Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

A Healthy Lifestyle Protects Best Against Stroke, Study Finds

June 20th, 2014 at 6:04 pm by timigustafson
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Of course, you knew already that you should eat right, exercise regularly, not smoke, and not drink too much alcohol. Now a new study from Germany found even more evidence that you are well advised to follow these guidelines. In fact, your life could depend on it. Among countless other health benefits, people who maintain a healthy lifestyle have a significantly reduced risk of stroke, the study concluded.

stroke occurs when one of the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the brain is either blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, and starts to die. When this happens, the brain either temporarily or permanently malfunctions, depending on the severity of the damage that has been caused.

While previous studies honed in on individual risk factors for stroke, this one looked at the effects of an overall health-promoting lifestyle. Conversely, by analyzing the combined risks from less health-conducive behavior, a more complete picture emerges of what may actually lead to a stroke and how it could be prevented, the researchers suggested.

After reviewing medical data from nearly 24,000 people, and analyzing each person’s stroke-related risk factors, the researchers found that improving diet and lifestyle choices could significantly lower the number of strokes that occur every year.

“Our combined risk factor analysis indicated that about 38 percent of primary stroke occurrences could have been prevented in our study population if all study participants had maintained the healthiest risk profile,” said Kaja Tikk, an epidemiologist at the Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg, Germany, and lead author of the study report, to Reuters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 people suffer a stroke per year in the United States alone.

The most significant contributors to stroke-related risks were found to be smoking and weight problems. Fortunately, these are areas in their lives where people have a great deal of control, said Ms. Tikk. Weight loss and smoking cessation can be done successfully by the individual, and taking such steps has almost immediate benefits.

For instance, while smoking effectively doubles the risk of stroke compared to not smoking, most ex-smokers can return to risk levels similar to lifetime non-smokers after a relatively short period of time.

The same is true for weight loss. Staying within (or returning to) a normal weight range, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly to keep the weight off rank among the best measures for stroke prevention, according to the CDC.

In terms of healthcare, prevention of stroke should be considered a priority. And, as this study shows, it can be achieved by maintaining a healthy lifestyle pattern, Ms. Tikk said.

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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).

Kids Gain More Weight When Out of School, Study Finds

June 18th, 2014 at 11:34 am by timigustafson
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The summer months should be a time when children are especially active, play sports, enjoy the outdoors, and perhaps even eat better because there are more occasions for family dinners. In other words, it should be a time when they are their healthiest. Not so, a new study found. In fact, it is during school vacations that many kids put on extra pounds, according to scientists from Harvard University who took a closer look at the phenomenon.

For their research, they analyzed several studies on weight gain among children ages 5 to 17, and found on average a faster rate of weight increase during vacation times compared to the rest of the school year.

Most vulnerable were youngsters who already struggled with weight issues. Their weight accelerated the fastest while they were out of school.

Obviously, there are no simple answers to why this is happening, said Rebecca Franckle, a doctoral student and research assistant at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report, to HealthDay Reporter.

It’s possible that children have more opportunities to be sedentary while they stay at home. Especially kids who live in unsafe neighborhoods may be spending more time watching TV or playing video games. Or perhaps, it’s a lack of structure when they are not having classes and other activities, and they get bored, passing the time with snacking. Lack of supervision in the daytime hours may also play a role.

The researchers noted that weight gain took place more predominantly among poor minority children.

“There may be a trend in increased rate of weight gain during summer school vacation, particularly for high-risk groups, including certain racial/ethnic populations and overweight children and adolescents,” wrote Ms. Franckle in her report.

Although the nutritional quality of school breakfasts and lunches has often been the target of criticism, for many poor children those are the only substantial meals available to them all day. During vacations, that security net is absent. Fast food and snack items are oftentimes the only alternatives, which, of course, is detrimental to their health.

Without greater access to recreational facilities, physical activity programs, and summer food programs, the resulting weight gain may further exacerbate health disparities between poor children and their better-off peers, Ms. Franckle suggested.

The effects of these trends are serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates have more than doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents in the United States over the past 30 years. One third of children and teenagers are now overweight or obese.

Recent studies found that serious health complications can come from weight problems at young ages, including diabetesheart disease, and liver damage. It will take enormous efforts on behalf of the youngest victims of the obesity crisis to turn these developments around.

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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).

Diabetes – Easily Preventable Yet Tragically Unstoppable

June 13th, 2014 at 4:29 pm by timigustafson
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 29 million Americans suffer from diabetes today, an increase of more than 10 percent since 2010 when the agency issued its last report. The actual numbers may still be higher because a quarter of all diabetics don’t even know they have the disease, according to the survey. Other research predicts that more than half of the U.S. population will be affected by the end of this decade.

Worldwide, the statistics are equally as discouraging. The World Health Organization (WHO) thinks that globally nearly 350 million people have diabetes. The vast majority of those, about 80 percent, live in low- and middle-income countries. The disease is projected to be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.

Alarmingly, more and more people develop diabetes at a younger age. 1.7 million Americans aged 20 years and older, and nearly a quarter of a million children and adolescents, have been newly diagnosed in 2012 alone, according to the CDC study. A whopping 86 million adults have pre-diabetes, meaning they are at an elevated risk of getting sick in the near future. Minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, seem especially vulnerable.

In 2012, treating diabetes and related health complications accounted for $245 billion in medical costs and lost work and wages. Overall productivity loss could be much higher and reach well over one trillion, the researchers suggest.

Diabetes is an illness that occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. If untreated, diabetes can lead to hyperglycemia, chronically elevated blood sugar, which can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels and nerves, and, in advanced stages, result in loss of limb and blindness.

There are two kinds of diabetes. One is called Type 1 diabetes, an insulin deficiency that is usually linked to a damaged pancreas and is not considered preventable. The other, Type 2 diabetes, results from ineffective use of insulin, and is presumably acquired through diet and lifestyle. It is often seen in connection with weight problems. The vast majority of diabetes cases is of this type.

While the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes is mainly blamed on poor diet choices, overeating, and sedentary lifestyle, it is less clear why the disease has been spreading so fast and even seems to accelerate. Experts warn that unless we succeed in implementing more effective countermeasures, we won’t be able to stop this looming pandemic.

“We need a sense of urgency,” said Dr. Dennen Vojta, a senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization in Minneapolis to WebMD. “There is a lot of money and human suffering at stake. The good news is that we know what works, and if we work together in a concerted national way, we can win.”

But what would such concerted action entail? Past attempts have been less than encouraging. For example, proposals to raise taxes on fast food and sugary beverages, which are known to contribute to weight problems, or posting warning labels and detailed nutritional information on such items have not gone far in most places, despite of growing support among consumers.

The tragedy of it all is that we have at least some answers to these problems, but are – for whatever reasons – unable or unwilling to apply them. Soon enough, the consequences of today’s inaction will become overwhelming.

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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).

Why Breakfast Is an Important Part of Healthy Eating

June 11th, 2014 at 12:31 pm by timigustafson
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For the longest time, nutrition experts have emphasized the importance of eating breakfast. But while numerous studies have been conducted on the subject, it has never been scientifically proven that having a meal at the start of the day can make a significant difference for our nutritional health and wellbeing. Now, two studies have questioned just that.

Most of the past research focused on the eating habits of study participants and observed certain advantages among those who ate breakfast by comparison to those who didn’t.

For instance, several studies, including some sponsored by the government, found that school children who came to class hungry were less attentive and scored lower in academic tests than their well-fed peers, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Still, as scientists like to say, research of this kind can only reveal correlative but not necessarily causal relationships. In other words, we don’t really know whether having empty stomachs actually turned these kids into poor students or whether other factors played a role as well. Yet, one study suggested that feeding young children a healthy breakfast every day could increase their IQ.

Among adults, taking time for breakfast seems most beneficial for those who try to lose weight. A number of studies have found that breakfast eaters have an easier time to control their cravings than their breakfast-skipping counterparts, thereby keeping them from overeating later in the day.

But again, these are observational studies that don’t really tell us whether having breakfast can actually contribute to weight loss, although many health experts like to think so.

By contrast, the latest studies first mentioned above tried to shed some light on the actual effects of breakfast on the body in terms of metabolic and cardiovascular health.

One study, conducted at the University of Alabama, concluded that neither eating nor foregoing breakfast had any discernable impact in terms of weight control.

The other, this one from the University of Bath in England, also found that breakfast habits didn’t produce noticeable differences in metabolic or cardiovascular health either way, although it seemed that breakfast eaters fared better in controlling their blood sugar levels in the afternoons and evenings, and seemed overall more energetic and physically active.

As it is so often the case with nutrition science, these latest findings are likely to leave the public as confused as ever. There is, however, I think, another point to be made that researchers routinely either overlook or consider beyond the scope of their work.

As with all habits, the effects, good or bad, intended or not, manifest themselves only over time. Most studies, the most recent included, are limited in their number of participants and their duration. They also have a specific focus that prevents them from looking at the larger picture.

For example, if we want to know more about the importance of breakfast for overall nutritional health, shouldn’t we also be interested in how it influences people’s eating behavior in other ways?

We could ask whether individuals who eat breakfast are more health-conscious to begin with than others who don’t. What food choices do they make? If they adhere to a nutritious, well-balanced diet in the morning, do they stick to a similar regimen all day? Or conversely, if they eat poorly later on, why should we expect them to do better at breakfast?

In other words, the distinguishing feature here is probably not whether people choose to have breakfast or not, but rather whether they follow an altogether healthy lifestyle, of which breakfast may or may not be a part.

If health is the overriding principle, as it should be, a health-conscious person will give his or her body what it needs and when it needs it. And yes, there is plenty of indication that a good start requires appropriate fueling – a.k.a. breakfast. But more importantly, it can set the tone for sound eating habits throughout the day.

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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).

Older Adults More Vulnerable to Effects of Bad Relationships, Study Finds

June 6th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by timigustafson
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Being in a relationship that has soured or become dysfunctional is stressful and can take a serious toll on people’s emotional health. But it doesn’t end there, according to a new study that investigated the physical impact such distress can have.

The research showed that especially older adults – and women more so than men – are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure when exposed to antagonistic situations for prolonged periods of time in their lives.

For the study, psychologists from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, followed over 1,500 men and women over the age of 50, focusing on their physical responses to negative interactions with family members and friends like disagreements, criticism, voicing of disappointments, etc.

For the selection of their participants, they used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a longitudinal study of health, retirement, and aging, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

The study results showed that “negative social interactions,” as the researchers called it, increased the participants’ chances of developing hypertension by nearly 40 percent over just four years of follow-up tests.

“This demonstrates how important social networks are as we age – constructing strong, positive relationships are beneficial to prolonged health,” said Dr. Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at CMU and one of the authors of the study in a press release.

It is less clear why women are seemingly more vulnerable to stress from relational issues than men, as the study suggests. While it would be hard to find the exact reason for these differences, it could be that females are more invested in their relationships, and are more deeply affected when these break down. Other studies on this subject have also pointed in this direction.

The findings that people get more physically affected by stress and upheaval as they age may be explained by the fact that their overall health and resilience weakens, including when dealing with negative emotions. Also, as they retire and undergo other changes in their later years, the risk of social isolation can increase and become a source of anxiety. If existing social connections are less than perfect, those prospects only worsen.

As a number of studies have shown, seniors who are lonely and isolated tend to be in poorer physical and mental health than their contemporaries who are in loving relationships. In other words, it is worthwhile to keep working on your family- and social life while you still can…

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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).

Eating Right for Healthy Skin

June 3rd, 2014 at 6:26 pm by timigustafson
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Beauty may only be skin deep, as the 1966 hit song by The Temptations famously reminds us, but the fact is that the appearance of our skin does tell quite a bit about our health and wellbeing.

It is not just age-related decay, or cellular damage from too much sun exposure, but also our diet that affects how our skin looks.

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and as all other parts, it must constantly be nourished.

Through its complex, layered system, the skin has multiple functions, including protecting us from microbes and the elements, regulating body temperature, and registering touch, heat, and cold. All these tasks require regular rejuvenation and replenishment.

Basically, our skin complexion is a window to the condition our health is in. If nutrients are plentiful, our skin feels smoother, nails grow faster and stronger, and hair is shinier. But these are not among the body’s highest priorities. If nutritional deficiencies persist, whatever nutrients are left go to the foremost life-sustaining organs like the brain, the heart, the lungs, etc. So, if the skin is less than flawless, nails become brittle, or hair looks dull, something is probably amiss.

Although, it is not altogether clear whether there are specifically skin-healthy foods, most experts would agree that consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – mainly because of their antioxidants and phytochemicals – is recommended. Particularly, intensely colorful plant foods like carrots, squash, tomatoes, peppers, deep green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, apricots, berries, as well as beans, peas, lentils, and nuts are nutrient-rich and contain plenty of these properties.

Processed foods, on the other hand, especially when they are high in fat, salt, and sugar content, can contribute to dietary imbalances that also leave their mark on the health status of the skin. Especially simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes, and sweets, many of which are at the base of the so-called “Western diet,” can wreak havoc not only on inner organs but can also lead to breakouts in the skin.

For instance, although we have not yet found ironclad scientific proof that acne is caused by certain foods, most experts will tell you that diet plays probably a role, said Dr. Ellen Marmur, a dermatologist and dermatology surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to WebMD.

“The body, skin included, is constantly under construction. And it uses vitamins and nutrients from food to repair and rebuild,” she explains. If these healing processes are interrupted or disabled, a disorder called “keratinization” can develop, where glands and pores get blocked, thereby trapping proteins and oils, which can lead to inflammation in the skin cells.

Of course, diet is not the only cause of skin damage. Insufficient hydration is a major culprit. Other potential factors are hormonal imbalances, stress, sleep deprivation, and environmental pollution.

But while there are no super foods that can help prevent damage to the skin, it is important to know that good eating habits can help, Dr. Marmur says.

“Remember, many of the best foods for healthy skin also promote good health overall,” says Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “Rather than focusing on specific foods for healthy skin, concentrate on a healthy diet in general,” he recommends.

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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).

Even Light Exercise Has Significant Health Benefits for Older Adults

May 30th, 2014 at 5:57 pm by timigustafson
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That regular exercise is important for good health is old news. From controlling weight and staying in shape, to fending off disease, to aging well, being physically active is a central component of wellbeing. As much as this message is considered to be self-evident, surprisingly, there has never been actual scientific proof that it is true.

For instance, while countless studies have suggested that exercise can be beneficial in many ways, including for slowing the aging process in older adults, it can only be said with certainty that most people who are healthy do in fact exercise – but not that their exercising makes them healthier. Now, a new study tried to show just that.

Unlike other research projects of its kind, this one specifically sought out participants who were not especially fit but adhered to a mostly sedentary lifestyle and even showed signs of age-related physical decline.

“For the first time, we have directly shown that exercise can effectively lessen or prevent the development of physical disability in a population of extremely vulnerable elderly people,” said Dr. Marco Pahor, the director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida in Gainesville and lead author of the study report, to the New York Times.

For the study, the researchers recruited 1,635 men and women between the ages of 70 and 89, who were mostly sedentary but still able to walk independently a distance of at least 400 meters (a quarter-mile). Then they split the participants up in two groups, assigning one to a regular exercise regimen, the other to a health education program that did not include exercising.

Over a period of about two and a half years, the exercising group showed 18 percent fewer incidences of temporary physical disability and 28 percent reduced likelihood of long-term to permanent disability compared to their non-exercising counterparts. But still, both groups had about the same number of periodical impairments. Also, more of the exercisers had to be hospitalized at one or more times, perhaps due to underlying medical conditions that were discovered over the course of the study. And some of the participants who underwent health education started exercising on their own account as well, which makes the distinction between the groups less clear.

Still, the findings of the study are valuable. For starters, they show that it is never too late to become physically more active and reap the benefits. Second, they demonstrate that even low-impact exercise like walking can be effective if done regularly. For seniors, in particular, it is important to focus, besides weight control and muscle and bone health, on flexibility and gait – not only to maintain physical fitness but to counteract mental decline as well.

As a number of studies have found, exercise can play a crucial role in the prevention of age-related dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. That in itself should motivate everyone to take a few extra steps…

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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).

The True Causes of Obesity Remain Elusive

May 28th, 2014 at 12:21 pm by timigustafson
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Despite of modest gains in the fight against the obesity epidemic in recent years, health experts still don’t seem to have a definite answer to what exactly causes weight problems on such a large scale, not only here in the United States but, progressively, around the world.

A new study published in CA – A Cancer Journal for Clinicians examined an array of potentially contributing factors such as changing eating and lifestyle habits, larger portion sizes, availability and affordability of food, to mention just a few.

The latter – availability and affordability – seemingly stand out among possible culprits, according to this study.

Not only are we eating more highly caloric foods, we eat more of all types of food, mainly because food has become much cheaper, nearly ubiquitous, and more convenient to prepare, said Dr. Roland Sturm, an economist at RAND Corporation, a non-profit organization that specializes in public policy research, in a press release that came with the study.

In cooperation with his fellow-researcher, Dr. Ruopeng An, a professor at the Department of Kinesiology and Public Health of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Sturm investigated what percentage of their income average Americans spend on food today, and found that it is proportionally much less than their parents and grandparents had to.

Food in America is cheaper now than it has ever been in history, the researchers concluded. In the 1930s, most people spent about one-quarter of their income on food. In the 1950s, it dropped to one-fifth. Today, it is around one-tenth.

“Not only has the cost of food dropped, but it has become even more available,” wrote Dr. An in the press release. “So a smaller share of Americans’ disposable income now buys many more calories,” he added.

The argument that greater availability and lower prices help increase consumption is certainly valid. Yet, does that really explain why so many people can’t stop eating to the point where they get seriously ill?

I think the picture is much bigger.

The fact is that not all foods are equal. The cheapest items often have the least nutritional value – like processed meals and snacks that are typically high in calories as well as fat, sugar, and salt content. The healthiest kind, on the other hand, like fresh produce, lean protein sources, and whole grains, are not only out of reach financially for low-income families, they are not even always available where they live – in so-called food-deserts.

Besides economic constraints, lack of awareness and education in health matters also plays a role. The public is quite confused about which diet and lifestyle guidelines to follow, considering the oftentimes contradictory messages people are given.

Having cheap and abundant food available by itself should not automatically lead to unhealthy consumption, as the study seems to suggest. As consumers, we are ceaselessly bombarded with food advertisements, prodding us to eat far more than our bodies can possibly need.

In addition, government policies that subsidize large-scale production of commodities like corn and sugar, but give nothing to fresh produce farmers, may keep prices down for some (mostly processed) foods but also contribute indirectly to our public health crisis.

To improve the current situation, the research duo agrees that changing our existing food environment has to be part of the equation. Appealing to personal responsibility alone will not do. Influencing pricing for unhealthy foods through taxation may be one way. But while they don’t reject outright certain forms of intervention through policy changes, they don’t believe those to be effective enough.

Unfortunately, as long as we cannot agree on the causes of the obesity crisis, real solutions will remain elusive as well.

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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).

Just the Right Amount of Stress

May 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by timigustafson
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Being regularly overworked and stressed out likely leads to health problems long-term, but feeling bored or having too much time on your hands can also have negative effects, a government-sponsored study from Germany on health and safety issues in the workplace concluded.

Unlike here in the United States, labor laws in many European countries, including Germany, impose strict limits on how much time people can spend at work. 35-, 32- or even 30-hours workweeks are not uncommon, and month-long annual vacations are mandatory in some states. Yet it is not altogether clear whether a lighter workload and more free time automatically lead to greater quality of life.

Boredom and monotony produce their own kind of stress, which can be just as harmful as exhaustion from work overload. A study by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that uninspiring occupations can elicit considerable stress, especially when coupled with a need for high alertness, e.g. in security and surveillance jobs.

Like unemployment, underemployment or part-time work can cause stress, and not just because of financial concerns. Not having enough structure in one’s life, or feeling left out in terms of work-related opportunities can lead to loss of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, according to a report by the American Psychological Association (APA).

So, is there such a thing as a healthy middle when it comes to stress at work?

Most people who work between 35 and 40 hours a week don’t experience significant health damages related to stress, said Dr. Monika A. Rieger, a professor of medicine at the University of Tübingen, Germany, and an expert in work-related health matters who was not involved in her country’s government study, to the German news magazine “Der Spiegel.” However, consistently laboring beyond 40 hours can potentially lead to health problems. It seems that those who work harder are also more vulnerable to disease, she added.

Still, experts agree that there is such a thing as “good stress.” Especially when work involves variety and creativity, it can be a rewarding experience. The more control people can exercise over their activities, and the more they benefit from the results, the more likely they will enjoy what they are doing, even if it entails a lot of personal effort.

There is indeed a kind of stress that is good for you, one that makes you excited and let’s you push harder. But even stress that is motivating and enhances performance can cause harm if it’s not kept in check, according to Elizabeth A. Scott, a wellness coach specializing in stress management who wrote extensively about the subject.

For instance, workaholics may pride themselves in getting lots of work done, but that doesn’t mean their behavior is healthy. Good stress can turn into bad stress, especially when it develops into chronic stress that offers no reprieve. That’s the kind of stress we really have to worry about, says Scott.

So while there is no precise measure by which we can determine when work-related stress becomes damaging, it is clear that there is a limit of what is tolerable. To keep workers from reaching that, it is important for companies to add as much quality to their workplaces as possible – for example by allowing their staff to take frequent breaks, do a variety of different tasks, partake in wellness programs, etc. After all, a work environment where people thrive instead of suffer is in everyone’s best interest.

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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 Dietary Needs Change with Age

May 20th, 2014 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson
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Healthy aging entails multiple aspects, among them eating right, exercising regularly, and preventing mental decline. Achieving some of these may be easier than others. No matter how well we do our part, nature has a say in all of them, too.

While the outward signs of aging are usually quite apparent, the inner transformations our bodies go through as we grow older – e.g. slowing metabolism, diminishing muscle mass, thinning organ tissue, decreasing bone density – are less evident. Yet, these changes are very real and deserve close attention. Thankfully, their impact on our overall health and wellbeing can be mitigated with appropriate adjustments in diet and lifestyle.

Meeting altering health needs is not always easy for older adults, though. For example, due to reduced metabolic rates and sedentary behavior, most seniors use up significantly fewer calories than they did in their midlife. At the same time, the risk of malnutrition grows because of a lessening ability to absorb important nutrients, dehydration, lack of appetite, loss of taste, difficulty with chewing, and so forth. So, while reduced food intake is quite normal, it is crucial not to confuse the need for fewer calories with the need for fewer nutrients.

Energy requirements decrease with every decade, explains Dr. Connie Bales, a professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and associate director of the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center at Durham VA Medical Center to WebMD. But, while eating less overall, the challenge is to eat more nutrient-rich foods, which, calorie for calorie, pack more of a nutritional punch, she says.

Although maintaining healthy eating habits is recommended at any stage in life, it becomes even more instrumental in later years to prevent diet and lifestyle-related illnesses whose effects only worsen with age, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes as well as mental decline, for as much and as long as possible.

The fact is that, as we grow older, our body requires the same amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals as it always has, if not more, says Dr. Bales. For instance, after the age of 50, the ability to absorb essential nutrients like vitamin B12 or vitamin D gradually diminishes due to reduced acidity in the stomach, which is needed to break them down from food. The solution is to add to one’s diet food sources that are especially rich in these components.

And it’s not just the digestive system that weakens. Aging skin is less able to convert vitamin D from sunlight, which also affects the absorption of calcium, a necessary nutrient to prevent bone loss. For these reasons and others, older adults are well advised to take daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplements, she says.

The danger of dehydration is another problem that gets worse with age. Older people tend to drink less not because they don’t need as many fluids but because they don’t sense thirst as well as they used to. Regulatory processes are just not as sharp as they used to be in younger years, says Dr. Bales. So, an older person may not feel thirsty, although he or she may already be borderline dehydrated. The solution is to make it a habit of drinking about six 8-ounce glasses of water every day, regardless of thirst sensation.

One of the greatest risks of malnutrition among the elderly stems from lack of access to healthy food sources. It may be too hard to get to a grocery store, especially when driving is no longer possible. It may be that cooking facilities are missing or too cumbersome to operate. It may be loss of appetite, forgetfulness, or lack of motivation due to loneliness or depression. But skipping meals for whatever reason has negative health implications and may backfire in terms of serious nutritional damages, Dr. Bale warns.

The best solution would be not to eat alone but to enjoy the company of family and friends while preparing and eating meals. That way, loved ones can also keep an eye on an older person’s eating regimen. Services like Meals on Wheels and the likes can be useful to fill in some of the gaps. Regrettably, for too many people, aging goes hand in hand with progressive social separation and isolation, which can have far-reaching negative consequences on multiple levels. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Seven Important Numbers You Need to Know to Protect Your Health” and “Eating Healthy Becomes Even More Important with Age.”

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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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