Food & Fitness After 50: No Challenge, No Change

SallyI first met Sally when she was 62 years old and teaching aerobics classes. She described herself as a “retired, healthy woman who lived her profession.” For 30 years she was a high school health and physical education instructor who loved being active. One thing she always used to say that has stuck with me is “no challenge, no change.” She was referring to our physical body, encouraging us to lift the heavier weight, go for a few more repetitions, or pick of the pace to get the heart and lungs moving to reap the benefits of exercise.

A new meaning to “no challenge, no change”

Now, at 66, Sally has learned that “no challenge, no change” can also refer to the physical and mental changes that can occur when least expected. At the age of 60 she had a total hip replacement, and then about 5 years later, her knee started to bother her. She backed off high impact exercise to give the achy joint a rest. During that time, she started feeling some abdominal pain, but didn’t think too much about it. But, as she was preparing for an upcoming trip to Spain, she decided to check it out. The discomfort she was feeling was ovarian cancer. Sally was aware of her risk factors for diseases, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis that run in her family, but the cancer diagnosis took her by surprise.

A new mind set

After surgery and four months of chemotherapy, Sally is dealing with the major life change. “I had to slow down a bit during treatment, but I was as active as a could be, even if that meant a short walk each day.” The hardest part, she says, is “no longer being the healthy one in the family. I had to redefine myself and the reality was hard to accept.” However, Sally now sees this obstacle as a positive. “I never once said, ‘why me,’ instead, I choose to dwell on the positive.” With faith and supportive family and friends, Sally is back to old activates, as well as a few new ones. “I am trying new things, like fly fishing, pickleball, and stand-up paddle boarding.”  She fills in for aerobics instructors when needed, but no longer teaches regular classes, “I don’t want the commitment!” she says with a laugh.

One side effect of the medications and less active lifestyle has been a slight weight gain. Women past the age of 50 can relate to that. Sally found a 12- week on-line program called Bod E Talk, that is described as a weight loss and health program (Note: this is a fee-based program, not a freebie). She has always believed in “moderation and variety” in her food choices, and the on-line program has helped her understand the importance of listening to hunger cues. “We tend to eat when the clock says it is time for meal, instead of paying attention to our hunger.”

Sally’s advice for all of us over 50 is simple, but powerful. “Stay as active as you can, eat foods that nourish and satisfy your body to keep you active, and remember it is all about the choices you make every day that count.”

Food & Fitness After 50: Want a killer physique?

“Some supplements work for some people some of the time. Many supplements don’t work for anybody any of the time.”  

Dr. Ron Maughan, Emeritus Professor of Sports and Exercise Nutrition, Loughborough, United Kingdom

body building supplementsIn my last post, I discussed the basics of dietary supplements with a focus on multivitamin-minerals. This week, let’s talk about muscle building and weight loss supplements. Bottom line up front: there are some sports supplements that can help active adults train harder and recover faster, but most of what you read about, like the headline, “want a killer physique?” won’t happen without hard work in the weight room and a stringent diet to reduce body fat. A supplement by itself, despite wild claims, will not give you a killer physique. Sorry. And, weight loss supplements are not much better.

Headlines can be persuasive!

So, what can we say about muscle-building and weight loss supplements. First, here are few more headline grabbing claims:

  • “Drop body fat in a single dose”
  • “Boost muscle growth by 600%”
  • “Incinerates excess fat”
  • “Produces immediate results in energy, size, strength, pumps, performance, mental focus, and training intensity.”

The downside of weight loss supplements

Between 5-20% of supplements (mostly muscle-building and weight loss supplements) contain prohibited substances: for athletes, that could mean a positive drug test and banishment from sport. For older active adults, it could mean physical harm. For example, a  weight loss supplement called SmartLipo 365  was found to contain unlabeled sibutramine and phenoltphathein. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that was taken off the US market in 2010 and phenoltphathein is not approved for dietary use due to concerns of causing cancer.

Many of the supplements for weight loss contain harmful substances when taken in high doses; case in point, 25% of emergency room visits for adverse effects from dietary supplements are from weight loss supplements, with cardiac symptoms being the primary complaint. Not too surprising when many of these supplements contain stimulants. Don’t be fooled by so called “natural, herbal” stimulants like guarana, kola nut, or green tea extract. A stimulant is a stimulant. Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients to always avoid. It’s worth taking a look at the list and stay away from supplements containing any on the list.

One popular weight loss supplement that has it’s 15 minutes of fame on a popular doctor’s television show is garcinia cambogia. It is a small fruit that is traditionally used as flavor enhancer in cooking. It contains a substance called hydroxycitric acid that has been touted as a weight loss miracle.  However, in a 12-week study  on overweight men and women the researchers concluded, “garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo.”

What does work?

For active athletes, a few supplements have stood the test of time (and research), including caffeine, B-alanine, beetroot juice, and creatine. Here’s a quick overview of what types of athletes might benefit, the effective dose, and the expected result.

Caffeine: Most of us know that caffeine can help keep us alert and ward off fatigue. Caffeine’s main effect is on the central nervous system. It is an adenosine receptor antagonist. Adenosine induces sleep and fatigue, so blocking thee ffects of adenosine with caffeine promotes a more alert state. The response to caffeine is highly variable (some of you can’t fall asleep if you have even a tiny amount of caffeine in the evening, while others can drink a pot of coffee and have no trouble sleeping). A small dose of caffeine can be effective for sports performance; just 2 to 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight; for a 154-pound person, that is a dose of 140 to 210 milligrams of caffeine or the amount found in a small to medium cup of coffee. More certainly isn’t better!

B-alanine: This amino acid can buffer lactic acid and shows promise in athletes performing high intensity exercise (sprints). Some research shows it might also help endurance athletes who need to sprint hard to the finish line. This is not needed by recreational athletes. Effective dose is about 3-6 grams/day.

Beetroot Juice: Beets are naturally high in nitrate and it might increase skeletal muscle efficiency by lowering oxygen demand. It is used by endurance athletes who run or cycle. To be clear, nitrate is not carcinogenic, but nitrite can combine with amino acids from foods to form nitrosamines, which may be cancer-causing. In research studies, a dose of about 4 mg/kg/body weight has been used. My advice, eat beets!

Creatine: It is used a source of muscle energy and is in short supply during high intensity exercise, like sprinting or weight lifting . Supplemental creatine is usually taken as a powder mixed with water or juice, 3 to 5 grams/day. It can increase muscle stores of creatine by 10 to 30% and, when combined with exercise, can increase muscle cell volume. Researchers describe the benefits of supplemental creatine as, “small increases in lean body mass with repeated, high-intensity duration (less than 30 seconds) exercise.” For most healthy, active older adults, creatine supplementation isn’t necessary.

For more information on dietary supplements, check out Food & Fitness After 50.

 

 

 

 

Supplements: Help or Hype or Hope?

This post is a summary of information from a talk I gave at the Bell Family Branch YMCA in Hartwell, GA on April 12th and 30th, 2018.

Broccoli and pillsAre you among the 76% of Americans who take dietary supplements?  And, if you are  in the 55+ population, are you one of the 80% who take supplements? The most popular supplements are multi-vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and B-complex.

This post will cover multi-vitamins and minerals; next week we’ll cover muscle-building and weight loss supplements.

How much do you really know about the supplements you are taking? Dietary supplements are a profitable business with a $40 billion annual market. Supplements are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, but not as well as many people would like them to be. In 1996, the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act put supplements in a new category, unlike  food additives or drugs, supplements do not undergo testing to make sure they are

  • pure
  • safe
  • or that they work before coming to market

More people are more worried about artificial sweeteners, which undergo rigorous safety testing, than dietary supplements, which are lacking in safety testing.

What is a supplement?

Dietary supplements include thousands of products that fall into these categories:

  • Vitamins: such as vitamin D or C
  • Minerals: like calcium or magnesium
  • Herbs or botanicals: such as St. John’s Wort or echinacea
  • Amino acids: like branched chain amino acids or arginine
  • Dietary substances: like glucosamime or curcumin
  • Concentrates or extracts: such as green tea extract or resveratrol

Decoding a supplement label

All supplements must have a supplements facts panel, similar to a nutrition facts panel found on food packages. And, supplement makers can make claims called structure-function claims: things like, “supports heart health,” “supports bone health,” or “supports muscle health. “But they can’t say “prevents heart attack,” “treats low bone density,” or “will make your muscles grow like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.”  Any time there is a health claim you will find this statement (usually in small print):

“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Interesting, because many of us take supplements to treat, cure, or prevent disease!

Beware of testimonials

The promotional materials for supplements can make all sorts of outrageous claims. As showcased in this article from Center for Science in the Public Interest, testimonials abound and many use identical testimonials to make your think that real people are praising the value of the supplements, when in fact they are paid advertisements.

Multivitamin mineral supplements

Since multis are the most popular dietary supplement, let’s look at what you need to know.

First, look for an age-appropriate supplement: adults over 50 have somewhat different nutrient needs than younger adults. “Silver” vitamins or vitamins for “50+ for her” or “50+ for him” are formulated to meet your needs. Multivitamin-mineral supplements are safe, relatively cheap, and can fill gaps in your nutrient intakes. But, they may also be unnecessary. (Supplement users have healthier habits that those who don’t take supplements: they tend to eat better, get more exercise, and more likely to be non-smokers.) And, multis don’t provide everything you need. For example, no multi provides all of the calcium you need.

Some things to consider fall into my “don’t” list:

  • Older adults should not take a pre-natal vitamin, unless they are pregnant. Pre-natal vitamins are formulated to support the health of the baby and mother. They contain higher amounts of many nutrients, including iron, that are not needed in large amounts as we age.
  • Avoid adult gummies or chewables: they don’t measure up to pill or capsule forms and many contain far less than the recommended levels of nutrients and may be lacking trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, or chromium.
  • Don’t fall for special “immunity,” “muscle function,” “heart health,” “energy,” or even “healthy appearance” claims. These are more expensive and just not necessary.

Resources for more information on vitamin and minerals

My “go to” source for learning about vitamin and mineral supplements, updated research, as well as food sources, is the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health. On this site, you will find a wealth of information on individual nutrients: here is a link to the consumer information on vitamin D, to show you an example.

And, in our book, Food & Fitness After 50, we provide more information on supplements that might be helpful in specific disease conditions.

Look for next week’s post on muscle building and weight loss supplement!

Chris Rosenbloom, along with co-author, Bob Murray, talk about supplements and much more in Food & Fitness After 50.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Is 70 the New 40?

First, let me wish you a Happy Older Americans Month; May is the month when we celebrate those of us in the “older” demographic! May coincided with a conference that I participated in and the timing was perfect.

SCAN symposiumLast week, my co-author, Bob Murray and I delivered a presentation to a group of sports and wellness professionals in Keystone, Colorado. The theme of the conference was “No Limits Nutrition,” and when it comes to older, active adults, there are no limits on eating well, moving well, and being well.

Here is a summary of our presentation. We started with some demographic facts, but I don’t want to bore you, so here are a few of  the statistics that I found most interesting:

 

  • “There are more people on the planet over the age of 65 than ever before in human history.”
  •  If you are fortunate enough to make it to 65, your life expectancy is another 19.4 years (20.6 for women and 18 for men).
  • But, “healthy” life expectancy is only 2 more years or to age 67 for many of us.
  • Only 27% of older adults meet the minimal recommendations for physical activity.

I think we would all agree that we want the extra 20 years to be healthy, functionally fit, and independent. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I was in a nursing home and had to use a walker to move around.”

Muscle Changes with Age

There are some changes in every body system as we age, but it is hard to untangle normal aging from usual aging when disuse is the norm. Muscle is the most plastic of tissues, meaning that it can readily adapt to exercise and nutrition to regain function.

  • From age 40 to 65 we lose muscle mass at about 1% per year, with declines of about 1.5% thereafter; strength loss is more rapid. Our strength declines about 2 to 4% per year.
  • Seventy year olds are 30% weaker than they were at 50; that is big strength drop in 20 years.
  • Illness that results in bedrest and a decrease in activity accelerates muscle loss that can result in “sarcopenia,” literally meaning vanishing flesh.

A double whammy can occur when we get older with something called “anabolic resistance,” meaning that older muscle is less responsive to the stimulating effect of dietary protein and exercise. So, what can we do?

A Prescription for Muscle Health

  • Begin a strength training program. There are many ways to get started:
    • Visit the weight room at the gym; hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to show you how to use the equipment and properly perform the exercises to get the most benefit.
    • Use exercise bands to do upper and lower body workouts.
    • Try a free fitness videos (we like Fitness Blender) or simple home exercises from Go4Life, from the National Institute on Aging.
  • Eat more protein-rich foods and spread your protein intake out across the day.
    • Aim for 30 to 40 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
    • A key amino acid is leucine, found in milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, and soy foods. Leucine is found in plant foods, like quinoa and peas and beans, but you have to eat larger portions to get the same benefit from the animal food.

Don’t forget to get the heart moving! 

Aerobic exercise is also important; don’t forget to get your heart pumping and lungs working to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Focus on getting a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking to raise your heart rate and breathing) or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (like jogging or swimming laps). Bob suggested these simple steps:

  • Reduce sitting
  • Take frequent “activity snacks” throughout the day
  • Walk faster than the Grim Reaper; according research, the Grim Reaper walks about 2.0 mph, so walk faster than that to beat the reaper!

Satchel PaigeSo, to answer the question is 70 the new 40? We like baseball player, Satchel Paige’s answer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Good Health = A Lifetime of Activity + Good Nutrition + Thankfulness

“You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger!”

Do you weigh the same as when you were 20? I’m guessing that few people in their late-60s can say they do, but Phil can. He attributes his long running career to the fact that he doesn’t carry excess weight, which puts extra pressure on knees and hips when running.

Intrinsic Joys of Being Active and Eating Well

 

Phil Sparling bike trail in Sanibel
Riding on bike trail at Sanibel

Phil grew up in pre-screen days where playing a variety of team sports with neighborhood kids was the norm. In the 8th grade he discovered a knack for distance running and ran competitively in high school, college, and for another decade after college. At his peak, he was running 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year; the equivalent of running more miles in a year than from Atlanta to Las Vegas and back. Today, he runs “a lot less, and a lot slower,” but still runs three days a week for about 10 miles a week or 500 miles a year. In addition, he does calisthenics, stretching and enjoys gardening and hiking in the surrounds of his north Georgia home.

 

Phil is motivated to stay active for the “personal satisfaction of the physical effort of moving; feeling the body at work still motivates me after all of these decades.”
Of course, to stay at your college weight, diet is also important. Phil and his wife focus on eating a plant-centered diet with “real food, including plenty of fruits and vegetables while minimizing highly processed foods.” He also adds that “preparing food and eating together is relished, as this simple pleasure wasn’t always possible with busy careers.”

Overcoming Challenges

Sometimes we look at people like Phil and think it must be easy for him to stay active and eat well, but, for everyone it is a choice. Phil says he understands the challenges, including the tendency by many to be complacent regarding their health. “People think if they aren’t sick, why bother to change. Over time, sedentary living and convenience foods become the default comfort settings.” And, while he recognizes medications can be modern miracles, “too many people think pills are the answer to every modern ailment when sometimes small lifestyle changes can fix a health issue without drugs.” Another challenge is the “slick advertising hawking magic pills or short cuts to exercise or diet. We are inundated with pseudo-science making us more vulnerable to believing the hype.”

Four Tips for Healthy Aging

When asked to give tips for optimal aging, regular exercise and healthful eating were at the top of the list, but Phil also encourages us “to continue to set goals and stay engaged.” For those who haven’t been active, “start by developing a plan to do something every day; even if it is just a 10-minute walk, stair climbing, or stretching. But, tell yourself you will do something every day and then do it.” Phil also is thankful. “We need to be thankful for the people in our lives, the body we were given, and simple everyday joys.” When considering the big picture, he reminds us: “There’s no single pathway for living a long and full life. There are many possibilities. Embrace the challenge and act on it! You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger.”

From Scientific Writer to Creative Writer

Phil was a professor at Georgia Tech for 30 years and was a prolific researcher and Sparling_coverscientific writer, as the adage “publish or perish” is true in academia. These days, he turns his attention to creative writing and has published his essays in a new book,  The Sneakers in the Closet, reflecting on a lifetime of sports, health, and a life well lived. And, he and wife enjoy traveling from decades of “pent up wanderlust when we had limited time off to travel.” You can also read some of his essays in Smoke Signals, a north Georgia community newspaper (click on Smoke Signals to read a sample column.)