Food & Fitness After 50: Beat the Barriers

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

“Move more and eat less” is the simplest advice for maintaining both a healthy body and a healthy body weight.  As simple as that advice might be, both sides of that equation can be fraught with complications.  However, none of those complications are insurmountable; in fact, even minor adjustments in our lifestyle habits can translate into major changes in our fitness, body weight, and overall health.

On the “move more” side of the equation, study after study consistently point to the undeniable benefits of daily physical activity to health and longevity. A recent study on 122,007 adults conducted over 23 years concluded that increased aerobic fitness “… was associated with reduced long-term mortality with no observed upper limit of benefit.” Simply put, keeping our bodies moving as often as possible extends our healthspan, allowing us to live as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  But even for the most motivated among us, each day presents barriers to staying active, barriers that we have to overcome or at least side step so that we can move more and sit less.

Barrier-Construction4Below are six common barriers that we can all relate to, along with some simple ways to keep them from becoming everyday excuses.

I’m too busy.  We all have the same 1,440 minutes each and every day, including those whose family, work, and personal demands keep them crazed from the time they wake until the time they sleep.  Even when it feels as though our lives are out of control, we can still find a few minutes to move.  Brief “activity snacks” throughout busy days can help relieve stress and break up long periods of sitting.  Walking stairs, taking the long way around the office, doing isometric exercises while seated, a few pushups, squats, or toe-raises are all ways to sneak physical activity into a crammed day.  And if the work week just doesn’t allow time for much movement, then being a weekend warrior is much better than just collapsing in front of the TV.push up

I’m too tired.  We can all relate to feeling absolutely drained—and there are times when taking a nap is a healthier choice than forcing yourself to exercise.  When energy levels are so low that a workout is just out of the question, a good alternative is to take a walk, even if that means strolling through your home during television commercials.  Any movement is better than no movement and just taking a walk can help boost our spirits and energy.

It’s too painful.  Aches and pains are an inevitable part of aging and sometimes pain can be so debilitating that moving is out of the question.  But for lesser aches and pains, we can find ways to keep ourselves moving without aggravating nagging problems.  Bad knees or hips?  Keep your upper body and core active with seated or standing movements and exercises that don’t make matters worse.  Arthritic hands?  Walking is an obvious option, as are simple hand, arm, and shoulder exercises with light or no resistance can help relieve arthritic pain and strengthen surrounding muscles.

It’s too expensive.  There is no doubt that exercise can become expensive, but only if we choose it to be.  Joining a health club, working with a personal trainer, buying a bicycle, or even getting new exercise shoes all cost money.  But walking is free, as are many online exercise videos, traditional calisthenics (think of sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, etc.), stair climbing, yard work, household chores, etc.  The goal is to keep moving whenever possible and there are endless ways to do just that.

Older walkersIt’s too boring.  Some people just hate the regimented nature of group exercise classes or tire quickly of traditional activities such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling.  The challenge then becomes finding activities that keep us engaged.  Even if we regularly flitter from one activity to another, the very fact that we’re active is what is most important.  There are lots of ways to fit move movement into each day and the best of those are the ones that we enjoy the most.

removing barriersIt’s too late (to do any good).  One of the goals of Food and Fitness After 50 is to remind readers that it’s never too late to get and stay active.  Experts sometimes refer to regular physical activity as a polypill, a medicine with multiple benefits.  Even if you’ve led a sedentary life for the past 50 years, adding more movement to every day will dramatically improve your healthspan.  Staying active keeps us fit and strong, and that directly contributes to happier, healthier, longer lives.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon.

Food & Fitness After 50: Scary Foods

1200px-The_ScreamNo, this isn’t about Halloween. It’s about all of the crazy headlines that pop up every time I’m online.  Whether it is the stories that appear on my web browser or that populate my Facebook or Instagram feeds, they all have the same theme. “Don’t eat this food because it will: (a) kill you, (b) cause belly fat, (c) clog your arteries, or (d) all of the above.

In the last few days, here are the headlines I’ve seen:

  • Why you should never eat bananas for breakfast
  • The 5 worst foods for weight loss
  • The 3 unhealthiest foods you can eat
  • Seven foods you had no idea were sugar bombs
  • The 11 foods nutritionists would never, ever eat!

Arghhh….it is maddening.  We all know these headlines are clickbate that generate revenue for all involved, except you, the reader. It gives you anxiety about your food choices and can lead extremes of eating; either you limit your food choices from fear or you throw up your hands and say, “I’ll just eat anything I want because it’s all going to kill me!” I can tell you I NEVER click on these stories so I can’t tell you why you should never eat bananas for breakfast (which is just plain silly) and the “nutritionists” I know might eat less of some foods, but unless they have a health condition, like Celiac disease or diabetes, they don’t go to extremes in their food choices.

The other thing I dislike about these headlines is that the focus is on a single food. I can guarantee that no single food found in the U.S. food supply will kill you (unless contaminated by a virus or bacteria that shouldn’t be there), travel to your belly to be stored as fat, or clog your arteries. What is important is dietary patterns; what you eat over the course of a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, is much more important than consumption of a single food. Last year during the holidays everyone was complaining about the “bad” food choices they made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. My young niece Aku, wisely said, “It’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and New Year’s that is the problem; it’s what you eat between New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving that is!”

SAM_3396What dietary patterns are best? There are many that are healthy, such as the DASH Eating Plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean Diet. But, many people know the terms without knowing that the “diets” are all about the combination of foods that contribute to their health benefits. Many know about the Mediterranean diet, but they think eating at the local Olive Garden is the same as eating Italian food. Real Italian food is made with fresh, simple ingredients and doesn’t come with unlimited bread sticks and salad. Here’s a photo of a real Italian pizza; fresh tomato sauce, and small amounts of fresh mozzarella cheese. It is not a cheese-stuffed crust with 5 meat toppings.

So, don’t fear your food; if you like ribs, enjoy them at the tailgate party,  just don’t eat them every day.

Balance and vary your diet, too. If you know that the family dinner will be heavy and high in calories, eat light that day or the next day.

Eat more veggies: roasted, steamed, grilled, stir-fried, or oven-baked. Just don’t fry them all of the time.

Snack on fresh fruit in season. It is the original fast food. Fall is the time for crisp apples and juicy citrus fruit, so enjoy.

And one more thought. If you choose to be vegan, gluten-free and eat only organic foods, that is your right and your choice, but please don’t lecture others that what they choose to eat is inferior. I loved this exchange between a dietitian and and her friend. When offered a slice of cake the friend said that she couldn’t eat it because it wasn’t “clean” and would harm her. The dietitian replied, “It’s banana bread; not heroin!”

For more tips on dietary patterns that are recommended for adults 50+, see Food & Fitness After 50.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Conventional or Organic Produce for Good Health?

I am a failed vegetable gardener. Like many, I long for home grown tomatoes, lush green peppers, juicy melons, and a variety of squash in all shapes and colors. And, of course, I thought I could grow anything with just water, sunlight, and little love. I have a designated space with plenty of sun and amended soil to counter the hard, red Georgia clay. But, the deer ate everything, no matter what home remedy I tried or how many tubs of deer repellent I spread around the garden. Then, we caged the whole garden so it looked like a small prison compound, minus the razor-wire at the top of the enclosure. I was so excited that the deer would stay out that I forgot that pests could find a way in. I learned about the tomato horn worm; an ugly/beautiful creature that stripped the leaves off all my plants overnight! Here is a photo I took of the little bugger if you’ve never seen one!  (My niece Erin said, “Since the deer couldn’t get in, they sent their friends to feast!”)tomato hornworm

So, what does this have to do with the title of this post? Many of the adults I talk to about  Food & Fitness After 50 ask about organic produce; or I should say, are convinced that organic produce is the key to good health and that conventional produce grown with the use of pesticides is the cause of poor nutrition and contributes to chronic disease. So, let’s set the record straight with a little quiz.

  • According to a recent United States Department of Agriculture Report on pesticide residues, what percent of domestic food samples were found to be in compliance (meaning levels of residues below any levels that could have a health effect)?

50%, 78%, or 99%?

The answer is 99%. What’s more, 53% of all domestic samples and 51% of all imported foods samples analyzed had NO detectable levels of pesticides.

  • Organic farmers do not use pesticides.

True or False?

The answer is false; organic farmers can use natural pesticides and some synthetic pesticides. But, remember that natural doesn’t mean safe, non-toxic, or chemical-free. All pesticides, natural and synthetic, undergo rigorous testing for safety by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Organic is a production term; not a health claim for quality, nutrition, or safety of our fruits and veggies.

  • When shopping at the local farmer’s market, the claim is made that the produce is “pesticide-free.” What should you ask the farmer?

According to Safe fruits and veggies, a website about the safety of organic and convention produce, ask the farmer what he or she does to control pests, because as we all know, insects in the garden have to be controlled in some way. Click here for a handy guide on food safety at farmer’s markets.

  • You should wash produce under running water before eating.

True or False?

True, washing produce with cold or warm tap water and scrubbing with a brush, when feasible, can remove pesticide residues (but remember, most produce has negligible amounts of residues), but can also remove dirt or bacteria that may have come from the fields. Removing outer leaves of cabbage or lettuces is also recommended. Don’t use soap when washing fruit or veggies, just plain tap water is all that is needed.

  • How many servings of blueberries could a woman consume in one day without any effect even if the blueberries have the highest pesticide residues ever recorded by the USDA?

10 servings, 87 servings, 100 servings, greater than 13,000 servings?

mobile-previewThe answer is 13,228 servings in one day! Try the pesticide residue calculator for yourself to assure that eating conventional produce is not swimming in harmful chemicals!

 

The bottom line is that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables without fear. If you can afford organic and you like the taste, go for it. But, if cost is a factor, don’t let fears keep you from eating conventional fruits and veggies from your grocery store.

As Paracelsus (a scientist from the late 1400s) so wisely said, the dose makes the poison!paracelsus-scientist-quote-poison-is-in-everything-and-no-thing-is

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Sam’s Story: Here’s to a Long Healthspan

Sam bike ridingThis post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50.

When he was 61, Sam’s right leg collapsed as he was getting out of bed, the result of a long-ago knee injury from playing lacrosse, damage (torn meniscus cartilage) that happened two months before he graduated from West Point in 1971.  His compromised joint is now supported by a knee brace that allows Sam to be physically active.  Sam wrestled and played golf and baseball in high school and remained physically active during his college years at West Point.  Meals at the Academy were high in calories and consumed quickly, laying the foundation for rapid weight gain after college when Sam’s career as an aerospace engineer entailed much more sedentary time, lots of travel and restaurant meals, and a frequently disrupted routine for exercise and eating.  His love of sweets hasn’t helped matters; Sam says he has Bob bike 1been at least 10 to 20 pounds overweight for most of his adult life.

Sam’s story is typical of so many older adults whose busy family and professional lives—along with injuries or health setbacks of one sort or another—made it difficult to maintain a healthy balance of food and fitness.  Such is modern life.  Now retired and in his late 60s, Sam now has the opportunity to find the right balance.  “I want to be consistent with my calorie intake each day,” Sam said, “I want to eat a healthy breakfast, reduce eating out, drink more water, and lose fat weight.  These are important goals for me because I want to live longer than age 87 that my annuity says is my life expectancy.”

Bicycling is Sam’s primary form of exercise and he also stays active doing yard work and repairs on rental properties.  He credits his wife Elizabeth for being a great role model who cooks healthy meals, joins him on bike rides, and watches her calorie intake.  High blood pressure runs in Sam’s family but he has been able to keep his BP well within the normal range by biking more often, eating healthier, and staying well hydrated.  Sam has found that increasing his daily water intake has helped curb his appetite and keep him energized, especially important in the warm weather he experiences living in San Antonio.

Sam understands what he has to do to achieve his goals and is committed to staying the course.  That commitment does not mean that he has to follow a stringent diet or exercise to exhaustion every day.  Living a long healthspan—a term that reflects the importance of being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—includes enjoying what life has to offer … in moderation, of course.  According to much scientific research, Sam is on the right track.  For example, scientists from Harvard University recently estimated that a low-risk lifestyle (never smoking, a healthy weight, regular physical activity, a healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption) could considerably prolong life expectancy (longer than 10 years) compared with individuals who followed none of the low-risk lifestyle factors.

Sam’s main advice to others who want to strike a better balance between food and fitness is twofold: 1) count calories—Sam uses a phone app called FatSecret to help keep him from overdoing it, and 2) read Food & Fitness After 50 because Sam considers the book to be a great guide for pointing out errors and helping motivate him to achieve his goals.

(We appreciate Sam’s unsolicited compliments and are happy to hear that he found our book helpful.)