don’t have to spend hours grunting in the gym. (Unless you’re into that kind of thing.) All you have to do is something that takes just a few minutes every day and makes your body feel lighter, leaner, smoother, more graceful, and relaxed. All you need to do is stretch.

NEXT: Lose 10 Pounds and 10 Years in 10 Minutes

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