Food & Fitness After 50: The Strong Live Long

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

Maintaining muscle strength is a critical factor in ensuring a long healthspan—being as healthy as possible for as long as possible—and in ensuring that we can do so independently.  Fending for oneself is an important psychological component of successful aging.  That’s not to say that we don’t all need to be looked after periodically throughout our lives—illness, injuries, and surgeries being obvious examples of when it is both nice and often essential to temporarily relinquish our independence and allow others to care for us.  But to be dependent on others to help us accomplish the daily demands of living—opening jars, carrying groceries, rising from a chair, climbing stairs—is a scenario most people would like to avoid.

1253414  Muscle weakness with age is often, but not always, accompanied by sarcopenia—a severe loss of muscle mass and muscle function—often referred to in older adults as frailty.  The perils of sarcopenia are not surprising: higher risk of falls, faster functional decline, more bone fractures of all types, greater chance of hospitalization, longer hospital stays, and higher death rate.  It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of those over age 70 are sarcopenic and it is likely that even more are dynapenic—muscular weakness with or without sarcopenia.

We will all gradually lose muscle mass and strength as we age, but we can control the rate at which we lose it.  In simple terms, inactivity and a poor diet accelerate the aging of muscle while regular exercise and a good diet remain the best ways to keep our muscles young.  To that end, any kind of physical activity is better than no physical activity, but the best results come from a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training.  The current recommendations are to engage in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, biking, swimming, etc.) each week, along with two sessions of strength-training exercise.

Regular physical activity preserves strength and function by stimulating not only the muscles involved in exercise, but also the nerves responsible for muscle contractions.  In addition, active muscles release compounds called myokines that travel in the bloodstream and positively affect cells throughout the body.  Also, fit muscle cells recover more quickly from injury and surgery, additional benefits to staying active.

Bob2   Added good news is that we do not have to devote hours each week to strength training.  Preserving and even increasing muscle strength can be accomplished with short bouts of exercises that are continued to fatigue.  For example, doing a combination of push-ups, tricep extensions with weights, and chair dips will quickly exhaust the shoulder, chest, and arm muscles involved in elbow extension, adding strength and protecting muscle mass.  Doing similar combinations of movements with other muscle groups will reap the same results.  As with all exercise, the best results come from getting our muscles out of their comfort zone on a regular basis.

When it comes to diet, studies show that older adults who increase their daily protein intake can better support improvements in strength and muscle mass.  The simplest way to accomplish increased protein intake is to consume more protein at breakfast, the meal that often has the least amount of protein.  Consuming 30 to 40 grams of protein at each meal will give most of us the recommended amount of protein. (For ideas on how to eat about 30 grams of protein per meal, check this out.)

Use it or lose it is the operative explanation for age-related changes in muscle strength and mass, as well as for most every other body function that we’d like to preserve as we grow older.  For older adults just getting started with strength exercises, the U.S. National Institute on Aging has examples of activities that can easily be accomplished at home (click here for a link to strength exercises.) YMCAs, fitness centers, and various internet sites (click here for one internet site with many at-home workout videos.)

Chapter 6 of Food & Fitness After 50 is devoted to gaining and maintaining muscle and strength, and chapter 2 has all sorts of tips for how to eat for optimal aging.  Aging is inevitable, but we can exercise control over the rate at which we age.  We just have to do it.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Note to Grandparents; No Need to Freak Out Over the Way Your Grandchildren are Fed

I’m sure that many of you who have grandchildren have rolled your eyes at the new infant feeding practices foisted upon your precious grandbabies! I can hear it now, “what was wrong with the old way of feeding babies, my kids turned out just fine?” Well, time marches on and so do advances in infant feeding. Today, I hope to assuage your fears about those newfangled infant feeding practices and the introduction of solid foods to babies. So, let’s talk about best practices and introduce you to something called baby led weaning.

BLD twins
Great nieces getting into baby led weaning

I got the chance to hear about all of this from an expert, registered dietitian, Keli Hawthorne, Director of Clinical Research in the Department of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin. And, I was excited to pass along the information to my niece and her twin baby girls who are starting to eat solid foods and practicing baby led weaning.

Importance of the First 1000 Days

Keli emphasized that “the first 1000 days, from pregnancy to age 2, are a unique period to lay the foundation for optimum health, growth, and brain development.” However, both parents and grandparents are confused on what and when to feed infants, “in fact UNICEF reports that 54% of parents receive mixed messages about what to feed their babies,” said Keli. As a grandparent are you contributing to the confusion???

Here are the infant feeding guidelines from the American Association of Pediatrics

  • Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6th months
  • At 6 months, complementary foods can be introduced with continuation of breastfeeding for at least a year.

Introducing Solid Foods

The introduction of complementary foods is where things get interesting. Kelli explained that introducing solid foods doesn’t follow rules of old. “Introduce solid foods around 6 months of age and expose the baby to a wide variety of healthy foods and textures. There is no reason or medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has any advantage. And, meats can be offered as an early complementary food.” In fact, infants and toddlers can benefit from the iron found in meats. “While iron-fortified cereals are often a first food, the iron isn’t as available to the baby’s system as meat. Bioavailability of iron from fortified cereals is ~3% compared to that of animal sources which is ~12-15% and iron is a key nutrient for brain development.”

Parents who choose vegetarian diets for babies should be aware that nutrient supplements or fortified foods must be added to ensure nutrient needs are met. Allergenic foods can be introduced between 4 and 6 months, so no need to avoid foods like peanut butter. In fact, early introduction of peanuts can reduce peanut allergies later in a child’s life . (For more on the early introduction of peanuts click here .)

Baby Led Weaning

 A popular feeding method with young parents is something called “baby led weaning.” Keli explained that baby led weaning  Keli explained that baby led weaning began in Britain, where “weaning” means adding complementary foods to breast milk or formula when the baby is ready to eat solid foods. “I think if it was called infant self-feeding it would be easier for people to understand,” said Keli.  The basic idea is to ditch the pureed foods and give babies the same foods that the rest of the family eats. “Once a baby can sit up unsupported, she or he can pick up their own food and put it into the mouth unassisted — generally sometime between 6-8 months old. This method of feeding can help with development of oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience.”

Baby led weaning foods
Keli’s slide showing food samples

“Food should be cut in shapes that make it easy to grasp, as babies don’t have the pincher grasp until about 9 months of age.” And, some of the concerns or fears of baby led weaning can be put to rest. “Parents should recognize the difference between the gag reflex and choking, but there is no increased incidence of choking with baby led weaning.” However, if more food ends up on the floor or in the dog’s mouth, parents may have to help baby eat.

Mixing Solids and Purees?

Keli said parents don’t have to opt for one feeding style. “There is nothing wrong with offering both finger foods and purees, but don’t do it on the same spoon. It can be confusing if finger foods and purees are offered at the same time, so try it at different courses of the same meal.”

Keli ended her presentation by showing how a family meal, ground beef and pasta skillet (for the recipe click here.) could be served to baby by breaking meat in ½ inch crumbles or making little meatballs, dicing or cutting squash into strips, and extending cooking time of pasta to ensure it is soft.

So, next time you see your son or daughter feeding your grandbabies, you can share what you know about the latest feeding techniques.

For more information on feeding infants and toddlers, check out these resources:

Feeding Tips for Healthy Infant Growth

Eating Tips for Healthy Toddler Growth

The presentation on infant feeding was sponsored by The Beef Checkoff. I was not asked or compensated to write this post. I wrote it to help my great nieces and nephews get off to a healthy start in life!

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

 

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.

Food & Fitness After 50: Assessing Your Weight

midlifeweightgain-smallManaging your weight after 50 brings some challenges, but not obstacles that can’t be overcome. It’s true that as we age there are changes to our body composition, including:

  • Increase in abdominal fat (the dreaded “belly fat”)
  • Increase in  fat deposits in muscles, heart, and liver
  • Increase in body weight until about age 70
  • Redistribution of fat with more fat in the trunk and less in arms and legs

But, before you jump on the latest popular diet, take stock and assess your weight. In Food & Fitness After 50 we offer assessments in every chapter to get you thinking about where you are and where you want to go with your diet, your strength, your endurance, your weight, and many other health and lifestyle issues. And, on our new web page for the book we’ve added the “Assess Your Weight” for you. So, take the quiz!

  1. Do you have a scale that is accurate and reliable?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, how do you know?
  2. How often do you weigh yourself?
    • Daily
    • Weekly
    • Monthly
    • Periodically
    • Never
  3. How do you usually feel when you see the number on the scale?

_______________________________________________________

  1. Compared with when you were 25 years old, do you weigh:
    • The same
    • More
    • Less
  2. Do you know your Body Mass Index (BMI)?
    • Yes
    • No
  3. Do you know how to interpret your BMI?
    • Yes
    • No
  4. What is your waist size (circumference just above the hip bones and below the belly button)?

___________ inches

  1.  Have you ever been on a weight-loss diet?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, which one(s)?
  2. Did you lose weight on the diet?
    • Yes
    • No
    • If yes, how much, and how long did you keep the weight off?
  3. What do you think is a healthy weight for you?

__________________ pounds

Review Your Answers

  1. The first step to managing your weight is knowing your weight, an accurate weight, not a guess. If you have a scale, check its accuracy by using a known weight on the scale (like a 5-lb dumbbell) and recalibrate the scale if necessary. If you don’t have a scale, buy one!
  2. We suggest weighing yourself every day or every other day. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds up or down from day to day; that is simply a normal change in water weight. But, by regularly weighing yourself, a pattern will emerge if you are maintaining, gaining, or losing weight.
  3. The numbers on the scale aren’t good or bad; they are just numbers to help you assess your body weight.
  4. As we age, weight-creep can happen. Many adults gain a pound or two each year, but after 20 years that can add up to an extra 20 or 40 pounds. By comparing your current self to your younger self, you might find that the extra pounds have been accumulating through the years.
  5. If you don’t know your body mass index (BMI), accurately measure your height and weight (for tips on accurate measurement, see Chapter 8 of Food & Fitness After 50).
  6. Enter your height and weight into an online calculator to determine and interpret your BMI at this website.
  7. Measure your waist just above your hipbone and below your belly button. For women, a waist size of 35 inches or greater, and for men, 40 inches or greater, often indicates storage of excess belly fat.
  8. There are hundreds of weight-loss diets and many people have tried them all. You can lose weight on any diet that restricts calorie intake; the hard part is keeping it off. We slowly lose weight whenever the calories (energy) we consume are less than the calories we expend.  For example, if we expend 500 calories more each day than we consume in food and drink, we will lose about a pound of weight each week.  The goal is to lose mostly fat weight rather than water or muscle weight.  Rapid weight loss is often comprised of mostly water and some muscle. Gradually losing fat weight is the best way to ensure that the weight stays off because gradual weight loss helps us establish new lifestyle habits that are easier to maintain over the long haul.
  9. If you lost weight on the diet, congratulations, but if you gained it back, that can be defeating. Read more about weight loss and maintenance here: from an international obesity researcher in this interview.
  10. Be honest in your assessment of a healthy weight; let the BMI numbers guide you in your assessment. As we age, it is normal to gain a little weight. We suggest focusing on good overall health instead of a number on a scale.

More information, tips, and personal insights into managing your weight is found in Food & Fitness After 50 available on Amazon and from other booksellers.

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Applying Lessons as a Diabetes Educator to Healthy Aging

Recently retired, Idie, age 65, spent 25 years as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). She became a Registered Nurse in 1986. While working at an Atlanta area hospital a newly opened diabetes program was interviewing for a nurse-educator. “At the time I was working what is called a “Baylor Plan,” working 12-hour shifts on the weekends so I could be at home with my 8-month old son during the week. I never thought I would get the position, but I did and quickly learned all I could about diabetes. I took a national examination to become a CDE in just the second year the certification was offered, and I guess the rest is history.” After nine years in that position, she transferred to the Piedmont Atlanta Diabetes Resource Center where she worked for 15 years.

I asked Idie some questions about her career and how she applied what she learned to her own life.

What did you like most about being a diabetes educator?

“While I enjoyed clinical nursing, the opportunity to teach patients about the prevention

idie and twins
With son and daughter-in-law twin granddaughers

and management of diabetes was rewarding. When it comes to diabetes management, the patient is solely responsible for his or her health outcome and helping coach patients to better management is something I enjoyed.”

Lessons Learned

Many heath educators learn lessons for their own lives along the way, and Idie is no exception. “I don’t think I ever appreciated the impact of what you eat on diabetes management as well as overall health in general. When I became a nurse, food wasn’t much talked about as a management tool. But, as our understanding of diabetes has increased we’ve learned that diet and exercise are cornerstones of treatment.”  Today there is more information than ever about nutrition and exercise, but as we’ve written about before, some of it is good information and some is not so good. “Many people want to live at the extremes when it comes to diet….no fat, high fat, no carb, low carb. Not only are patients confused, but many health care workers are too!” We’ve included some reliable resources on diabetes at the end of the post to cut through the confusion.

Path to Healthy Aging

We often talk about 3 components to healthy aging…eat well, move well, and be well, and Idie echoes those notions. “I think nutrition and food is critical to feeling good and as we age, we figure out what works for us. Everyone is different so what works for me might not work for you. But, for me, I don’t feel well when I eat a very high carbohydrate diet. So, I try to reduce carbs, but I don’t eliminate them. I eat a lot of vegetables, snack on fruit, and aim for balance in what I eat and feed my family.” She also enjoys cooking and trying new recipes and is a big fan of Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa; I’ve been the beneficiary of many of those delicious meals, so I speak from experience!

As for activity, Idie used to be runner, but running and mild dehydration triggered migraines, something she’s suffered with her entire life. Add aging and knee pain, and running is in the past. But, she walks every day, enjoys cycling with her husband and friends, and has been a lifelong devotee of callanetics. And now that she is retired, she is taking a yoga and body sculpting classes.

idie and lila
Idie with 87-year old mom

Being well is a special challenge for those who are caretakers. Idie has six granddaughters and enjoys spending time with them and helping when duty calls. She also cares for her 87-year old mother, putting her in the sandwich generation for sure. “Being newly retired is allowing me time for me, managing my time and prioritizing what is important is my goal for 2019.” She also enjoys knitting as an activity that “is relaxing and occupies by brain!”

Facing Challenges

idie with grandkids
Idie with 3 of her 6 granddaughters

“Acceptance” is the word that first came to mind when asked about challenges to healthy aging. “It is helpful to tone down your expectations and accept aging, but it is equally important to not fall into the trap of thinking, ‘well, I’m 65 so I deserve to let myself go.’ That is exactly the opposite of what we should do to achieve optimal aging!” So, despite the challenges, eating well and moving well is good advice at any age.

Resources

For more information on diabetes, check out the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

For a good resource on prediabetes, see this post on what to do if told you have pre-diabetes at this link.

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

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Fathers After 50

One of the joys of writing Food & Fitness After 50 is the correspondence with those of you who are eating well and moving well. One day I opened my email to find a request from Greg, age 59, asking me to be a guest on his podcast, Fathers After 50. After our interview, which was more like a conversation with an old friend, I asked Greg to let me interview him! You can find Greg’s podcast here.

Why did you start FathersAfter50?

greg fathers over 50I’m the father of two boys, ages 6 and 8. I got married for the first time a bit later than the average marriage age…. I was 50! My boys were born during our second and fourth years of marriage. Next year I’ll turn 60. Wow, time flies. I didn’t realize it at the time, but FathersAfter50 originated when I was single in my late forties. I was hoping to get married and have children at that late stage in life so for encouragement, I tried to find others who had children after 50. Those I could find were famous or wealthy, often both. A few years into my marriage other “After 50” hopes and desires came to mind and that led to the mission of the FathersAfter50.com podcast… to improve our health, longevity, relationships, and reach personal and financial goals. I personally want to improve in all those areas and believe others do, too. And I feel it is especially important for older men (and women) with young children!

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve gotten older?

Since my teens I have worked out with weights two to three times a week.  I have a lean athletic build, but I’ve never been very muscular. In my twenties I did of bit of long distance running but, like Forrest Gump, one day I ran about 15 miles from home and stopped. I turned around, walked home and pretty much gave up regular running, except for an occasional 10K.  I took up cycling which is much more exciting than running and it gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery.  When my two boys got older, we like to bike together in the summer.

To stay in shape, I work out with weights three times a week and do some aerobic activity a couple of times a week.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve experienced shoulder problems and two years ago I had a frozen shoulder (for those who don’t know what a frozen shoulder is, well, neither did I, but I could barely lift my arm over my head to change clothes and sleeping was next to impossible due to the pain.) Thankfully, I found a wonderful physical therapist who “fixed me.” Well, “fixed” is a relative term because it took a little over six months to fully recover and I now do regular shoulder strengthening exercises to keep it away. I avoid bench pressing heavy weights and work out with lighter weights with higher repetitions.

What motivates you to stay active? 

Habit.  Although there have been times in my life that I stopped working out, the feeling of malaise pushes me back to physical fitness.  And, now that I have two young active boys, I want to stay fit to be able to keep up with them!  But even if they were much older, I’d still be motivated to stay fit simply to enjoy life.  Couch potatoes rarely have the energy and fun that active people do!

Do you follow any special diet, or do you have any tips for healthy eating that work for you? 

I don’t follow any special diet, but my blood pressure was starting to creep up as I got older. I wanted to control it with diet, so I cut out “junk” foods, especially those high in sugar and added sodium. I gave up the chips, cut back on highly processed prepared foods, and cut down on eating out. I learned the benefits of eating healthy fats; I used to think a low-fat diet was best, but I’ve learned that healthy fats, like those found in avocado, are a great addition to my diet.

If you had to name 3 things you do to age well, what would they be? fountain of youth

  1. Exercise.  I believe exercise is the secret to the “Fountain of Youth.”
  2. Diet. Eating real food gives me the nutrition to I need.
  3. Attitude. We can be physically fit and eat well but without a great attitude, our life will still be mediocre, at best.

What are your biggest challenges to aging well?

Being disciplined to do what we know we should do.  And, being curious enough to read books, attend seminars, or ask good questions of those who are ahead of us in life and experiences.  Listening to those who are ten to twenty years ahead of us who are in great shape and good health probably have great advice! (For an inspiring read of on older man who is in good health and amazing shape, check out my interview with Clarence Bass.)

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, and never forget that you can improve your health, happiness and relationships at any age!

 

 

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Embrace Life’s Challenges

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

Karen from Boise“I’m not going to get younger, so my goal is to maintain or improve what I have,” said Karen when asked about her food-and-fitness goals for the future.  At age 71, Karen leads an active lifestyle, although one that is far less active than when she was younger and trained to compete in a couple half-marathons every month.  In those days, Karen would run 6 miles before work, usually by herself so that she wasn’t beholden to someone else’s schedule.

Karen from Boise 1Karen has spent her life in Boise, Idaho and has always enjoyed being active outdoors.  After she remarried at age 50, Karen reduced her running and took up tennis, only to injure her knee and ankle.  Two back surgeries followed a few years later (one to remove a benign tumor, the other to stabilize some vertebrae), putting an end to Karen’s running and skiing, but not her desire to keep moving.  Injuries and surgeries often become excuses for inactivity, but Karen saw those setbacks as just unforeseen detours to work around.  Karen now enjoys 3-mile walks almost every day, along with 18 holes of golf with her husband twice each week when the weather allows.  They walk the golf course; no golf carts for these two.  Also twice each week, Karen tries to get to the university fitness center for strength training and time on a stationary bicycle.

“I’m happy with my overall strength,” Karen reported, “because I am still able to gradually lift more weight on the machines at the fitness center.  But I can tell that my hand strength has fallen off and I’m going to work on that.  My doctor told me that I have osteopenia in my wrists (low bone-mineral density), so that’s another reason why I have to strengthen my wrists and forearms.”Karen from Boise 2

Karen said that her diet has improved over the years as she’s learned more about nutrition.  Her meals usually include fresh vegetables, fish, and chicken, and she has yogurt and milk almost every day.  Karen limits foods that are high in fat and sugar because they make her feel uncomfortable, as though she’s eaten too much.  “Over the years, I’ve become much more aware of what I eat and how it makes me feel, and that has really helped me find a diet that suits me best.  Whenever I stray from what I’ve become accustomed to, I can definitely feel it.”

When asked what advice she would give to others who want to improve their approaches to food and fitness, Karen said, “There’s something out there for everyone, so find activities you enjoy to keep you moving.  It’s amazing the improvements that can occur with just one or two simple changes in what we eat and how often we move.  Those improvements can happen quickly and that’s a great incentive to keep going.  We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge ourselves because the longer we wait, the harder it is to develop new habits.”

Although Karen realizes that there are always little ways to improve her diet and physical activity, she has developed a lifestyle that reflects the health and longevity benefits of eating and moving well.  “I just want to be as healthy and happy as I can for as long as I can.  And if I continue to do things right, I won’t have to always rely on doctors to achieve that goal.”

For more inspiring stories of eating well, moving well, and being well, follow our blog Fit to Eat.

Food & Fitness After 50: Updating Your Personal Mission Statement to Eat Well, Move Well, and Be Well in 2019

“The greater danger for most of us isn’t that our aim is too high and miss it, but that it is too low, and we reach it.” ~ Michelangelo

Last year, I shared that each December, my husband and I update our family mission statement, vision, and goals for the new year. (For the post, click here.)

We do this instead of New Year’s Resolutions because we all know what happens to those. How many regular gym goers notice that the classes are packed, the machines in full use, and the parking lot fuller in January? Then the resolutions fade and it is back to usual habits. So, this year, consider goal-setting for the year and reassessing them at the end of the year to understand what you accomplished and where you fell short.

Last year we added a goal of being more active volunteers in our community; something that was harder to achieve when we were working full time. I volunteered to deliver a series of nutrition classes at the local YMCA, talked to high school sports teams about nutrition, and became active in Friends of Library to support our local county library. My husband just finished his term as president of the local Kiwanis chapter and worked on projects to benefit the youth in our town.

This year, we added a few more goals:

  • To plan our meals for the week and shop our pantry before making weekly menus and grocery store lists. We think this will help reduce food waste (which is a big problem in the U.S.; consumers throw away 15-25% of all food purchased!) I wrote about food waste last January and here is a link to the post for more tips on reducing food waste and saving money.
  • Eat seafood twice a week; a recommendation made by major health organizations, but we fall short on that.
  • Eat more plant-based meals. We’ve never excluded meat from our diets, but this year we want to eat more fish and seafood and plant-based meals. Stay tuned for a future blog post featuring Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. I’ll be using loads of her recipes in 2019!
  • Plan our exercise for each week. We are good about regular exercise, but if we put it on our calendars we are more likely to do it.

So, this year, instead of making new year’s resolutions, make a family mission statement for solutions for all that you value.

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Food & Fitness After 50: Answering Your Questions on Alcohol and Aging

I was invited to luncheon symposium on communicating alcohol guidelines to consumers while in Washington, DC for my annual food and nutrition conference. The lunch was sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council* and after the event I reached out to Senior Vice-President of the council and former Division Director at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Dr. Samir Zakhari, to answer the questions asked by adults over the age of 50.

First, let’s be clear that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans include alcohol and say that if you drink alcohol “it should be consumed in moderation and only by adults of legal drinking age.” So, you are all of legal drinking age, but what does moderation mean? For women, it is up to one drink per day, and for men, up to two drinks per day. Sounds simple but check out the visual of what one drink looks like. And, just as I reminded college students in my teaching days, moderation does not mean saving it all for Friday night. Drinking more than four or five drinks in a couple of hours defines binge drinking, not moderation.

What is a drink

Here are the questions I asked of Dr. Zakhari and his responses may surprise you.

I hear some older adults say they don’t tolerate alcohol as well as they did when they were younger. Are there changes to how we metabolize alcohol as we age?

Yes, aging adults metabolize and eliminate alcohol at a slower rate than younger adults, which leads to higher blood alcohol levels and affects the brain at lower levels of intake. Add to that many older adults take medications that may interact negatively with alcohol. This may result in exaggeration or interference of therapeutic effect of some medications and/or exacerbation of adverse effects of others (e.g., aspirin, Tylenol). Another example is Ranitidine (Zantac) which is used to treat ulcers in the stomach and small intestines. It increases blood alcohol to levels known to impair motor skills needed for driving. Older adults who drink alcohol and who take medications should consult with their doctor or pharmacist to assess their risks and get advice about safe use of alcohol and medications.

Can you explain why moderate drinking is defined as 1 drink/day for women, but 2 drinks a day for men?

Alcohol’s effects are due to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which is determined by the volume of total body water (TBW) and the amount of alcohol mixed with it. On average, women tend to be smaller than men, with lower body weight and higher proportion of fat to lean body mass. This generally results in a lower TBW in women, and hence a given dose based on per pound of body weight will result in a higher BAC in women than in men.  Thus, the lower definition of moderate drinking for women.

Many people think red wine is a “healthy” alcohol choice…can you explain why they think that and what the facts are about alcohol and disease/mortality reduction?

In the early 1990s, a 60-Minutes program segment with the catchphrase “The French Paradox” referred to the notion that despite eating cheese, pastries, and other rich fatty food the French people have relatively low rates of heart disease. Thus, the red wine health halo was born and the day after the story aired red wine sales increased 40%.

A theory has since developed that the potential health benefits of wine is due to a substance called resveratrol.  However, resveratrol is quickly eliminated from the intestine and one needs to drink large amounts of wine to attain any appreciable amounts of resveratrol.

However, later research showed that the potential health benefits (e.g., decrease in risk of heart disease or type 2 diabetes) due to moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages (wine, beer, and spirits) is due to alcohol content, not the resveratrol in red wine.

A bottle of beer (12 oz, 5% alcohol), a glass of wine (5 oz, 12% alcohol), or a shot of spirits (1.5 oz, 40% alcohol) contain the same amount of alcohol (0.6 oz, or 14 grams). It is also important to know that beer and wine alcohol content is increasing; some craft beers have up to 6.5% alcohol and the average alcohol of wine is around 13.5%, so it is increasing, too.

I’ve seen supplements of “red wine extract with resveratrol” claiming to do everything from preventing heart disease to life extension. Some older adults who choose not to drink are tempted to take resveratrol supplements; what is your take on it?

Resveratrol is a type of natural phenol that is present in the skin of grapes. After absorption from the intestine its bioavailability is quickly decreased due to extremely rapid metabolism in the liver and excretion in urine. Although it is sold as a dietary supplement, there is no good evidence that consuming resveratrol affects life expectancy or human health.

Many older adults experience “weight creep.” Could alcohol calories contribute to weight gain?

The human body can use energy from proteins and carbs (each produce four calories per gram), fat (one gram has nine calories), and alcohol (one gram provides seven calories). Calories produced from alcohol are termed “empty” calories and most of it is dissipated as heat. Moderate drinking may not contribute much to increased body weight; in fact, some studies show no increase in body weight in women after moderate drinking, but chronic heavy alcohol consumption may result in increased weight. And, we should also consider that many mixes with distilled spirits can be high in calories and that we often snack with our alcoholic beverages. Calories from alcoholic beverages are produced not only from alcohol but also from carbs (approximately 2 grams/glass of wine; 12 grams/bottle of beer, and zero grams from spirits not mixed with calorie containing additives).

As the holiday season is upon us, many hangover cures will be circulating. What causes the symptoms of a hangover and is there really any cure?

Hangover is mainly due to dehydration and sleep interruption due to excessive drinking.  Some also say it is due to the presence of “congeners” – chemicals produced in dark drinks but not in distilled spirits. The best cure for hangover is people who choose to drink should drink moderately, with plenty of water and try to sleep longer.  Remedies claimed to treat hangover are largely ineffective.

Thanks to Dr. Zakhari for taking time to answer your questions. For more information check out Drink in Moderation from the Distilled Spirits Council and Rethinking Drinking from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

*I was not asked or compensated to write this post.

For more information on alcohol and many other topics of interest to those of us over 50, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.