Food & Fitness After 50: Pickleball and Pickle Juice? What you need to know to stay hydrated

“The human body is basically a leaky bag of water with legs.”

 

Dr. Bob Murray

 

helene-b
My friend, Helene, playing pickleball at our local YMCA

April is National Pickleball Month! Did you know it is one of the fastest growing sports in America? Pickleball has been described as mashup of ping pong, tennis, and racquetball. If you’ve never seen pickleball in action, here is a clip to introduce you to the sport.

Because so many older adults have taken up the sport (it is so popular at my YMCA the parking lot is often overflowing!) we’ve been asked about hydration strategies. To answer your questions, I turned to hydration expert, friend, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, Dr. Bob Murray. Dr. Bob was the director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute for over 20 years, so he knows a thing or two (or maybe a hundred) about hydration.

I’m a recreational pickleball player who plays for 1-2 hours with plenty of breaks, but my husband is a competitive player and may play 3-4 hours a day, several times a week. How do our hydration needs differ? 

The volume of fluid we need to drink each day varies widely due to several factors. Body size, the environment in which we live, our natural predisposition to sweating, and how much physical activity we do help determine how much fluid we need to stay well hydrated. For example, a large person who works up a sweat in a warm environment might need to drink two gallons of fluid (256 oz) over the course of a day to stay hydrated whereas a small individual who stays indoors and just putters around during the day might require only two quarts of fluid (64 oz).  As a rule of thumb, we all need to consume at least 2 to 4 quarts of fluid each day and for those who sweat a lot, that volume can sometimes exceed 10 quarts each day.  Another rule of thumb is that about 20% of our daily fluid needs comes from the foods we eat (most fruits and vegetables have especially high water content), while the remaining 80% comes from the various beverages we drink. In that regard, all beverages count toward our hydration. Colas, coffees, teas, and yes, even beers and wines, can contribute to keeping us hydrated (although beer or wine might affect the hand-eye coordination needed for pickleball, so save that beverage for post-play.) The only exception is shots of alcohol because the high alcohol content promotes the loss of urine. During physical activity, the loss of sweat can range from as little as 8 ounces each hour to over 60 ounces per hour in those who sweat heavily. That’s a lot of fluid and it is best replaced during physical activity by drinking at regular intervals.

pickleball-clipart2play both indoors and outdoors, any difference in hydration advice? 

The best advice is to drink enough during physical activity to minimize dehydration because from both a health and a performance standpoint, it is always better to be well hydrated than even slightly dehydrated.  Depending on conditions, we can lose a lot of sweat during indoor or outdoor exercise, so it’s wise to keep fluid nearby anytime we work up a sweat.

I play outdoors and just drink water and then when I got home I drink diluted fruit juice. Is that a good hydration strategy? 

The best hydration strategy is to drink enough to minimize weight loss during physical activity, without over-drinking. If the combination of water and diluted fruit juice accomplishes that, then that’s a good hydration strategy. How do we know how much to drink during exercise?  On days when you know you are going to be sweating, weigh yourself just before exercise and then again soon after. If you’ve lost more than a pound or two, that’s a pretty good sign that you need to drink more to prevent performance-sapping dehydration.  If you’ve gained weight, that’s a clear indication that you drank too much and can do with less.

pickleball (1)When I play in pickleball tournaments, and I win, I continue to play. My first match is at 8 AM and it may last 45 minutes or so. If I keep winning, I may play 5-6 matches. Often, I will sit out for extended periods of time waiting for a court or for a match to end, so may not end up playing my last match until late afternoon. Any advice for staying hydrated during the long tournament days? 

This is a great example of conditions where daily fluid needs will be very high.  Drinking during the games to minimize dehydration will be vital to staying hydrated, as will drinking enough between games to ensure that you begin the next game well hydrated.  Under these kinds of circumstances, it is best to rely on a variety of fluids including water, sports drinks, and juices to help you stay hydrated.

Can I over-consume electrolyte drinks? How do I how much is too much?

Typical sports drinks do not contain enough electrolytes (minerals) to pose a risk of over consumption.  Some athletes have overdone electrolyte supplements such as salt tablets or electrolyte powders and, in those cases, upset stomachs and nausea can result and those symptoms are usually enough to make people stop taking them before serious medical problems can occur.  One of the benefits of relying on sports drinks rather than just plain water is that the electrolytes in sports drink aid hydration by helping us drink more and lose less (as urine). The electrolytes in sports drinks promote the drive to drink and we retain the fluid more than when we drink plain water.

pickleballSeems like pickle juice was made for pickleball….is it a hydrating beverage? I heard the acid in the pickle juice can stop cramps. True?

Pickle juice definitely contains electrolytes, but most people can’t drink enough pickle juice to stay well hydrated. It is true that pickle juice has been shown to reduce the duration of muscle cramps, so if you are prone to cramping, you might give a shot of straight pickle juice a try the next time you feel a cramp coming on.

I open a mustard packet and squirt it my mouth when I start to get cramps…I’ve heard the turmeric in the mustard stops cramps. Is that true?

There are lots of “cures’ for muscle cramps that include everything from eating a packet of mustard to pinching your top lip.  The latest research shows that cramps can be stopped or reduced by stimulating receptors in the mouth, throat, and stomach that in turn reduce the excess nerve activity that causes cramping. Pickle juice and mustard both fit that description, although stronger spices such as capsaicin, ginger, and cinnamon might be more effective. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that gives mustard the yellow color, but it is not known to halt exercise-induced muscle cramps.

mini-siteFor more on hydration strategies, see our chapter on staying well hydrated in Food & Fitness After 50, sold at Amazon and other booksellers.

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

Food & Fitness After 50: Physical Activity is a Polypill – Say What?

Poly means many and polypharmacy refers to taking many drugs, prescription as well as over the counter, that can bring unwanted problems for older adults. Some people have shoe boxes full of prescription medicines, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, and other dietary supplements claiming to cure all ills. But, what if there was a polypill; one pill that could help us all improve our healthspan? In today’s post, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, lets us in on the secret of a polypill.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

There is little doubt that regular physical activity lengthens our healthspan—the number of years when we are in good health.  Lots of research has made it clear that no medication is more effective than physical activity in helping us stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  For that reason, exercise has been referred to as a pollypill —a medication with multiple benefits.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that all the physical activity we encounter during the course of a normal day has a role in preventing heart disease.  The researchers looked at the daily physical activity habits of 5,861 older women (average age was 78) over a 5-year period and found that even light activity reduced the chances of death from heart disease.

Only about 25% of adults in the U.S. achieve the current recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) each week.  For anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the notion that all movement counts may well promote more light physical activity during the day.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Walking, dusting, vacuuming, climbing stairs at home, gardening and lawn work, playing with children and pets, and similar low-intensity activities are part of everyday life for most Americans.  In the JAMA study, the older women engaged in a total of 3 to over 6 hours of light physical activity each day.  Not surprisingly, more physical activity was associated with lower risk of heart disease, a finding that is likely also true for older men, although that likelihood awaits confirmation.

exerciseAny time we get our heart, lungs, and muscles out of their comfort zones—even for a little bit—our bodies benefit.  A quick look at the list of health benefits of physical activity should be enough to convince even the most sedentary person to move more.

  • Lower deaths from all causes
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of hypertension
  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Lower risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancers
  • Lower risk of serious falls
  • Lower risk of complications after surgery
  • Lower risk of metabolic syndrome (includes obesity)
  • Lower risk of depression (and reduces the severity of depression)
  • Better memory and cognitive function
  • Better bone health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Greater life expectancy

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even light physical activity conferred all those same benefits, even if to a lesser extent than more vigorous physical activity?  There is a strong possibility that is the case, although much more research is needed to confirm that educated guess.  What is known is that moving more during the day is a goal we all should embrace.

In general, Americans sit too often for too long.  Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.  Even if we exercise during the day, sitting for hours on end increases our risk of those disorders.  Happily, interrupting prolonged sitting with periodic 5-minute physical activity “snacks” counters the negative aspects of sitting.  Climbing a few flights of stairs, taking a brisk walk, or doing simple calisthenics can be easily accomplished during a 5-minute break.

Physical activity is indeed a polypill that can help us lead longer, happier, healthier lives and the fact that all movement counts helps make it easier for all of us to keep moving toward a longer healthspan.

Dr. Bob Murray is an exercise physiologist and managing principal of a sports science consulting company. His passion for exercise and health began as a physical education teacher and coach, and continues today in his late 60s as an avid swimmer, cyclist, and fitness fan.

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

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

“The strong live long!”

ChicagoI recently returned from Chicago from the annual American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Summit. My friend and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 , Dr. Bob Murray, and I gave a talk titled “Is 70 the New 40?” Since Bob and I are closer to 70 than 65, we say YES to that question!

For those of you who have not yet reached 70, what does it take to feel like you are still 40? And, for those you who have reached your 70th birthday, what does it take to stay on the path to optimal aging?

Here are some key takeaways from our talk as well as some other experts who spoke at the conference, emphasizing what we’ve been saying along….eat well, move well, and be well!

 

#1.  Lift weights. Whether you call it strength or resistance training, maintaining muscle mass is critical to healthy aging. Our muscle mass peaks around age 25 and holds steady until about 40, but then declines about 1% per year until age 65. The loss of strength is even greater…. about 2 to 4% per year. The good news is that we can easily preserve our muscle mass and strength with a couple of bouts of resistance weight training each week.

We all know the exercise guidelines call for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and “also” strength train two days a week. The word “also” was troubling to key note speaker Dr. Eric Rawson. Adding strength training is almost an afterthought; it would be “nice” to do it, but it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in preserving health. “There are under-recognized benefits to strength training,” says Dr. Rawson. Strength underpins skill and if you increase strength it helps with overall physical activity.  Think about the ability to climb stairs as an example. It takes leg strength to climb stairs which may be why so many people use escalators or elevators instead of stairs. Dr. Rawson says it’s not that aerobic or endurance exercise isn’t good, it’s just that both aerobic and strength are needed for optimal aging. “If exercise is medicine, then resistance exercise is a gateway drug,” claims Dr. Rawson.Take-the-Stairs-Instead

#2. Weight training has more benefits than building or maintaining muscle. Dr. Stu Phillips elaborated on the health benefits of strength training in his presentation.  He reviewed the most recent evidence showing that resistance training “has health-related benefits that are not dissimilar to those imbued by aerobic exercise.” Strength training reduces the risk for falls and is an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, some cancers, anxiety and depression. Dr. Bob Murray lists many benefits from strength training in our chapter on getting and maintaining muscle and strength:

  • Stabilizing arthritic joints
  • Improving balance
  • Increasing resting metabolism
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Lowering risk of all-cause mortality
  • Lowering risk of osteoporosis
  • Lowering risk of lower back pain
  • Lowering risk of obesity
  • Accelerated recovery from illness or injury
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved self confidence
  • Enhanced self-esteem

As Dr. Bob likes to say, “The strong live long!”

#3.  Maintain your body weight and if you want to lose weight, stay away from quick weight loss schemes.

I’m a big believer in monitoring your body weight so “weight creep” doesn’t happen. No one gains 30 pounds overnight, but they do gain 1 or 2 pounds a year without realizing it and as the years go by, the pounds add up. When you find yourself wanting to lose weight, the quick weight loss plan du jour seems tempting. But, as we age, weight loss should not be the goal. Instead, “body composition management is more important than weight management to enhance successful aging,” says Dr. Ellen Evans, in her special lecture, “Helping Baby Boomers Stay Functional.”

What Dr. Evans means by managing body composition is that older adults who want to lose weight really want to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle and bone. According to Dr. Evans, “regular physical activity, especially resistance training exercise, in addition to caloric restriction attenuates the loss of muscle and bone mass loss and increasing dietary protein intake enhances this effect.” The idea that we lose lean muscle during weight loss wasn’t new to me, but I never thought about the negative impact of weight loss on bone health. There is no cure for osteoporosis, so we need to do everything we can to preserve bone mass and bone strength as we age.

So, is 70 the new 40? It can be if you manage your body composition, strength train twice a week, and also keep up your aerobic exercise.

Learn more about eating well, moving well, and being well in Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

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

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Clearing the Confusion on Probiotic Supplements

intestinal-gut-bacteria-balancing-microbiomeA friend asked a simple question, “should I take a probiotic supplement?” I wish there was a simple “yes” or “no” answer, as I’m sure that is what she wanted. But, as with many questions in nutrition, the answer is it depends. It depends on:

  • What is the reason for taking a probiotic supplement?
  • Is there a specific health problem that you are trying to alleviate by taking a probiotic supplement?
  • What dietary sources of probiotics are you consuming? And, is your diet rich in not only probiotics, but prebiotics and dietary fiber? Diets high in fat, sugar, and excess alcohol do not promote the good bacteria in our guts, while a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, pro-and prebiotics contribute to a healthy balance of bacteria in our guts. (For more information on dietary sources of pre-and probiotics, click here and here.)

I had the chance to ask Dr. Anthony Thomas, Director of Scientific Affairs for Jarrow Formulas* to help us  navigate the landscape on probiotic supplements. First, let’s understand that probiotics won’t completely alter your gut microbiome because “probiotics do not sustainably colonize the adult gut, but should be thought of as temporary, transient residents that interact with the body and its microbial ecosystem to influence function and health,” according to Dr. Thomas.

Let’s start with the definition of probiotics:

  • “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (WHO/FAO definition).

The key words in that sentence, according to Dr. Thomas are live when administered, adequate amounts, and health benefit.

He explained that the probiotic has to be live when you take it. How do you know? “Choose products that include the “Best Used Before Date” date and avoid products that declare potency “at time of manufacture,” as this measurement does not reflect the amount still alive when purchased and consumed. A transparent, quality manufacturer lists the guaranteed minimum number of live cells, measured in CFUs, per serving when stored as recommended and used prior to the “best used before date.” Dr. Thomas goes on to explain that while probiotics don’t really expire, but the number of live cells may not meet label claims if not stored as stated on the label and used beyond that date. The “time at manufacture” almost certainly over represents the quantity of live cells because the normal manufacturing process results in some die-off of live probiotics.

probiotic_identification_graph
Identification chart courtesy of Jarrow Formulas

Adequate amounts mean not only quantity of probiotics in a supplement, but quality. “Probiotics are strain, dose, and condition specific.” Strains should be designated on a supplement label, so you know what you are getting. Dr. Thomas explains, “not all strains perform equally, and more strains are not better, better strains are better.” For example, if looking for a supplement to help with bowel issues, Lactobacillus (genus) plantarum (species) 229v (strain) is clinically proven to reduce bowel discomfort at dosing of 10 to 20 billion live cells daily.” The probiotic identification chart illustrates the difference between genus, species, and strain in a way that is understandable to those of us who might have forgotten what we learned in biology!

And, that leads us to the last part of the definition, health benefits. A probiotic must be studied to know if it conveys a health benefit. If a label simply says something like 40 billion CFU with 16 probiotic strains, it may or may not be clinically relevant. “Don’t be swayed by a large number of colony forming units (CFUs is how probiotics are measured). What you really want is the right strain in the right amounts,” says Dr. Thomas.

There are a lot of resources to help consumers know if a probiotic meets the definition from the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). It takes some homework to take the guess work out, but if you are going to pay good money for a supplement, isn’t it worth knowing that it has evidence to support it will do what you want it to do?

I think this statement from the ISAPP sums up what we know, “probiotics are not a “cure all” and it is not necessary to take them to be healthy. But they may help you even if you are generally healthy. Probiotics will have different benefits – look for a product with studies that support the benefit you want.”

Dr. Thomas cautions us to be aware of “disingenuous marketing masquerading as education” for some probiotic supplements. A product claiming to be “ancient” might sound impressive, but if the product doesn’t list the strains, 100 billion CFUs per serving is meaningless.

Resources:

To learn more about a specific supplement check out the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Produces Available in the USA to help you understand the evidence supporting a probiotic supplement.

And, here is a link to helpful infographics on probiotics from ISAPP.

*I heard Dr. Thomas speak at a sponsored food and nutrition conference, but I was neither asked nor compensated to write this post.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Plant-Based Eating

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that the number of new food and drink products that mentioned plant-based eating grew 268% between 2012 and 2018. There is no getting around it…plant-based eating, from oat milk to chickpea snacks, are filling the shelves of grocery stories.

Sharon head shotI sat down with the Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer, to ask her about plant-based eating for the 50+ crowd.

What drew you to be the plant-powered dietitian? Did you grow up in vegetarian household or was it something you discovered in your studies in nutrition and dietetics?

I grew up in a mostly vegetarian household. My parents tried to follow a vegetarian diet for religious reasons, so I grew up eating a lot of healthy, home-made foods and some of the funky vegetarian foods of the 60s and 70s. I then went to school to study nutrition at Loma Linda University, which is a meat-free campus, even back in the 80s. This is the original Blue Zone*in the US. After school, I was more of a flexitarian—I never really had acquired the taste for meat, I always preferred plants. After that I became a pescatarian (one who eats fish) for a while, then moved back to lacto ovo (milk and eggs) vegetarian. About 7 years ago I took a 30-day vegan challenge so that I could personally understand this diet to counsel others. I found that I felt good about my own health and the minimal impact on animals and the planet. So, I’ve been moving along on this diet pattern ever since.

What’s the difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based eating?

Plant-based eating originally was defined as a diet that focuses mostly on plant foods. However, in recent years, more and more experts, groups, restaurants, authors, food companies, and people are using the term plant-based to mean 100% plant-based, as in vegan.  In nutrition research, the term is still used more broadly, however most people consider it to mean vegan. Vegetarian is a diet that excludes animal flesh but allows for dairy and eggs. Vegan excludes all animal foods in the diet, including dairy and eggs.

Many older adults, me included, grew up with meat at the center of the plate. How would you suggest we break away from that mindset?

I always suggest that making steps toward a more plant-based diet is a great start towards a healthful, sustainable eating pattern. One of the first things you can do is switch your thinking; not every meal has to have a piece of meat as the star. On a plant-based diet, the plants are the stars. I often start my meal planning with the plant food. For example, if I have a butternut squash in my kitchen, I start thinking about that as the star of my plate—perhaps I will stuff it with lentils and faro or use it in a thick stew with white beans and serve a side salad. The inspiration comes from the seasonal plants. Other things you can do: find plant-based swaps. If your favorite meal is spaghetti Bolognese, try a lentil Bolognese; turn your pepperoni pizza into a broccoli cashew pizza, and your meat lasagna into a kale lasagna. You can also turn to the wonderful variety of ethnic foods that are based on plants, such as falafel, hummus, tofu stir-fry, and Chana masala.

There is a lot of emphasis on quality protein for aging muscle; can older adults get high quality protein in a plant-powered diet and what are the best sources of protein to support muscle mass and strength?

There are many examples of high-quality plant protein foods—similar to the quality of animal protein. The star plant protein is soy—it is similar in quality to animal protein. In addition, pulses (beans, peas, and lentils) are high in quality, too. The important point is that if someone consumes a balanced plant-based diet, with adequate sources of a variety of plants—pulses, soy foods, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds—they can get the all of the amino acids needed by the body from those foods. It’s not necessary to “combine” or “complement” proteins at each meal. However, it is important to make sure you are selecting a variety of protein-rich foods at each meal to ensure adequate protein intake. One note: vegans may need slightly more protein daily to accommodate for digestibility—the high fiber nature of many plant foods means that the proteins are not quite as digestible. So, it’s a good idea to get servings of protein-rich foods at each meal and snack. And don’t forego soy needlessly—this is a really important plant protein source for vegans. (For more information, see Today’s Dietitian for an article on plant proteins, written by Sharon.)

What are the benefits of plant-powered diets on chronic disease that affect many older adults ?

There is a good body of evidence that suggests plant-based diets, including vegetarian and vegan, are linked with a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. There is more research coming out on issues such as arthritis, but there is not as much in this area—we need more research. It makes perfect sense that plant-based diets would help those suffering from arthritis as whole plant foods contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Plant-foods can also lower cholesterol, C-Reactive Protein (CRP, a measure of inflammation), and blood pressure levels.  A lot of the benefits of a plant-based diet are not as much about what you DON’T eat, it’s more about what you do eat.

How many daily servings of fruits and vegetables do you recommend? Many older adults are concerned about the sugar in fruit; how do you respond to that comment?

I recommend about 3 servings of unsweetened fruit and 6 servings of vegetables per day. I tell people that the natural sugars in fruits are not a problem—fruit should be your dessert at each meal!

Many older adults are weight conscious; how can a plant-based diet help them control calories?

Studies have consistently found that plant-based diets are linked with lower weights. In particular, vegan diets have been linked with a whole category of lowered body mass index (BMI) than non-vegetarian diets. However, diets that include a mostly whole plant foods, such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, are very high in fiber and volume, so they can fill you up and satisfy you with fewer calories.

What would you say to encourage an older adult to shift to a plant-based diet?

You can reduce your risk of disease—and even effectively manage diseases, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. It can also help to reduce your carbon footprint.  And, it can reduce your levels of chronic inflammation.

Give us 3 tips for those who want to adopt plant-based eating?

  • Try Meatless Monday—just one day a week go plant-based for the whole day, once you’ve got this covered you can add a few more days.
  • Turn your favorite meals into plant-based versions by swapping out some foods, such as meat for beans, chicken for tofu, and cheese for nuts.
  • Try the power bowl formula: whole grains base + plant protein (tempeh, tofu, beans) + veggies + flavorful sauce.

plant-powered-diet-hardcoverThanks, Sharon, for helping us understand plant-based PlantPoweredFor Life covereating; I would like to add another tip….check out Sharon’s terrific books, The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life. Both books are on my shelf!

 

*For those of you who don’t know, Blue Zones are areas in the world with the longest-lived populations; I’ll write more about Blue Zones in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Meet the Zippendales

February is the month where we turn attention to affairs of the heart. Of course, there is Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but it is also American Heart Month, designed to raise awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.

Today s post,  is written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and he shares his personal story of open-heart surgery and coming back strong.

zippendales
Bob, Ed, and John all have the telltale scars from open-heart surgery,

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, accounting for over 600,000 deaths each year.  Heart disease is an umbrella term for a number of heart ailments that include coronary artery disease (the most common heart disease), problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias due to electrical problems), congenital heart defects (heart problems that we’re born with), aortic aneurysm (enlarged, weakened aorta which is the main artery in the body), heart failure (due to fluid accumulation in other parts of the body), and cardiomyopathy (enlarged, stiff heart muscle).

coronary-heart-disease  When heart disease is identified, there are many interventions, some of them surgical, that can address the problem, saving countless lives each year.  For example, coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque (cholesterol and other substances) in the coronary arteries that feed the heart cells.  Too much plaque narrows the arteries (atherosclerosis) and restricts blood flow, causing angina and eventually a heart attack, often with permanent damage and weakening of the heart in those who survive. Healthy diet and lifestyle habits (no smoking), regular exercise, and medications are the go-to steps for treating coronary artery disease.  When the arteries are too clogged, bypass surgery or the placement of stents to widen the arteries are common surgical procedures.

Open-heart surgery is a common procedure and not just for coronary artery disease.  For example, Bob had an electrical problem (persistent atrial fibrillation), Ed had a plumbing problem (coronary artery disease), and John had a mechanical problem (congenital valve defect).  All three needed open-heart surgery to fix their problems.

There are many ways our hearts can malfunction, and when open-heart surgery is needed, this life-saving procedure takes a short-term toll on mental, physical, and emotional health, not to mention a reduction in physical activity that can quickly erode fitness.  Many people who have had open-heart surgery say that it takes at least six months to feel normal again.  Six months can feel like an eternity for active people who are anxious to return to their normal activities as soon as possible.  That desire can help people adhere to healthy diet and activity guidelines following open-heart surgery, but as Bob, Ed, and John can each attest, doing too much too soon can prolong the recovery process.

Our bodies are capable of overcoming the trauma of horrific accidents and major surgeries—if given enough time and the right approach to recovery.  Damaged tissues and a traumatized nervous system require time to heal, a gradual process that can be spurred along with good nutrition, ample rest, and the right amount of physical activity: not too much, not too little.  Pushing too hard, too soon stresses cells that are still healing, slowing the repair process and possibly causing even more damage.  The same is true with the nervous system.  The soreness and exhaustion we feel after surgeries and illnesses are important signals for the need to rest and allow healing to occur unimpeded.

Whether it’s major surgery, a sprained ankle, the flu, or chemotherapy, periodic setbacks to health are a fact of life.  As we age, such setbacks become more challenging, especially for those with existing health problems.  Bob, Ed, and John returned to their active lifestyles, although each complained that their recovery took longer than they had hoped.  And each admitted that trying to do too much, too soon likely made their recovery more difficult.  Bob relied on a combination of swimming, bicycling, and strength training to return to a new normal, a stop-and-start-again process that took at least two years.  Ed was the quickest to get back to normal function; Ed gradually increased his walking, chores, and weight lifting over six months and that approach did the trick.  John bicycled and strength trained, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of his efforts, paying the price of daily exhaustion whenever he overdid it.  A year or so post-surgery, John was able to exercise normally, and his aches and pains disappeared.

Recovering from a major illness or surgery not only takes time, it also takes patience.  We can help our bodies recover through proper diet, light activity, and especially rest, but we must remain patient enough to allow our bodies to recover at their own pace.

For more information on optimal nutrition and exercise check out our new Food & Fitness After 50 web page.

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