Food & Fitness After 50: Can we Sustain Cooking at Home after the Pandemic?

They say that with age comes wisdom. It seems that wisdom extends to the eating habits of those of us over 50. Ninety-five percent of adults over the age of 50 agree that fruits and vegetables have many health benefits and 89% say they enjoy eating them. Older adults are also more likely to recognize the short and long term health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables compared to younger age groups who eat them because they were told they were good for them or someone else prepared them.

A health strategy that dietitians embrace as a way to eat more fruits and veggies is diet1cooking at home and 2020 saw a big spike in home cooking. According to a recent research report, “Home Cooking in America 2020” from The Food Industry Association (FMI) 40% of American adults say they are cooking more since the pandemic. That might be the silver lining for these challenging and uncertain times. Like many of you I like watching “House Hunters” and I always get a kick out the couple whose wish list includes a gourmet kitchen even though neither one of them cooks! And, many love cooking shows yet they rely on take out for their meals. Of course, the resurgence in home cooking is forced upon us by stay at home orders, closure of our favorite restaurants, or feeling unsafe venturing out to eat, but it is getting us in the kitchen.

How can we encourage the cooking trend to continue once the pandemic is over? After reading the “Home Cooking in America 2020” report, several clues are revealed by the research. Here the highlights that apply to the 50+ demographic, and some personal tips to encourage the cooking trends.

iStock-Couple in kitchen 2“Shared cooking supports consistent cooking.” Those who say they cook a lot often have some help in the kitchen. The report suggests that retired adults may have more time and a renewed interest in cooking with their partner or family as a form of togetherness. While women still are the primary shoppers and chefs, now is a great time to get your partner in the kitchen.

Personal Tip:  I encourage my husband to cook by agreeing to be his sous chef; I get the ingredients ready, chop veggies, measure the spices or herbs, set out the pans or pots, and then offer help when needed. Turns out he is an inventive cook and more creative than I am in the kitchen. He also makes a mean weekend breakfast!

Bagels
Making bagels!

Bonus Tip: Now is a great time to pass along family recipes or favorite kitchen hacks to the next generation. Inspired by a neighbor, click here to access the post highlighting her ideas on paying it forward. But it is also a great time for the older generation to learn from the younger. My niece, Samantha, taught me how to make bagels and I’ve been perfecting my technique since her original bagel making lesson. My nephew, Reis, is also handy in the kitchen. On his visit he taught me how to make an easy, crusty French Bread. It was fun to watch him bake and I reaped triple rewards: spending time with my college-aged nephew, learning a new baking technique, and eating delicious bread.

“Cooking well is a path to eating well.” Tastes rules when it comes to choosing foods and cooking can be a path forward to both taste and health. It’s never been easier to find recipes that contain less calories, saturated fat, sodium, or sugar. And cooking is great way to incorporate more fruits and veggies into meals. Many of us are dusting off small kitchen appliances and rediscovering why we bought them in the first place…. from slow cookers (one of my faves) to Instant pots, we’re enjoying new cooking methods.

Personal Tip: I’ve written about my early pandemic purchase of an Air Fryer and I can’t believe it took a world-wide virus for me to fall in love with it. I use it all the time to turn indulgent foods (fried shrimp!) into healthier versions. It is a quick way to roast veggies, too. Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts cook up crisp and flavorful in an air fryer. Plus, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen and it is easy to clean. I’ve turned several friends on to the virtues of air frying and we swap favorite recipes each time we talk.

Picture1“Sticking to budgets and reducing food waste has never been more important.” Fifty-one percent of consumers expect they will be better in the future about not letting food go to waste. With food costs on the rise and wanting to minimize shopping trips, getting creative with leftovers (or, as my friend calls them, “plan-overs”) means less waste.

Personal Tip: With late summer harvest fruits and veggies appearing at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, community gardens, and your local grocery store, make sure to use it all up to avoid waste and save money. My lake neighbor has an incredible garden and when he comes to his lake home, he brings bags and buckets of tomatoes, peppers, yellow squash, and zucchini. I’ve made salsa with the tomatoes and peppers, grilled squash kabobs, whipped up chopped tomato caprese salad (adding in my home-grown basil), and make easy stir-fries with leftover chicken and veggies.

“Scratch cooking can be fluid.” Many of us have an idealized version of scratch cooking. You don’t have to make your tomato sauce or fresh pasta to enjoy “scratch” home-cooked meals.

Personal Tip: Convenience items offer short cuts that can make cooking easier and less daunting. I can’t live without canned beans…black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas…are versatile, nutritious, and easy. Just open the can, drain and rinse, and they are ready for soups, stews, or salad. For those nights when you don’t want to cook, don’t overlook a frozen lasagna for dinner and add a big green salad and some crusty bread for a quick meal.

tgn_080918_nfmm_consumer_infographics_-9-outline_002Krystal Register, registered dietitian who leads the health and well-being initiatives for FMI, the food industry association, agrees that “now is the perfect time to embrace the many benefits we can all experience from home cooking and shared family meals. Research from the FMI Foundation, along with many other studies, shows that more frequent family meals are associated with better dietary outcomes and family functioning outcomes. Consumers are to be commended for adapting and discovering new skills and perspectives while cooking more at home. We encourage families to stay strong with family meals. While there are plenty of inspirational ideas, we hope that families stay connected by cooking at home and eating meals together, building habits that can lead to healthier eating patterns and improved overall well-being.”

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved

Food & Fitness After 50: Fitness Tips for Getting and Staying Active

In Food & Fitness After 50 co-author and exercise physiologist, Dr. Bob Murray, likes to make the distinction between physical activity and exercise.  He defines the terms this way, “physical activity is body movements that require increased energy expenditure. Exercise is body movements that require increased energy expenditure and are planned, structured, and repeated with the goal of improving fitness.”

Dr. Murray explains that “there is an emotional aspect to these definitions. Some people dislike exercise but are very open to increasing physical activity, such as walking, gardening, bike riding, swimming or golfing.” While we all know that regular exercise or physical activity improves our healthspan, the length of time that we are healthy. Increasing the moments spent being physically active benefits our physical and mental health. “We have a sitting disease in this country. Older adults can spend up to 85% of their waking hours being sedentary. Working in periodic exercise snacks, even 5 minutes every hour, increases physical activity and can lead to health improvements,” says Dr. Bob.

Book Cover 2So, it was timely when I was e-introduced to K. Aleisha Fetters and her recently published book, Fitness Hacks for Over 50  (Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2020). The subtitle of her book is 300 easy ways to incorporate exercise into your life. I interviewed Aleisha to learn about her and how her book can help us to get and stay more physically active.

Tell me about yourself, Aleisha.

I’m a Chicago-based certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with people both in-person and online, and the author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50 and several other books. I came to fitness writing through journalism–I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in journalism and worked primarily in health and science journalism.

I originally pursued certification as a strength and conditioning specialist to be a better journalist in the fitness arena but the more I got into it, the more I wanted to be able to connect with people and work directly with them, not just write about it. I continue to write for many publications including US News & World Report, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, SilverSneakers, AARP, and O, The Oprah Magazine. In addition, I am a personal trainer to people at the gym and through online virtual training.

As you are in your early 30s, what made you interested in writing the book for those over 50?

Aleisha Fetters 2
Author, K. Aleisha Fetters

Vital, healthy aging is important for all us and aging should not be synonymous with loss of function, frailty, or a decrease in quality of life. As a trainer, I enjoy working with those over the age of 50. I find older adults are interested in exercise and movement for intrinsic reasons, whereas younger adults tend to go for looking good. Older adults enjoy the functional health benefits that come from exercise…feeling food, being strong, playing with their grandkids. My older clients are excited when they hit their goals and find they are experiencing less shoulder or back pain or that they can do something in the gym that they once thought was out of reach.

I’m glad to hear you mention functional fitness as that is something we emphasize in our book. Everyone has different functional goals but for me a good life means the strength to walk my big, strong dogs and lift a 50-pound bag of dog food in my shopping cart. 

That speaks to how we are more alike than we are unalike. Afterall, we all need to squat, hinge, push, push, rotate, and carry. We all need to foster strength, balance, mobility, and move in ways that we enjoy and allow us to finish our workouts or daily tasks feeling better than when we started them. We need to stay fit not only for the present but for the future. I, for one, plan to age like a fine wine!

What do you think are the reasons people don’t exercise or engage in physical activity as they age?

iStock-Older couple runningI think the reasons people don’t exercise at 50, 60, 70+ are the same reasons people don’t exercise at 20, 30, 40+. Lack of time, thinking exercise isn’t fun, believing in the “no pain, no gain” idea that exercise hurts, or that exercise is a means to burn calories or fix perceived flaws.

However, as people age, there are some unique challenges. Aches and pains can make exercise seem hard and if an older person hasn’t exercised in the past they might not know why or how to start. Many older adults have chronic health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and they don’t know how to find workouts and activities that are right for them and their unique circumstances.

One question I get all the time is what is the “best” exercise I can do? Dr. Bob’s answer to this question is “the one you enjoy doing the most because then you will continue to do it.”

I agree, exercise you enjoy and will help you cultivate a healthier relationship with your body and movement. However, I will add that the deadlift is my definition of a “best” exercise and I’m not talking about being able to lift a massive load. A deadlift is simply picking a dead weight up off the ground–it’s a fundamental movement pattern and strengthens the entire body while focusing on the posterior muscles, which are prone to weaknesses and injury, and have a huge effect on everyday function. It’s the number-one exercise in my book for reducing the risk of lower-back injury! We’ve all heard, “lift with your legs, not your back,” for good reason!

It seems that this book is perfect for exercise instructors, like Silver Sneakers instructors, to give them ideas and creative ways to keep people interested in fitness. Was that one of your goals or was it written for the consumer?

That wasn’t the intention when writing the book, but once it came together, I realized it had that going for it. After all, even the best trainers can benefit from collaboration and what trainer hasn’t wracked his or her brain trying to think of more exercises or active lifestyle tips when training clients? But it really works for the everyday person; training during structured classes and workouts is one thing, but the difference-maker is what people do when they’re not at the gym or taking a class. This book gives a lot of practical solutions for both trainers and the average older adult who want to change things up.

How should people use this book? What type of equipment do you think people should have at home to get and stay fit?

I would encourage people to use it as a movement menu. Every person might not want to perform every exercise in the book, and it was purposefully designed that way. I encourage people to try out different fitness hacks and see what feels good and meets a person’s unique needs.

Within each chapter, the exercises progress upon one another. So, work on mastering a single-leg stand before trying a single-leg sit to stand. There are notes for exercises to illustrate how they can be safely performed and how they build on one another. I would also encourage people to read the full instructions, tips, and recommendations on modifying exercises based on mobility or other unique circumstances.

exercise bandsAs for equipment, most of the exercises can be done with the resistance of your own body weight, simple household items, or resistance bands. Resistance bands are my number-one equipment choice because they are incredibly versatile, space-saving, and inexpensive–and open the possibility of doing a lot of fun exercises.

What are your 3 favorite fitness hacks? 

As I’m answering your questions, I’m doing “Strike a Tree Pose!” The tree pose, usually associated with yoga, is modified in the book using a kitchen countertop for stability. This pose helps both balance and stability. I would say my favorites are:

  • “Do the Deadlift,” for reasons mentioned above.
  • “Do the I, Y, T” for improving upper-back muscles and posture. The I, Y, and T refer to position of the arms, sort of like the movements in the old song, YMCA!
  • “Hollow Your Core” a foundational exercise for core strength.
  • “Pull Apart” using a resistance band to strengthen should and back muscles.

Dr. Bob talks about activity snacks, and Fitness Hacks for Over 50 gives us lots of “snacks” for variety! I’m going to gift this book to my favorite personal trainer….after I learn all 300 hacks!

Dr. Christine Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Along with Dr. Bob Murray, she is the author of Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved