Food & Fitness After 50: Good Genes + Good Health Habits = The Path to Healthy Aging

This guest blog post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

After high school, Linda stopped competing in gymnastics, but since then has led a physically active lifestyle, including 10-K road races and a handful of marathons. Now at age 56, road races are in her past, but her competitive instincts are still evident: she is fully engaged in a competition against Mother Nature. Linda’s over-arching goal is to look and feel younger than her age, although she knows Mother Nature may have other ideas. Blessed with the right genes and a lifelong commitment to eating well and staying physically active, Linda is happy with the way she looks and feels, but knows that she will have to double down on that commitment as she ages.

There is no doubt that genetics play an important role in how gracefully we age, but our genes are not the only determining factor. Our lifestyle habits also play a critical part in how we look and feel as we grow older. Fortunately, it’s never too late to eat well, move well, and be well, so even if we haven’t paid as close attention to our health and fitness during our first half-century of life, there is still plenty of time and room for improvement.

Linda D
Linda on a 12-mile day hike in Idaho backcountry

The three tips for aging well that have worked for Linda are: 1) get enough sleep every day, 2) eat and drink in moderation (no deprivation, no binging), and, 3) stay physically active.

On those occasions when Linda has gained unwanted fat weight, she sheds the pounds by increasing her daily physical activity—including the time she sets aside for exercise—eliminating snacks, reducing alcohol intake, and eating calorie-controlled meals. All of these changes are simple extensions of Linda’s usual routines, so losing weight never feels like a major life change.

 

Linda rarely sits or naps during the day and is constantly moving around her house, yard, and neighborhood, burning extra calories that aid in long-term weight control. She does not follow a set exercise schedule—although she knows that would be a plus—and she prefers to exercise on her own, opting for the occasional spin or body-pump class with friends. When it comes to exercise, Linda likes the familiarity of a set routine and doesn’t mind repeating the same workout multiple times.

Linda does cardio exercise for heart health and weight control, along with strength exercises to protect her muscle mass and stay toned. For cardio, she enjoys hill walking in the neighborhood or on the treadmill, interspersed with short jogs. When the weather permits, she and her husband like to ride their bikes in the country. Linda has done a 65-miler and would like to retain the stamina to do be able to cycle 20-30 miles without the effort being a major hardship. For strength training, Linda focuses on her arms, back, chest, and core, relying on 15-20 repetitions of relatively light weights (10-20 lb.), moving quickly from one exercise to the next in 20-minute sessions that she tries to accomplish four times each week. Whenever she’s able to keep that schedule, she quickly notices the changes in muscle size and tone.

“I’ve been fortunate to have good health and habits over the years,” Linda said. “Now that I’m in my 50s, it’s time for me to be even more diligent—but not crazily so—about getting enough exercise to keep my strength and muscle mass. I want to continue living an active life and staying strong is so important to that goal. I’m hoping that my understanding the benefits of good eating and exercise, combined with my vanity, will keep me on the right path!”

Dr. Bob Murray and Dr. Chris Rosenbloom are co-authors of Food & Fitness After 50, available in paperback on Kindle edition for E-readers at Amazon

 

How this dietitian enjoys summertime grilling

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

Everyone loves to fire up the grill for a July 4th cookout. How you grill and what you cook on the grill can be tasty, healthy and can even reduce your risk of developing some cancers.  You may have heard that certain foods cooked on the grill at high temperatures aren’t good for you but you may ignore the risk because you love to grill. Well, no need to stop grilling, “just make some smart grill moves in what you cook and how you cook,” says Alice Bender, a registered dietitian and head of nutrition programs at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

First, let’s look at what is at the root of the health concern. The culprits include two chemicals produced when grilling meat. The first are chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that are formed when meat is cooked at very high temperatures causing some the building blocks of protein (amino acids) to break down into HCAs. The other dangerous compound produced during grilling occurs when the fat from the meat hits the hot coals or gas grill lava rocks and causes flare-ups and smoke. The smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Both of these compounds have the potential to alter DNA leading to increase cancer risk. The studies showing the changes are done in animals, and while the human research is only an association, not a cause, but why not make smart moves with grilling to reduce your risk?

What should you grill? The biggest culprit in forming HCAs comes from muscle meat, especially fatty cuts: steaks, burgers, chicken pieces with the skin, and ribs. So, consider leaner cuts of meat (flank steak, skinless chicken or turkey filets, and pork tenderloin) and try some new alternatives, like organic chicken sausages instead of the fatty brats. Other healthy grilling choices include fish, burgers made from soy or ground turkey or chicken breast, and kebabs made with smaller pieces of meat and plenty of vegetables.

The next strategy to reduce your risk is to change your grilling techniques.  All of the following will reduce the formation of HCAs and PAHs to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.

  • Pre-cook meat in the oven and finish it on the grill; that translates to less grilling time but still gives the meat the grilled flavor
  • Don’t eat the charred or blackened parts of grilled meat; cut those off and toss
  • Marinate meat before grilling; marinades seem to provide a barrier between the flames and the meat
  • Use lean cuts of meat and trim all fat
  • Keep the drips to a minimum by using tongs instead of a fork that pierces the meat and leads to more grill flare ups
  • Flip foods more often
  • Grill at lower heat to avoid flare-ups which lead to charring and smoke formation

Now for some good news; grilling vegetables doesn’t increase your risk of cancer; vegetables don’t contain a lot of protein and it is the protein in meat that interacts with the high heat and smoke to produce HCAs and PAHs. So, lighten up on the meat and load up the grill with veggies. Thick slices of veggies work well on the grill or toss smaller cuts of veggies in a grill basket and lightly baste with olive oil and fresh or dried herbs.  Try this Summer Grilled Balsamic Veggie recipe from AICR (and check out all of their healthy recipes) at http://www.aicr.org/health-e-recipes/2016/summer-grilled-balsamic-veggies.html

And, don’t forget that grilled fruit makes for a sweet ending to a meal. Grill slices of apple, pineapple, pears, or peaches and top with vanilla Greek yogurt and sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For more information, take the AICR quiz on grilling and cancer risk.

http://www.aicr.org/enews/2015/05-may/enews-truth-about-grilling-and-cancer.html

 

Food coma? What I’ve learned about eating from my dogs.

I’m a dog lover and I’ve learned a lot about eating from observing my dogs. Bella, a 10-year old shepherd-collie mix, eats like an intuitive eater, not like a dog. Her good eating habits include:

Eating slowly

Chewing every bite before swallowing

Eating to hunger and leaving food in her bowl when full

Drinking plenty of water

Samson, a 2-year old German shepherd (pictured here asleep with his head still inside the food bowl) has also taught me some lessons about how not to eat. His bad eating habits include:

Gulping down his food

Seemingly swallowing food whole without chewing (I know this because sometimes he has to stop eating and clear the food that gets stuck in his huge jaws.)

Licking the bowl clean (he even picks up his bowl and drops it at my feet when he is finished eating as if saying, “more, please.”)

And, sneaking over to Bella’s food bowl to finish off her food

So, try to model Bella’s food habits even though many of us eat like Samson!