Food & Fitness After 50: The Strong Live Long

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

Maintaining muscle strength is a critical factor in ensuring a long healthspan—being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—and in ensuring that we can do so independently.  Fending for oneself is an important psychological component of successful aging.  That’s not to say that we don’t all need to be looked after periodically throughout our lives—illness, injuries, and surgeries being obvious examples of when it is both nice and often essential to temporarily relinquish our independence and allow others to care for us.  But to be dependent on others to help us accomplish the daily demands of living—opening jars, carrying groceries, rising from a chair, climbing stairs—is a scenario most people would like to avoid.

1253414  Muscle weakness with age is often, but not always, accompanied by sarcopenia—a severe loss of muscle mass and muscle function—often referred to in older adults as frailty.  The perils of sarcopenia are not surprising: higher risk of falls, faster functional decline, more bone fractures of all types, greater chance of hospitalization, longer hospital stays, and higher death rate.  It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of those over age 70 are sarcopenic and it is likely that even more are dynapenic—muscular weakness with or without sarcopenia.

We will all gradually lose muscle mass and strength as we age, but we can control the rate at which we lose it.  In simple terms, inactivity and a poor diet accelerate the aging of muscle while regular exercise and a good diet remain the best ways to keep our muscles young.  To that end, any kind of physical activity is better than no physical activity, but the best results come from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training.  The current recommendations are to engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) each week, along with two sessions of strength-training exercise.

Regular physical activity preserves strength and function by stimulating not only the muscles involved in exercise, but also the nerves responsible for muscle contractions.  In addition, active muscles release compounds called myokines that travel in the bloodstream and positively affect cells throughout the body.  Also, fit muscle cells recover more quickly from injury and surgery, additional benefits to staying active.

Bob2   Added good news is that we do not have to devote hours each week to strength training.  Preserving and even increasing muscle strength can be accomplished with short bouts of exercises that are continued to fatigue.  For example, doing a combination of push-ups, tricep extensions with weights, and chair dips will quickly exhaust the shoulder, chest, and arm muscles involved in elbow extension, adding strength and protecting muscle mass.  Doing similar combinations of movements with other muscle groups will reap the same results.  As with all exercise, the best results come from getting our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.

When it comes to diet, studies show that older adults who increase their daily protein intake can better support improvements in strength and muscle mass.  The simplest way to accomplish increased protein intake is to consume more protein at breakfast, the meal that often has the least amount of protein.  Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal will give most of us the recommended amount of protein. (For ideas on how to eat about 30 grams of protein per meal, check this out.)

Use it or lose it is the operative explanation for age-related changes in muscle strength and mass, as well as for most every other body function that we’d like to preserve as we grow older.  For older adults just getting started with strength exercises, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has examples of activities that can easily be accomplished at home (click here for a link to strength exercises.) YMCAs, fitness centers, and various internet sites (click here for one internet site with many at-home workout videos.)

Chapter 6 of Food & Fitness After 50 is devoted to gaining and maintaining muscle and strength, and chapter 2 has all sorts of tips for how to eat for optimal aging.  Aging is inevitable, but we can exercise control over the rate at which we age.  We just have to do it.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Assessing Your Weight

midlifeweightgain-smallManaging your weight after 50 brings some challenges, but not obstacles that can’t be overcome. It’s true that as we age there are changes to our body composition, including:

  • Increase in abdominal fat (the dreaded “belly fat”)
  • Increase in  fat deposits in muscles, heart, and liver
  • Increase in body weight until about age 70
  • Redistribution of fat with more fat in the trunk and less in arms and legs

But, before you jump on the latest popular diet, take stock and assess your weight. In Food & Fitness After 50 we offer assessments in every chapter to get you thinking about where you are and where you want to go with your diet, your strength, your endurance, your weight, and many other health and lifestyle issues. And, on our new web page for the book we’ve added the “Assess Your Weight” for you. So, take the quiz!

  1. Do you have a scale that is accurate and reliable?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, how do you know?
  2. How often do you weigh yourself?
    • Daily
    • Weekly
    • Monthly
    • Periodically
    • Never
  3. How do you usually feel when you see the number on the scale?

_______________________________________________________

  1. Compared with when you were 25 years old, do you weigh:
    • The same
    • More
    • Less
  2. Do you know your Body Mass Index (BMI)?
    • Yes
    • No
  3. Do you know how to interpret your BMI?
    • Yes
    • No
  4. What is your waist size (circumference just above the hip bones and below the belly button)?

___________ inches

  1.  Have you ever been on a weight-loss diet?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, which one(s)?
  2. Did you lose weight on the diet?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, how much, and how long did you keep the weight off?
  3. What do you think is a healthy weight for you?

__________________ pounds

Review Your Answers

  1. The first step to managing your weight is knowing your weight, an accurate weight, not a guess. If you have a scale, check its accuracy by using a known weight on the scale (like a 5-lb dumbbell) and recalibrate the scale if necessary. If you don’t have a scale, buy one!
  2. We suggest weighing yourself every day or every other day. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds up or down from day to day; that is simply a normal change in water weight. But, by regularly weighing yourself, a pattern will emerge if you are maintaining, gaining, or losing weight.
  3. The numbers on the scale aren’t good or bad; they are just numbers to help you assess your body weight.
  4. As we age, weight-creep can happen. Many adults gain a pound or two each year, but after 20 years that can add up to an extra 20 or 40 pounds. By comparing your current self to your younger self, you might find that the extra pounds have been accumulating through the years.
  5. If you don’t know your body mass index (BMI), accurately measure your height and weight (for tips on accurate measurement, see Chapter 8 of Food & Fitness After 50).
  6. Enter your height and weight into an online calculator to determine and interpret your BMI at this website.
  7. Measure your waist just above your hipbone and below your belly button. For women, a waist size of 35 inches or greater, and for men, 40 inches or greater, often indicates storage of excess belly fat.
  8. There are hundreds of weight-loss diets and many people have tried them all. You can lose weight on any diet that restricts calorie intake; the hard part is keeping it off. We slowly lose weight whenever the calories (energy) we consume are less than the calories we expend.  For example, if we expend 500 calories more each day than we consume in food and drink, we will lose about a pound of weight each week.  The goal is to lose mostly fat weight rather than water or muscle weight.  Rapid weight loss is often comprised of mostly water and some muscle. Gradually losing fat weight is the best way to ensure that the weight stays off because gradual weight loss helps us establish new lifestyle habits that are easier to maintain over the long haul.
  9. If you lost weight on the diet, congratulations, but if you gained it back, that can be defeating. Read more about weight loss and maintenance here: from an international obesity researcher in this interview.
  10. Be honest in your assessment of a healthy weight; let the BMI numbers guide you in your assessment. As we age, it is normal to gain a little weight. We suggest focusing on good overall health instead of a number on a scale.

More information, tips, and personal insights into managing your weight is found in Food & Fitness After 50 available on Amazon and from other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Applying Lessons as a Diabetes Educator to Healthy Aging

Recently retired, Idie, age 65, spent 25 years as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). She became a Registered Nurse in 1986. While working at an Atlanta area hospital a newly opened diabetes program was interviewing for a nurse-educator. “At the time I was working what is called a “Baylor Plan,” working 12-hour shifts on the weekends so I could be at home with my 8-month old son during the week. I never thought I would get the position, but I did and quickly learned all I could about diabetes. I took a national examination to become a CDE in just the second year the certification was offered, and I guess the rest is history.” After nine years in that position, she transferred to the Piedmont Atlanta Diabetes Resource Center where she worked for 15 years.

I asked Idie some questions about her career and how she applied what she learned to her own life.

What did you like most about being a diabetes educator?

“While I enjoyed clinical nursing, the opportunity to teach patients about the prevention

idie and twins
With son and daughter-in-law twin granddaughers

and management of diabetes was rewarding. When it comes to diabetes management, the patient is solely responsible for his or her health outcome and helping coach patients to better management is something I enjoyed.”

Lessons Learned

Many heath educators learn lessons for their own lives along the way, and Idie is no exception. “I don’t think I ever appreciated the impact of what you eat on diabetes management as well as overall health in general. When I became a nurse, food wasn’t much talked about as a management tool. But, as our understanding of diabetes has increased we’ve learned that diet and exercise are cornerstones of treatment.”  Today there is more information than ever about nutrition and exercise, but as we’ve written about before, some of it is good information and some is not so good. “Many people want to live at the extremes when it comes to diet….no fat, high fat, no carb, low carb. Not only are patients confused, but many health care workers are too!” We’ve included some reliable resources on diabetes at the end of the post to cut through the confusion.

Path to Healthy Aging

We often talk about 3 components to healthy aging…eat well, move well, and be well, and Idie echoes those notions. “I think nutrition and food is critical to feeling good and as we age, we figure out what works for us. Everyone is different so what works for me might not work for you. But, for me, I don’t feel well when I eat a very high carbohydrate diet. So, I try to reduce carbs, but I don’t eliminate them. I eat a lot of vegetables, snack on fruit, and aim for balance in what I eat and feed my family.” She also enjoys cooking and trying new recipes and is a big fan of Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa; I’ve been the beneficiary of many of those delicious meals, so I speak from experience!

As for activity, Idie used to be runner, but running and mild dehydration triggered migraines, something she’s suffered with her entire life. Add aging and knee pain, and running is in the past. But, she walks every day, enjoys cycling with her husband and friends, and has been a lifelong devotee of callanetics. And now that she is retired, she is taking a yoga and body sculpting classes.

idie and lila
Idie with 87-year old mom

Being well is a special challenge for those who are caretakers. Idie has six granddaughters and enjoys spending time with them and helping when duty calls. She also cares for her 87-year old mother, putting her in the sandwich generation for sure. “Being newly retired is allowing me time for me, managing my time and prioritizing what is important is my goal for 2019.” She also enjoys knitting as an activity that “is relaxing and occupies by brain!”

Facing Challenges

idie with grandkids
Idie with 3 of her 6 granddaughters

“Acceptance” is the word that first came to mind when asked about challenges to healthy aging. “It is helpful to tone down your expectations and accept aging, but it is equally important to not fall into the trap of thinking, ‘well, I’m 65 so I deserve to let myself go.’ That is exactly the opposite of what we should do to achieve optimal aging!” So, despite the challenges, eating well and moving well is good advice at any age.

Resources

For more information on diabetes, check out the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

For a good resource on prediabetes, see this post on what to do if told you have pre-diabetes at this link.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Fathers After 50

One of the joys of writing Food & Fitness After 50 is the correspondence with those of you who are eating well and moving well. One day I opened my email to find a request from Greg, age 59, asking me to be a guest on his podcast, Fathers After 50. After our interview, which was more like a conversation with an old friend, I asked Greg to let me interview him! You can find Greg’s podcast here.

Why did you start FathersAfter50?

greg fathers over 50I’m the father of two boys, ages 6 and 8. I got married for the first time a bit later than the average marriage age…. I was 50! My boys were born during our second and fourth years of marriage. Next year I’ll turn 60. Wow, time flies. I didn’t realize it at the time, but FathersAfter50 originated when I was single in my late forties. I was hoping to get married and have children at that late stage in life so for encouragement, I tried to find others who had children after 50. Those I could find were famous or wealthy, often both. A few years into my marriage other “After 50” hopes and desires came to mind and that led to the mission of the FathersAfter50.com podcast… to improve our health, longevity, relationships, and reach personal and financial goals. I personally want to improve in all those areas and believe others do, too. And I feel it is especially important for older men (and women) with young children!

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve gotten older?

Since my teens I have worked out with weights two to three times a week.  I have a lean athletic build, but I’ve never been very muscular. In my twenties I did of bit of long distance running but, like Forrest Gump, one day I ran about 15 miles from home and stopped. I turned around, walked home and pretty much gave up regular running, except for an occasional 10K.  I took up cycling which is much more exciting than running and it gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery.  When my two boys got older, we like to bike together in the summer.

To stay in shape, I work out with weights three times a week and do some aerobic activity a couple of times a week.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve experienced shoulder problems and two years ago I had a frozen shoulder (for those who don’t know what a frozen shoulder is, well, neither did I, but I could barely lift my arm over my head to change clothes and sleeping was next to impossible due to the pain.) Thankfully, I found a wonderful physical therapist who “fixed me.” Well, “fixed” is a relative term because it took a little over six months to fully recover and I now do regular shoulder strengthening exercises to keep it away. I avoid bench pressing heavy weights and work out with lighter weights with higher repetitions.

What motivates you to stay active? 

Habit.  Although there have been times in my life that I stopped working out, the feeling of malaise pushes me back to physical fitness.  And, now that I have two young active boys, I want to stay fit to be able to keep up with them!  But even if they were much older, I’d still be motivated to stay fit simply to enjoy life.  Couch potatoes rarely have the energy and fun that active people do!

Do you follow any special diet, or do you have any tips for healthy eating that work for you? 

I don’t follow any special diet, but my blood pressure was starting to creep up as I got older. I wanted to control it with diet, so I cut out “junk” foods, especially those high in sugar and added sodium. I gave up the chips, cut back on highly processed prepared foods, and cut down on eating out. I learned the benefits of eating healthy fats; I used to think a low-fat diet was best, but I’ve learned that healthy fats, like those found in avocado, are a great addition to my diet.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be? fountain of youth

  1. Exercise.  I believe exercise is the secret to the “Fountain of Youth.”
  2. Diet. Eating real food gives me the nutrition to I need.
  3. Attitude. We can be physically fit and eat well but without a great attitude, our life will still be mediocre, at best.

What are your biggest challenges to aging well?

Being disciplined to do what we know we should do.  And, being curious enough to read books, attend seminars, or ask good questions of those who are ahead of us in life and experiences.  Listening to those who are ten to twenty years ahead of us who are in great shape and good health probably have great advice! (For an inspiring read of on older man who is in good health and amazing shape, check out my interview with Clarence Bass.)

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, and never forget that you can improve your health, happiness and relationships at any age!

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Embrace Life’s Challenges

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

Karen from Boise“I’m not going to get younger, so my goal is to maintain or improve what I have,” said Karen when asked about her food-and-fitness goals for the future.  At age 71, Karen leads an active lifestyle, although one that is far less active than when she was younger and trained to compete in a couple half-marathons every month.  In those days, Karen would run 6 miles before work, usually by herself so that she wasn’t beholden to someone else’s schedule.

Karen from Boise 1Karen has spent her life in Boise, Idaho and has always enjoyed being active outdoors.  After she remarried at age 50, Karen reduced her running and took up tennis, only to injure her knee and ankle.  Two back surgeries followed a few years later (one to remove a benign tumor, the other to stabilize some vertebrae), putting an end to Karen’s running and skiing, but not her desire to keep moving.  Injuries and surgeries often become excuses for inactivity, but Karen saw those setbacks as just unforeseen detours to work around.  Karen now enjoys 3-mile walks almost every day, along with 18 holes of golf with her husband twice each week when the weather allows.  They walk the golf course; no golf carts for these two.  Also twice each week, Karen tries to get to the university fitness center for strength training and time on a stationary bicycle.

“I’m happy with my overall strength,” Karen reported, “because I am still able to gradually lift more weight on the machines at the fitness center.  But I can tell that my hand strength has fallen off and I’m going to work on that.  My doctor told me that I have osteopenia in my wrists (low bone-mineral density), so that’s another reason why I have to strengthen my wrists and forearms.”Karen from Boise 2

Karen said that her diet has improved over the years as she’s learned more about nutrition.  Her meals usually include fresh vegetables, fish, and chicken, and she has yogurt and milk almost every day.  Karen limits foods that are high in fat and sugar because they make her feel uncomfortable, as though she’s eaten too much.  “Over the years, I’ve become much more aware of what I eat and how it makes me feel, and that has really helped me find a diet that suits me best.  Whenever I stray from what I’ve become accustomed to, I can definitely feel it.”

When asked what advice she would give to others who want to improve their approaches to food and fitness, Karen said, “There’s something out there for everyone, so find activities you enjoy to keep you moving.  It’s amazing the improvements that can occur with just one or two simple changes in what we eat and how often we move.  Those improvements can happen quickly and that’s a great incentive to keep going.  We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge ourselves because the longer we wait, the harder it is to develop new habits.”

Although Karen realizes that there are always little ways to improve her diet and physical activity, she has developed a lifestyle that reflects the health and longevity benefits of eating and moving well.  “I just want to be as healthy and happy as I can for as long as I can.  And if I continue to do things right, I won’t have to always rely on doctors to achieve that goal.”

For more inspiring stories of eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog Fit to Eat.

Food & Fitness After 50: Updating Your Personal Mission Statement to Eat Well, Move Well, and Be Well in 2019

“The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and miss it, but that it is too low, and we reach it.” ~ Michelangelo

Last year, I shared that each December, my husband and I update our family mission statement, vision, and goals for the new year. (For the post, click here.)

We do this instead of New Year’s Resolutions because we all know what happens to those. How many regular gym goers notice that the classes are packed, the machines in full use, and the parking lot fuller in January? Then the resolutions fade and it is back to usual habits. So, this year, consider goal-setting for the year and reassessing them at the end of the year to understand what you accomplished and where you fell short.

Last year we added a goal of being more active volunteers in our community; something that was harder to achieve when we were working full time. I volunteered to deliver a series of nutrition classes at the local YMCA, talked to high school sports teams about nutrition, and became active in Friends of Library to support our local county library. My husband just finished his term as president of the local Kiwanis chapter and worked on projects to benefit the youth in our town.

This year, we added a few more goals:

  • To plan our meals for the week and shop our pantry before making weekly menus and grocery store lists. We think this will help reduce food waste (which is a big problem in the U.S.; consumers throw away 15-25% of all food purchased!) I wrote about food waste last January and here is a link to the post for more tips on reducing food waste and saving money.
  • Eat seafood twice a week; a recommendation made by major health organizations, but we fall short on that.
  • Eat more plant-based meals. We’ve never excluded meat from our diets, but this year we want to eat more fish and seafood and plant-based meals. Stay tuned for a future blog post featuring Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. I’ll be using loads of her recipes in 2019!
  • Plan our exercise for each week. We are good about regular exercise, but if we put it on our calendars we are more likely to do it.

So, this year, instead of making new year’s resolutions, make a family mission statement for solutions for all that you value.

goals

Food & Fitness After 50: Consider a Personal Trainer to Reach Your Fitness Goals

“The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.”                                                                                                                                                                          David Leard

As I approached my mid-sixties I wanted to be more fit and kick up my fitness routine. At my local YMCA, the weight room intimated me. Not because I was unfamiliar with weight training, but the equipment was old and a mixture of various manufacturer’s equipment and the adjustments from one machine to the next were confusing*.  And, I’ve never had great core strength, so I decided to hire a personal trainer for a series of 6 lessons to help me meet my fitness goals. It was important to find a trainer who understood how to work with older adults, so I met David and knew I found the best trainer for me. After our training sessions, I asked David to share his journey to healthy aging and gained a lot from our interview. I think you will, too.

What was your career path before you became a personal trainer?

David at YMCAI began my career as an elementary school physical education teacher in my hometown. To earn some extra money, I delivered newspapers and that led to a career shift to newspaper production management with the Anderson(South Carolina) Independent-Mail and Athens (Georgia) Banner Herald. While in my forty’s I earned a second degree from the University of Georgia in Environmental Health Science and began serving as the Environmental Health Manager in the county where I stated as an elementary school teacher.

How did you get into personal training?

I’ve always been interested in fitness and began lifting weights at the age of 13 after watching my older brothers play high school football. I realized that if I wanted to get on the football field, I was going to have to get bigger and stronger. I enjoyed strength exercise so much as a youth, that I’ve continued it throughout adulthood. My wife, Jean, and I found space for a makeshift home gym wherever we’ve lived and used it to strength train. A few years ago, we started exercising at the Bell Family YMCA and really enjoyed the classes and the comradery with the members. While contemplating retirement from full time work, I knew I wanted part-time work to stay physically and mentally active.  Personal training was a natural progression and I like being able to make a difference in people’s lives. I got certified through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) )after about six months of preparation. I went on to earn an additional certification as an orthopedic specialist personal trainer to help meet my client’s needs.

David and Jean kettelbell
David & Jean after Kettlebell class

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve gotten older? 

Strength training with free weights was always my go-to form of exercising. I enjoyed it and thought it was a fun activity as another person might enjoy a sport like golf or pickle ball. But as I’ve gotten older I don’t care about how much I bench press and I put much more emphasis on my core as way of avoiding injury. When I feel myself pushing too hard, I try to think of “living to exercise another day.” What I do care about is strength training for functional fitness, such as playing with my grandchildren or being able to work in the yard.

What motivates you to stay active?

David TRX
David and daughter doing TRX

My family is my motivation to stay active. I enjoy playing and exercising with my 5 grandchildren ages 6 to 13 years. They are starting to get into exercise and I encourage them to find joy in movement. My wife and I really have fun trying to keep up with our two children and their spouses who are avid exercisers. And, I must stay fit for the never-ending amount of yard work at my house and I’m too cheap to pay a landscaper! I want to continue to be a vibrant husband, father, and grandfather so that my family can count on me in the future.

Do you follow any special diet, or do you have any tips for healthy eating that work for you?

I’ve never counted calories and I enjoy junk food as much as anyone, particularly when my grandchildren visit. But, for the most part I eat healthy and enjoy fruits and salads topped with lean protein. I try to make sure I’m eating some complex carbs for sustained energy. My weakness is sweets and I do allow myself some indulgences. If you look in my freezer you will probably find some chocolate I’ve hidden from myself. I’m very fortunate that my wife enjoys eating healthy foods, so we support and motivate each other to stay focused without any browbeating. I also find a direct correlation to eating well and exercise. The healthier I eat, the more energy I have for exercise. The more I exercise, the more I want to eat healthier food. For me, one leads to the other.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be? 

  • I manage my weight by eating healthy and exercising.
  • I complete all wellness exams with my physician, including recommended vaccinations.
  • I read and do research on the many facets of aging and I listen to health professionals.

What are the biggest challenges to aging well?

I find that many of the clients I work with at the YMCA are fighting through aches or pains, such as arthritis or bursitis, or old injuries that continue to linger. These folks may have gone through a hip or knee replacement or are putting off a needed surgery. Aches and pains can stall or halt any progress an individual has made in their exercise program. I can relate to that as I’ve recently begun to experience arthritis hip pain. Finding ways to work around the pain is a challenge. Most of my clients are my age or older and I am always researching ways to keep these clients moving through or around the difficulties with various exercise modifications. As a Certified Personal Trainer, I’m required to complete continuing education to maintain my certification and I seek out educational opportunities on these types of problems.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

That’s a challenging question for me in that I don’t consider myself smart enough to dispense words of wisdom! However, I do a lot of reading and research and I know there is a lot of free information on the internet about exercise, diet, and nutrition. Some of it is good and some not, so I encourage my clients to research the qualifications of the people who are giving free advice. Make sure your information and advice is coming from a qualified health professional.

What do you see in people you train in terms of what they do well and what you wish they would do more?

While all my clients have worked hard at their employment over the years, many haven’t exercised since they were young and are now recognizing the need because they are experiencing problems with basic movements, such as getting up and down from the floor or from the couch. I’m continually impressed with their dedication and willingness to work through the aches and pains and honored to be working with them. Many of my clients told me they regret not having started a regular exercise program earlier. I recommend that just like saving money for retirement, start an exercise program now and stay consistent.

Many of my clients are concerned about their weight. I encourage them to feed their exercise program with proper nutrition.  ChooseMyPlate.gov s a wonderful website full of good information on proper nutrition.

*Recently, the YMCA obtained new “used” equipment and the machines are much nicer and easier to use ! David helped me learn how to use all of the new machines.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Answering Your Questions on Alcohol and Aging

I was invited to luncheon symposium on communicating alcohol guidelines to consumers while in Washington, DC for my annual food and nutrition conference. The lunch was sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council* and after the event I reached out to Senior Vice-President of the council and former Division Director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Dr. Samir Zakhari, to answer the questions asked by adults over the age of 50.

First, let’s be clear that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans include alcohol and say that if you drink alcohol “it should be consumed in moderation and only by adults of legal drinking age.” So, you are all of legal drinking age, but what does moderation mean? For women, it is up to one drink per day, and for men, up to two drinks per day. Sounds simple but check out the visual of what one drink looks like. And, just as I reminded college students in my teaching days, moderation does not mean saving it all for Friday night. Drinking more than four or five drinks in a couple of hours defines binge drinking, not moderation.

What is a drink

Here are the questions I asked of Dr. Zakhari and his responses may surprise you.

I hear some older adults say they don’t tolerate alcohol as well as they did when they were younger. Are there changes to how we metabolize alcohol as we age?

Yes, aging adults metabolize and eliminate alcohol at a slower rate than younger adults, which leads to higher blood alcohol levels and affects the brain at lower levels of intake. Add to that many older adults take medications that may interact negatively with alcohol. This may result in exaggeration or interference of therapeutic effect of some medications and/or exacerbation of adverse effects of others (e.g., aspirin, Tylenol). Another example is Ranitidine (Zantac) which is used to treat ulcers in the stomach and small intestines. It increases blood alcohol to levels known to impair motor skills needed for driving. Older adults who drink alcohol and who take medications should consult with their doctor or pharmacist to assess their risks and get advice about safe use of alcohol and medications.

Can you explain why moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink/day for women, but 2 drinks a day for men?

Alcohol’s effects are due to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which is determined by the volume of total body water (TBW) and the amount of alcohol mixed with it. On average, women tend to be smaller than men, with lower body weight and higher proportion of fat to lean body mass. This generally results in a lower TBW in women, and hence a given dose based on per pound of body weight will result in a higher BAC in women than in men.  Thus, the lower definition of moderate drinking for women.

Many people think red wine is a “healthy” alcohol choice…can you explain why they think that and what the facts are about alcohol and disease/mortality reduction?

In the early 1990s, a 60-Minutes program segment with the catchphrase “The French Paradox” referred to the notion that despite eating cheese, pastries, and other rich fatty food the French people have relatively low rates of heart disease. Thus, the red wine health halo was born and the day after the story aired red wine sales increased 40%.

A theory has since developed that the potential health benefits of wine is due to a substance called resveratrol.  However, resveratrol is quickly eliminated from the intestine and one needs to drink large amounts of wine to attain any appreciable amounts of resveratrol.

However, later research showed that the potential health benefits (e.g., decrease in risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes) due to moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) is due to alcohol content, not the resveratrol in red wine.

A bottle of beer (12 oz, 5% alcohol), a glass of wine (5 oz, 12% alcohol), or a shot of spirits (1.5 oz, 40% alcohol) contain the same amount of alcohol (0.6 oz, or 14 grams). It is also important to know that beer and wine alcohol content is increasing; some craft beers have up to 6.5% alcohol and the average alcohol of wine is around 13.5%, so it is increasing, too.

I’ve seen supplements of “red wine extract with resveratrol” claiming to do everything from preventing heart disease to life extension. Some older adults who choose not to drink are tempted to take resveratrol supplements; what is your take on it?

Resveratrol is a type of natural phenol that is present in the skin of grapes. After absorption from the intestine its bioavailability is quickly decreased due to extremely rapid metabolism in the liver and excretion in urine. Although it is sold as a dietary supplement, there is no good evidence that consuming resveratrol affects life expectancy or human health.

Many older adults experience “weight creep.” Could alcohol calories contribute to weight gain?

The human body can use energy from proteins and carbs (each produce four calories per gram), fat (one gram has nine calories), and alcohol (one gram provides seven calories). Calories produced from alcohol are termed “empty” calories and most of it is dissipated as heat. Moderate drinking may not contribute much to increased body weight; in fact, some studies show no increase in body weight in women after moderate drinking, but chronic heavy alcohol consumption may result in increased weight. And, we should also consider that many mixes with distilled spirits can be high in calories and that we often snack with our alcoholic beverages. Calories from alcoholic beverages are produced not only from alcohol but also from carbs (approximately 2 grams/glass of wine; 12 grams/bottle of beer, and zero grams from spirits not mixed with calorie containing additives).

As the holiday season is upon us, many hangover cures will be circulating. What causes the symptoms of a hangover and is there really any cure?

Hangover is mainly due to dehydration and sleep interruption due to excessive drinking.  Some also say it is due to the presence of “congeners” – chemicals produced in dark drinks but not in distilled spirits. The best cure for hangover is people who choose to drink should drink moderately, with plenty of water and try to sleep longer.  Remedies claimed to treat hangover are largely ineffective.

Thanks to Dr. Zakhari for taking time to answer your questions. For more information check out Drink in Moderation from the Distilled Spirits Council and Rethinking Drinking from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

*I was not asked or compensated to write this post.

For more information on alcohol and many other topics of interest to those of us over 50, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Food & Fitness After 50: A, B, Cs of Aging (Agility, Balance, and Coordination)

After hip replacement surgery I was looking for a class that would continue my rehabilitation and help me be more flexible, agile, and coordinated as I approached my mid-60s. I found it, and so much more, at a twice weekly 60-minute “yo-flex” class at my local YMCA. The class combines classical yoga poses, with Pilates moves, and balance exercises; it’s been 5 years since my first class and I’m hooked!

Exercise physiologist, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, reminds us that balance, flexibility, and agility can all be improved with regular practice and should be part of a well-designed exercise program for older adults. “Balance, flexibility, and agility wane with age mostly because we neglect them. One of the many negatives associated with a sedentary lifestyle is that overall motor function—our ability to move in unrestricted ways—atrophies along with muscle mass. It’s true that if we don’t use it, we lose it, and that applies to balance, flexibility, and agility. All too often, balance, flexibility, and agility training are neglected in favor of cardiovascular and strength training.”

When I said I found so much more than an exercise class, I meant that I also found a friend in instructor, Tina. I asked Tina about her journey to healthy aging and I think her story will resonate with many of you and inspire everyone.

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve reached your fifties?

Tina HowardWell, as you know I love yoga!  I practice twice a week at the YMCA and sometimes at home with videos on Yoga with Adriene.  I also enjoy taking yoga classes when I travel to learn from other instructors. I started playing pickleball last year and really enjoyed that until I had knee surgery.  For now, I am limited to light weight training and yoga until my knee integrates fully.  It’s funny how you can be lazy and just think, “I will work out tomorrow,” but when you are injured and can’t exercise, it is all you want to do!

My activity level has been up and down over time.  When I was young, we lived in a city where just going outside was dangerous, and so I was a chubby kid – short for my age, and very round.  I watched a lot of TV.  Then we moved to a suburb with broad streets and little traffic.  Like a lot of 1970s kids, we were on bikes all day…flying around the neighborhood, playing kickball and touch football, only coming inside when it was too dark to see.  I stayed active throughout my twenties and thirties by running and cycling.  My husband is an ex-athlete, so we enjoyed an active lifestyle until kids came along.  As a working parent with three children, my spare time was spent watching my kids play sports.  I began to feel bad and started having aching joints and muscle spasms.  And, then I discovered yoga. Research supports the benefits of yoga for balance and flexibility, and more recently it has been shown to help ease pain of knee osteoarthritis in older women.

What motivates you to stay active? 

When I was younger, I would sign up for competitive road races.  I am a goal-oriented person, so having entered a race made me stick to a training schedule.  As I entered middle age, it came down to something much simpler: I feel really bad when I don’t move. I feel much better when I do.

I know you are a vegetarian; what led you to adopt that dietary pattern?

I don’t eat meat and haven’t since I was a kid.  I’ve always loved animals and my dad took me on farm tours when I was young. Seeing poultry and cattle production and realizing they were being raised for food just bothered me, so I decided to be a vegetarian. And, besides the ethical issues for me, vegetarian diets provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and some cancers.

I have a healthy appetite and could eat all day long, but I’ve found a way to keep hunger in check. I keep a stash of raw almonds everywhere – my car and my briefcase.  They’re a little sweet, so they satisfy my sweet tooth while providing protein, healthy fats, and fiber, so I feel satiated.  Almonds pair well with bananas and apples for a quick breakfast or snack, and they also pair with dark chocolate for a sweet treat.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be?

  1. Learn to read your body’s cues. Try to understand why you feel bad, why you are grouchy, sore, irritated, or sick.  Then, be prepared to try to do some self-care to remedy it.  Many of our health issues are self-inflicted by poor diet and lack of exercise. So, instead of reaching for a pill, first try a lifestyle change.
  2. Hormonal changes, especially at menopause, can lead to insomnia, fatigue, bone and muscle loss, and an increase in belly fat. Find a doctor that understands the hormonal changes of aging and work together to find a solution that is best for you. And, ask your doctor to check other hormone levels, like thyroid and Vitamin D, and if the levels are out of the normal range, remedy it before it leads to major health problems.
  3. Socialize often. With age often comes isolation from kids leaving home, retirement, or the loss of parents or friends. Social interaction takes more planning and effort as we age – if we don’t have to be somewhere, it is easy to stay in our comfort zone at home. Social activities and social connections are important to our mental health.  And, by social interactions, I don’t mean Facebook or Instagram!

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

Find a healthy activity you like and go do it, no matter what.  Don’t wait for your spouse to join you or your friends to sign up with you.  Be prepared to go it alone, be prepared to try a million different things, and be prepared to feel awkward.

When I started practicing yoga, it felt foreign and silly.  Here were these hippy-dippie instructors with belly button rings that could bend themselves into shapes I could only imagine! I’d be in sweatpants, trying to fold myself over after a day at the desk, and I’d think, “this is so not me!” But, I kept going anyway ,and although I didn’t become like the other people, I eventually got comfortable in my own skin and accepted what I could do. Fitting in was more about me accepting myself than being like the others.  So, find your joy – live in it every day.