Food & Fitness After 50: Don’t Let the Old Man In

In Food & Fitness After 50 we discuss food and fitness, of course! But, we also have a section on being well and the importance of managing stress, getting sufficient sleep, and enjoying social connections. Another aspect of being well is our attitude or mindset toward aging. As May is Older American’s Month it is a good time to consider an attitude adjustment. In this post, Dr. Bob Murray presents the case for “not letting the old man (or woman) in!”

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

During a golf outing in 2018, when country singer Toby Keith asked film legend Clint Eastwood what keeps him going strong at age 88, Clint responded, “I get up every day and I don’t let the old man in.”  Toby soon turned that response into a song.

The opening lyrics are these: old man

I want to live me some more

Can’t leave it up to him

He’s knocking on my door

 And I knew all of my life

That someday it would end

Get up and go outside

Don’t let the old man in

 Many moons I have lived

My body’s weathered and worn

Ask yourself how old you would be

If you didn’t know the day you were born

(Toby Keith, ShowDog-Universal Music, 2018)

Is slowing down the aging process simply a matter of keeping a young mind-set, not letting the old person in?  Happily, there is evidence that this might just be the case.

In a 2014 article in the New York Times, writer Bruce Grierson addressed the question, What if aging is nothing but a mindset?  Grierson highlighted the work of Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer who devoted much of her career to studying how our minds affect our bodies.  In one unique study, eight men in their 70s spent five days living in an environment that evoked 1959, a year when the men were in their 40s and 50s.  Their housing had no mirrors and the furnishings, television shows, movies, magazines, and clothing were all vintage 1959.  Measures taken before and after the men’s five-day stay showed improved flexibility, manual dexterity, and better eyesight compared to a control group of men in their 70s who led their normal lives.  Dr. Langer observed that the men had “put their mind in an earlier time and their bodies went along for the ride.”

It turns out that our mind-sets about aging develop far before we become older adults.  When we are young, we all develop perceptions of aging that we carry with us throughout life, refining those perceptions as time goes by.  Once we reach whatever we consider “old age”, we accept those stereotypical mind-sets without ever questioning their accuracy.  To make matters worse, we and others can be guilty of reinforcing and perpetuating those long-held perceptions through seemingly innocent comments such as:

  • “Oh, I must be having a senior moment,”
  • “You look much younger than that,”
  • “Hey, I’m still sharp.”

old womanA 2002 study on 660 people ages 50 to 94 reported how negative perceptions of aging affect longevity.  The researchers reported that older people who had positive mind-sets about aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who harbored negative perceptions of aging. If positive mind-sets about aging can truly prolong life expectancy by over 7 years, that is an incredible incentive for all of us to reevaluate how we have allowed ourselves to think about our own aging.

Dr. Manfred Diehl from Colorado State University is an expert on how perceptions of aging affect the aging process and his notion of successful aging is one that combines a low risk of illness and disability with high mental and physical functions and an active, positive social life. (For a PDF of Dr. Diehl’s slide presentation on Optimimizing Successful Aging, click here.)

Dr. Diehl also notes that successful aging involves not only maintaining a positive mind-set but also being physically active every day, learning new things, eating healthfully, avoiding or at least minimizing bad health habits (e.g., smoking, inadequate sleep, over-eating, etc.), and staying connected with friends and family.

A positive mind-set might not mean everything when it comes to successful aging, but it surely means a lot.  And successful aging is not simply a matter of feeling invincible because that mind-set can lead some—young and old—to avoid a visit to the doctor when one is absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the best news in all of this is that a positive mind-set about aging costs us nothing more than changing whatever negative perceptions we might have been harboring.  When scientists, a movie star, and a country music singer all agree that it helps not to let the old man in, that advice seems good enough for all of us.

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.

 

 

No Magic Foods but Maybe a Magic Diet for Longevity

People always ask me what is the “best” food to eat or supplement to take for healthy aging. Despite the hype surrounding the latest and greatest magical food or pill (acai, pomegranate juice, glucoasamine, etc.) the better question might be what is the best dietary pattern for long life? A recent research paper published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (January, 2011)looked at dietary patterns of over 2,500 adults over a ten-year period. The men and women were between the ages of 70 and 79 when the study was started.

Researchers identified dietary pattern clusters and labeled them as:
1) healthy food cluster
2) high fat dairy products cluster
3) meat, fried food and alcohol cluster
4) breakfast cereal cluster
5) refined grains cluster
6) sweets and desserts cluster

Researchers found that that the 374 people who were in the healthy food cluster had a significantly lower risk of mortality (death)than the other clusters. The healthy food cluster included low-fat dairy foods (low fat yogurt or frozen yogurt, skim or 1% milk) fruit (fresh, canned or frozen), vegetables (not French fries, though), whole grains, poultry (not fried chicken) and fish and seafood (again, not the fried variety). They also found that those in the healthy food cluster got more exercise and had more non-smokers.

Two other interesting findings in this study; one of them unexpected. The unexpected finding was that eating red meat was not associated with higher mortality. That is good news because many older adults shun red meat thinking that all red meat is high in bad fats. Choosing lean cuts of red meat and keeping portions in check is a good way to get needed nutrients (zinc, iron and vitamin B12) that may be lacking in an older person’s diet.

Another finding was that those who ate foods from the healthy cluster had higher blood levels of 2 B-vitamins (folate and B12) that help to lower a blood protein, homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to poor cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

So, this new year,take a look at your whole diet instead of focusing on a single food or nutrient for good health and long life. And, don’t forget to exercise like this older couple I spotted walking in Budapest.