Top tips to be your best during Healthy Aging Month…and every month

Happy, healthy September! Since Food & Fitness After 50 was published, Dr. Bob and I have interviewed about 50 inspiring adults asking them what they do to achieve optimal aging. They range in age from 55 to 90 years old and they live as far away as Australia and as close to home as our own backyards of Hartwell, Georgia or Chicago, Illinois. (We hope you like our posts and if you haven’t already followed our blog, please do by clicking here.)

Today, we are taking a short trip down memory lane to mine the advice and wisdom of the folks interviewed for Fit to Eat. As we do in our book, we’re capturing the ideas in three buckets: Eat Well, Move Well, and Be Well.

Eat well

Three themes came through from our 50+ folks on eating well.

  • First, no one adhered to a rigid plan or fad-diet-of -month. No Paleo, no Keto, and no CICO or carnivore eating plans. The key word for everyone was balance. Balance is the ability to eat and drink anything you want, in moderation. Of course, you must know what moderation is; eating a basket of fried chicken wings with a half dozen beers every Friday night is not moderation! It is OK to indulge occasionally, like Bob did on his 7-day bike trek across Iowa riding about 65-miles a day, but you can’t overeat every day and claim you are eating well.
  • A second theme that emerged is eating for health, not to achieve a number on the scale. Those we interviewed enjoyed a wide variety of healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, and dairy. Some folks focused on plant-based vegetarian diets, but most didn’t limit a particular food or eliminate an entire food group, like grains. Eating a variety of foods is smart because you are more likely to get all the nutrients you need to support optimal aging.
  • Lastly, everyone we spoke to did not fear their food! They know that eating is not only biologically necessary, but one of life’s pleasures. They are conscious of limiting sugar and saturated fat and excess alcohol, but they love sharing meals with family and friends over social occasions.

Move Well

Everyone we talked to was active in their own way. Some loved pickleball and others used their fists and feet from boxing to ballroom dancing. Some were runners, other walked. Some loved cycling on the open road and some preferred riding an exercise bike while binge watching a favorite show. Me, I love group exercise classes and walking my dog while Bob prefers individual activities and doesn’t own a dog.

The theme that emerged is to find something you like to do and do it. Make it challenging…get your heart rate pumping a bit harder, your breathing a bit labored, and fatigue your muscles when you lift weights. As Sally says, “no challenge, no change.”

Exercise brings intrinsic joy, but it helps to have a mentor to encourage you or a buddy who will meet you at 5:15 am every morning for a run before work. So, make it fun and make it your own and be consistent!

Be Well

We all know that eating well and moving well are only part of the equation for optimal aging. To be well we need resilience, probably the most important trait for healthy aging. Because as we age, stuff is going to happen; we lose loved ones, we get injured, we experience chronic health problems, we get joints replaced…but, through it all we need to see the positive and bounce back from setbacks. Everyone we talked to had experienced some challenges, but they all recognized the issue and found ways to positively cope.

Social support is also important for being well, whether family or friends, community or religious institutions, everyone valued social support for optimal aging. Book clubs, health clubs, volunteering at the library, joining a local botanical garden, or developing a social club for Single Outstanding Ladies Offering Support (SOLOS), anything that keeps us connected helps us to be well.

Lastly, intellectual curiosity and a thirst for lifelong learning was a trait of all the over 50 age group we talked to. Try to learn something new every day on your journey to healthy aging, this month, and every month.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author (along with Dr. Bob Murray) of Food & Fitness After 50.

When your smart watch tells you 500 calories were burned in exercise, is it telling the truth?

This morning my fitness watch showed that I burned 720 calories between a one-hour aerobic dance class and a 45-minute walk with my dog. Yeah, me! But, a new study, says not so fast!  

My last post reported on a new study that said middle-age weight gain is not tied to a slower metabolism (click here for the post). and another new study says that we compensate for energy expended in activity. In other words, for most of us 28% of the extra calories we spend on additional activity does not translate into extra calories burned that day. Only 72% of the extra calories spent in physical activity is the number of extra calories burned that day. (Click here for the study in Current Biology).

The authors of this large study of 1754 adults aren’t sure why this is so, but they speculate that “compensation would have been adaptive for our ancestors because it minimized food energy demands and hence reduced the time needed for foraging, the advantages of which may include reducing exposure to predation.”  The only foraging I do for food is drive to the grocery store and I’ve never seen a predator trying to steal my grocery cart at the local Ingles!

The study also noted there was no difference in compensation between men and women, young or old, but there was a difference based on body composition. Those individuals who were at the 90th percentile for BMI and had highest body fat levels burned only 51% of their activity calories. The authors suggest that “It appears that individuals with greater fat levels are predisposed to increased adiposity either because they are stronger energy compensators or because they become stronger compensators as they get fatter. If the former, then two people can be equally active, yet one puts on fat mass while the other stays lean. If the latter, then such a positive feedback loop may imply that using exercise as a strategy to escape high adiposity becomes less effective.” It’s important to remember that we exercise for more than just burning calories. Just look at all the benefits of physical activity listed in this slide:

Rosenbloom & Murray, ACSM Health & Fitness Summit presentation

This study also made me realize that some of my advice to athletes was simplistic. I developed a series of visuals for collegiate athletes called “Eat This, Do That” (a riff on the popular “Eat this, not that) to show them how much exercise would be needed to burn off the calories in some of their favorite foods. I tried to be as scientific as I could; looking up the energy expenditure values for an average female and male athlete for a variety of activities. For example, a serving of chicken wings contains 1590 calories, so a female athlete needs to play basketball for 6 hours and male athlete for 4 hours to burn those calories. This new study shows I was off on my calculations!

This new study shows us biology is complicated! We should stop the simplistic advice to eat less and move more as a cure for those with obesity. As Ted Kyle says in his ConscienHealth commentary, “this is just one more reason that you can’t outrun a bad diet. Exercise is great for physical health. But the popular concept that a person can simply work out to “burn off” excess fat is a lie that won’t die. If the goal is to reach and maintain a healthier weight, advice from a nutrition professional (an RDN) can be quite helpful.” (Click here for his commentary on the study on energy expenditure.)

So, that 720 calories my watch told me I burned in exercise translates into about 520 calories. So, I think I will enjoy the feeling that being physically active gives me and not be lulled into the false idea that I can have an extra dessert today!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog devoted to optimal aging by clicking here.

Is aging to blame for mid-life weight gain? A new study says think again.

 “Science is not truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you. It learned more.”

Many folks read headlines and think scientists never get it right. A new study published in Science changes what we know about aging and weight gain. Some people won’t’ like the bottom-line of the research. A collaborative team of researchers looked at energy expenditure…. or how many calories we burn each day… throughout the life course. The new study looked at energy expenditure through the life cycle…from over 6400 people from 29 countries, ranging from 8 days to 95 years.

 First a quick refresher. Humans burn calories mainly in three ways:

  • Basal metabolism is the energy we burn for life-sustaining processes like breathing, keeping our heart beating, and repairing our body’s tissues. It is the largest portion of total energy expenditure, about 50-70%.
  • A smaller percentage, about 10%, is called the thermic effect of food. It is the amount of energy needed to digest food…. digestion, absorption, transport, and assimilation of the food we eat.
  • Exercise or physical activity is another way of expending energy, and it is highly variable. For an inactive person who spends most of the day in front of a computer screen, the percentage is quite low. For an ultra-endurance athlete, it is high. It runs the gambit between the two. A sub-component of exercise energy expenditure is called NEAT for nonexercise activity thermogenesis…a fancy name for energy expended outside of regular physical activity, such as fidgeting. We all know someone who can’t sit still…the leg shaker, the hair twirler…. they burn more calories than those of us who are good at sitting still!

The researchers found four distinct phases for energy expenditure:

  • From birth to 1 year of age
  • Juveniles, from 1 to 20 years
  • Adulthood, from 20 to 60 years
  • Older adults, over the age of 60 years
Rhoads & Anderson, Science, August 13, 2021

In the first year of life, energy expenditure is high, as might be expected with the rapid growth and development that occurs in neonates. “Between 9 and 15 months of age, energy expenditure is nearly 50% elevated compared with adults.”

Energy expenditure continues through the teen years and plateaus around age 20. In adulthood, energy expenditure remains relatively constant and stable from 20 to 60 years. That is new information. Prior to this research, it was commonly accepted that basal metabolism, that energy needed for everyday existence, declined about 2% per decade, leading to a slower metabolism and contributing to weight gain. However, this new research says, not so fast.

This study did not assess hormone levels, like estrogen and testosterone, which can affect body composition as we age, but blaming middle age spread on our metabolism, doesn’t seem to be the case.

After the age of 60, there are declines in energy expenditure, fat-free mass (like muscle), as well as fat mass. There is also a decline in the energy used by specific organs, such as the brain. The declines could increase the risk of weight gain after the age of 60.

So where does that leave us? From this paper, it is clear that physical activity is a key driver of energy expenditure. Only 1 in 5 adults meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity, so moving more is a good place to start. It would be helpful if it there was a social and community commitment to help people move more…sidewalks, safe neighborhoods and playgrounds, accessible public transportation, bike and walking trails, could help us move more. Individual effort is important, but not everyone can afford a gym membership (both in time and money).

The paper only addressed physical activity, but we can assume that excess energy from the food we eat plays a role. Instead of labeling food as “good” or “bad” for you, why not enjoy all foods but be aware of the portions and the frequency of eating? And, in middle-age, alcohol intake might increase which contributes to excess calories.

If science doesn’t evolve, it’s no longer science, it’s history.”

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University, and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.

6 Reasons to Fall in Love with California Walnuts for Optimal Aging

Has this ever happened to you? You are about to make a much-loved recipe only to find you are missing one ingredient. One very important ingredient for which there is no substitution. It happened to me recently and it led to a discovery. I was all set to make the absolute best banana bread, Old Soul’s Walnut Banana Bread, (click here for the recipe) using California walnuts. I’ve been making this recipe for ten years, ever since I got the opportunity to go on a walnut harvest tour in 2011.

Photo credit: Old Soul’s Walnut Banana Bread @cawalnuts

English walnuts versus Black Walnuts

I asked my husband to stop at the store pick up walnuts and he bought black walnuts. I didn’t know the difference, but my taste buds did! Black walnuts are bitter and sharp tasting compared to English walnuts and my favorite banana bread just didn’t taste the same.

I reached out to walnut guru, Carol Berg Sloan, a registered dietitian, and health research director for California Walnuts to ask her to explain the difference. “Black walnuts are indeed different from English walnuts …which the California Walnut Commission and Board represent. Black walnuts are indigenous to the United States and before there were hybrid rootstocks, English walnuts were grafted onto black walnut rootstock to produce the walnuts we are most familiar with. California walnuts are called English walnuts because English traders brought them over to the US from Persia centuries ago. Black walnuts are much more bitter than English …as you noticed. They are usually used in confectionaries and ice cream. Lots of people like the flavor, but I’m with you, they are too tannic for my taste.” There are many reasons for older adults to embrace English or California walnuts and here are my top 6 reasons, although you can find even more reasons by clicking here.

Photo credit: California Walnuts @cawalnuts

Unique Nutrient Profile

All nuts are healthful but English walnuts have a unique nutrient profile. Carol Berg Sloan explains, “California walnuts tout the omega-3 content as our claim to fame; it is the only nut with significant amounts of the essential omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid or ALA.” In nutrition terms, the word “essential” means that the nutrient must be obtained from foods because the body cannot make it or make it in sufficient amounts. Research on the role of ALA is strongest in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. California walnuts contain three times the amount of ALA as black walnuts.

Plant-based

Interest in plant-based eating is high and 1 in 4 adults say they are eating more protein from plant sources than they did a year ago, according to the 2021 IFIC Food & Health Survey. A serving of walnuts (1-ounce or ¼ cup or 12-14 halves or about a handful) provides over 2.5 grams of protein which is more than an 8-ounce serving of almond milk. When added to salads, used in pesto, or simply eaten as a snack, walnuts can boost plant-based protein consumption.

Heart Health

High blood pressure and high cholesterol…. both major risk factors for heart disease…are the top chronic conditions of older adults. Since 80% of adults 65 and older have at least one chronic condition, while 68% have two or more, eating to help control chronic disease is a positive strategy that everyone can adopt. A handful of walnuts improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers LDL or the “bad” cholesterol. Both benefits lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Toasted walnuts, black bean, corn & tomato salsa
Photo credit: California Walnuts and Cape Cod Kitchen @cawalnuts

Cognitive health

It is well known that what is good for the heart is good for the brain! In addition to the essential fatty acid, ALA, walnuts are rich in plant-nutrients, called polyphenols, as well as vitamin E. Those nutrients are related to healthy aging and research suggests that walnut consumption improves cognitive function as measured by tests of reaction time and recall.

Gut health

Emerging research suggests walnuts have dietary fibers that act like prebiotic fibers. (For more on prebiotics, click here.) In recent studies, consuming a little more than a handful (about 1.5 ounces) each day led to changes in the gut microbiome; improving the diversity of “good” bacteria and supporting digestive health.

Great taste and versatility

Good nutrition isn’t good unless it is eaten! Taste rules and walnuts taste great. I like them as an afternoon snack for their nutrition and for satiety value, keeping me feeling full until dinner. But, they are also highly versatile as an ingredient….from walnut crusted chicken or fish to a filler for meatballs to pesto. Of course, they are the star in my banana bread! For hundreds of recipes check out this link from California Walnuts.

Thai walnut BBQ chicken bowl
Photo credit: California Walnuts and Cape Fear Nutrition @cawalnuts

If you need another reason to consume walnuts, recently published research in the Journal of Aging Research found that women consuming nuts at midlife have a greater likelihood of overall health and well-being at older ages. “Nut consumption may represent a simple intervention to explore and promote healthy aging,” suggest the researchers.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 and you can follow her blog by clicking here.

4 Tips for Finding Happiness: One Woman’s Story to Inspire Us

“How do you look so good?” wrote a friend on Gail’s Facebook page. She replied, “because I’m happy.” I knew then that I needed to interview this 82-year-old acquaintance to learn more about her and share her tips for happiness. I’ve known Gail through our mutual volunteer work, but I didn’t really know her. We met for coffee and 2 hours later it quickly is obvious why she is happy.

But first a little background to set the stage for happiness in her octogenarian years. Gail grew up in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina where, like many of her generation, she played outside all day until her parents called her in for supper. Her mother loved to travel and took Gail and her sister on family adventures, enriching their lives and exposing them to new places and people.

After she graduated from Stetson University with an accounting degree, she joined Delta Airlines as an internal auditor. It quickly became apparent to Gail that she wasn’t cut out for desk work and so she was encouraged to become a flight attendant or “stewardess” as they were called then. “I loved flying back in the day when flying was civil! I worked the initial flights to the west coast and flew for 5 years until I got married. At that time, stewardesses had to retire when they married or when they turned 35…can you believe that?”

Once she had a daughter, she enjoyed staying at home with her for a few years until she went through a divorce. Her daughter was in school, and she missed working and was ready to get back into the business world. She started as a legal secretary at small law firm and eventually became the legal administrator for a large Atlanta law firm. “Even though I worked 50-60 hours each week, “I loved my job, but began to hate the Atlanta traffic!”

With her daughter in college and after her mother passed away, it made sense to move back to North Carolina to help care for her father who was showing signs of dementia. “My father’s favorite saying was ‘every day’s a holiday’ and he had such a love for life that it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with him as he aged.” It also brought an unexpected adventure…. she was invited to attend a high school acquaintance’s 45th reunion. “Dann was 2 years ahead of me in school and we dated in high school and I hadn’t seen him in 45 years and we met up at the reunion and the rest is history! We’ve been married for 18 years. Between us we have 3 grown children, 6 grandchildren, and assorted grand dogs and cats.”

Gail and Dann in 1957 and recreating the photo 45 years later!

Recently, Gail revealed she lost 45 pounds in the past 2 ½ years. “I had slowly gained weight and I just didn’t feel as good as I wanted to, so I decided to eat more thoughtfully. No special diet or crazy restrictions, just eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean meat, and fish and watching portions sizes. And no mindless snacking.”  Since losing weight, one of the things she enjoys “is trying a new recipe every week or two. I cook simple recipes with just a few ingredients, not too many steps or long preparation time. It makes preparing and eating meals enjoyable.” She also is conscious of staying hydrated. “Fortunately, I enjoy drinking lots of water.”

She also walks regularly with her husband and uses Silver Sneaker videos to practices balance exercises. “I know I need to add strength training and with the pandemic ending I will get back to the YMCA to work on it.”

Getting back to the comment she made on being happy she explained, “happiness is a choice.” Gail’s good friend describes it this way, “Joy is a gift and happiness is a choice.” Indeed, in The Book of Joy: Lasing Happiness in a Changing World by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!)  the pillars of joy are identified and categorized as:

  • Qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance
  • Qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity

Gail exhibits all eight of those qualities!

I asked Gail for 3 tips for healthy aging, and she immediately replied, “I’ve got 4 tips!”

  • Exercise the body and the brain.
  • Eat healthfully and think before you eat.
  • Socialize with a wide range of people of different ages and backgrounds.
  • Think happy, live happy!

This quote from the Book of Joy sums up Gail:

 “The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Chris Rosenbloom is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University and co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow her blog by clicking here.

Can superfoods lead to healthy aging? Learn what dietitians think of superfoods.

I was thrilled when a writer from AARP reached out to me for an interview. The topic was right in my wheelhouse…healthful eating for those over 50. When we spoke by phone, my enthusiasm dipped as she explained that her editor wanted the column to be about “superfoods.”  I’m not a fan of the term “superfoods,” but super dietary patterns might be a better angle for the story. My suggestions were met with understanding from the writer, but as is often the case “superfoods” in a headline makes for clickable content and the editor has the final say.

When the article appeared online (click here for the article), I posted it to my social media and expressed my concern about the topic of superfoods and was happy that a fellow dietitian, Michele Redmond replied, “I had hoped the term “superfood” had died, but I keep seeing it in media and hearing it from my students!” Michele is a registered dietitian and chef and a “food enjoyment activist.” (To learn more about Michele, click here.) Michele teaches people flexible ways to simply eat well and enjoy making satisfying, flavorful meals.

“There is no formal definition, designation or regulation for “superfood,” Michele explains. That means that when you see a list of superfoods know that they “become defined by the agenda of whomever is writing about it.” Often the intentions are good; no dietitian would argue that eating more fruits and vegetables, more fiber-rich foods, or lean sources of protein aren’t healthful. However, some stories about superfoods promote a product, a diet plan, or supplements that financially benefit the writer. Just because someone declares a food to be “super” doesn’t mean it is.

This loops back to my comments to the writer…. a food that is called “super” only gets its superpowers when it is part of a healthful eating pattern. Eating a pint of blueberries every day won’t lessen your risk of poor health if you also smoke a pack of cigarettes and eat bacon, cheeseburgers each day.

Michele also notes how easy it is to move from “superfood to clean versus dirty and good versus bad foods.” Foods can take on moral overtones when thinking of foods in discrete categories. How many times have you heard someone say they “were bad” after eating an ice cream sundae? Eating ice cream doesn’t make you a bad person, but our language around food often gets tangled up with our self- worth. “Fear, doubt, and judgment should not be on anyone’s menu,” adds Michele.

Labeling something a superfood can also give it a health halo that isn’t always deserved. Just because someone declared that cookies made from “superfood” ingredients or organic cane sugar, gluten-free flour, and non-GMO ingredients doesn’t make them anything other than what they are; they are still cookies. The other issue with superfoods that Michele and I agree on is the “exclusive, and potentially elitist application.” With food insecurity on the rise in the older adult population, it is not helpful to position some foods with hefty price tags as more desirable. As an example, researchers found that when organic foods are touted as superior to conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, shoppers, especially those with low incomes, are less likely to buy any vegetables and fruit. And, considering that only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough produce each day, we should be encouraging, not discouraging intake.

Dietitians want foods to be affordable, accessibility, and appropriate for all Americans. We know that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are good choices and, in many cases, more affordable, accessible, and appropriate than fresh. No one should be made to feel bad or shamed if they don’t shop at pricy specialty shops or use canned peas instead of fresh.

So, the next time you see the word “superfoods” in a headline, don’t fall for it! As Michele says, “you have your own superpowers to chose good foods that fit into your own super eating pattern.”

The author of the AARP story reached out to me last week saying the article was so popular her editor assigned her another piece…”bad foods to avoid for those over 50.” As my mother-in-law would say, “oy veh!”

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Her book, Food & Fitness After 50 (with co-author Bob Murray) is available here. Follow her blog by clicking here now!

Can’t sleep? Proven tips to help you get a restful night’s sleep.

“About 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, and 1 in 3 adults do not regularly get the recommended amount of uninterrupted sleep they need to protect their health.”

National Institutes of Health

Eat well, move well, and be well are three pillars of Food & Fitness After 50.

This blog contains loads of information on eating well and moving well, but today’s post is about being well. Specifically, about sleep. This topic came up at my 8 am exercise class and a common lament was poor sleep.

I’ve been up since 4 o’clock because I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

I feel like a never get a good night’s sleep anymore.

 I fall asleep quickly but can’t stay asleep.

If this sounds familiar you are not alone.

Couple the above quoted statistic from the NIH with COVID-19 and the sleep problems mount. A recent paper found the prevalence of sleep problems was high during the pandemic and affected about 40% of people in the general population.

Aging brings challenges to restorative sleep, too. Sleep time shortens and sleep patterns become more disturbed resulting in more time spent awake during the night and a harder time falling back to sleep. Reasons for this are not entirely clear, but most likely related to declining hormone levels and changes to our usual 24-hour rhythm.

Decreased testosterone in men and estrogen in women may influence sleep. As estrogen levels fall during the transition to menopause, 40 to 60% of women report trouble falling and staying asleep. And hot flashes also contribute to fragmented sleep. For some women, hot flashes affect sleep long after menopause.

Changes to our 24-hour master clock within the brain, called the superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN), also gets dysregulated with aging and with our modern lifestyles. In his fascinating book, Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, explains light, whether from the TV screen or LED-powdered smart phones, can fool the SCN into believing the sun hasn’t yet set. This suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin from tiny pinhead sized glands that sense daylight and begin the 24-hour cycle of wake/sleep. Melatonin increases as light exposure decreases and decreases when light levels increase. And melatonin naturally declines with age. (More on melatonin supplements in a bit!)

Remember, that not just waning hormones and night-time light exposure affect our sleep. Medications, whether prescription, over-the-counter drugs, or dietary supplements can all impact sleep. Forty percent of those of us over 65 take 5 or more medications. Common medications for blood pressure, heart disease, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), allergies, and asthma can affect sleep, as well as corticosteroids and anti-depressants. The over-the-counter allergy and cold medicines that say, “non-drowsy” may be good for daytime alertness but can negatively affect sleep. Some dietary supplements can also affect sleep. CoQ10, St. John’s Wort, and red yeast rice have all been reported as causing poor sleep.

Don’t forget caffeine, the most widely consumed drug in the world! Some people notice more caffeine-sensitivity as they age and by now you probably know whether you are one of those people. Check your medications for caffeine (some headache remedies contain the drug) and don’t think coffee is the only beverage with caffeine. Tea and cocoa contain caffeine as do some foods. I switched to drinking decaf tea or herbal tea in the evening to avoid excess caffeine…I am definitely one of those caffeine-sensitive folks.

What can we do for better sleep? There isn’t one answer that will work for all people, but these tips can help you get the sleep you need.

Eating and Drinking

  • We’ve already mentioned caffeine in coffee, tea, and some medications, but caffeine is also found in soft drinks, and not just colas. Lemon-lime, orange, and root beer drinks can also contain caffeine. Coffee-flavored ice cream and yogurt contain caffeine, as does anything with chocolate. Caffeine is a drug, so food and beverage makers do not have to list caffeine on the nutrition label. You will have to dig for information from manufacturer’s websites or nutrient-databases.
  • Avoid energy drinks or shots. As the name implies, “energy” keeps you awake, and the most likely culprit is caffeine.
  • Alcohol is another factor for poor sleep. Alcohol might mild sedate you, but it suppresses deep sleep. A night-cap is not a good idea for a restful night.
  • Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full. Both can keep you tossing and turning.

Develop a sleep routine…just like a baby!

  • Take time to wind down before going to bed. That might mean a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or meditation.
  • Learn to recognize when you are sleepy and only go to bed when you can no longer keep your eyes opened.
  • Stick to a schedule; try to go to bed and wake up at the same time; weekends, too!

In the bedroom

  • Keep it cool. In his book, Dr. Walker says 65 degrees is the ideal temperature for sleep. That might not be possible unless you want to freeze-out your partner or other family members and it certainly isn’t good for your power bill, but keeping the room cool with a fan can help.
  • Speaking of fans, the noise of a fan can also help with sleep. A white-noise machine helps some people, but for others, a fan does the trick.
  • Keep it dark. Constant light from bedside clocks, TVs LED lights, or other sources of light can affect sleep. Keep a small flashlight by your bed to use for nighttime bathroom visits instead of a night-light in your bedroom.
  • Turn off the screens…tablets, laptops, smart phones…the light from the screens suppresses melatonin. If you insist on having your phone in your bedroom, turn off notifications.
  • Don’t watch the clock…turn the clock face to the wall and don’t fixate on the time.
  • If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and read or listen to music until you are sleepy.

Exercise

  • People who routinely exercise report better sleep but avoid heavy exercise in the evening.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day but not later than 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.

What about melatonin? Melatonin is a hormone but is sold as a dietary supplement. Supplementing with melatonin can help you fall asleep but not necessarily help you sleep longer. If you want to try it, here are some suggestions:

  • Start with a low dose, 1 to 3 milligrams.
  • Take it 30 to 60 minutes before sleep; if using a liquid form, try it 20 minutes before bed.
  • Small doses do not appear to affect the natural production of melatonin, but it can interact with some prescription blood pressure and anti-anxiety medications.
  • Use it as needed, but not every night.

If you still can’t sleep after trying these tips, it might be time to talk to your health care provider about your sleeplessness. Check out this free guide to good sleep by clicking here.

I wish you good sleep….just like dogs and cats sleep!

My dog Buddy

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the co-author of Food & Fitness After 50 and publishes this blog, Fit to Eat. Follow the blog by clicking here.

Why It’s Never Too Late: Proven Lessons from Brilliant Athletes

I’m not as big a golf fan as my husband, but I was thrilled to watch Phil Mickelson win the 2021 PGA Championship.  At one month shy of age 51, he is the oldest golfer to win a major championship. In his post-victory speech he said, “I hope that this inspires some to just put in that little extra work, because there’s no reason why you can’t accomplish your goals at an older age. It just takes a little more work.”  Anyone who enjoys golf will tell you it takes physical and mental strength to win tournaments…. whether at the local club or the professional level.

Mickelson is one of many brilliant athletes who continue to win at the highest level. At ages where many professionals are joining the “senior” tour or enjoying retirement, athletes in all sports are shining in the game they love. Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl at age 43 and Serena Williams is still playing at the highest level at 39. And not just professional athletes are pushing the age barrier; consider that Sister Madonna Buder (known as the “Iron Nun”) holds the current world record for the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon, which she obtained at age 82 by finishing the Subaru Ironman Canada. Her book, The Race to Grace, tells her story of competing in over 340 triathlons. She says she has learned many life lessons in her 85 years, “but the ones that I’d look back and tell my twenty something self now are: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do; don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel.”

Let’s be real. Aging has negative effects on almost all body systems, but regular physical activity appears to lesson most of the age-related changes. Just look at these proven benefits of a physically active lifestyle:

  • Physical Benefits
    • Decreased blood pressure
    • Increased blood flow to muscles and skin
    • Increased maximal oxygen uptake
    • Increased components of the immune system
    • Increased bone mass
    • Increased “good” cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol)
    • Increased strength and balance
    • Normalized blood sugar levels
  • Health Benefits
    • Decreased all-cause mortality
    • Decreased risk of heart disease death
    • Decreased risk of high blood pressure
    • Decreased risk of blood clots
    • Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
    • Decreased risk of overweight and obesity
    • Decreased risk of falls
    • Decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression
    • Improved sleep
    • Enhanced relaxation
    • Enhanced mood
    • Increased well-being

How can we take the known benefits of activity and the inspiration from older athletes from all walks of life and apply it to ourselves?  Try these tips:

Rob playing golf in Ireland with friend, Mark Stanley
  • Choose something you like to do, not something you feel you have to do. Gardening and yard work can be just as beneficial as a trip to a gym. If you don’t have room for a garden, many communities offer plots in a community garden, free of charge. My husband loves golf and I’m more likely to take exercise classes at the local YMCA. It doesn’t matter what you like to do, just find something you enjoy and stick to it.
  • Set goals. Don’t wait until Monday or January 2 to start an activity program. When I decided I wanted to start running (in my younger days!), my sister-in-law and I would make plans every week to meet after work or on the weekend to run. We started slow, 1-mile, 2-miles, and then registered for local 5-K races (3.1 miles). We set a goal of running the 10-K (6.2 miles) Atlanta Peachtree Road Race and within a few years, we did. Thirteen consecutive years of Peachtree Road Races, all from a small goal of wanting to run.
  • Find a buddy. My sister-in-law was my running buddy for many years. Finding and cultivating an exercise friend helps to keep you motivated, interested and provides accountability. You are less likely to skip your walk or jog or bike ride if a friend is waiting for you!

Go4Life, resources for physical activity and exercise, from the National Institute on Aging, describes three keys to success:

  • Include physical activity in your everyday life. Sit less, move more and take activity snacks throughout the day.
  • Make it easy. The more enjoyable the activity, the more likely you are to do it.
  • Make it safe. If you’ve been inactive, start slow, warm up with low intensity exercise, like walking, before a higher intensity activity and stay hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after exercise.

Aging brings challenges and opportunities to active adults. Today, older people run marathons, climb mountains, skydive, swim competitively, and hike the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail. Consider these feats by masters athletes and everyday folks, like us:

  • Eamonn Coghlan, a dominating indoor runner in the mid-1970s and 1980s, was the first man older than 40 to break the 4-minute mile.
  • Priscilla Welch, a 58-year-old lifelong marathoner, was named the best female masters marathoner in history by Runner’s World. At age 42 she won the overall women’s title at the New York City marathon–the oldest woman to claim that honor. Her running career is even more remarkable when you consider she was a pack a day smoker until she began running competitively at age 35.
  • Nolan Ryan played major league baseball for 27 seasons and was still hurling his fastball at 95 miles per hour at the age of 45.
  • Boxer George Foreman, who is now well known for his low-fat grilling techniques, won the world heavy-weight championship 2 months shy of his 46th birthday.
  • Yuichiro Miura of Japan became the oldest person to summit Mount Everest at the age of 80 in 2013.
  • Diana Nyad, at the age of 64, swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida; 53 hours of nonstop swimming after four previous unsuccessful attempts.
  • In 2016, Ida Keeling at age 100 broke the 80 years and over world record for the 100-yard dash at the Penn Relays and she didn’t start exercising until she was 67.
  • Julie “Hurricane” Hawkins, at 101 years old was the oldest female athlete to compete at the USA Track & Field Masters Championship, running the 100 meters in 40.2 seconds.
  • Clarence Bass, who began lifting weights at age 13, has never stopped his fitness routine. At the age of 80, he maintained a single digit level of body fat and his fitness, as evaluated by the Cooper Clinic, is rated as that of a 40-year old. (For an amazing pictorial of Mr. Bass, see his website and for an interview I did with Mr. Bass when he was 80, click here).
Rob’s first hole-in-one

And, a shout out to my active husband, the golfer, sailor, and expert dog walker, who got his first hole-in-one at the age of 68!

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is co-author of Food & Fitness After 50. Follow this blog by clicking here.

Top tips for keeping your blood sugar in check. Learn how from the expert.

Keep reading to learn how to win a copy of the best-selling book, Prediabetes: A Complete Guide!

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Samantha Heller’s Doctor Radio, Nutrition and Exercise Show. It is always fun to talk with my friend Samantha, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist about nutrition and exercise (click here to read more about her.)

The topic on the show was my favorite….healthy aging, and one of the callers said he was a regular exerciser but was concerned about his strong family history of type 2 diabetes. He asked a simple question: “what three tips would you give me to avoid developing diabetes?”

I replied with these three tips:

  1. Maintain your weight. Many older adults gain a couple of pounds a year and after 20 years those couple of pounds turn into 20 or 40 extra pounds. The disease of obesity can cause a dysregulation of blood sugar and is risk factor for developing diabetes.
  2. Keep up your aerobic exercise. Sugar (also called glucose) in your blood stream needs the hormone insulin for muscle cells to use sugar. Insulin is like a key to allow glucose into cells. Exercise acts a bit like insulin…improving the sensitivity of insulin and helping to facilitate glucose movement into cells.
  3. Choose your carbohydrates with quality in mind. There is no need to avoid carbs but choose carbs with nutrients and fiber.

After the call, I thought his question was a good one and wanted a more detailed answer, so I turned a diabetes expert, my friend and colleague, Jill Weisenberger for a more comprehensive response. Jill is a Virginia-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES). Jill shared her insights on pre-diabetes with me when her best-selling book, Prediabetes: A Complete Guide was published (click here to read the interview.)  She is also the creator of the video course Stick With It to help you finally stick with your eating and exercise goals.

Jill agrees with my tip on aerobic exercise, she explains not only is aerobic exercise on most days important but “try not to allow more than 2 days between bouts of exercise because by then, you lose the boost in insulin sensitivity from your last exercise session. Insulin sensitivity improves for 2 hours to 2 days depending on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise.”

She also reminds us to engage in progressive, resistance exercise or strength training. “Perform strength training at least two times each week. It boosts insulin sensitivity at least as well as aerobic exercise and the effects are additive. Additionally, maintaining muscle mass is critical to managing post-meal blood sugar levels. Muscle is like a bucket for glucose after eating. The more muscle you have the more area you have for glucose to go after a meal.” And, while we are talking about exercise, Jill reminds us to move more. “Avoid being sedentary. Even if you exercise 30 – 60 minutes daily, what you do the other 23 hours matters a lot. Long periods of sedentary behavior decrease glucose uptake. Break up long periods of sitting with 2-3 minutes of activity every half hour. Get up and walk, take a bathroom or water break, do squats, wall push-ups, anything that gets you moving for a bit.”

We’ve all heard about the importance of sleep for good health, but did you know that insufficient sleep affects your blood sugar? Jill says, “aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night because short sleeping decreases insulin sensitivity.”

Photo credit Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Lastly, about those carbs, “Don’t become carb-phobic,” says Jill.  Maintain a high-fiber diet from a variety of foods. Only carb-containing foods provide fiber, and we need lots of different types of fibers for good health. The fiber in oats and barley, for example, helps regulate both cholesterol and glucose metabolism. Fibers in pulses (beans, peas, and lentils), some grains and even cold cooked potatoes (hello, potato salad!) help the good bacteria in our guts thrive. And we need lots of these helpful microbes for good health, including the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes. In fact, people with type 2 diabetes or obesity tend to have less diverse microbial populations in their guts. The types of bacteria in the gut appears to be related to inflammation, insulin sensitivity and even appetite control, so the more we can help the beneficial microbes thrive with a good diet, the better our chances of avoiding certain health problems.”

In summary, stay active, go for a brisk walk, challenge your muscles to get and stay strong, get your ZZZs, and enjoy fiber-rich carbohydrate foods to keep your blood sugar in check and avoid diabetes.

To win a copy of Jill’s book, drop a comment or question about this post in the comment box and share it on your social media with the #FoodAndFitnessAfter50 and tag me @chrisrosenbloom and tag Jill @nutritionjill.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She is the author of Food & Fitness After 50 and creator of the blog on healthy aging, Fit to Eat. Click here to follow her blog.

Exercise is a positive coping skill: Learn how it helps as we age

No matter how well we eat or how many times we exercise, stuff happens as we age. Sometimes it’s an accident, sometimes it’s just bad luck, and sometimes it’s genetics. We know high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking are the “big 3” risk factors for heart disease (and, about half of Americans have at least one of these risk factors). But, when you add heredity and one or more of the big 3 factors, the risk is exponentially increased. In this post, Bob Murray introduces us to a master’s swimmer, Irene, and her journey of resilience and coping and how exercise saved her life!

Guest post by Dr. Bob Murray

No one knows for certain when Irene had her first heart attack.  She was informed about it only when her second heart attack was diagnosed.  After having experienced a second heart attack, she believes her first heart attack happened about two years earlier while she was skiing in Utah at 10,000 feet.  She recalls feeling awful, but thought she was just experiencing altitude sickness.  She did not seek medical attention and never mentioned it to her primary care physician, decisions she now knows were big mistakes.  Two years later, at age 67, Irene woke in the middle of the night with the real deal – and was certain she was having a heart attack.  Her husband was out of town, so she was taken by ambulance to the hospital.  She immediately told the ER doctor about her family history of heart disease, nonetheless, the doctor declared her symptoms to be heartburn and sent Irene home. 

Relieved that it wasn’t a heart attack, Irene went through with her plans to fly to North Carolina the next morning to connect with her husband to take their 2 young grandsons on a trip.  Irene felt extremely tired but was no longer having chest pains.  She attributed the exhaustion to being up most of the previous night.  After 4 days in NC, it became obvious there was still something very wrong and Irene went to the small-town ER where they were staying.  She was soon flown by helicopter to a major medical center and had middle-of-the-night surgery to correct a heart valve that was not functioning properly and posed an immediate threat to her life.  Two days later, she had open-heart surgery for 5 coronary artery by-passes.  Two weeks later, Irene had a pacemaker implanted in her upper chest, which has since been replaced with an ICD (pacemaker-defibrillator).  She spent 10 days in intensive care and a total of 3 weeks in the hospital and came out feeling almost dead, but very happy to be alive.  Unfortunately for Irene, the 4-day delay caused permanent damage to her heart, killing 50% of her heart muscle cells.

Irene, left, with husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandsons skiing in Utah, after her 2nd heart attack and bypass surgery

Irene’s Formative Yeas

Irene was raised in a suburb of Chicago.  As with many kids in1940s and 1950s, her parents told her to “go outside and play and come home when the streetlights come on.”  There were lots of kids in her neighborhood and they played active games like hide-and-see, kick-the-can, jump-rope, tennis, and baseball. In the winter, they ice skated, sledded, and played in the snow.  At that time, hardly anyone owned a television, so screen time was non-existent– kids were outside and constantly active. Irene’s meals were almost always at home, going to a restaurant was rare, and they didn’t eat fast food or TV dinners.  Meals were basic “meat and potatoes,” along with whatever vegetables Irene’s parents could get her to eat.  

Irene remembers her childhood as being almost idyllic, except for one very important event: her father died of a heart attack at age 34 when Irene was only 4 years old.  Not only did heart disease claim Irene’s father, her paternal grandfather and all 6 of her father’s siblings also died from heart disease.

When she was 6, Irene learned to swim while on a vacation.  At the age of 10, she joined the local YMCA swim team.  She loved competitive swimming right from the start and continued for 8 years, “retiring” when she graduated high school.  This was pre-Title IX, and there were more disincentives than incentives for women to participate in sports in college.

Although many of her friends smoked in high school, Irene did not because of her swimming.  She had survived the pressures to smoke in high school, so Irene thought she was safe from that habit.  But as an 18-year-old college freshman, she started smoking and continued for the next 13 years.

When she graduated from college, Irene married and took a job where many of her co-workers also smoked, as did her husband.  When her daughter came along 4 years later, she left the business world to become a full-time mother and homemaker.  Her new lifestyle was more sedentary than active, and she began to gain weight.  Keenly aware of the medical history of heart disease in her father’s family, Irene knew she had to start exercising regularly.  She tried several activities but didn’t enjoy any of them as much as she had enjoyed swimming.  In 1972, the local YMCA started a masters swim team and an old swimming friend pestered Irene until she finally agreed to give it a try.  She wanted to swim but didn’t think she wanted to compete and certainly didn’t intend to train as strenuously as she had as a teenager.  At 28, Irene thought she was much too old for those workouts.

A Masters Swimmer, a Masters Degree, and a Law Degree

After a few training sessions and her first masters meet in 1972, Irene was hooked.  Her workouts soon became much more strenuous than when she was a teen, and she added strength training as part of her routine.  Irene was swimming faster than she ever had, setting national masters records … and still smoking!  After 3 years of swimming and smoking, Irene decided it was just crazy to smoke and finally quit, “cold turkey,” and never looked back.  Her husband quit the next year. 

Irene swimming in the snow in Park City, Utah. “It was chilly, but fun,” she says.

Around that same time, Irene decided to become a part-time student to earn a masters degree with the goal of teaching at a local community college. She reached that goal and taught for 7 years, but her dream was to be an attorney, so at the age of 40, Irene enrolled as a full-time student in law school.  She wasn’t the oldest one in her class, but close to it.  After receiving her law degree, Irene enjoyed a very satisfying 31-year law career, retiring at age 74 only because her health demanded it. 

After the heart attacks

After her heart attacks, open heart surgery, valve replacement and long stint in the ICU,

Irene was put on a long list of medications and went through cardiac rehab, but it was still a huge disappointment when she first got back into the pool.  She swam 1 length and came up gasping for air. Once upon a time she had been a Masters national champion in butterfly events multiple times, but now could barely swim 50 yards!  That was 10 years ago.  Since then, Irene has been swimming, walking, doing some resistance work, and is currently going through her second round of 36 sessions of cardiac rehab.  Irene knows her diet isn’t perfect but tries to eat lean meat and include fish and more fruits and vegetables in her meals.  Although she has a sweet tooth, she tries (with varying degrees of success) to control it.  Every cardiologist she now meets tells her that her history of regular exercise is the only reason she survived the second heart attack. 

Irene retired when she was 74 because she wanted to exercise more but needed a 2-4 hour nap after doing so.  Now 77, Irene continues her exercise routines and current sessions of cardiac rehab, resting whenever she feels the need.  She stills go to Utah to ski each year but limits her skiing to altitudes less than 10,000 feet.  Irene also spends time with friends, reads, and does a little sewing and gardening.  

Adjusting Activity to Fit Your Circumstances

“I’ve had to adjust my swimming goals from being very competitive to just enjoying being in the water,” says Irene.   “I think the most important thing I have done for my health is, as my front license plate reads: “Just keep swimming.”  Irene says the best advice she’s received about health issues is to keep moving as much as your energy level allows and look around you – you’ll always find someone with worse health problems.  Irene’s advice to anyone with similar health problems is, “Don’t give up.  Keep working at whatever it is that makes you happy.  Sitting in your rocker and grieving for your lost health will only make your health worse and probably hasten your death.”  A poster on Irene’s wall nicely sums up her philosophy, “You don’t quit swimming because you get old, you get old because you quit swimming.” 

Irene snorkeling with son-in-law and grandsons in Mexico.

Resilience and Coping Skills

Irene’s story points to resilience and coping skills needed for healthy aging. Resilience influences how we evaluate a stressful situation and coping is the strategy we use to manage stressful events. Coping strategies can be positive or negative. Optimism, humor, acceptance, spirituality or religiosity, social support, role models, and exercise are examples of positive coping. Research shows that resilient older individuals tend to employ the positive adaptive coping strategies. Irene’s exercise habits not only help her physically, but also mentally. Physical activity improves the quality of our lives and reduces anxiety and depression.

Irene is truly a role model for all of us as we navigate the challenges of aging! Share your story with us and let us feature how you eat well, move well, and be well as you age. Reach me at chrisrosenbloom@gmail.com and follow our blog by clicking here.

Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian and nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. Chris and Bob are the authors of Food & Fitness After 50.