The Food Marketing Institute Foundation has established September as Family Meals Month. While the campaign is focused on getting families to eat at least one additional meal together each week, let’s look at what a “family” means to adults over 50.
For many of you, your household may be shrinking for many reasons. Maybe your kids are on their own and live far from home, your parents might be in a senior living residence, or you might find yourself living on your own after many years of sharing your home with a spouse. Whatever the reason, Americans are increasingly eating alone. Many years ago, I researched the effect of widowhood on eating behaviors and nutrient intakes and found that widowhood changed the social environment of the men and women, altering the social meaning that eating held for them, resulting in negative effects on eating behaviors and nutrient intakes. Overwhelmingly, the men and women I interviewed said that eating alone decreased the enjoyment of mealtime. Adults who live alone may also lose the desire to cook for themselves.
Since dinner is identified as the most social of all the meals, what can you do to make it more social and healthy? Here are a few ideas to consider:
• Hang out in the grocery store. Many food retailers are providing more convenient, at home meal preparation stations, with a recipe card and all the needed ingredients at the point of the demonstration. One of the most delicious meals I never planned to make, came from watching and tasting a cooking demonstration at a local Publix. I called my sister and her daughter and stopped by her house on my way home to make broccoli cheese stuffed chicken with peach cranberry casserole. An unplanned event that was memorable, delicious, and social.
• Try an at home meal delivery kit. Many like HelloFresh have free trial offers to get you back in the kitchen. Invite a few friends or neighbors over to get them in on the kitchen action and to share in the delicious meals.
• Start a supper club; just like a book club, but with better food.
Sharing meals is more enjoyable than dining alone, and cooking costs less than dining out. So, for family meals month, make some new friends, meet a new neighbor, or bring old friends together to share a meal, a laugh, and good nutrition.
Visit Chris Rosenbloom’s website to learn more about healthy aging and ask a question about food and fitness. Her new book, along with co-author, Bob Murray, Food and Fitness After 50 is available for pre-order at Amazon.
On her recent birthday, my friend Sheah got a Hamsa tattooed on her right shoulder for protection from the evil eye. When you know her history of eye issues, you will understand why she desires protection.
Now in her 60s, she sported her first pair of glasses at age 6 and her severe myopia made her reach for her “coke bottle lens glasses” upon awakening to be able to see anything. Her eyesight deteriorated to the point where she was wearing bifocals in the 6th grade; something that most of us don’t need until we are well into our 40s. At age 50, she failed the vision test when renewing her driver’s license and was diagnosed with macular pucker in her right eye, requiring surgery.
The macula is a small area in the back of the eye with special light sensing cells that lets
us see clearly. Sheah’s surgery improved her vision for a few years but soon she developed a cataract in the same eye, leading to another surgery. This time, the surgery resulted in perfect vision in her right eye for the first time in her life.
Let’s stop for a minute and explain that there are some normal eye changes as we age that are easily remedied with bi- or trifocals. Around the age of 40 we start to lose the ability to focus on close objects…we’ve all been there, holding the book or newspaper in outstretched arms so we can read the fine print. That is called presbyopia (prez-bee-opie-ah) and, while the timing varies greatly in folks, it is most likely that all older adults will experience it.
However, there are some eye disorders that occur more frequently with aging, but are not a natural part of getting older. One of those disorders is cataracts that occur when the normally clear lens of the eye gets cloudy. You might notice halos around lights or have trouble driving at night or that your vision appears hazy. Your eye doctor can diagnose and treat it, but eventually you might need cataract surgery to replace the lens, which is a real modern medicine marvel. As Sheah noted, her vision cleared up and she could see perfectly without glasses or contact lens.
So, where did we leave off with Sheah’s story? All was going well until an unfortunate accident occurred 5 days in to a 3-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. tripping on stone pavers, she fell face forward. Patched up she continued her trip of a lifetime but 10 months later noticed “a curtain of darkness falling over her eye.” Emergency surgery to repair a detached retina was the treatment and her eye doctor believed the fall caused the injury. The worse part of the surgery is having lay face down for 7 days post-op. Sheah rented a message chair to use in her recovery. Because she has had vision problems for her whole life, she has developed healthy coping strategies, like humor, to deal with her eye traumas. “I had a massage therapist come to my house for massages; since I had the chair, why not put it to good use?” Despite all of the eye surgeries, she still travels extensively, with her next trip coming up soon…to India. The latest surgery, an intra-ocular lens replacement, has left her with reduced vision, but her advice is to “not let injuries define or limit you.”
While Sheah’s eye issues were not related to nutrition, there are nutrients that play an important role in protecting our eyesight as we age. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant plant pigments concentrated in the eye and are found in deeply colored veggies, like dark leafy greens, squash, pumpkin, and in egg yolk and avocado. I’ll be sharing more about eye health and age-related macular degeneration in a future post.
Sheah is committed to reducing fall risk by taking Pilates, something she has always enjoyed, to strengthen and stretch her muscles and improved flexibility and balance. She also is sure to get plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin.
She also says cool glasses frames not only improve her vision, but “they are a great accessary to cover up eye wrinkles.” I told you she had a good sense of humor!
Happy 66th birthday to my husband, Rob. So, disclosure, this post is about my terrific spouse, but I promise there will be a nicer birthday gift than just writing about him!
Rob attributes his healthy aging to regular physical activity and being married to a dietitian (smart man!) He has always maintained a healthy weight, but as he has gotten older, his genetic propensity to store fat in his belly was starting to make an appearance. After a trip to Peru last spring, he came home 7 pounds lighter and liked how he looked and felt, so he continued to lose weight…5 additional pounds, for a total 12-pound weight loss in 4 months. His current weight is 158 pounds with a goal to keep his weight under 160 pounds. On his 6’ frame, that makes his body mass index 21.4, a healthy number. (Body Mass Index or BMI is a relationship between height and weight; a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 reduces risk of chronic diseases associated with being overweight or obese. To calculate your BMI use this calculator.
In addition to sharing his father’s body type, he also inherited a high risk for heart disease. Rob’s dad had his first coronary bypass surgery when he was just 55 years old, a second one at 67, and a third cardiac procedure at 79. (He lived to a few months shy of his 90th birthday, so good medical care really paid off for him). Rob took part in a genetic study at an Atlanta area hospital several years ago and found out he got all the bad cardiac genes, while his sister got the good heart genes. So, he sees a cardiologist regularly, participates in aerobic exercise activities, keeps his lipids in a healthy range, and watches his diet. He knew that carrying extra belly fat could increase his already high risk. There is some good news for those of you who think genes are destiny. A 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine on genetic risk, adherence to a healthy lifestyle, and coronary disease caught my attention. Studying over 55,000 men and women and evaluating their genetic risk from more than 50 gene snippets that are related to coronary disease, the researchers also looked at four healthy lifestyle factors: no smoking, healthy body weight, physical activity at least once a week, and eating healthfully (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and dairy and less processed meats, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, unhealthy fats and sodium). The study end points were heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, or death from heart disease. The researchers found about a 46% lower risk of disease for those in the high genetic risk group when healthy lifestyle factors were present. They concluded that “within any genetic risk category, adherence to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a significantly decreased risk of clinical coronary events.”
This study tells us that even if we didn’t choose our parents carefully we can modify our environment to push the odds in our favor. Each year, over 370,000 people die from coronary disease and 735,000 people in the U.S. will have a heart attack; anything we can do to lower those numbers is worth it.
So, how has Rob maintained his weight loss? He cites the early success and the desire to build on it as motivating factors. He used his fitness watch and associated cell phone app to record his weight every morning and log his food intake each day. “When I saw how many calories were in some my favorite foods, I started making different choices. It is just too easy to overeat without monitoring your intake.” This is big news from a guy who loves dessert; in fact, he used to like pre-dessert, dessert, and post-dessert! Now, he sticks to 100-calorie novelty ice cream bars for a sweet dessert without a lot of calories.
His biggest challenge is eating out. After retirement from a 30-year career in the criminal justice field, the took a consultant position that has him on the road about a week each month. He has been in New York City most recently, and the restaurant options are quite tempting. But, he has learned to eat less on the days he knows he will splurge. For example, in the past, breakfast might have been a ham and cheese omelet and now he opts for scrambled eggs with a slice of lean Canadian bacon; or 1 slice of pizza and a salad versus many slices of pepperoni pizza.
Rob says setting goals have helped him, that and his desire to keep the bad genes in check for as long as he can. “I want to be fit and look fit as I move into my middle 60s so I can travel and do the things like to do, like golf, sail, cycle, swim, and jog. Looking fit makes me feel better.” He also adds that “tracking what I eat takes some effort, but it works for me.”
Happy birthday, Rob!
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 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.
This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray, my co-author of Food & Fitness After 50
Now in his mid-60s, William is two years into a new commitment to lead a healthy lifestyle. William exercised on and off (mostly off) over much of his life, but those efforts typically lasted only a few weeks before he eased back into a sedentary lifestyle. His day job has always been a mix of desk work, car travel, and walking job sites, but did not include enough consistent physical activity to make a difference. As often happens, William became increasingly overweight and was diagnosed with high blood pressure. He recognized that he was out of shape and generally unhealthy and knew that if he did not change his ways, the lifestyle he wants to lead for the rest of his life would be compromised. William has no desire to compete in road races or triathlons, he simply wants to remain functionally fit so that he can engage in everyday activities without undo stress or strain. To accomplish that goal, William realized that he’d have to improve his stamina, strength, flexibility, and balance.
To improve his functional fitness, William developed his own program built around the 4-mile walks he enjoys taking with his Fox Red Labrador Retriever each weekday morning. A recent study from the University of Missouri (The Gerontologist 2016) supports dog walking as a healthful exercise for those 50+. The article looked at the link between dog ownership, pet bonding and walking behaviors in over 700 adults with an average of 67 years. The researchers found that dog ownership by itself was not associated with better health, but dog walking is tied to both better health (lower body mass index, fewer chronic health problems and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise) compared to non-dog owners or those who don’t walk their dogs.
After work 3 to 4 times each week, William heads to a local fitness club that caters to older clients. He spends about 60 minutes on his own doing a variety of exercises using free weights, machines, and his body weight. Each week or two, William completes an hour session with his personal trainer to help maintain his motivation, learn new exercises, and challenge his limits. William enjoys variety in his fitness routine and while group classes don’t appeal to him, he’s keeping an open mind about adding a group class in the future, if only to keep things fresh.
William is happy with the results of his commitment; he has lost weight, his blood pressure is under control, and he has more strength and stamina. His goal is to continue his routine throughout the year—no more taking winters off—and challenge himself to further improvements in his functional fitness. William said that he’s learned that it’s never too late to develop new fitness habits and would advise people to start slowly with an activity that they enjoy and gradually add more over time. He also said that becoming more fit has made him more conscientious about his diet. He doesn’t follow a diet plan, but has realized that he’s making better choices with portion control.
William’s experience is very typical of those who start a fitness program later in life and stick with it. Simply put, there is a lot to be said about the benefits of moving more and eating less on a daily basis. Physical activity is a potent medicine that improves virtually every aspect of how our bodies function. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) program, Exercise is Medicine®, encourages physicians to treat exercise like other vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, body weight, etc) and routinely evaluate physical activity at every doctor’s visit. To learn more about the initiative click here (Exercise is Medicine) and to receive a free quarterly newsletter from ACSM’s Fit Society check out this link (Fit Society).
For more information on Food & Fitness After 50 or to ask Chris or Bob a question about food & fitness visit Food & Fitness After 50 Site. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon at this link Pre-order.
Helene is 62 years old and is frequently described as the “energizer bunny” in the early morning dance aerobics class at the YMCA. She inspires those of us in the back row, while she in turn is inspired by our instructor, Jean. After a 30-year career as a social studies and language arts teacher, Helene is finally finding time to be active, make that very active. She enjoys many activities: early morning walks (as in 5:30 am early!), dance aerobics, spin classes, strength training, and pickle ball. “For me, exercise must be fun and not boring; that is why I love a new challenge, like pickle ball.” She also values group exercise. “I love the social aspect of group classes; for me it adds to the fun.”
In addition to her active lifestyle, she is an engaged volunteer in her community. “When I retired I knew I would miss the nurturing, helping aspects of teaching so I channeled those feelings into my volunteer work.” When she was working full-time and raising her family, she never had time to volunteer and she finds her new volunteer work very fulfilling. Her exercise activities and her volunteering contain the element that is most important to her: social relationships. And, she is right on target with her belief that social relationships help her age well. In the mid-1990s two social science researchers defined “successful aging.” The three pillars of successful aging are the absence of disease and disability, maintaining physical and cognitive function, and involvement in social activities and productive pursuits. Since the original concept, many papers have been published to support that social activities and maintaining a strong social network are important to optimal aging. People, like Helene, who are altruistic, positive, and value maintaining social relationships rate their own health as better than others who are not as engaged. And, that positive attitude helps in times of stress that we all face as we age.
When asked if she has faced any challenges with her post-retirement life, she says “not yet,” but she often wonders if pushing herself too hard in some activities might lead to injury. “It is a fine line between working at capacity without hurting yourself as you get older.” Right now, she is balancing on the line like an Olympic gymnast!
She recommends that younger adults make time for themselves and start exercising before they retire. “I know that it is hard to carve out time for yourself when you are working, raising kids, and dealing with the everyday chores in a home, but my advice to young people is to start early to make exercise a part of your life so that it is an ingrained habit.”
Meet Mike, a 64-year old artist who weighs the same as he did when he was in high school. How many of us can say that? Many of us over 50 live with chronic diseases, but Mike has been dealing with a serious disease since he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 34 years ago, at the age of 30. Most of you have heard of diabetes, but did you know that only 5% of the people with diabetes have Type 1? In this form of diabetes, no insulin is produced so Mike must give himself multiple daily insulin shots to survive. Insulin acts like a key to allow glucose (sugar) to enter cells to produce energy. Without insulin, his blood sugar can reach dangerously
high levels, while his cells starve because they can’t use glucose. (Fun fact: Prior to 1982, insulin was produced from the pancreas of cows or pigs; it wasn’t a very efficient process. To get 8-ounces of insulin, 2 tons of pig pancreas had to be processed. In 1982, genetic engineering (or GMO, if you’ve heard of that term) produced the first purified insulin from bacteria for human use. The technique is called recombinant DNA and the genetically engineered insulin has greatly reduced allergic reactions from cow or pig insulin. It is a modern medical miracle for those with diabetes.) For those who want to know more about all types of diabetes, the American Diabetes Association is a great resource (American Diabetes Association).
The pillars of management for Type 1 diabetes are insulin, diet, and activity. So, how does Mike eat and stay active to manage diabetes?
“I eat as good as I can,” he says, but doesn’t follow the old school notion of a diabetes diet. He counts carbs to help him adjust his insulin dose to match food intake. He eats peanut butter toast most mornings, but is trying to add more protein to his breakfast. He keeps his snacks simple and healthy; a small apple, pear, or handful of raisins and nuts. He has learned that portion size is key to managing his blood sugar levels. As for meals, he “can make a whole meal out of a steamed bunch of broccoli.” He enjoys a couple of beers most days, with his favorite food, peanuts. He doesn’t eat a lot of meat, but gets protein from nuts, beans, rice, and fish, especially sardines (a good source of omega-3-fats). “I want to eat as healthy as I can to manage my blood sugar and avoid the complications of diabetes. I want to be around for a long time so I can hang out with my 4-year old grandson and watch him grow.”
Mike doesn’t belong to a gym or “exercise” in the way many of us do; he gets his exercise by walking and biking because he doesn’t own a car. “Biking to the grocery store is great exercise because I carry the groceries home in my backpack; I’m not tempted to buy things I don’t really need.” He also sees house and yard work as exercise. “Scrubbing floors and using an old-fashioned push mower to cut the grass” is seen, not as a chore, but as exercise.
Mike’s goal is simple: “feel good, not gross.” I’d say he is meeting his goal!
Chris Rosenbloom and Bob Murray’s new book, Food & Fitness After 50, is available for pre-order through Amazon (preorder link).
In a yoga class (or, as instructor Tina Howard calls it, “YoFlex”), we were in a stretching pose on our backs, legs reaching up to the ceiling, and flexing our feet, when we were told to write our favorite age in the air with our outstretched foot. I thought for a brief second before writing sixty-six, my current age. There, I did it, I outed myself! But, although my brain thinks, “wow, 66 sounds old,” I believe that getting old is a privilege that not everyone gets to do. My father died in his early 50s, and we all have family and friends who did not get to enjoy a long life. So, instead of moaning about getting old (I really hate the expression “senior moment”), I hope that you celebrate growing old with grace and don’t chase a fountain of youth. We might want to believe in the power supplements that promise to turn back time, stop memory loss, improve aging skin, retard chronic disease, and achieve world peace (ok, just kidding about that last one), but we all know it is a scam. It is human nature to look for the quick fix, the easy cure, but we all know that what we eat, how much we move, and adopting healthy habits is the only way to age with grace. But, food tastes good and exercise is hard; much easier to think that a pill can fix our ills.
Many of you know that Bob Murray, exercise physiologist and all around good guy who is aging gracefully, and I have a book coming out in October called Food & Fitness After 50 (and thanks to our family and friends who have pre-order the book on Amazon! And, if you haven’t seen it yet, here is the link). We present a lot of real world scenarios from people we have talked to over the years who want to eat well, move well, and be well, but are not always sure how to separate nutrition and exercise fact from fiction. We use their stories to illustrate the book’s content. And, I am constantly inspired by the 50+ adults in my community and my friends around the country who are living a healthy, active life. Every Tuesday, I will post a conversation with some of these friends and family members who I hope will inspire and continue to motivate you to be the best you can be at every age.
So, watch for their stories (you might recognize a few folks) and if you have a burning question about food or fitness for those of us over 50, leave your question here and we will answer it on the website with a personal response, too. Access the question box through this link Question box.
When talking about food and fitness for those over 50, it is the best of times, and sometimes the worst of times. Everyone want to know the ”best” exercise or food to eat to prevent aging. A quick Google search will provide you with many answers, unfortunately most of them are less than science-based and are usually trying to separate you from your money. Let’s be clear: there is no one superfood or exercise that will prevent aging.
That is why, I am excited to launch Food & Fitness After 50, with co-author, exercise physiologist, Bob Murray. The book will be published later this year. While there might not be a “best” exercise or food, that doesn’t mean that food and fitness are unimportant as we age. You can be healthier at 65 than you were at 45 by eating well and starting (or increasing) your physical activity. This is important because so many of us are living longer. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, began turning 65 in 2011 and by 2029 when all boomers will be 65, more than 20% of the population will be over 65. Why is 65 an important number? Because people reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of 19.3 years (20.5 years for women and 18 years for men). How do you want to spend those 20 years? Do you want to travel, enjoy your favorite physical activities, and be a vibrant person in the lives of your grandchildren and great grandchildren? I am sure that we all want that, so being active and eating healthfully are steps you can take right now to increase your odds of being healthy into your later years.
Just this week, The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published an article on nutrition controversies in preventing heart and blood vessel disease. The article can be found here http://www.onlinejacc.org/content/69/9/1172?_ga=1.183783078.1620905078.1488293025 and here is an easy to guide to see their recommendations.
While their article focused on heart disease, our book covers many healthful eating patterns to keep your heart, bones, joints, blood sugar, blood pressure, and brain healthy. Remember there isn’t one “best” eating plan. So, we feature four plans that we think most older adults will find fit their lifestyle and their enjoyment of foods:
- The DASH eating plan (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
- The Flexitarian plan
- The Mediterranean Diet
- The MIND diet (MIND stands for Mediterranean- ASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)
We also dive into exercise for endurance, strength, agility, balance, and functional fitness. Keeping our heart and lungs strong, halting muscle loss, and keeping agile all contributes to functional fitness….the ability to do the things you did when you were younger without a second thought. I want to be able to lift my suitcase in the overhead bin when I travel and pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food, all examples of functional fitness. Age-related muscle loss usually starts at about age 40. We can lose 10-15% of muscle mass and muscle strength every decade if we don’t engage in progressive, resistance exercise.
We hope that our book can help those over 50 learn to separate usual aging from the disuse of a sedentary lifestyle and sort out the fact from fiction about foods. Please visit our webpage to learn more about the book and leave us a question that you might see featured in an upcoming blog post. Web page for Food & Fitness After 50