Food & Fitness After 50: No Challenge, No Change

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

A new meaning to “no challenge, no change”

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

A new mind set

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intrinsic Joys of Being Active and Eating Well

 

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

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

 

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

Overcoming Challenges

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

Four Tips for Healthy Aging

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

From Scientific Writer to Creative Writer

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: It’s True! Good Things Come in Small Packages

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” George Burns, Comedian

For 38 years, Bo worked in IT for IBM and then “retired” and worked for 3 years in the “best job I ever had.” That job was for the local Chamber of Commerce where “everyday was different, unpredictable, and fun.” But, being the people-person, she is, Bo says the best part was the people she worked with and the interactions with others in her community. Having just celebrated her 69th birthday, Bo is now fully retired, but she spends a good part of every day at the YMCA taking aerobic classes three days a week from Jean the Dancing Queen.”  She also plays pickelball for several hours 4 to 5 days a week.

Healthy Habits to Control Weight

Bo 2Bo has always been petite and the only time she gained weight was during her pregnancies with her 2 boys, but she quickly got back to her usual, healthy weight. While many adults gain weight as they age, Bo manages her weight by eating smaller portions, eating lots of fresh veggies, limiting sweets and sugar, and paying attention to how much and when she eats. “I’m lucky that I like the healthy stuff!” She often finds she doesn’t have much of an appetite, but eating breakfast and a mid-day meal around 2 pm (which she calls a cross between lunch and dinner as “linner”) keeps her fueled without being full. Her only dietary indulgence is a “real Coca-Cola” a couple of times a week. She also pays attention to hydration and is sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to replenish water loss during activity.

Keep moving

As she has gotten older, Bo knows she needs to pay attention to her body and adjust as needed. “Know what you can do and what you can’t do.” TRX is all the rage at our local Y, but she knows that it isn’t for her. “Understand your body, but stay involved and active.” Her words of wisdom are “the more you use it, the better it gets.” Great advice for everyone!

Keep motivated

Many sedentary folks look at active people and think it is easy for them or that it comes naturally, but Bo makes exercise a priority in her life. Bo’s advice is “don’t be lazy; tell yourself you have to go to exercise class, an activity, or for that daily walk. “Feed your body right and use it every day!” Her words reminded me that while I often would prefer to skip morning exercise class and sleep in a bit longer or linger over a second cup of coffee, I have never once said, “I wish I hadn’t exercised today!” We all feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally after a good workout!

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Busting Myths on Fibers

bread-and-grainsI put the “s” on the end of fiber for a reason. While you have probably heard for the need to increase fiber intake, Dr. Julie Miller Jones, a professor and researcher from St. Paul, Minnesota, says, “We should talk about fibers, like we talk about vitamins, because they do different things for our health.” I heard Dr. Miller Jones at a recent conference discussing carbohydrate myths. (The session was sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation, but I was not asked, nor was I compensated to write this post).

One of the myths she addressed is that fruit and vegetables provide all the fiber anyone needs. Look at these three breakfast choices and guess which contains the most fiber: keep in mind that women over age 50 should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day, and men 38 grams.
#1
12-ounces of Bolthouse Farms Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

#2
Multigrain bagel thin with peanut butter and a small apple with the skin

#3
½ cup Fiber One Cereal, ½ cup Cheerios, ¾ cup milk, and ¼ cup of blueberries

Breakfast #1 has only 2.1 grams of fiber, #2 contains 8.6 grams of fiber, and #3 has 19.5 grams of fiber. The biggest contributor to fiber in the third breakfast is the high-fiber breakfast cereal, not the berries (and, is my usual morning breakfast).

The stats of fiber intake are sad! The average intake in the U.S. is 17 grams with only 5% meeting adequate intake for fiber. But, let’s get back to that fibers comment made by Dr. Miller Jones.

Fiber is defined as the fibrous material or roughage in foods that can’t be broken down in the stomach or intestines, so it passes through the body. Fiber can aid in regular bowel movements, can bind with cholesterol to speed its removal, and help keep blood sugar in check. Fiber comes in basically two types:

Insoluble fiber is the kind found in cereals and other grains and acts like a broom to sweep clean the gastro-intestinal tract.
Soluble fiber is found in fruits and vegetables and helps regulate blood sugar and cholesterol.

Most foods have a bit of both and we need both, but if you want to tackle the fiber shortage, choose grains. It takes a lot of fruits and veggies to get to the recommended intake of fibers. To illustrate, remember that Fiber One cereal? A half cup has 14 grams of fiber. Compare to 4.4 grams in a medium apple with the skin or 3.8 grams in a half cup of blackberries or a half cup of stewed prunes.

Here is a link to a list of high fiber foods.

Label claims can lead you think a food is higher in fiber than it is. If a food product claims to be a “good source” of fiber, that means it has 2.5 grams of fiber per serving. An “excellent” source means a serving has at least 5 grams.

So, don’t ignore the contribution that grains make to your fiber intake; I’ll be the first to admit that high fiber cereals like Fiber One or All-Bran aren’t the tastiest, but mixed with another cereal, used as a topping on yogurt, or crushed like crackers in soup can give you big benefits. People who eat more fiber have less chronic diseases, like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, and have lower body weights (for the complete run down on fiber, check out this position paper on the health benefits of fibers.)

Dr. Chris Rosenbloom, along with co-author Dr. Bob Murray, are the authors of Food & Fitness After 50, a guide to helping you eat well, move well, and be well at 50, 60, 70, and beyond. The paperback on Kindle edition are available at Amazon.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Running Away from Diabetes

“What are you taking for your diabetes?” was the question Bill was asked when he had a physical exam for his employer’s insurance. He almost fell out of his chair and replied that he didn’t have diabetes, but the blood test showed otherwise. After a momentary “freak out,” his doctor said he could try changing his diet and start exercising but if that didn’t lower his blood sugar level than medication was on the horizon.

Bill Pratt 1Bill, now age 60, had that wake-up call 4 years ago. Today his blood sugar is normal, and diet and exercise did the trick. But, he had a lifetime of poor eating and sedentary behaviors to overcome.

Bill has always struggled with his weight; as a kid his not-so-nice nickname was “Fat Albert.” As an adult, his weight reached a high of 220 pounds and on his 5’10” frame, that equated to a body mass index (BMI) of 30.1, putting him in the obese category. (To learn if your BMI is in a healthy range, plug your height and weight into this online calculator).

After his diagnosis of diabetes, Bill started running 2 miles every day. Exercise is one of the pillars of diabetes management, with diet being the other. But, Bill said he “was afraid to eat so he just stopped.” His wife was concerned he would suffer from of malnutrition, so she called upon a neighbor, a former registered dietitian. (She was profiled in an early blog post; to read about her, click here.)

Bill said that today he is reminded to practice good health by thinking of the quote, attributed to baseball player, Mickey Mantle; “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

His strategies for aging well include exercise. “Running is not only good to manage my blood sugar, it is a great stress reliever and my ‘epiphany’ time. I get my best ideas when my mind is free while running.” He has also come to appreciate the value of rest and a good night’s sleep. “I’m a proponent of the 20-minute power nap!” And, he also stays young at heart by learning from his sons, ages 29 and 26, who keep him abreast the latest trends, cool new music and bands, and exposing him to new influences that he would not otherwise get in his circle of friends.

His advice for others is to get and stay on a path to healthy aging by planning. “Planning when I can fit running into my day and what to eat helps me execute my wellness strategy.” This is great advice, too often we think we lack will power but what we really lack is advance planning as a tool to help us with weight loss or managing chronic diseases. This is summed up nicely in a tweet by registered dietitian, Jill Weisenberger:

Jills quote

Bill reminds us to take a hard look in the mirror and ask, “Am I living a sustainable lifestyle?” Bill’s answer four years ago was “no,” but today it is “yes.” He wants to be around for his wife, kids and future grandchildren. “Just be committed; that and have a supportive spouse like I do!”

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: The Value of Life-Long Learning

Elizabeth CarlsonWe often hear about the value of life-long learning, but how many of us are stuck in our daily grinds and tell ourselves that someday we’ll get around to reading that book or taking an online class to improve a skill that has eluded us? Well, not Elizabeth, who at age 89, is still learning. Recently, she enrolled in financial planning courses so she could manage her own investments (which she does quite well from her laptop!) Elizabeth had to learn to do for herself at an early age. Her husband died when she was just 43 years old so she set her priorities: get a job, raise her three children (who were in high school at the time), and make sure she had enough money to help her kids get to college. From a research librarian to working in consumer affairs for a regional grocery store chain, she did whatever she needed to do to support her family.

When asked about her path to healthy aging, Elizabeth recounted how her parents set a great example on healthy eating, which she has passed on to her children. “My father had a garden and we always had fresh vegetables on the dinner table. I learned to can what we grew so there would always be vegetables in the house, even in the harsh New England winters.” Her parents also raised chickens and had fresh eggs, and they encouraged her and her three siblings to choose “colorful” foods, long before the dietary mantra to do so came to be popular. She became a canning leader for the local high school to teach boys and girls how to preserve food. She thinks that Americans have “come full circle,” enjoying gardening and shopping at Farmer’s Markets and trying to choose healthier foods.

As for exercise, she was always active. “I grew up before the Internet and screen time was a thing; we were just outside all of the time. My dad played baseball so there was always a game going on in the field near our house.” Today, she belongs to the local YMCA, but hasn’t exercised as much as she would like as she recuperates from a broken wrist, but she knows she will get back to it soon. “I love group exercise for the social aspects; my fellow exercisers are my friends, even if I never see them outside of the gym.” She loved riding a bicycle, but she gave that up 3 years ago (at the age of 86), because she didn’t feel “safe” on the bike any longer.

Elizabeth worries for many older adults who live on a fixed income and can’t afford healthy foods. Indeed, food insecurity, the lack of money to buy food, is estimated to affect 5 million older adults in the U.S. Elizabeth admits she is a “worrier,” but she is learning to relax and urges everyone to “enjoy their life.”

I am sure that Elizabeth will celebrate her 90th birthday in February, surrounded by her children and 5 grandchildren and will be setting her next learning goal, while enjoying her life. Thank you for sharing your journey, and keep on inspiring us to be life-long learners.

 

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: A Healthy Mindset Can Provide Big Rewards

Bonne, now in her mid-70s, is a California gal at heart, even though she now lives in the southeastern U.S. Born and raised in California, Bonne embraced the west coast fitness movement in the 1960s and 1970s to keep her body and her health in the best possible shape. Californians were ahead of the curve on the fitness trends; she was fit even before Jane Fonda’s call to action with her workout video in the early 1980s. (We all remember Jane’s workout videos!) “Living in southern California was synonymous with looking good, and eating and exercise were a very important part of my life.” Bonne worked full-time as a market research consultant and raised a family, but always found time to be active and eat well. She eats a plant-centered diet, but eats small portions of meat. She enjoys a variety of different cultural cuisines: Indian, Mexican, Turkish, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Italian are all favorites. She cites the diversity of bold flavors as a big reason to break out of the typical American diet rut. She is careful to reduce sugar intake and eats a variety of foods to reduce inflammation (Foods that fight inflammation). Bonne makes her own special beverage of ginger water. (Bonne’s recipe: Cut fresh ginger and simmer in water with stevia leaves, strain, and add to sparkling water for refreshing drink because “water is a great beverage, but it gets boring.”)

As she has aged, she realized that she had to change her activities from high impact sports, like skiing, tennis and running, to low impact workouts. Now she plays golf (quite well; being named the “most improved 9-hole golfer” at her golf club), is an avid gardener and practices yoga and tai chi. Over 500 clinical research trials and 100 systematic reviews have been published on the health benefits of tai chi. For aging adults, the benefits include improving balance, reducing falls, strengthening the lower body, reducing osteoarthritis pain, and improving cognitive function (Health benefits of Tai Chi.)

Bonne yoga
Bonne practicing yoga (photo courtesy of Al Olsen)

 

Bonne says her mindset about activity never changed, she occasionally “strayed” but in the back of her mind she knew she had to “eat properly and move.” She takes a holistic approach to her health and encourages her friends to do the same with a gentle nudge. Bonne maintains the same weight as her high school days by watching her portion sizes, being active, and having a positive mindset. She recommends that all women know their bone density, blood pressure, blood sugar, and healthy weight range. She also finds time to meditate every day to clear her mind and reduce stress. She is her own health advocate and encourages everyone do the same.

Bonne suggest that adults “visualize where you want to be and set goals to be healthy enough to do them.” Her goal? Traveling and being around to watch her 2 great grandchildren grow.

To learn more about Food & Fitness After 50, visit the Website and you can pre-order Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray’s book at Amazon pre-order.

April Fool’s Day Fun with Food

The Evidence Analysis Library of the American Dietetic Association has a section on pediatric overweight and recently I was give the opportunity to translate the science into section for the consumer side of the ADA website (http://www.eatright.org/)

One thing that struck me was the behavioral science of raising a child to have a healthy weight and a positive body image. Family function can have many positive effects on a child’s eating behaviors and weight. Some of the patterns most related to healthy body weight include family closeness, support, and mind-stimulating activities.

My niece, Angela, has all that (and more!) covered in raising her 2 daughters. This April 1 she surprised her oldest daughter with some fun (definitely mind-stimulating!) creative lunch choices. The pictures show Cheez-Its replaced with marshmallows (re-sealed with double sided tape to make it authentic), “Sushi” made with rice krispies, fruit rolls, jelly beans, and black sprinkles, “grilled cheese” from toasted pound cake and yellow icing, and of course, an apple complete with a gummy worm. How much fun is that? What a wonderful way to have fun with a child…OK, the actual substitutions were not as healthy as the original foods, but can you image how the April Fool’s surprise from mom’s April Foods delighted her elementary school-age daughter??!!