Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Been Everywhere, Done Everything? How About Some Food Travel?

June 14th, 2016 at 2:21 pm by timigustafson
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Having just returned from visiting Japan and having been thoroughly spoiled by the country’s unique culinary culture, I found my interest in exotic foods and cooking styles renewed. I have enjoyed such experiences before, but never made it a specific quest. This time was different, and I’m glad I finally joined the ranks of international food travelers.

Food travel – or culinary tourism, as it is sometimes called – is a fast growing trend, and not only among seasoned globetrotters who seek new perspectives on their journeys. Widely popular TV shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” have put food exploration high on many people’s bucket list. And travel agencies are more than happy to comply.

Over the past decade or so, food-themed vacationing has become a trendsetter in the leisure travel industry. According to the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA), a consulting firm for specialty travel organizers, interest in local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture is at an all-time high. And this is by no means limited to gourmet dining or fine wine sampling but extends to all things related to food production, preparation and consumption as well as environmental issues like climate change and sustainability.

“A culinary adventure can be a welcome change from the standard travel itinerary,” says Sabah Karimi, a travel writer for U.S. News. “The goal of culinary tourism is to educate and inspire food and wine enthusiasts while giving the traveler a chance to explore the local area and learn about local food trends, cooking techniques and food history.”

At a recent business conference, sponsored by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in Quebec, the rising popularity of culinary travel and its impact on the travel industry as a whole was the main topic. A survey that was conducted for the event showed that over 70 percent of travel itineraries now included food and beverage-themed components.

Food is a leading draw in travel these days, industry analysts say. It transcends borders, builds bridges between cultures, and connects us as human beings with the planet and one another.

Not everyone, however, is overly enthused about this newfound love for culinary discovery.

While food-related tourism is growing, food-borne illnesses are also on the rise globally and have been identified as a major public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

At destinations where accommodations, hygiene and sanitation, medical care and water quality are of a high standard, there are relatively few health risks for travelers. However, exposure to infectious agents and contaminated food and water, combined with the absence of appropriate medical facilities, can make traveling in remote regions particularly hazardous, the WHO warns.

Obviously, exposing yourself to the unknown, whether it concerns your surroundings or your dinner plate, always carries a certain amount of risk. But safety should come first, wherever you go and regardless of what you do. While travel is supposed to be fun, it is not a time for recklessness. If your experience is unpleasant because of a stomach ache or much worse, you probably won’t give it another try. And what a shame that would be…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Longevity – To What Avail?

June 7th, 2016 at 5:20 pm by timigustafson
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A long life has always been considered a desirable objective for most people, and modern science, abundant food supply and hygienic living conditions are making it possible for ever greater parts of the population to achieve this goal.

Over the past 200 years the average life expectancy has doubled, and some experts say that human longevity has not even reached its peak yet. They are not talking about the distant future. In fact, the first person to live to a 150 may already have been born.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the once leading causes of illness and death – mostly through infectious and parasitic diseases – have all been dramatically reduced with vaccinations, dietary improvements, better health education, and overall higher standards of living.

Obviously, conditions still vary widely from country to country, but generally people now live much longer than ever, worldwide. In some places, those reaching 85 and older already make up the fastest growing part of the populace. Globally, their numbers will quadruple by mid-century. The number of centenarians is projected to increase 10-fold over the same time period.

Being able to extend life, of course, is a great success, especially when it comes with a reasonably high quality of life. But simply adding years of sickness, frailty and decline is not a very appealing prospect. Unfortunately, the progress we are making in terms of keeping people around longer is not always matched by advances in personal health and fitness – both physically and mentally.

Today’s seniors, especially in the developed world, could not only be the longest living but also the healthiest generation, based on the level of healthcare and health education available to them.

But sadly, the facts don’t bear this out. Dying prematurely from infectious diseases may be a thing of the past, but those threats have been replaced by a host of diet and lifestyle-related chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Most of these are treatable and could be prevented altogether. But according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only a miniscule percentage of the population pays enough attention and adheres to behaviors that can reduce the risk of developing these ailments.

And yet, the steps to take are simple and widely accepted as effective, proactive health measures. They include a healthful diet, regular exercise, persistent weight management, stress reduction, sufficient sleep, and avoidance of smoking, alcohol- and drug abuse. To follow any (or preferably all) of these, it is never too soon or too late.

Adding years to life may be a worthwhile pursuit for its own sake, but without adding life to years by maintaining good health, it will likely be a sadly diminished outcome.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Body Image and Self-Compassion

June 1st, 2016 at 11:28 am by timigustafson
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“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” the iconic supermodel Kate Moss once famously said, presumably suggesting that no indulgence is worth the damage it does to a slim figure. Being slim, of course, is the unquestioned standard of beauty and health set by the media and respective industries. It is also a cause for widespread body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and low self-esteem that often develop in childhood and affect people of all ages, especially women.

Studies have shown that being considered overweight by oneself or others can lead to an array of emotional disturbances, including clinical depression. These effects likely worsen when contrary body images are idealized.

Women, in particular, tend to share their weight concerns with others, which often reinforces the negative views they already have of themselves, says Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. When women get together and have a “fat talk,” their feelings of guilt and failure become ever more aggravated, and it gets even harder to overcome obstacles. Engaging in conversations about body imperfections has often a contagious effect, Whitbourne warns, and should better be avoided.

A more constructive approach would be what some have coined “self-compassion.” Being compassionate with oneself and others means to realize that suffering, failure and imperfection are part of our shared human experience, says Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and well-known expert on the subject.

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings,” she explains the concept.

That doesn’t mean that self-compassionate people give themselves an easy way out. Self-compassion is not to be confused with self-pity or self-indulgence where anything goes. It’s not even about lifting up your self-esteem, Neff says. It’s about self-clarity, about developing a better sense of what is real and what is possible.

Failings are more acceptable when they are not denied or covered up because of shame. By dealing openly with inevitable shortcomings, a self-compassionate person can become more resilient and able to overcome hurdles in the future.

For example, studies have found that women with disturbed body images who listened to audiotapes on self-compassion judged their appearance less harshly over time and developed attitudes that were more constructive in terms of weight management.

A lot of people have to relearn to love themselves, if they ever did. For someone who was subjected to constant scrutiny and criticism as a child or who never experienced unconditional love, compassionate self-acceptance can be hard to practice.

But it can be learned, step by step, according to Deepak Chopra, the prominent wellness guru. By following certain exercises of compassionate self-love and self-acceptance, he says, a new self-image can emerge that is healing and empowering. Such a transformation may take some time, but the benefits can be immeasurable.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Can Negative Thinking Make Us Ill?

May 25th, 2016 at 5:29 pm by timigustafson
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They are just thoughts, no big deal, people often say when they find themselves engaging in bouts of anger, hatred, or cynicism. We hear plenty of that in this (or any other) election year where differences in opinion tend to become aggravated beyond normal. What we don’t ask enough, however, is what all that negativity does to our health and well-being, not only psychologically but also physically?

Science is pretty clear on the mind-body connection of health issues, and negative thinking has long been recognized as a culprit for many illnesses – as has the healing power of a positive mindset.

Negative thoughts and emotions can cause problems for your health, especially when they manifest themselves over time as permanent dispositions or habitual outlooks on the world, says Dr. Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Their destructive nature can adversely affect a number of body functions, including metabolism, hormonal balance, and the immune system. Long-term results can be chronic stress or depression. Powerful stress hormones like cortisol are known to promote inflammation, which can lead to any number of diseases, she warns.

Oftentimes it’s not even outside events that cause the most damaging responses, but rather people honing in on their own shortcomings, disappointments and failures, says Wendy Lustbader, a psychotherapist and author of “Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older.”

“We make our own misery,” she says. “Life is hard enough, but we make things worse by exaggerating our failings and missed opportunities, […] while giving ourselves hardly any credit for obstacles overcome and small victories attained on the way to where we are.”

Much of this, of course, is also a personal choice, although it doesn’t always appear to us that way. We cling to these self-imposed all-or-nothing standards, Lustbader laments, that leave no room for more generous interpretations. To release ourselves from this perpetual self-condemnation, we must first acquire a different way of thinking.

That may include going back in time to the roots of our misgivings – perhaps as far as childhood – to make peace with unpleasant or hurtful memories.

Whether you feel guilt or shame, have regrets or are sorrowful about something that happened long ago, the only meaningful thing you can do now is to learn your lessons, move on, and leave the past where it belongs. Don’t drag it around with you. It will only pollute your present life and probably even your future.

Memories are there to be enjoyed, and they are to be learned from in any case, whether we recall them as successes or mistakes, advises Jennifer Boykin, the author of “Breakthrough, How to Get on With It When You Can’t Get Over It.

We may not always find that positive thinking eases our qualms, and expressing our displeasure may be a justified reaction once in a while. But negativity as an attitude is not something anyone should cultivate for long. If for no other reason, it’s not healthy.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

For Healthy Aging, Stay in Control

May 17th, 2016 at 2:58 pm by timigustafson
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In his latest book, Charles Duhigg, the author of bestsellers like “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and now, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” describes how a group of seniors changed the daily routines they were supposed to follow in an assisted living facility. They ‘rebelled,’ if you will, against a regimen that was forced upon them – not violently, of course, but in subversive ways nevertheless.

For instance, they would trade food items from their pre-set lunch trays among themselves according to their individual tastes and preferences. That may seem insignificant, but still, it gave them a sense of control they wouldn’t have had by eating everything that was put in front of them.

Even more rewarding was the idea that they could rearrange the furniture in their cookie-cutter-style rooms to give them a more personal flair. When those actions were met with resistance from management, those rebellious spirits had ever more fun in doing as they pleased.

But getting a brief moment of satisfaction from some random acts of defiance wasn’t the point of this story. The consequences were much more profound. As it turned out, experiencing a bit more control over their lives did the health and well-being of these people enormously good. They ate better, were more physically active, improved their mental capacities, and had overall fewer health problems – just because of a little boost in self-confidence and determination. In other words, for these folks, control seemed to be a crucial element for healthy aging.

Being able to make decisions for themselves signals people that they are still alive and that their lives still have meaning, Duhigg writes. Even deciding to stage a nursing home insurrection can become proof that someone is alive and can assert authority over his or her actions.

The changes that typically take place after retirement and as the natural aging process progresses are monumental, to put it mildly, says Dave Bernard, a California-based blogger who specializes in issues around retirement and aging.

When people stop working after decades of employment or in business, they exit abruptly from the world they knew. In many ways, they lose their identity, which they must regain in some other fashion, and they must reorient themselves. At the same time, they find themselves more isolated and have to rely on their own devices as they plan their days, organize their financial affairs, or try to take care of their health needs. They also gradually undergo physical and mental changes that don’t work in their favor. As they get more fragile and vulnerable to health problems, they become increasingly dependent on others, something seniors dread the most among all effects of aging.

Loss of independence can happen suddenly through a catastrophic event or insidiously through natural decline. But most seniors don’t prepare well for either. They believe they can stay in their home indefinitely and take care of themselves, even if that means to struggle on their own. But the vast majority does eventually end up requiring some help with daily chores like cooking, cleaning, shopping, or simply getting out of the house.

Thankfully, there is assistance available that enables people to have both, remaining reasonably independent and being cared for to the extent it is needed. Organizations like the National Aging in Place Council and countless other programs try to enable their clientele to continue the lifestyle they are used to and also get support like adult day care services, home remodeling, or financial advice.

Of course, the quality of life at old age depends largely on the personal choices an individual makes. The best care is to take proactive steps towards health aging. And for this, it is never too early and never too late.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

What Makes Health-Conscious Consumers Tick?

May 10th, 2016 at 4:21 pm by timigustafson
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Health and wellness is on the mind of an ever-growing part of the populace, at least some of the time, according to one Canadian marketing expert, Ryan Benn, president of Alive Publishing Group (APG), an international publication for the health industry. But as consumers, people are still widely confused about how to make the right diet- and lifestyle choices to reach their desired goals.

For example, when asked about their priorities in their food shopping decisions, the majority of respondents said they preferred “natural” and “organic” products they could trust to be free from health-hazards. By contrast, interest in “dieting” or “weight management” turned out to be less prevalent in their responses, possibly due to a tiring of the public in these matters.

The research was conducted simultaneously in Australia, Canada and the United States, with largely similar findings.

A 2012 survey on consumer attitudes towards food safety, nutrition and health by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that most consumers had fewer problems doing their taxes than figuring out how to take better care of their health.

The continuously changing nutrition and lifestyle information they are bombarded with leaves many people frustrated to the point where they lose interest, even those who seriously attempt making improvements, the survey report says.

On the other hand, not everyone feels the need for much of a personal effort either. Nine out of ten survey participants described their overall health status as good. 60 percent thought they were in excellent or very good shape. Only nine percent said their health was in fair or poor condition.

But despite the optimistic views of their well-being, most respondents also recognized they could do better, with only about 25 percent considering their diet- and lifestyle choices as optimal.

Still, nutrition experts see some promising progress in current trends. While the obesity crisis is far from over, years of warnings and dire predictions by health officials apparently are finally getting through.

According to the most recent reports, eating habits are improving both in terms of calorie consumption and nutritional quality.

There are no huge shifts yet in the public’s behavior, but even small changes have a noticeable impact, says Kelly Brownell, an expert on obesity at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

One possible factor was the aftermath of the 2008 recession, when many people ate out less and prepared more meals at home. That event in itself, the experts say, may have produced at least some positive results, as insufficient as they may turn out to be in the long run.

There is hope, however, that through greater awareness and encouraging experiences, more among those who started making improvements will continue to move in the right direction.

We may be seeing a cultural change like we have had with smoking, according to Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. We may in fact be reaching a tipping point that will lead to a decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks and an increase in the consumption of healthy foods, he said in an interview with CNN.

Obviously there are numerous obstacles still to be overcome to make these developments permanent. One is pricing. Healthy food remains out of reach for too many low-income families.

Another is cooperation (or lack thereof) by the food industry, which could make food labels more easily decipherable and promote smaller portion sizes through alternative packaging – just to mention two of many steps that could be taken without delay.

And, of course, ingrained eating and lifestyle habits are hard to break. No one should be naïve about that. But progress often happens insidiously and may not even be noticeable for some time. Let’s hope we are in such a phase.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Cook Simply, Eat Healthily, Feel Good

April 10th, 2016 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson
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Cooking is considered a chore by most people. Restaurant visits, take-outs, and frozen TV dinners are much more in keeping with our busy lifestyles. The downside to all this is that you have little control over the nutritional quality of food prepared by others. Unless you do it yourself from scratch, including grocery shopping and everything else before sitting down at the dinner table, there is no guarantee that you eat really well.

By eating ‘really well’ I mean getting all the nutrients the body needs to fully function and stay healthy. Learning how to make meals that measure up to that standard is not rocket science, but it requires a bit of knowledge in nutrition science and also in sound cooking techniques.

Even among those who still can be talked to about home cooking, convenience is a top priority. Time-consuming trips to the grocery store or farmers market are for many people out of the question, and so are hours spent on following complex recipes.

Luckily, there is plenty of help. Entire industries have emerged to make things easier for those who are unable or unwilling to toil in their kitchens the way generations before them had to. More than a hundred companies, including Walmart, are now offering so-called “meal kits” that contain exactly measured ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all delivered to your doorstep.

Subscribers to meal kits providers like Blue ApronHello Fresh, or Plated can receive weekly mailings of almost any kind of food as well as cooking tutorials and utensils that promise to turn a clueless novice into an avid hobby chef.

So far this fledging industry is showing great promise. Technomic, a food-industry consulting firm, predicts a $3 to $5 billion annual growth over the next decade or so. The comparatively high prices per meal, however, which can rival high-end grocery outlets or even medium-priced restaurants, limit the target audience to the well-to-do.

From a nutritional perspective, many of these meal-in-a-box options are certainly preferable to fast food, pizza, and other typical take-outs. But they are not necessarily superior in quality to fresh produce, meats, fish and other staples from your local supermarket (let alone farmers market). The difference is that preparing the latter may seem a little more cumbersome. But in reality, they really aren’t.

I myself have always been a believer in simple cooking techniques. I like my food as unaltered as possible, preferring uncomplicated techniques like steaming fresh vegetables or poaching fish to baking, frying, or whatever else more creative people than I can come up with.

I also try to follow my own motto, “eating lighter is eating smarter.” So I usually leave out sauces, dressings and other condiments that may add a bit of flavor but many more unnecessary calories and substances I don’t know anything about. This, by the way, I would also recommend to users of meal kits and other partially or wholly prepared products.

And there is one more element that should not be underestimated: Even the making of the simplest dish gives me great pleasure when it is to be shared with people I love. Enjoying a glass of wine while stirring a pot or assembling delicious treats before gathering at the table – you can’t get that from unpacking a box, no matter how well appointed it may be.

So, yes, I think it is worthwhile making the extra effort to learn a few cooking tricks, not just to eat more healthily, but for all the other benefits that come with it, including what it can do for your soul. Bon appétit!

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Bring a Little Sunshine Into Your Heart

April 4th, 2016 at 4:36 pm by timigustafson
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That getting out in the sun has many health benefits is old news. But how exactly sunrays enhance our wellbeing has not been completely understood by scientists for the longest time. In fact, warnings about excessive sun exposure because of potential skin damage and skin cancer have dominated the conversation. However, too little contact with the outdoors can also cause problems when it results in the deficiency of an all-important ingredient called vitamin D.

Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D can be produced in the body by exposing the skin to sunlight. But that is not always guaranteed. Because so many people spend their daytime hours inside, the danger of becoming vitamin D deficient is now more widespread than ever.

Those who live in the northern hemisphere with fewer sunny days and the elderly who don’t leave home as much any more are particularly at risk. Pregnant women and obese persons can also find it harder to meet their vitamin D needs.

Having a sufficient supply of vitamin D available is critical for a number of body functions, including the maintenance of bones, muscles, and vital organs, especially the heart. More recent research found that increasing levels of vitamin D can be helpful in the prevention of heart disease and related health issues.

One study from Harvard University concluded that men who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as their counterparts who had adequate levels. One reason could be that vitamin D plays a role in controlling blood pressure and preventing artery damage, the researchers say.

Other investigations have suggested that substantially more deadly heart attacks occur during the winter months than at any other time of the year, not because of cold weather but more likely because of reduced sunlight.

On the other hand, people who live in mountainous regions or spend long periods of time at high altitude and are exposed to greater ultraviolet-B (UVB) doses have on average a lower risk of heart disease, according to studies.

Those for whom sunshine is not always easy to come by should consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Be advised to consult with your physician what amounts are appropriate.

Taking supplements, however, should never be considered a substitute for healthy eating. Nothing can be more health promoting than sound diet choices. And there are plenty of foods that provide reasonably high doses of vitamin D, including fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks, among others.

Together with a little extra effort to spend more time outside, these guidelines should keep most people from becoming deficient, with countless more positive ‘side effects’ to boot.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Men Must Learn to Cope with Longer Lives

March 28th, 2016 at 8:10 pm by timigustafson
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Men used to have shorter life spans than women, according to statistics that seemed unchanging for many decades. But lately the gap started to close, and at least part of the male population is now making headways in terms of healthy aging and longevity.

Causes for higher mortality rates among men were traditionally seen in health problems like heart disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, and greater accident proneness, all mostly related to diet and lifestyle habits.

Many of these outcomes are related to behaviors that are encouraged or accepted more in men than in women, according to government research, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating highly caloric foods, and also engaging in risky activities like gun use, extreme sports, and working in hazardous jobs.

Smoking in particular is still seen as a leading contributor to early deaths. On the other hand, reduction in tobacco use is being credited as one of the most important factors in the improvement of public health and life expectancy, especially among middle-aged and older former smokers.

However, the benefits of positive lifestyle changes are not equally distributed. Almost only educated and well-off males are seeing their odds turning in their favor. High earners in non-hazardous occupations who live in safe and clean environments, can afford to eat well and have easy access to healthcare can expect to live significantly longer than their less fortunate counterparts, recent surveys report.

Surprisingly, it is older women – even if they live reasonably long lives – who nowadays suffer from more diseases and disabilities than other demographics. One reason may be that aging females, especially if they live alone, have on average fewer economic resources available to them. Therefore they may not be as able to accommodate their declines in functioning when they occur, says Dr. Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study on age-related health issues.

Unfortunately, debilitating illnesses tend to build on each other, she says. That, of course, applies to both sexes. It becomes harder to perform daily routines like dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, driving, etc, which all worsen outcomes in many ways.

The fact is that we cannot simply judge the health status of older generations in terms of added years of life expectancy, but that we should look more closely at the quality of their day-to-day lives.

While expanding lifetimes can certainly be seen as part of healthy aging, how this extra time can be filled and enjoyed may be the more compelling issue.

For aging Baby Boomers, this may become the greatest challenge they have to face yet, namely how to make their unprecedented longevity sustainable, both for themselves and for society at large.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

How to Avoid the Retirement Trap

March 21st, 2016 at 7:30 am by timigustafson
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Retirement is an artifice, an invention of the 20th century. Before then, people hardly ever retired. They stopped working when they couldn’t do their (mostly physically demanding) jobs any longer, and soon thereafter they usually died. Now, every day about 10,000 members of the Baby Boomer generation enter what is commonly considered retirement age at 65.

What does this mass exodus from the work force entail? Predictions range from the sanguine to the dire about the prospects of today’s retirees. On the one hand, especially well-to-do older adults who are reasonably healthy have many more options to fill their ‘golden years’ with activities and pursuits than their forbearers could ever imagine. By contrast, insufficient financial security and chronic diseases can lead to a rather precarious endgame. For most, it will be something in between.

For the lucky ones, retirement can really be a glorious time. According to a recent study, being freed from work-related and other demands can allow for lifestyle changes that enhance health and well-being.

“A major life change like retirement creates a great window of opportunity,” says Dr. Melody Ding, a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, and lead author of the study report. “It’s a chance to get rid of bad routines and engineer new, healthier behaviors.”

That would be a desirable outcome. However, there are also challenges waiting for retirees that are not always easily overcome. Routines that helped structure their days and that are now falling by the wayside can leave a considerable void. Those who have no plans other than getting more sleep or enjoying a favorite pastime (golf comes to mind) can find themselves unprepared for that extra amount of leisure. Losing one’s professional identity, feeling no longer needed or being bored can result in low self-esteem and depression.

One study from Harvard University found that newly retired men and women faced a 40 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than their contemporaries who were still in the workforce. The increase was most pronounced during the first year of retirement and gradually leveled off after that.

Moving from working to not working brings a whole host of disruptions along, many of which don’t become immediately evident. But the effects are very real and can lead to serious problems if they are not constructively addressed.

“Our [study] results suggest we may need to look at retirement as a process rather than an event,” says J. Robin Moon, a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

The process can be a smooth or a bumpy ride, depending on a wide range of factors.

Financial stability is certainly part of it, but for retirement to succeed, many other components need to be in place as well. Most important are a supportive social life as well as engagement in meaningful, stimulating activities such as travel and continuing education, among countless other options. To maintain both physical and mental health, there are no better means than preventive measures, including an age-appropriate eating and exercise regimen.

However, such steps should be taken long before actual retirement takes place. People need to prepare themselves thoroughly for this transformative time, preferably several years in advance, experts recommend.

The tremendous changes newly retired persons experience can affect their lifestyles favorably or unfavorably, says Else Zantinge, a researcher at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands who conducted studies on the health affects of retirement. The pre-retirement period should be used as an opportunity to make the transition as easy as possible.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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