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

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

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

What is a drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food & Fitness After 50: A, B, Cs of Aging (Agility, Balance, and Coordination)

After hip replacement surgery I was looking for a class that would continue my rehabilitation and help me be more flexible, agile, and coordinated as I approached my mid-60s. I found it, and so much more, at a twice weekly 60-minute “yo-flex” class at my local YMCA. The class combines classical yoga poses, with Pilates moves, and balance exercises; it’s been 5 years since my first class and I’m hooked!

Exercise physiologist, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, reminds us that balance, flexibility, and agility can all be improved with regular practice and should be part of a well-designed exercise program for older adults. “Balance, flexibility, and agility wane with age mostly because we neglect them. One of the many negatives associated with a sedentary lifestyle is that overall motor function—our ability to move in unrestricted ways—atrophies along with muscle mass. It’s true that if we don’t use it, we lose it, and that applies to balance, flexibility, and agility. All too often, balance, flexibility, and agility training are neglected in favor of cardiovascular and strength training.”

When I said I found so much more than an exercise class, I meant that I also found a friend in instructor, Tina. I asked Tina about her journey to healthy aging and I think her story will resonate with many of you and inspire everyone.

What do you do to stay active and has it changed as you’ve reached your fifties?

Tina HowardWell, as you know I love yoga!  I practice twice a week at the YMCA and sometimes at home with videos on Yoga with Adriene.  I also enjoy taking yoga classes when I travel to learn from other instructors. I started playing pickleball last year and really enjoyed that until I had knee surgery.  For now, I am limited to light weight training and yoga until my knee integrates fully.  It’s funny how you can be lazy and just think, “I will work out tomorrow,” but when you are injured and can’t exercise, it is all you want to do!

My activity level has been up and down over time.  When I was young, we lived in a city where just going outside was dangerous, and so I was a chubby kid – short for my age, and very round.  I watched a lot of TV.  Then we moved to a suburb with broad streets and little traffic.  Like a lot of 1970s kids, we were on bikes all day…flying around the neighborhood, playing kickball and touch football, only coming inside when it was too dark to see.  I stayed active throughout my twenties and thirties by running and cycling.  My husband is an ex-athlete, so we enjoyed an active lifestyle until kids came along.  As a working parent with three children, my spare time was spent watching my kids play sports.  I began to feel bad and started having aching joints and muscle spasms.  And, then I discovered yoga. Research supports the benefits of yoga for balance and flexibility, and more recently it has been shown to help ease pain of knee osteoarthritis in older women.

What motivates you to stay active? 

When I was younger, I would sign up for competitive road races.  I am a goal-oriented person, so having entered a race made me stick to a training schedule.  As I entered middle age, it came down to something much simpler: I feel really bad when I don’t move. I feel much better when I do.

I know you are a vegetarian; what led you to adopt that dietary pattern?

I don’t eat meat and haven’t since I was a kid.  I’ve always loved animals and my dad took me on farm tours when I was young. Seeing poultry and cattle production and realizing they were being raised for food just bothered me, so I decided to be a vegetarian. And, besides the ethical issues for me, vegetarian diets provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and some cancers.

I have a healthy appetite and could eat all day long, but I’ve found a way to keep hunger in check. I keep a stash of raw almonds everywhere – my car and my briefcase.  They’re a little sweet, so they satisfy my sweet tooth while providing protein, healthy fats, and fiber, so I feel satiated.  Almonds pair well with bananas and apples for a quick breakfast or snack, and they also pair with dark chocolate for a sweet treat.

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

  1. Learn to read your body’s cues. Try to understand why you feel bad, why you are grouchy, sore, irritated, or sick.  Then, be prepared to try to do some self-care to remedy it.  Many of our health issues are self-inflicted by poor diet and lack of exercise. So, instead of reaching for a pill, first try a lifestyle change.
  2. Hormonal changes, especially at menopause, can lead to insomnia, fatigue, bone and muscle loss, and an increase in belly fat. Find a doctor that understands the hormonal changes of aging and work together to find a solution that is best for you. And, ask your doctor to check other hormone levels, like thyroid and Vitamin D, and if the levels are out of the normal range, remedy it before it leads to major health problems.
  3. Socialize often. With age often comes isolation from kids leaving home, retirement, or the loss of parents or friends. Social interaction takes more planning and effort as we age – if we don’t have to be somewhere, it is easy to stay in our comfort zone at home. Social activities and social connections are important to our mental health.  And, by social interactions, I don’t mean Facebook or Instagram!

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

Find a healthy activity you like and go do it, no matter what.  Don’t wait for your spouse to join you or your friends to sign up with you.  Be prepared to go it alone, be prepared to try a million different things, and be prepared to feel awkward.

When I started practicing yoga, it felt foreign and silly.  Here were these hippy-dippie instructors with belly button rings that could bend themselves into shapes I could only imagine! I’d be in sweatpants, trying to fold myself over after a day at the desk, and I’d think, “this is so not me!” But, I kept going anyway ,and although I didn’t become like the other people, I eventually got comfortable in my own skin and accepted what I could do. Fitting in was more about me accepting myself than being like the others.  So, find your joy – live in it every day.



Food & Fitness After 50: What is strength?

strength throughout lifecycle

Quick word association….what pops into your into your mind when you hear the word strength? When I was asked that question the first thing I thought of was muscle strength. But, after being a part of a 2-day Strength Summit, sponsored by The National Cattleman’s Beef Association*, I came away with a much broader definition.

Strength encompasses more than having big muscles and working out with weights. Strength also means mental and cognitive strength that begins, not when we are old, but starting strong from birth through old age. Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician at The Ohio State University, summed it up best; “the platform for strength begins early in life.” And, no we’re not talking about baby weight training; developing cognitive strength requires nutrition and we need many nutrients to build a healthy brain. A balance of vitamins, minerals, fats, and plant and animal bioactive compounds (like lutein and flavonoids) are all needed to promote brain health in infancy and childhood. Helping to build a healthy brain helps develop the basic motor skills that lay the groundwork for physical activity as a child grows.

My focus is on the 50+ population with the tag line of “eat well, move well, and be well.” Strength helps us with all three:

Eating well means eating variety of foods and not chasing the latest fad, like keto or the Carnivore Diet. (Yes, that really is a thing!) What I eat may not be right for you, but I suggest these basic principles for a healthy dietary pattern for adults 50+:

    • Includes a balance of all the energy (calorie) containing nutrients of carbohydrate, protein, and fat
    • Focuses on nutrient-rich foods, meaning that every calorie packs a nutrient-rich punch. A small 3 or 4-ounce serving of lean beef provides more than just 25-grams of protein. It also contains zinc, iron, choline, selenium, and B-vitamins needed for good health and strength. Likewise, a whole orange provides more nutrients, like vitamin C, fiber, and phtyo (plant) nutrients than a glass of orange drink.
    • Concerns for disease-risk. As we age, we are more likely to develop issues with bone health, joint health, and cardiovascular diseases. Eating more fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, lean protein, and healthy fats can help keep diseases in check.
    • Enjoying foods and mealtimes. I’ve said it before, but too many people fear food and have lost their enjoyment of good food eaten in a relaxed setting with family or friends.
  • Moving well means focusing on exercise that gets your heart beating faster, your breathing getting deeper, and challenging your muscles to stay strong. Your heart is a muscle so think of aerobic exercise as a good workout for your heart. And weight training does more than build muscle; it helps develop muscle strength, so we can remain functionally fit. For me functional fitness means living independently, being able to lift a 50-pound bag of dog food into my shopping cart, transfer it to the car, take it out of the car, and move it into a storage container. All that requires strength!
  • Being well means strength for resilience that we need as we age. We all know that challenges will occur as we age; we lose loved ones, we get joint replacements, we act as caretakers for family and friends and that all takes mental (and physical strength).

Besides hearing from top experts in the field of strength, we also were inspired by Lance Pekus, The Cowboy Ninja. If you are a fan of the Ninja Warrior competition you will recognize the name, if not, check out Lance and his unique training style!

We were asked to think of a letter in the word STRENGTH and come up with a word that represented our thoughts on strength. Mine was the letter T and word was toughness. What would your word be?


*The Strength Summit: The Role of Strength in Optimal Health and Well-Being was funded through the Beef Checkoff by Beef Farmers and Ranchers. I participated in a panel discussion on strength in older adults and my travel was paid for. However, I was not asked or compensated to write this post.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Food & Fitness After 50: Being Thankful for Family and Friends

Kathy Maxine and brother Bill
Maxine with daughter Kathy and son, Bill

Originally, this post was to be titled “Like Mother, Like Daughter” because I interviewed two incredible women for this story. Maxine (aka “Granna”) aged 89 and her daughter, Kathy, who is in her mid-60s. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that this is perfect feel-good Thanksgiving post. And, I’m not talking about the “isn’t everybody happy and wonderful” kind of Facebook post. This is a story of maternal influence and family love.

The Value of Education

Maxine with 3 of 5 great grandaughers
Maxine with 3 of her great-grandaughers 

Maxine was born at the start of the Great Depression and her mother instilled in her the value of hard work and the importance of education. After high school graduation, she attended business school and moved from North Carolina to Georgia, where she met her husband.  Maxine’s work ethic and resilience lives on through her son, Bill, a retired dentist, and daughter Kathy, a retired educator and associate superintendent of a county school system. Today, she instills those same values in her six grandchildren, and soon to be nine great-grandchildren. She is a lifelong learner and while she didn’t exactly embrace new technology, she can’t image not owning a smart phone, so she can view pictures and videos of her family via texts and Instagram. And, facetime keeps her in close contact between visits.

Retirement and the freedom to be physically active

I first saw Maxine in a yoga class. Twice a week, there she was, second row from the front on the left side of the class…. regular as clockwork. I admired this woman who could hold the tree pose longer than I could. I asked her about her activity and she said, “oh, I’m not that active.” In addition to twice weekly yoga, she is a regular at strength-training class two days a week, walks two miles a day, and plays golf. I respectfully disagree that she is “not that active!”

For Kathy, while she had always walked and worked in her yard, her life centered around her work and family. Having four sons who were all active in sports from middle school through college, kept her busy. In fact, all four of her sons were captains of their school’s football teams. But, when she retired four years ago, she started walking with Maxine (who was 85 at the time) and her mother told her she “needed to start lifting weights to stay strong.” So, she started weight training alongside her mom. Being retired gave her the time to do more. She can be found at the local YMCA every morning for different classes: boot camp, strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga and dance aerobics…. she tries it all. Her attitude is “I’ll try any new exercise…no one is grading me so it’s fun to try something new that will nourish and foster a healthy, happy life.”

Family Meals

Kathy and Maxine with family 2015
Kathy with husband Bill and the 4 sons who enjoyed Granna’s cooking

Maxine grew up in a time when dinner was a “meat, a starch, and a vegetable” but today she is a little more flexible in her meal planning. She starts every day with a hearty bowl of Kashi cereal with added oat cereal, homemade granola, low-fat milk, and a banana with added cinnamon, a dash of olive oil, and sunflower seeds. After morning exercise, she snacks on almonds or peanuts for a protein boost. She makes incredible sourdough rolls (I was fortunate to be given some after our interview!) and she fed her grandsons and their football teammates for years. “There was always a giant submarine sandwich made with my sourdough bread in the refrigerator and the kids couldn’t get enough of it.” Kathy reminded her she always made cookies for the locker room before every home game…. with four grandsons playing football, that was a lot of cookies!

Kathy loves to good food and sometimes reminds herself to stop nibbling by going out for a walk or work in the yard. While she enjoys cooking and takes pride in preparing a simple meal, she gets more enjoyment out of being the sous chef for her husband. “Bill is a great and adventurous cook. He loves making Mexican and Thai dishes that the whole family enjoys.”


As Maxine near her 90th birthday, she says her appetite has diminished. She tries to eat more food early in the day because by evening she just doesn’t want to eat. Kathy helps her by inviting her for dinner and “not telling her what we’re cooking to surprise her.” That keeps her interest up.

For Kathy, the biggest challenge is setting her exercise goals too high. “If I tell myself I’ll walk a mile, even after exercising at the YMCA, I’m not happy unless I walk two miles.”

Words of advice

Maxine’s advice to others is simple and straightforward with a dash of good humor. “Get up and move! You have to look forward and you can’t back up!”

Kathy and Bill with grandkids
Kathy’s 2017 annual Thanksgiving photo; 2 more little grandsons will be in the 2018 photo. The little redhead is Maxwell, named after Maxine

Kathy’s advice echoes her mother’s words, “Being active is a conscious decision and commitment to do things that are productive, provides enjoyment, and leads to a positive health outcome.  My father always told me that what you put into to something is what you’ll get out, so I try to remember that in everything I do.” That applies not just to eating well and moving well, but to being well. “Working and building relationships is so important. When my sons got married I vowed to be a wonderful mother-in-law and the best one I could be!”

Maxine, Kathy, and the entire family spent many years on the “football caravan,” supporting their children at games even though it meant splitting up so someone could be at each game. Kathy’s son Ben was the star quarterback at Auburn University and in the 2000 football program he was interviewed and summed up the importance of family.

“I think my parents did a great job of making us realize the importance of family. All the support that I got from my parents, brothers, and grandmother is something that I’ll never be able to repay.”

Happy Thanksgiving!






Food & Fitness After 50: Wading through a Sea of Foods and New Products

The annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibition, known as FNCE, is the largest gathering of food and nutrition professionals in the world and an event I’ve attended for over 30 years. Each fall we gather in a different city that has a convention center big enough to hold the 10,000+ dietitians who descend on the city. This year, Washington DC was the venue and perfect fall weather was on the menu for the 4-day conference.

mount-vernon-may-2013-shenk-5110-2-webThere were plenty of evening receptions with good food, drink, old and new friends, hundreds of educational sessions, culinary demonstrations, and thousands of exhibitors. I also took a pre-conference tour of George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery, thanks to the Distilled Spirits Council and learned that Mr. Washington began making rye whiskey in 1797, when his Scottish farm manager knew what to do with excess grain, a gristmill, and a good water supply. I’ll be writing more about alcohol and how aging changes how we metabolize alcohol in a future post, so watch for that.

It wasn’t all fun and food, I attended several educational sessions that inspired me, so more to come on these topics in future posts.

  • Dietary nitrate and what it can do to help lower your blood pressure
  • Dispelling the myths about monosodium glutamate (MSG) and how using MSG in home cooking can help you reduce sodium intake.
  • Importance of weight maintenance and that excess body fat is lipotoxic.
  • Pros and cons of nutrient supplements as we age.

But, today I want to focus on the new trends emerging from the exhibit hall floor, the good and the wacky!

  • Kudos to those exhibitors who paired with charities to raise awareness and money by designing clever campaigns that made me smile. The first was the National Peanut Board who for a small donation gave “Peanut Envy” t-shirts for Peanut Butter for the Hungry charitable organization. soccerkid
  • And, another great campaign by the Tomato Wellness Council who sell “Legalize Marinara” T-shirts. The goal is to raise money for the Movember Foundation to support men’s health and awareness of prostate cancer. You can order the shirts and other merchandise at this link.t shirt
  • I always enjoy seeing the “nuts” as exhibitors…from the International Tree Nut Council, to the Almond Board of California, and California Walnut Commission…handing out healthy snacks and delivering tasty recipes. The first recipe I tried when I got home was Pistachio Coconut Crusted Chicken Tenders and it was a keeper! (Recipe follows this post).
  • Gut health was a big focus and new products with prebiotics, fiber, and probiotics….all three needed for a healthy gut, was found in Kellogg’s new cereal, Happy Inside. It was tasty and I loved getting the sneak peek at a product that consumers will be asking about.
  • A clever way to showcase processed meats (they get a bad rap, but what meat-eating person doesn’t love a good deli sandwich occasionally?) was Beefshi, a take on sushi using beef, like pastrami, corned beef, or bologna. Check out this video on making Beefshi Rueben Rolls.
  • There were a few misses on the exhibit floor, at least for me. The plant-based “milk” craze went a little too far with banana milk. The sales person told me it was great for making banana bread and I responded that I used bananas to make banana bread, no banana milk needed. (My favorite banana bread recipe comes from the California Walnuts website.)
  • Then there was the protein-packed cookie and my question is why do we have to pack protein into everything? If I want protein, I won’t get it from a cookie. I’ll pass on that one. And, then my strangest conversation was with someone selling sprouted bread….I asked what makes sprouted bread healthy and he said because the “bran reunites in the stomach during photosynthesis.” Say what????

Already looking forward to next year’s meeting in Philadelphia!

Wonderful PIstachios Coconut Crusted Chicken (1)Wonderful Pistachios Coconut Crusted Chicken (recipe and photo courtesy of Wonderful Pistachios)


1 pound chicken tenders

1 cup Wonderful pistachios no-shells

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a blender or food processor, pulse the pistachios a few times, until ground into a coarse powder. Add the Parmesan cheese, thyme, rosemary and pulse again until it is finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a plate.

In a bowl, mix the coconut flour and pepper. In another bowl, beat the eggs.

Dip the chicken tenders in the flour and roll to coat. Dip the chicken in the eggs, shaking off any excess. Roll in the pistachio-Parmesan mixture and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with all of the chicken.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, flipping once about half way through, until browned and cooked through.

Serves 4


Food & Fitness After 50: Catch the Competitive Spirit

I have a group of friends who inspire me in many ways; in fact they have all been featured in this blog (posts on Lisa, Linda,and Jill can be found by clicking their name).

Competing on the World Stage

We always remember birthdays with group email happy birthday wishes, and for a day or two we play catch up with each other. This year, when we emailed Stella on her 55th birthday, she was surprisingly silent. Then, a few weeks later, she burst into our email inboxes apologizing for her delay by revealing that she had been in Terrasssa, Spain as a member of the USA Women’s Master Field Hockey World Cup Team. That caught us all by surprise and with delight. Not because she made the team; Stella is one of the most competitive, accomplished athletes we know, but because she kept it quiet. Stella has played field hockey since she was in the 9th grade and still plays on a fall and spring competitive league. When she tried out for the USA Masters National Team she was nervous, but thought there wouldn’t be many competing for the “0-55” (over 55 years of age) team. She was told to wear dark socks to identify herself as an 0-55, but when she showed up to the try-outs “most of the people had on dark socks!” She kept the try-outs quiet from her family and friends, and only her husband, Gary, was in the know. When she got the call that she made the team, she said the moment was “magical.”  For a year leading up to the World Cup there were many competitions played around the U.S. before heading to Spain. The women came in 6th in their division and were proud to represent the USA. “I will try out again in 2 years for the next World Cup Team,” says Stella with enthusiasm.

Yes, women can play any sport!

stella ice hockey
Stella on ice

But, everything she does is with enthusiasm. Field hockey isn’t her only sport. She also plays ice hockey. As the youngest of four in an Italian family, growing up involved in competitive sports of all kind, but there was no ice hockey for girls when she was growing up. She spent many years watching her brother play, and supporting the nearby home team, Philadelphia Flyers. When many years later she had the chance to join a woman’s team, she was all in.

Row, row, row your boat

Stella rowing
Crew team

After more than 20 years of running (of course she ran a marathon) and competed in triathlons, she fell in love with another sport…rowing. “Rowing is a beautiful sport and good for physical and mental health in so many ways.” She is such a devotee of the sport that she is often quoted in national publications extolling the benefits of rowing for all women, but especially for older women. In this story from the Washington Post she explains how the muscle movement in each pull helps to strengthen bones. She was also featured in this 2014 piece in Harper’s Bazaar on “why rowing is the new spinning.”

Stella cross fit competition
Cross Fit Competition

She starts each morning with CrossFit and a walk with Bear and Sasha, her German Shepherd dogs. (Stella and I have a special bond over our love of German Shepherds…when I called her for this interview her first question was “how is that handsome boy?” and I knew she meant my dog Samson, not my husband!) Did I mention she has a full-time job as Department Chair and Professor of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel University? The obvious question I asked Stella, is “do you sleep?”  She admitted that she gets about 6 hours of sleep a night, but it is working on getting more sleep.

Stella with dogs and search and rescue trainer
With Sasha & Bear on search and rescue training

Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting old

Her tips for optimal aging?

  • “Do not stop moving, no matter the barriers, keep moving. Even if you can only do chair exercises, do something.” And, remember “aging is not a disease.”
  • “Eat well most of the time, but enjoy food and the pleasure of eating. I think the 80-20 rule is good for physical and mental health!” (80% of the time eat healthy foods, and 20% of the time eat foods that may not be as healthy.)
  • “Don’t be afraid to try something new with sports or activity. Keep variety in your
    stella students cheering
    Stella’s student cheering her on


I’ll admit, I was tired and felt wimpy after talking to Stella, but she closed with these wise words, “I don’t know when God is going to take me from this earth, so enjoy life, eat and move well every day!”

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50.




Food & Fitness After 50: Beat the Barriers

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

“Move more and eat less” is the simplest advice for maintaining both a healthy body and a healthy body weight.  As simple as that advice might be, both sides of that equation can be fraught with complications.  However, none of those complications are insurmountable; in fact, even minor adjustments in our lifestyle habits can translate into major changes in our fitness, body weight, and overall health.

On the “move more” side of the equation, study after study consistently point to the undeniable benefits of daily physical activity to health and longevity. A recent study on 122,007 adults conducted over 23 years concluded that increased aerobic fitness “… was associated with reduced long-term mortality with no observed upper limit of benefit.” Simply put, keeping our bodies moving as often as possible extends our healthspan, allowing us to live as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  But even for the most motivated among us, each day presents barriers to staying active, barriers that we have to overcome or at least side step so that we can move more and sit less.

Barrier-Construction4Below are six common barriers that we can all relate to, along with some simple ways to keep them from becoming everyday excuses.

I’m too busy.  We all have the same 1,440 minutes each and every day, including those whose family, work, and personal demands keep them crazed from the time they wake until the time they sleep.  Even when it feels as though our lives are out of control, we can still find a few minutes to move.  Brief “activity snacks” throughout busy days can help relieve stress and break up long periods of sitting.  Walking stairs, taking the long way around the office, doing isometric exercises while seated, a few pushups, squats, or toe-raises are all ways to sneak physical activity into a crammed day.  And if the work week just doesn’t allow time for much movement, then being a weekend warrior is much better than just collapsing in front of the TV.push up

I’m too tired.  We can all relate to feeling absolutely drained—and there are times when taking a nap is a healthier choice than forcing yourself to exercise.  When energy levels are so low that a workout is just out of the question, a good alternative is to take a walk, even if that means strolling through your home during television commercials.  Any movement is better than no movement and just taking a walk can help boost our spirits and energy.

It’s too painful.  Aches and pains are an inevitable part of aging and sometimes pain can be so debilitating that moving is out of the question.  But for lesser aches and pains, we can find ways to keep ourselves moving without aggravating nagging problems.  Bad knees or hips?  Keep your upper body and core active with seated or standing movements and exercises that don’t make matters worse.  Arthritic hands?  Walking is an obvious option, as are simple hand, arm, and shoulder exercises with light or no resistance can help relieve arthritic pain and strengthen surrounding muscles.

It’s too expensive.  There is no doubt that exercise can become expensive, but only if we choose it to be.  Joining a health club, working with a personal trainer, buying a bicycle, or even getting new exercise shoes all cost money.  But walking is free, as are many online exercise videos, traditional calisthenics (think of sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, etc.), stair climbing, yard work, household chores, etc.  The goal is to keep moving whenever possible and there are endless ways to do just that.

Older walkersIt’s too boring.  Some people just hate the regimented nature of group exercise classes or tire quickly of traditional activities such as walking, running, swimming, and cycling.  The challenge then becomes finding activities that keep us engaged.  Even if we regularly flitter from one activity to another, the very fact that we’re active is what is most important.  There are lots of ways to fit move movement into each day and the best of those are the ones that we enjoy the most.

removing barriersIt’s too late (to do any good).  One of the goals of Food and Fitness After 50 is to remind readers that it’s never too late to get and stay active.  Experts sometimes refer to regular physical activity as a polypill, a medicine with multiple benefits.  Even if you’ve led a sedentary life for the past 50 years, adding more movement to every day will dramatically improve your healthspan.  Staying active keeps us fit and strong, and that directly contributes to happier, healthier, longer lives.

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon.

Food & Fitness After 50: Scary Foods

1200px-The_ScreamNo, this isn’t about Halloween. It’s about all of the crazy headlines that pop up every time I’m online.  Whether it is the stories that appear on my web browser or that populate my Facebook or Instagram feeds, they all have the same theme. “Don’t eat this food because it will: (a) kill you, (b) cause belly fat, (c) clog your arteries, or (d) all of the above.

In the last few days, here are the headlines I’ve seen:

  • Why you should never eat bananas for breakfast
  • The 5 worst foods for weight loss
  • The 3 unhealthiest foods you can eat
  • Seven foods you had no idea were sugar bombs
  • The 11 foods nutritionists would never, ever eat!

Arghhh….it is maddening.  We all know these headlines are clickbate that generate revenue for all involved, except you, the reader. It gives you anxiety about your food choices and can lead extremes of eating; either you limit your food choices from fear or you throw up your hands and say, “I’ll just eat anything I want because it’s all going to kill me!” I can tell you I NEVER click on these stories so I can’t tell you why you should never eat bananas for breakfast (which is just plain silly) and the “nutritionists” I know might eat less of some foods, but unless they have a health condition, like Celiac disease or diabetes, they don’t go to extremes in their food choices.

The other thing I dislike about these headlines is that the focus is on a single food. I can guarantee that no single food found in the U.S. food supply will kill you (unless contaminated by a virus or bacteria that shouldn’t be there), travel to your belly to be stored as fat, or clog your arteries. What is important is dietary patterns; what you eat over the course of a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, is much more important than consumption of a single food. Last year during the holidays everyone was complaining about the “bad” food choices they made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. My young niece Aku, wisely said, “It’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and New Year’s that is the problem; it’s what you eat between New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving that is!”

SAM_3396What dietary patterns are best? There are many that are healthy, such as the DASH Eating Plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean Diet. But, many people know the terms without knowing that the “diets” are all about the combination of foods that contribute to their health benefits. Many know about the Mediterranean diet, but they think eating at the local Olive Garden is the same as eating Italian food. Real Italian food is made with fresh, simple ingredients and doesn’t come with unlimited bread sticks and salad. Here’s a photo of a real Italian pizza; fresh tomato sauce, and small amounts of fresh mozzarella cheese. It is not a cheese-stuffed crust with 5 meat toppings.

So, don’t fear your food; if you like ribs, enjoy them at the tailgate party,  just don’t eat them every day.

Balance and vary your diet, too. If you know that the family dinner will be heavy and high in calories, eat light that day or the next day.

Eat more veggies: roasted, steamed, grilled, stir-fried, or oven-baked. Just don’t fry them all of the time.

Snack on fresh fruit in season. It is the original fast food. Fall is the time for crisp apples and juicy citrus fruit, so enjoy.

And one more thought. If you choose to be vegan, gluten-free and eat only organic foods, that is your right and your choice, but please don’t lecture others that what they choose to eat is inferior. I loved this exchange between a dietitian and and her friend. When offered a slice of cake the friend said that she couldn’t eat it because it wasn’t “clean” and would harm her. The dietitian replied, “It’s banana bread; not heroin!”

For more tips on dietary patterns that are recommended for adults 50+, see Food & Fitness After 50.



Food & Fitness After 50: Conventional or Organic Produce for Good Health?

I am a failed vegetable gardener. Like many, I long for home grown tomatoes, lush green peppers, juicy melons, and a variety of squash in all shapes and colors. And, of course, I thought I could grow anything with just water, sunlight, and little love. I have a designated space with plenty of sun and amended soil to counter the hard, red Georgia clay. But, the deer ate everything, no matter what home remedy I tried or how many tubs of deer repellent I spread around the garden. Then, we caged the whole garden so it looked like a small prison compound, minus the razor-wire at the top of the enclosure. I was so excited that the deer would stay out that I forgot that pests could find a way in. I learned about the tomato horn worm; an ugly/beautiful creature that stripped the leaves off all my plants overnight! Here is a photo I took of the little bugger if you’ve never seen one!  (My niece Erin said, “Since the deer couldn’t get in, they sent their friends to feast!”)tomato hornworm

So, what does this have to do with the title of this post? Many of the adults I talk to about  Food & Fitness After 50 ask about organic produce; or I should say, are convinced that organic produce is the key to good health and that conventional produce grown with the use of pesticides is the cause of poor nutrition and contributes to chronic disease. So, let’s set the record straight with a little quiz.

  • According to a recent United States Department of Agriculture Report on pesticide residues, what percent of domestic food samples were found to be in compliance (meaning levels of residues below any levels that could have a health effect)?

50%, 78%, or 99%?

The answer is 99%. What’s more, 53% of all domestic samples and 51% of all imported foods samples analyzed had NO detectable levels of pesticides.

  • Organic farmers do not use pesticides.

True or False?

The answer is false; organic farmers can use natural pesticides and some synthetic pesticides. But, remember that natural doesn’t mean safe, non-toxic, or chemical-free. All pesticides, natural and synthetic, undergo rigorous testing for safety by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Organic is a production term; not a health claim for quality, nutrition, or safety of our fruits and veggies.

  • When shopping at the local farmer’s market, the claim is made that the produce is “pesticide-free.” What should you ask the farmer?

According to Safe fruits and veggies, a website about the safety of organic and convention produce, ask the farmer what he or she does to control pests, because as we all know, insects in the garden have to be controlled in some way. Click here for a handy guide on food safety at farmer’s markets.

  • You should wash produce under running water before eating.

True or False?

True, washing produce with cold or warm tap water and scrubbing with a brush, when feasible, can remove pesticide residues (but remember, most produce has negligible amounts of residues), but can also remove dirt or bacteria that may have come from the fields. Removing outer leaves of cabbage or lettuces is also recommended. Don’t use soap when washing fruit or veggies, just plain tap water is all that is needed.

  • How many servings of blueberries could a woman consume in one day without any effect even if the blueberries have the highest pesticide residues ever recorded by the USDA?

10 servings, 87 servings, 100 servings, greater than 13,000 servings?

mobile-previewThe answer is 13,228 servings in one day! Try the pesticide residue calculator for yourself to assure that eating conventional produce is not swimming in harmful chemicals!


The bottom line is that we should all be eating more fruits and vegetables without fear. If you can afford organic and you like the taste, go for it. But, if cost is a factor, don’t let fears keep you from eating conventional fruits and veggies from your grocery store.

As Paracelsus (a scientist from the late 1400s) so wisely said, the dose makes the poison!paracelsus-scientist-quote-poison-is-in-everything-and-no-thing-is