Are you eating enough fruits & veggies? Probably not, according to a new report from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention on fruit and vegetable consumption in the U.S.
Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, offering protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers. Yet, only 12% of adults meet the recommended fruit intake (1.5-2 cups/day) and we do even worse with veggies; 9% get the suggested amount (2.5-3.5 cups.day).
Why are our eating habits so dismal when it comes to eating the good stuff? Many of us perceive that cooking and preparation is time consuming and difficult, so unless we slice a banana on our cereal or eat a serving of veggies with dinner, we don’t make much of an effort.
Many of you know that I don’t develop recipes like a lot of my dietitian friends. I’m more likely to assemble meals. So here are my ideas for getting more fruits and veggies into your meals. And, I welcome your ideas that might help others sneak in an extra serving or two (or three) of produce.
- Never eat cereal, either hot or cold, without adding fresh or frozen berries.
- Toss spinach and peppers into scrambled eggs or omelets.
- Use fruit that is starting to get overripe in smoothies. Toss in fruit, add plain or vanilla Greek yogurt or milk and blend.
- Salsa is a vegetable and is not just for tortilla chips. Add salsa to a baked potato, grilled fish or chicken, or on top of scrambled eggs.
- Make protein-rich salads with canned black, kidney, or other starch beans or peas. Drain your favorite beans, add diced tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro and toss with a little oil and vinegar or Italian bottled salad dressing.
- When you can’t get fresh veggies or fruits, don’t overlook frozen or canned. Today’s processing takes produce at it’s peak of ripeness and freezes or cans it quickly to preserve nutrients and taste.
- Try a meatless pasta primavera
- Saute broccoli, green, red, or yellow peppers, and onions in olive oil and serve over protein-enriched pasta (Barilla Protein-Plus Angel Hair pasta is my favorite); drizzle with olive oil and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.
- Roast vegetables in the oven
- Cut up broccoli, cauliflower, or use whole fresh Brussels sprouts and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and shake the pan or use tongs to flip the pieces and continue baking for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. And, you can also try this on the grill.
- Grill fruit this summer
- Thread watermelon cubes and shrimp on metal or wooden skewers; brush lightly with canola oil and grill for a few minutes on each side (grilling brings out a sweet, smoky taste to fruit).
- Grill peaches by cutting a fresh peach in half, removing the pit, and brush lightly with canola oil. Place cut-side down on grill for a few minutes until lightly charred. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or goat cheese.
- Break out the wok, or a large frying pan
- Heat oil (I like to use peanut oil in the wok, it has a high smoke point so withstands the high temperatures for wok cooking) and toss in cut up pieces of chicken, cook until the chicken turns white and remove. Toss in all the bits and pieces of veggies in your vegetable bin. I like broccoli, carrots, celery, summer squash, onions, and peppers. Saute until cooked, but still crunchy, and add the chicken back into the pan. Season with chili paste to give it some kick, or reduced sodium soy sauce (or both!). Serve over brown rice.
- Bring veggies to summer parties
- One of my favorites is caprese salad on a stick. Thread cherry or grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella pearls, and fresh basil leaves on a skewer. Drizzle with olive oil (I like Tuscan-herb infused olive oil for this appetizer) and you have a tasty, healthy, colorful dish. (You can find mozzarella pearls in the “fancy” cheese section of grocery stores and Walmart).
- Steam edamame (immature soybeans in the pods) and lightly salt. Serve in the pods with small dish of soy sauce. Kids love to squeeze the beans out of the pod and into their mouths!
- Let the kids help
- Kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies if they have a hand in the preparation. A few years ago my great niece, Hannah, helped me make this “turkey” veggie tray for Thanksgiving. She was so proud of the creation and she couldn’t wait to serve it to the family, and eat some veggies herself. Pinterest is great for easy ideas like this one.
- Visit Fruits and Veggies More Matters for hundreds of other great ideas and everything you could ever want to know about fruits and veggies.
For more ideas on how to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet, see Food & Fitness After 50.
When my friend and colleague, Jill Weisenberger, published a new book on prediabetes, I couldn’t wait to interview her and ask her to answer questions that adults 50+ have when told they have high blood sugar levels and prediabetes.
Jill is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert. She is the author of the four books including the best-selling Diabetes Weight Loss, Week by Week and the new Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. Jill has a private practice in Newport News, VA. She is a freelance writer and a consultant and spokesperson to the food industry, as well as a panelist for the US News & World Report Best Diet Rankings. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
How important is it for adults over 50 to get their blood sugar checked? What is the best way to get it checked….doctor, health fair, etc?
With each birthday, we have an increased risk of developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Typically, healthcare providers screen for diabetes and prediabetes around age 45. Your provider may screen you earlier if you’re overweight, have fatty liver disease or heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels.
It’s a simple blood test. If it comes back abnormal, your provider will take a second measurement to verify the first one. If you are screened at a health fair, be certain to understand the results and follow up with your healthcare provider.
|Fasting Plasma Glucose||100 – 125 mg/dl||> 126 mg/dl|
|2-hour OGTT (oral glucose tolerance test)||140 – 199 mg/dl||> 200 mg/dl|
|Random plasma glucose in an individual with symptoms of diabetes such as excessive thirst and urination||Not done to diagnose prediabetes||> 200 mg/dl|
|A1C||5.7 – 6.4 %||> 6.5%|
Some people think that if they don’t have any symptoms, they don’t need to see a doctor or get blood work…what would you say to that?
You’re breaking my heart! Sadly, there are 70 million adults in the US who have prediabetes and don’t know it. And that’s precisely because there are no symptoms. If you randomly count out 9 adults who you spend time with, three of them are likely to have prediabetes. That’s how common the problem is. Only about 10% of people with the disorder know that they have it.
What is prediabetes and can diabetes be halted if you have prediabetes?
If your blood sugar level is higher than normal but lower than diabetes, you have prediabetes. This is how we define and diagnose prediabetes. But, prediabetes (like type 2 diabetes) is much bigger than a blood sugar problem.
The two things going on with prediabetes are insulin resistance and the loss of some of our insulin-producing ability. It’s a nasty double whammy. The body is stubborn and resists the action of insulin. Because of this, the pancreas pumps out extra insulin. Early on in the course of the disorder, that extra insulin is enough to tamp down blood sugar levels to the normal level. No one has any idea that there’s a problem. But over time, the body can’t produce enough insulin to make up for the body’s resistance. That’s when blood sugar levels first increase. That’s prediabetes. As time goes on, if the insulin resistance continues, there’s likely to be further loss of insulin-producing ability. Then blood sugar levels rise more, and we have type 2 diabetes.
Other problems associated with insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include blood vessel dysfunction, fatty liver, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, and even some types of cancer.
Because the problem is progressive, the best opportunity for a reversal is right this minute. There is some amount of urgency here because of the continued loss of insulin-producing capacity. Every day, your window of opportunity closes slightly. Without lifestyle changes, 37% of people with prediabetes are likely to progress to full blown type 2 diabetes within 4 years and most will have the diagnosis within 10 years.
Many people think every chronic disease is genetic and that there nothing they can do to prevent a disease like type 2 diabetes. What is the reality?
There are both genetic and environmental factors at play. We can’t change our genes, but we can do so much to improve our health and lower our risks of many chronic diseases, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. There are conditions that have lifestyle solutions that include diet, physical activity, sleep and more. And this is exactly what I cover in Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.
Many older adults think carbs must be eliminated if their blood sugar is high…can you explain why carbs are needed and what are the “best” carbohydrate foods?
Especially in the prediabetes stage, I really shy away from emphasizing carbohydrates. Instead I put the focus on the quality of the food. Instead of asking yourself if this food is high-carb or low-carb, ask yourself if this is a wholesome, health-boosting food. Other than having lots of carbohydrates, lentils and lollipops don’t have much in common!
Interestingly, there are several carb-containing foods that improve insulin resistance or lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. I always recommend oats, barley, lentils, beans, yogurt, nuts, and fruits, especially berries.
Can you explain why there is really not such thing as a “diabetic diet?”
As science has progressed, we’ve learned that there are many ways to a healthy plate, a healthy body weight, and blood sugar management. So again, the emphasis should be on food quality. However, once in the diabetes stage, we do have to put some limits on carbohydrate intake. This is when I help my clients become carb aware. I try so hard to keep them from being carb phobic. But regardless, food quality really matters.
How does exercise help lower blood sugar levels?
Soooo many ways, but I’ll keep it brief. First, every single time that you exercise, you boost your body’s insulin sensitivity. Yes, I mean that. Every single time! And it can last from 2 to 48 hours!
Taking a walk after a meal helps lower blood sugar levels from eating. Strength training helps to build muscle and that means that there’s more place for blood sugar to go because muscle is a big storage bucket for blood sugar. All exercise matters, and it all counts. It all reduces insulin resistance.
Reducing sedentary time is also important. The American Diabetes Association recommends breaking up long periods of sitting with three minutes of light activity every half hour. You can walk to the water fountain at work, take your dog outside, do push-ups against the wall. It doesn’t matter, just do something.
I really like the section in your book on preparing for “lifestyle reset,” many people want to dive in head first without any forethought; can you mention why your tips can help someone get on track to a healthier lifestyle?
So many people just want to follow rules and make big changes right away. They think that willpower and discipline will steer them the right way. But no one has enough willpower and discipline to do what they need or want to do all of the time. We need skills, strategies and a plan much more than we need willpower. It smart to learn about setting goals and building motivation. It’s smart to identify the habits that help you and those that hurt you. The time you put into these things will help you in the long run. My experience tells me that simply rushing to change leads to temporary success and more on and off dieting.
For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well in your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, see Food & Fitness After 50.
At her 80th birthday celebration last year, everyone who attended had an “Edee story.” The kind of story that brought a smile, a chuckle, or belly laugh at the retelling. My friends and I have had the privilege of knowing Edee for over 25 years and traveling to over 20 world-wide destinations…from Paris to Prague…with her. We jotted down the “80 reasons we love Edee” for her 80th birthday gift. The truth is we could have come up with 180 reasons!
Here are just a few of the reasons:
- In her late 70s, she traveled to France to go truffle hunting with a guide and a pig.
- She makes things happen; a impromptu party, a special tour, a unique flower arrangement, or a special bottle of wine will happen when she is around.
- She is loving, caring, wise mentor to us.
- She always sees the best in every situation.
- She never failed to tell us when we were wearing the wrong lipstick color.
- She has shown us how to do 60, 65, 70, 75 and now 80 with joy and elegance.
So, while she was recuperating from a total knee replacement and before a trip to Italy,
I asked Edee how she manages to stay so vibrant. Her response? “I stay active, engaged, and adventurous because I have a severe case of FOMO…fear of missing out!” Travel and adventure expands her horizons, and “makes me more interesting!” She advises all of her friends to not slow down, “nature does that to us anyway, so stay determined and disciplined.” She adds, “be determined to age well, which is different from aging.” And, does she ever walk the talk!
Shortly after knee replacement surgery, she has continued with physical therapy exercises three times a week and can’t wait to get back in the pool for water aerobics, which she does five days a week in the summer. She also practices yoga and works with a personal trainer. She likes to walk around her Washington DC neighborhood and at the Delaware beach. “Parking is expensive, so I like to walk. When I walk to shops, I buy less so I have less to carry home, so it is a triple benefit…no parking fees, less buying, and getting exercise!”
New challenges and new rules
Edee lost her husband several years ago and widowhood brought new challenges and imposed new rules. She organizes the neighbors in her condo for informal “Sunday Suppers” and helps the single men and women in her circle learn to take good care of themselves. “I help my friends by showing them how to look ahead, cook ahead, and plan ahead. Instead of looking behind at the past, we look at life now and take proactive steps to eat well and get regular exercise.”
Make a plan to stay connected to loved ones
With two children and three grandchildren who live in different states, she keeps up with her children with email and regularly scheduled weekly phone calls, in addition to frequent visits. With the grandchildren, it is different. “I’ve learned to text with them to catch them on the run.!” She also schedules regular calls with friends so as not to lose touch with them.
Embrace your community
She is an active community volunteer and strongly encourages those who can, give back. “I’ve been given much in my life and I want to share my bounty.” She suggests picking a charity and supporting it any way you can: financially or with your time. Her favorite organization is So Others Might Eat (or SOME), an interfaith, community-based organization that exists to help the more than 8,000 men, women, and children who are homeless in the nation’s capital.
Be aware, be alert, and be active
I titled this post, “Be aware, be alert, and be active.” That is Edee’s recipe for healthy aging:
- be aware of your diet and the food choices you make every day,
- be alert to the challenges of aging, such as increased risk for falls,
- be active for at least 30 minutes every day….and get outside!”
That is definitely a recipe for healthy aging!
“The trick is to live a long time without growing old!!” Edith (Edee) Howard Hogan
I first met Sally when she was 62 years old and teaching aerobics classes. She described herself as a “retired, healthy woman who lived her profession.” For 30 years she was a high school health and physical education instructor who loved being active. One thing she always used to say that has stuck with me is “no challenge, no change.” She was referring to our physical body, encouraging us to lift the heavier weight, go for a few more repetitions, or pick of the pace to get the heart and lungs moving to reap the benefits of exercise.
A new meaning to “no challenge, no change”
Now, at 66, Sally has learned that “no challenge, no change” can also refer to the physical and mental changes that can occur when least expected. At the age of 60 she had a total hip replacement, and then about 5 years later, her knee started to bother her. She backed off high impact exercise to give the achy joint a rest. During that time, she started feeling some abdominal pain, but didn’t think too much about it. But, as she was preparing for an upcoming trip to Spain, she decided to check it out. The discomfort she was feeling was ovarian cancer. Sally was aware of her risk factors for diseases, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis that run in her family, but the cancer diagnosis took her by surprise.
A new mind set
After surgery and four months of chemotherapy, Sally is dealing with the major life change. “I had to slow down a bit during treatment, but I was as active as a could be, even if that meant a short walk each day.” The hardest part, she says, is “no longer being the healthy one in the family. I had to redefine myself and the reality was hard to accept.” However, Sally now sees this obstacle as a positive. “I never once said, ‘why me,’ instead, I choose to dwell on the positive.” With faith and supportive family and friends, Sally is back to old activates, as well as a few new ones. “I am trying new things, like fly fishing, pickleball, and stand-up paddle boarding.” She fills in for aerobics instructors when needed, but no longer teaches regular classes, “I don’t want the commitment!” she says with a laugh.
One side effect of the medications and less active lifestyle has been a slight weight gain. Women past the age of 50 can relate to that. Sally found a 12- week on-line program called Bod E Talk, that is described as a weight loss and health program (Note: this is a fee-based program, not a freebie). She has always believed in “moderation and variety” in her food choices, and the on-line program has helped her understand the importance of listening to hunger cues. “We tend to eat when the clock says it is time for meal, instead of paying attention to our hunger.”
Sally’s advice for all of us over 50 is simple, but powerful. “Stay as active as you can, eat foods that nourish and satisfy your body to keep you active, and remember it is all about the choices you make every day that count.”
“Some supplements work for some people some of the time. Many supplements don’t work for anybody any of the time.”
Dr. Ron Maughan, Emeritus Professor of Sports and Exercise Nutrition, Loughborough, United Kingdom
In my last post, I discussed the basics of dietary supplements with a focus on multivitamin-minerals. This week, let’s talk about muscle building and weight loss supplements. Bottom line up front: there are some sports supplements that can help active adults train harder and recover faster, but most of what you read about, like the headline, “want a killer physique?” won’t happen without hard work in the weight room and a stringent diet to reduce body fat. A supplement by itself, despite wild claims, will not give you a killer physique. Sorry. And, weight loss supplements are not much better.
Headlines can be persuasive!
So, what can we say about muscle-building and weight loss supplements. First, here are few more headline grabbing claims:
- “Drop body fat in a single dose”
- “Boost muscle growth by 600%”
- “Incinerates excess fat”
- “Produces immediate results in energy, size, strength, pumps, performance, mental focus, and training intensity.”
The downside of weight loss supplements
Between 5-20% of supplements (mostly muscle-building and weight loss supplements) contain prohibited substances: for athletes, that could mean a positive drug test and banishment from sport. For older active adults, it could mean physical harm. For example, a weight loss supplement called SmartLipo 365 was found to contain unlabeled sibutramine and phenoltphathein. Sibutramine is an appetite suppressant that was taken off the US market in 2010 and phenoltphathein is not approved for dietary use due to concerns of causing cancer.
Many of the supplements for weight loss contain harmful substances when taken in high doses; case in point, 25% of emergency room visits for adverse effects from dietary supplements are from weight loss supplements, with cardiac symptoms being the primary complaint. Not too surprising when many of these supplements contain stimulants. Don’t be fooled by so called “natural, herbal” stimulants like guarana, kola nut, or green tea extract. A stimulant is a stimulant. Consumer Reports identified 15 supplement ingredients to always avoid. It’s worth taking a look at the list and stay away from supplements containing any on the list.
One popular weight loss supplement that has it’s 15 minutes of fame on a popular doctor’s television show is garcinia cambogia. It is a small fruit that is traditionally used as flavor enhancer in cooking. It contains a substance called hydroxycitric acid that has been touted as a weight loss miracle. However, in a 12-week study on overweight men and women the researchers concluded, “garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo.”
What does work?
For active athletes, a few supplements have stood the test of time (and research), including caffeine, B-alanine, beetroot juice, and creatine. Here’s a quick overview of what types of athletes might benefit, the effective dose, and the expected result.
Caffeine: Most of us know that caffeine can help keep us alert and ward off fatigue. Caffeine’s main effect is on the central nervous system. It is an adenosine receptor antagonist. Adenosine induces sleep and fatigue, so blocking thee ffects of adenosine with caffeine promotes a more alert state. The response to caffeine is highly variable (some of you can’t fall asleep if you have even a tiny amount of caffeine in the evening, while others can drink a pot of coffee and have no trouble sleeping). A small dose of caffeine can be effective for sports performance; just 2 to 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight; for a 154-pound person, that is a dose of 140 to 210 milligrams of caffeine or the amount found in a small to medium cup of coffee. More certainly isn’t better!
B-alanine: This amino acid can buffer lactic acid and shows promise in athletes performing high intensity exercise (sprints). Some research shows it might also help endurance athletes who need to sprint hard to the finish line. This is not needed by recreational athletes. Effective dose is about 3-6 grams/day.
Beetroot Juice: Beets are naturally high in nitrate and it might increase skeletal muscle efficiency by lowering oxygen demand. It is used by endurance athletes who run or cycle. To be clear, nitrate is not carcinogenic, but nitrite can combine with amino acids from foods to form nitrosamines, which may be cancer-causing. In research studies, a dose of about 4 mg/kg/body weight has been used. My advice, eat beets!
Creatine: It is used a source of muscle energy and is in short supply during high intensity exercise, like sprinting or weight lifting . Supplemental creatine is usually taken as a powder mixed with water or juice, 3 to 5 grams/day. It can increase muscle stores of creatine by 10 to 30% and, when combined with exercise, can increase muscle cell volume. Researchers describe the benefits of supplemental creatine as, “small increases in lean body mass with repeated, high-intensity duration (less than 30 seconds) exercise.” For most healthy, active older adults, creatine supplementation isn’t necessary.
For more information on dietary supplements, check out Food & Fitness After 50.
This post is a summary of information from a talk I gave at the Bell Family Branch YMCA in Hartwell, GA on April 12th and 30th, 2018.
Are you among the 76% of Americans who take dietary supplements? And, if you are in the 55+ population, are you one of the 80% who take supplements? The most popular supplements are multi-vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, and B-complex.
This post will cover multi-vitamins and minerals; next week we’ll cover muscle-building and weight loss supplements.
How much do you really know about the supplements you are taking? Dietary supplements are a profitable business with a $40 billion annual market. Supplements are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, but not as well as many people would like them to be. In 1996, the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act put supplements in a new category, unlike food additives or drugs, supplements do not undergo testing to make sure they are
- or that they work before coming to market
More people are more worried about artificial sweeteners, which undergo rigorous safety testing, than dietary supplements, which are lacking in safety testing.
What is a supplement?
Dietary supplements include thousands of products that fall into these categories:
- Vitamins: such as vitamin D or C
- Minerals: like calcium or magnesium
- Herbs or botanicals: such as St. John’s Wort or echinacea
- Amino acids: like branched chain amino acids or arginine
- Dietary substances: like glucosamime or curcumin
- Concentrates or extracts: such as green tea extract or resveratrol
Decoding a supplement label
All supplements must have a supplements facts panel, similar to a nutrition facts panel found on food packages. And, supplement makers can make claims called structure-function claims: things like, “supports heart health,” “supports bone health,” or “supports muscle health. “But they can’t say “prevents heart attack,” “treats low bone density,” or “will make your muscles grow like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.” Any time there is a health claim you will find this statement (usually in small print):
“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
Interesting, because many of us take supplements to treat, cure, or prevent disease!
Beware of testimonials
The promotional materials for supplements can make all sorts of outrageous claims. As showcased in this article from Center for Science in the Public Interest, testimonials abound and many use identical testimonials to make your think that real people are praising the value of the supplements, when in fact they are paid advertisements.
Multivitamin mineral supplements
Since multis are the most popular dietary supplement, let’s look at what you need to know.
First, look for an age-appropriate supplement: adults over 50 have somewhat different nutrient needs than younger adults. “Silver” vitamins or vitamins for “50+ for her” or “50+ for him” are formulated to meet your needs. Multivitamin-mineral supplements are safe, relatively cheap, and can fill gaps in your nutrient intakes. But, they may also be unnecessary. (Supplement users have healthier habits that those who don’t take supplements: they tend to eat better, get more exercise, and more likely to be non-smokers.) And, multis don’t provide everything you need. For example, no multi provides all of the calcium you need.
Some things to consider fall into my “don’t” list:
- Older adults should not take a pre-natal vitamin, unless they are pregnant. Pre-natal vitamins are formulated to support the health of the baby and mother. They contain higher amounts of many nutrients, including iron, that are not needed in large amounts as we age.
- Avoid adult gummies or chewables: they don’t measure up to pill or capsule forms and many contain far less than the recommended levels of nutrients and may be lacking trace minerals such as zinc, magnesium, or chromium.
- Don’t fall for special “immunity,” “muscle function,” “heart health,” “energy,” or even “healthy appearance” claims. These are more expensive and just not necessary.
Resources for more information on vitamin and minerals
My “go to” source for learning about vitamin and mineral supplements, updated research, as well as food sources, is the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health. On this site, you will find a wealth of information on individual nutrients: here is a link to the consumer information on vitamin D, to show you an example.
And, in our book, Food & Fitness After 50, we provide more information on supplements that might be helpful in specific disease conditions.
Look for next week’s post on muscle building and weight loss supplement!
Chris Rosenbloom, along with co-author, Bob Murray, talk about supplements and much more in Food & Fitness After 50.
First, let me wish you a Happy Older Americans Month; May is the month when we celebrate those of us in the “older” demographic! May coincided with a conference that I participated in and the timing was perfect.
Last week, my co-author, Bob Murray and I delivered a presentation to a group of sports and wellness professionals in Keystone, Colorado. The theme of the conference was “No Limits Nutrition,” and when it comes to older, active adults, there are no limits on eating well, moving well, and being well.
Here is a summary of our presentation. We started with some demographic facts, but I don’t want to bore you, so here are a few of the statistics that I found most interesting:
- “There are more people on the planet over the age of 65 than ever before in human history.”
- If you are fortunate enough to make it to 65, your life expectancy is another 19.4 years (20.6 for women and 18 for men).
- But, “healthy” life expectancy is only 2 more years or to age 67 for many of us.
- Only 27% of older adults meet the minimal recommendations for physical activity.
I think we would all agree that we want the extra 20 years to be healthy, functionally fit, and independent. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I was in a nursing home and had to use a walker to move around.”
Muscle Changes with Age
There are some changes in every body system as we age, but it is hard to untangle normal aging from usual aging when disuse is the norm. Muscle is the most plastic of tissues, meaning that it can readily adapt to exercise and nutrition to regain function.
- From age 40 to 65 we lose muscle mass at about 1% per year, with declines of about 1.5% thereafter; strength loss is more rapid. Our strength declines about 2 to 4% per year.
- Seventy year olds are 30% weaker than they were at 50; that is big strength drop in 20 years.
- Illness that results in bedrest and a decrease in activity accelerates muscle loss that can result in “sarcopenia,” literally meaning vanishing flesh.
A double whammy can occur when we get older with something called “anabolic resistance,” meaning that older muscle is less responsive to the stimulating effect of dietary protein and exercise. So, what can we do?
A Prescription for Muscle Health
- Begin a strength training program. There are many ways to get started:
- Visit the weight room at the gym; hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to show you how to use the equipment and properly perform the exercises to get the most benefit.
- Use exercise bands to do upper and lower body workouts.
- Try a free fitness videos (we like Fitness Blender) or simple home exercises from Go4Life, from the National Institute on Aging.
- Eat more protein-rich foods and spread your protein intake out across the day.
- Aim for 30 to 40 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- A key amino acid is leucine, found in milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, and soy foods. Leucine is found in plant foods, like quinoa and peas and beans, but you have to eat larger portions to get the same benefit from the animal food.
Don’t forget to get the heart moving!
Aerobic exercise is also important; don’t forget to get your heart pumping and lungs working to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Focus on getting a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking to raise your heart rate and breathing) or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (like jogging or swimming laps). Bob suggested these simple steps:
- Reduce sitting
- Take frequent “activity snacks” throughout the day
- Walk faster than the Grim Reaper; according research, the Grim Reaper walks about 2.0 mph, so walk faster than that to beat the reaper!
So, to answer the question is 70 the new 40? We like baseball player, Satchel Paige’s answer!
“You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger!”
Do you weigh the same as when you were 20? I’m guessing that few people in their late-60s can say they do, but Phil can. He attributes his long running career to the fact that he doesn’t carry excess weight, which puts extra pressure on knees and hips when running.
Intrinsic Joys of Being Active and Eating Well
Phil grew up in pre-screen days where playing a variety of team sports with neighborhood kids was the norm. In the 8th grade he discovered a knack for distance running and ran competitively in high school, college, and for another decade after college. At his peak, he was running 3,000 to 4,000 miles a year; the equivalent of running more miles in a year than from Atlanta to Las Vegas and back. Today, he runs “a lot less, and a lot slower,” but still runs three days a week for about 10 miles a week or 500 miles a year. In addition, he does calisthenics, stretching and enjoys gardening and hiking in the surrounds of his north Georgia home.
Phil is motivated to stay active for the “personal satisfaction of the physical effort of moving; feeling the body at work still motivates me after all of these decades.”
Of course, to stay at your college weight, diet is also important. Phil and his wife focus on eating a plant-centered diet with “real food, including plenty of fruits and vegetables while minimizing highly processed foods.” He also adds that “preparing food and eating together is relished, as this simple pleasure wasn’t always possible with busy careers.”
Sometimes we look at people like Phil and think it must be easy for him to stay active and eat well, but, for everyone it is a choice. Phil says he understands the challenges, including the tendency by many to be complacent regarding their health. “People think if they aren’t sick, why bother to change. Over time, sedentary living and convenience foods become the default comfort settings.” And, while he recognizes medications can be modern miracles, “too many people think pills are the answer to every modern ailment when sometimes small lifestyle changes can fix a health issue without drugs.” Another challenge is the “slick advertising hawking magic pills or short cuts to exercise or diet. We are inundated with pseudo-science making us more vulnerable to believing the hype.”
Four Tips for Healthy Aging
When asked to give tips for optimal aging, regular exercise and healthful eating were at the top of the list, but Phil also encourages us “to continue to set goals and stay engaged.” For those who haven’t been active, “start by developing a plan to do something every day; even if it is just a 10-minute walk, stair climbing, or stretching. But, tell yourself you will do something every day and then do it.” Phil also is thankful. “We need to be thankful for the people in our lives, the body we were given, and simple everyday joys.” When considering the big picture, he reminds us: “There’s no single pathway for living a long and full life. There are many possibilities. Embrace the challenge and act on it! You’re the captain of the ship, not a passenger.”
From Scientific Writer to Creative Writer
Phil was a professor at Georgia Tech for 30 years and was a prolific researcher and scientific writer, as the adage “publish or perish” is true in academia. These days, he turns his attention to creative writing and has published his essays in a new book, The Sneakers in the Closet, reflecting on a lifetime of sports, health, and a life well lived. And, he and wife enjoy traveling from decades of “pent up wanderlust when we had limited time off to travel.” You can also read some of his essays in Smoke Signals, a north Georgia community newspaper (click on Smoke Signals to read a sample column.)
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” George Burns, Comedian
For 38 years, Bo worked in IT for IBM and then “retired” and worked for 3 years in the “best job I ever had.” That job was for the local Chamber of Commerce where “everyday was different, unpredictable, and fun.” But, being the people-person, she is, Bo says the best part was the people she worked with and the interactions with others in her community. Having just celebrated her 69th birthday, Bo is now fully retired, but she spends a good part of every day at the YMCA taking aerobic classes three days a week from “Jean the Dancing Queen.” She also plays pickelball for several hours 4 to 5 days a week.
Healthy Habits to Control Weight
Bo has always been petite and the only time she gained weight was during her pregnancies with her 2 boys, but she quickly got back to her usual, healthy weight. While many adults gain weight as they age, Bo manages her weight by eating smaller portions, eating lots of fresh veggies, limiting sweets and sugar, and paying attention to how much and when she eats. “I’m lucky that I like the healthy stuff!” She often finds she doesn’t have much of an appetite, but eating breakfast and a mid-day meal around 2 pm (which she calls a cross between lunch and dinner as “linner”) keeps her fueled without being full. Her only dietary indulgence is a “real Coca-Cola” a couple of times a week. She also pays attention to hydration and is sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to replenish water loss during activity.
As she has gotten older, Bo knows she needs to pay attention to her body and adjust as needed. “Know what you can do and what you can’t do.” TRX is all the rage at our local Y, but she knows that it isn’t for her. “Understand your body, but stay involved and active.” Her words of wisdom are “the more you use it, the better it gets.” Great advice for everyone!
Many sedentary folks look at active people and think it is easy for them or that it comes naturally, but Bo makes exercise a priority in her life. Bo’s advice is “don’t be lazy; tell yourself you have to go to exercise class, an activity, or for that daily walk. “Feed your body right and use it every day!” Her words reminded me that while I often would prefer to skip morning exercise class and sleep in a bit longer or linger over a second cup of coffee, I have never once said, “I wish I hadn’t exercised today!” We all feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally after a good workout!