Life Extension Magazine®
Joan Lunden as she speaks on her experiences with health and aging

Joan Lunden: Why Did I Come Into This Room

Former TV host Joan Lunden’s book, Why Did I Come into This Room? covers aging realities and the science of anti-aging. Lunden spoke with us candidly about how to live your best life at any age.

By Laurie Mathena.

Millions of Americans woke up to Joan Lunden as the co-host of Good Morning America from 1980 to 1997.

Portrait of Joan Lunden

As the longest-running female host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered five presidents and five Olympics, and covered world-changing events like the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But when she left Good Morning America at age 47, in many ways her life was only just beginning.

She remarried in her 40s, had two sets of twins in her 50s—while also raising three teenaged daughters from her first marriage and caring for her aging mother—and fought (and won) her battle with breast cancer in her 60s.

Now, with 70 just around the corner, Lunden [before the pandemic] traveled the country speaking about a topic that has become her passion—healthy aging.

She headlined more than 20 events per year, sharing personal stories on battling cancer, caregiving, and key strategies for aging well, based on the latest science.

In her latest book, Why Did I Come into This Room? Lunden talks candidly about how she’s coping with the realities of aging (from wrinkles and weight gain, to weak pelvic floor, and low sex drive). She also delves into the science of aging—and more importantly, the science of anti-aging.

“We used to think all of the changes that came with aging were determined by our genes. Now research shows that only 30% of health and longevity is controlled by genetics and that 70% is in our hands to control,” said Lunden. “Our genes play a far less important role than lifestyle choices, diet, and health maintenance.”

In her book, she discusses factors such as:

  • The link between inflammation and Alzheimer’s,
  • The connection between decreasing estrogen, increasing insulin, and weight gain,
  • The dangers of sarcopenia—and how to combat it as you get older, and
  • How waist size impacts your risk of heart disease.

Lunden shares how her own anti-aging strategy involves following the lessons learned from the Blue Zones—the areas of the world with the longest-living people. This includes things like eating a Mediterranean-style diet, living an active lifestyle, and maintaining strong social connections.

In addition, Lunden takes numerous supplements to support her healthy lifestyle, the mainstays of which include:

Bundle of elderberries
  • A multivitamin
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin C (1,000 mg)
  • Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU)
  • A probiotic
  • Elderberry
  • Fish Oil (1,000 mg – 3,000 mg of Omega-3)

In this candid interview with Life Extension®, Lunden talks on a personal level about how she feels about growing older, some of the challenges she’s faced along the way, and advice for how to live your best life, no matter your age.

—Laurie Mathena

LE: Why was it important to you to write a book about aging?

Lunden: Writing about my life always feels a bit like lying on a psychiatrist’s couch. It forces me to dig deep, to delve into the scary places where my fears and worries reside, and to reflect on the choices I’ve made so far.

I mentally put myself there because I believe that sharing our journeys—including our personal stories, the mistakes we’ve made, and the lessons we’ve learned—may help others, or at the very least, amuse them.

I’ve often been guided by the wonderful quote: “You don’t inspire others by being perfect. You inspire them by how you deal with your imperfections.”

For this reason, I’ve shared some of my most personal and difficult challenges with viewers and readers over the years. My last big overshare was in 2014 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

People magazine asked me to appear on their cover bald for that story. Bare-headed bald—as in no scarf, no hat, no vanity.

If I could muster up the nerve to do that, I think I can share just about anything. So [I decided to share] my innermost thoughts about the very latest issue I’m coping with today . . . aging.

Of course, this meant I had to be willing to admit that I am concerned about the aging process and also had to confide how I’m faring in that process.

Fortunately, it also meant I got to explore and make the distinction between being older and being old, not just for the benefit of those of us at a certain age, but for readers of every age.

LE: How do you feel now that 70 is right around the corner?

Lunden: When I was a little girl, I admittedly used to think of 65 as really old—as in the-end-of-the-road kind of old. Now, here I am driving full speed through my 60s with the top down and the wind blowing through my hair, feeling like it’s one of the best decades of my life.

I didn’t expect it to be, and that’s a shame. We really shouldn’t make this wonderful discovery about aging looking in the rearview mirror. I cringe when I recall my own predictions about this time of life!

Psychologists say that how we perceive ourselves has a huge influence on how we present ourselves. It impacts how we conduct our lives and what we think we can do. For most of us, it’s something we’re not even conscious of.

The age we feel we are—more than our biological age—can greatly impact our future, the goals we allow ourselves to set, and the strides we have yet to make.

Okay, then age is just a number that can change depending on who’s asking. Today, I pick 45. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

LE: Did age factor into your leaving Good Morning America after hosting for nearly two decades?

Lunden: I remember the day my agent called to tell me that ABC had decided to change the Good Morning America hosts; they were going to hire younger ones.

I was being replaced.

That is a phrase that can knock the wind right out of you. It took a moment to even process the reality of it.

I could have easily let my anger at the ABC execs take me by the neck and strangle me. I could have also let my fear of future unemployment totally paralyze me.

But somehow a cooler head prevailed and rather than worry about what the future might bring, and whether it would be as good, I thankfully focused on how I should handle myself during this pivotal point in my life, because I was going to have to do it in front of America.

I finally decided that the sun would come up tomorrow, even without Good Morning America.

Why do we all seem to be so resistant to change in our lives? I think it’s because we all fear the unknown! That’s certainly what I was concerned about. I had no idea what would come next.

LE: What did come next?

Lunden: Ironically, one of the first opportunities that came my way after leaving Good Morning America was a request from American Express to be the keynote speaker at a huge international travel conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I guess I have to tell you why that’s ironic. I had a fear of public speaking. Despite an audience of 20 million viewers a week on television, the mere thought of speaking in front of several hundred people in a live situation had always unnerved me. And I’m not just talking butterflies in my stomach here; I am talking about full-blown, red, blotchy hives on my chest!

The event in Scotland was just what I needed to start letting go of my long-time fear of public speaking. Today I average over 20 speeches a year. It is arguably one of the most rewarding and enjoyable parts of my career.

It has become a passion of mine to help lead conversations about how we can best manage our health so that we can enjoy longevity and all the promise that our later years hold for us.

LE: I’m sure your battle with breast cancer helps shape those conversations.

Woman wearing pink ribbon pin

Lunden: When I heard those words, “You have breast cancer,” my life came to a screeching halt. My first lesson in the challenging fight for my life was that cancer did not care about any of my plans.

I had always assumed that breast cancer was something that would happen to some other woman, not to me. But now here I was hearing the unimaginable.

I had gotten a 3D mammogram that day, which was negative, but in the ultrasound that followed, I learned I had an aggressive form of breast cancer called Triple Negative.

It was a fluke that I even had that ultrasound. It was only because a few years earlier I’d interviewed breast cancer expert Dr. Susan Love about mammogram screenings. I told Dr. Love I found them nerve-wracking because I was always called back for more pictures, although the technicians said it was only because I had dense breasts, so it was hard to see much.

With that, Dr. Love said I should be having regular ultrasounds in addition to mammograms. It turns out that her advice very likely saved my life.

LE: It seems like planning for the future is very important to you.

Lunden: Mom used to tell me that one of the best ways to keep our lives exciting and worth living was to always have plans, lots of them. Over the years, I have found that having plans and goals has helped me to keep excited and moving forward. Aren’t our moms always right?

This concept of planning for an exciting future is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of successful aging.

I first encountered this notion in an article about Deepak Chopra’s bestselling book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. I recall reading the words, “People don’t grow old. People get old when they stop growing,” and thinking to myself, Well, he sure is an optimist! Then of course, I immediately went out and bought a copy of the book.

LE: How have Chopra’s ideas shaped how you approach aging?

Lunden: Chopra really made me think about the concept of aging and of being old. Although it appeals to common sense that we grow old because we simply wear out, no wear-and-tear theory of aging has actually held up under close scrutiny.

According to Deepak Chopra, there are three ways that we can measure our age: chronologically, biologically, and psychologically. Would it surprise you to discover that the most unreliable gauge of the three is chronological?

After reading Chopra’s book I changed my approach to aging completely. I no longer perceive it as a threat to my many desirable goals. I now think of my later years as something to get excited about and plan for. Holy moly, what a difference it’s made!

LE: Speaking of lifestyle choices, do you follow any particular anti-aging diet?

Lunden: While I’m not a nutritionist, I’ve learned over the years that it’s very important to eat heart-healthy foods. I’ve tried countless diets. Some worked . . . kind of. But I’d often gain the weight back after I reached my goal.

What I have found successful, however, is following an eating plan. You know, these are programs that are not really diets so much as ways to incorporate healthy foods into our life on a long-term basis.

Now, as my general rule in life, I follow the Mediterranean diet, always choosing fresh foods and piling on the veggies.

Again, I’m not a nutritionist, but I can tell you that eating clean has been best for me. Replacing fried foods and processed foods with simple nutrient-dense proteins and lots of veggies and staying away from sugar has made a huge difference in my life.

LE: What kinds of plans are you making for the next decade of your life?

Lunden: My husband and I [have] discussions about how we want our lives to look as we age. We often laugh about some of our requirements: a warm sunny climate for golf and pool time; an active community where we can maintain our fitness and also remain socially connected; and last, but not least, a place that is small enough so it doesn’t require much upkeep but is also big enough for our kids to visit.

On a personal level, I’m thrilled to attend my kids’ basketball, soccer, and football games. I’ve become a genuine sports fan, though I will admit that I sometimes get a little carried away and can be a bit too vocal in the stands—at least that’s what the kids say. My husband is there, though, to keep me in check.

Each of us needs to give some thought to what makes us happy in life, especially now that we will likely have a whole lot of time for such pursuits. With a plan in hand, we’re more apt to embrace these years than we are to try to dodge them.

LE: It’s clear that your story is far from over.

Lunden: During the last two decades, I’ve had the opportunity not only to host TV shows but to pursue lots of new things.

I’ve had roles in several movies and prime-time shows; I’ve spearheaded media campaigns; I’ve spoken to audiences all over the world; I created a women’s summer getaway camp in Maine; I designed several home-goods lines, including everything from cookware to bedding, which I sold on QVC; and, of course, I’ve continued writing books.

I am most certainly not done. The more new projects I say yes to, the more I strengthen my courage muscle, the more comfortable I am trying other new things, and the more excited I become about life.

It’s never too late to write new chapters in our life story. We are each the author of our own adventure. We get to write what will be on our next page. We hold the pen. Our story will be determined not so much by what life brings to us, but by the attitude, passion, and perseverance we bring to life.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

Book cover of Why did I Come into This Room

Excerpted from Why Did I Come into This Room?: A Candid Conversation about Aging by Joan Lunden, reprinted with permission from Forefront Books, Copyright 2020.

Joan Lunden is an award-winning journalist, best-selling author, motivational speaker, and women’s health and wellness advocate. She was the co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America from 1980-1997 and is the author of 12 books. She is a special correspondent on the Today Show and host of the CBS series Your Health.

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