Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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).

Grumpy on a Sunshiny Day? It May Be Dehydration

May 17th, 2014 at 4:23 pm by timigustafson
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Summer is officially about to begin. Sunshine and warm weather should put a smile on your face and make you happy. Well, it does not work for everyone. As temperatures rise, many people are at greater risk of becoming dehydrated, which not only affects their physical wellbeing but also their moods.

A new study found that feeling unsettled, fatigued, or unable to focus may be caused by lack of fluids in the body. Especially women seem to be prone to mood changes stemming from insufficient hydration, the study report, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition, concluded.

Even when only mildly dehydrated, study participants experienced headaches, feelings of exhaustion, and inability to concentrate. They also felt irritable and less sociable.

Although only women were enrolled in this particular research, experts say there is no reason to assume the findings were not applicable to men.

Dehydration often takes place insidiously, meaning most people don’t even feel thirsty when the effects set in. But if lost fluids are not replenished in a timely manner, it can get progressively worse to the point where dehydration can lead to lasting damage, especially to the kidneys.

The fact is that the body cannot function properly without enough fluids. Those are needed to keep its temperature normal, to lubricate and cushion joints, to protect the spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and to enable waste removal through urination, perspiration, and bowl movements.

Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, decreased output of urine, constipation, dry skin, as well as sleepiness, dizziness and lightheadedness. Severe dehydration has many of the same symptoms but to a much higher degree. Additionally, there can be disorientation, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness.

The risk of dehydration is not the same for everyone. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable, and so are people with chronic illnesses like kidney disease and heart health problems.

Those who work or exercise outside in warm or hot weather are strongly advised to closely monitor their hydration needs. The sensation of thirst is not always a reliable indicator. By the time someone gets thirsty, the dehydration process may have already advanced.

Water is the logical choice to rehydrate the body. Adding fruit juice for quicker absorption or a sports drink like Gatorade to boost electrolytes can provide additional benefits. It is important, however, to limit sugar intake when using such beverages, most simply by diluting them with water.

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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).

One Third of Premature Deaths in the U.S. Preventable, Health Agency Says

May 14th, 2014 at 12:23 pm by timigustafson
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Hundreds of thousands of Americans die every year from diseases that could be successfully treated or altogether prevented, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Poor diet and lifestyle choices are among the leading causes of untimely deaths, but lack of health education and access to healthcare also play a significant role, the agency found.

If all Americans had the best preventive care available in the country today, between 20 and 40 percent would not fall victim to life-threatening illnesses or events such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke, and accidents.

For the study, the researchers identified mortality rates for each of the five leading causes in all 50 states and compared the best outcomes with all others. The difference between the ideal and actual rates was taken as an indicator for how many deaths could be deemed preventable. Excluded were people over the age of 79, which is the current average life expectancy in the United States.

Accordingly, nearly 92,000 Americans die unnecessarily from heart disease every year; over 84,000 from cancer; nearly 29,000 from chronic respiratory diseases; 17,000 from stroke; and 37,000 as a result of preventable accidents like not wearing seatbelts or helmets.

In a separate study, the CDC warned that excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of about 88,000 deaths annually in the U.S., including alcohol-related disease and fatalities from driving under the influence and other accidents.

This is not a problem specific to America. Worldwide, well over three million people have died from alcohol abuse in 2012, according to reports by the World Health Organization (WHO). The so-called “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health” investigated the impact of alcohol use on public health as well as policy responses by governments and lawmakers in 194 countries.

In the U.S., older people were found to be at higher risk of suffering from alcohol-related health problems than other parts of the population. More men succumb to alcoholism than women. Poorer people are generally more affected by negative consequences, not only for their physical health but also their mental and social wellbeing. For instance, domestic violence is routinely connected with excessive drinking.

Smoking still constitutes one of the greatest health threats around the globe. Despite of decreasing numbers of smokers here in the U.S., there is much less progress in other parts of the world. To the contrary. According to WHO projections, smoking-attributable deaths will rise to about 10 million annually by 2030, more than double the current rate.

“Much needs to be done to protect populations from negative health consequences,” said Dr. Oleg Chestnov, assistant director for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the WHO. This must include appeals to personal responsibility but also far-reaching policy and regulatory measures. “There is no room for complacency,” he added.

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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).

Extreme Longevity – Progress or Worrisome Prospect?

May 10th, 2014 at 7:45 am by timigustafson
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Alexander Imich is officially the oldest man alive. A few weeks ago he turned 111, still living independently in his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is not the currently longest-living human, though. 66 women surpass him, including the eldest, Misao Okawa, a 116-year-old lady from Japan, as recently reported by the New York Times. But despite of the noteworthiness of these examples, extreme longevity is no longer a rare exception but is becoming a growing trend.

According to the most recent data collected by the Census Bureau, over 53,000 people are now 100 years and older in the United States alone.

The “oldest old” – those who are 90 and beyond – are the fastest expanding segment of the U.S. population. Today there are nearly two million nonagenarians. That number will likely increase to 10 to 12 million by mid-century, a prospect that raises multiple concerns in terms of healthcare and retirement issues.

A study titled “90+,” conducted by the University of California, Irvine and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), has followed this demographic since 2003. As reported by 60 Minutes, the news magazine on CBS, it is the largest study on the subject of old age to date, and includes clinical, pathological, and genetic research, involving more than 1,600 participants.

While the study is still ongoing, it has already produced some surprising results. For example, putting on a little extra weight late in life does not as much harm as previously thought and may even have some benefits. Eating right is still important, but adding more nutrients, e.g. by taking vitamin supplements, seems to have no noticeable effects. On the other hand, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee can indeed promote healthy aging and increase longevity, the researchers found.

Mental health, however, is less assured, no matter what action is taken. Over 40 percent of nonagenarians suffer from dementia, and about half of those are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The causes are not fully understood yet, but experts say that lack of physical activity may be a contributing factor. Naturally, most 90-year-olds do not or are not able to exercise rigorously.

What we learn from the longest living among us is that they generally make healthy diet and lifestyle choices, but they don’t obsess over them. Education, access to healthcare, and standard of living are clearly important components, but so are good marriages, friendships, and an active social life. Purpose and meaningful work also play a role. Communities, neighborhoods, and even climatic and geographic differences seem to contribute to longevity. In other words, it is not one thing or set of rules people who age well live by – but usually a whole package that fulfills their needs and lets them thrive over long periods of time.

We are witnessing an extraordinary growth of aging populations throughout the world, and the current trends will likely accelerate in the future. How we handle the challenges that come with longer life expectancy, demographic changes, age-related disease, and many others, depends on how well we understand the natural aging process and meet its demands. Extending the human life span further and further, just because our medical and pharmaceutical advances enable us to do so, may not be the best way to go – it may not even be the right way.

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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).

Poor Diet Choices Hurt Both Humans and the Environment, Study Finds

May 7th, 2014 at 10:53 am by timigustafson
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Scientists have long warned that some of our modern-day eating habits are not only harmful to our personal health but also to the planet. Especially our preference for animal food products like meat and dairy causes more environmental damage than most consumers are aware of. A recent study from France tried to calculate more accurately the real costs of our food consumption on both individual as well as global levels, and the results are not comforting.

Foods with the comparatively lowest nutritional value may be the cheapest to buy but are the costliest in terms of production and environmental impact, the study found. High meat consumption in particular contributes to weight problems and a number of related diseases, and is also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, wasteful water use, and other depletion of natural resources, the researchers said.

“The food system accounts for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and global obesity is on the rise,” Dr. Gabriel Masset, a researcher at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, and lead author of the study report told Reuters.

What must be done to make both our food production and consumption healthier and more sustainable for the long term is to focus on foods that offer higher nutritional value at lower cost and with a smaller environmental footprint, the study concluded.

But we also need a sea change in consumer behavior. Animal food products are the toughest on the environment. Growing fruits and vegetables is far less intrusive but can be labor intensive and therefore pricey. Processed foods, both animal- and plant-based, are much cheaper by comparison but can be unhealthy and are considered to be among the leading causes of the global obesity crisis.

Reducing meat consumption alone will not solve the myriad of environmental problems we are facing today. Nor will it reverse our diet and lifestyle-related disease epidemic. But it can be one of many measures we can take to lead us in the right direction.

“The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet, but even knowing this, the chances are little that we are all going to become vegetarians, much less vegans,” said Mario Batali, a celebrity chef and restaurateur. “But we can focus on a more plant-based diet and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably,” he added.

To put his money where his mouth is, Batali pledged a commitment to a ‘Meatless Monday’ policy in his establishments and lent his support for the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization.

Food choices are a highly personal matter. Most people don’t like to be told they are doing something wrong by eating what they want. That’s understandable. But knowing the real impact and cost, both tangible and intangible, our behavior causes, should be in everybody’s interest.

Fortunately, even on an individual level, we are not completely helpless. As consumers, our actions matter greatly to the respective industries, and they will listen. Already there is a growing public interest in the integrity of our food sources. If that concern for our personal wellbeing expands to greater care for the environment we all live in, progress will be inevitable – and the sooner we get there, the better.

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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).

Love Can Preserve Health and Add Years to Life

May 3rd, 2014 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson
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Love may not be all you need, but a loving relationship offers countless benefits and can even be a lifesaver. Loving someone and being loved in return does not only make us happier, it also motivates us to take better care of our health, reduces our stress, and can extend our lifespan, according to studies on the effects of marriage and other long-term relations on people’s wellbeing.

One such study found that marriage can improve a patient’s survival chances after heart surgery. Another concluded that married men seek medical help sooner when they experience symptoms of heart problems than their single counterparts.

Married people in general are more likely to have regular medical check-ups and other preventive healthcare measures, and when they get sick, they are better looked after than if they were on their own. That lowers their risk of dying from a catastrophic event like a heart attack or stroke, according to Dr. Clare Atzema, a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Canada, and lead author of one of the studies.

But it doesn’t have to come to such extremes before the benefits of being loved and cared for kick in. Studies have shown that people who are in stable relationships tend to engage less in risky behavior and are less prone to violence than those who are unattached. Similar effects are seen with regards to smoking and alcohol and drug use.

Especially young males seem to benefit from feeling valued, which can help avoid accidents and other calamites caused by recklessness, says Dr. Michael Murphy, a professor of demography at the London School of Economics, England, and author of one study on the subject.

None of this means that love makes us more virtuous or benevolent, but it does say something about the changes we undergo when connecting with another human being. The desire to get close to someone can bring out the best in us. We want to please, and so we are willing to do whatever it takes to make ourselves attractive to our love interest. If our feelings are returned, we benefit in multiple ways, not only emotionally but physically as well.

Scientists have found that people in strong relationships manage stressful events much more successfully than others who are alone or whose attachments are dysfunctional.

The effects of being in a relationship can cut both ways, the researchers of one study say. Especially in young marriages, both spouses have to figure out how to cope with the inevitable adversities life throws at them. If there is mutual support and care, it will make their bond stronger; if not, they will likely be torn apart. Only time can tell which path they will take.

Love, of course, also renders us extremely vulnerable. Breakup, divorce and widowhood are among the most devastating experiences we can go through. A broken heart can destroy our zest for life and even lead to our own demise. Loneliness and social isolation, especially at an advanced age, are known to contribute to depression and mental decline.

The ways we express love and form relationships have changed many times and will continue to do so. What remains is our need for love as a life-giving force that makes us whole and keeps us well. And that, nobody can do without.

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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).

Despite of Optimistic Outlook, Baby Boomers Feel Their Vulnerability

April 30th, 2014 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson
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They saw themselves as trail blazers and pioneers. They broke rules and redefined values. They took much for granted and expected more. They vowed to be forever young. But now, the baby boomers generation – those born between 1947 and 1964 – just hope to retire safely, hold on to their lifestyle, and stay as healthy and fit as possible.

That may not be easy. Boomers have plenty of reasons to worry about their diminishing future prospects. Although they never thought of themselves as anything but winners, millions begin to discover how vulnerable they truly are.

According to a survey by Associated Press-Lifegoesstrong.com in 2011, the latest of its kind, slightly less than half of all boomers consider themselves as reasonably happy. Most think they are healthy or fairly healthy, and nearly half feel that their physical health has not worsened over the past five years. In terms of health concerns, cancer ranks highest, followed by age-related dementia and memory loss, and heart disease.

Overweight and obesity are among the most common causes of health problems affecting boomers. Two-thirds have made at least one dietary adjustment to lose weight, and more than half to reduce cholesterol levels. Overall, this generation seems better informed about the ins and outs of nutritional health than its predecessors.

Still, as other studies have shown, boomers don’t age as well as their parents and grandparents did. Despite of their optimistic outlook, the truth is that only a small minority (about 13 percent) is in really excellent shape.

Baby boomers may view the effects of aging as something that happens to someone else, but in reality they may end up creakier and sicker than their parents did, according to one study report.

“The message here is that we may not be the healthiest generation,” said Dr. Dana E. King, a professor of medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine and lead author of the report. “And I think this may be a wake-up call to the baby boomers to change their lifestyles for the better and try to delay the kind of diseases and disabilities that seem to be coming at a higher rate.”

However, despite of being better educated and having easier access to information about health matters, most boomers believe their physical well-being – especially as they age – is pretty much out of their control, according to a study by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, a financial consulting group. There is something uncharacteristically fatalistic about this generation when it comes to health issues, the study found. Most seem to think (falsely) what will happen to them is largely predetermined by their genetic make-up and/or to what extent they can afford advanced medical care.

Not everyone doubts the boomers’ ability to meet their health needs, though.

“In true baby boomer style, they will probably do these things in a new way,” predicts Tom Valeo who writes for WebMD. Since they are bound to live longer than past generations, they will have to figure out how to make this extended longevity work for them. The question is, will those years be vigorous and healthy, or will baby boomers sink into the pain and disability of chronic disease? A lot hangs on the answer, he says.

Fortunately, there is indeed much that can be done to avert, or at least reduce, the impact of the natural aging process, provided boomers – as well as the younger generations that follow them – observe health-promoting diet and lifestyle adjustments and take as many disease-prevention measures as they can. For this it is never too soon 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”®, 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).

Is Your Job Making You Fat?

April 26th, 2014 at 12:04 pm by timigustafson
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It’s no secret that Americans spend too much time sitting. Long hours working in offices, commuting in cars, and watching TV or playing video games for relaxation render many of us near motionless for entire days. Health experts keep encouraging everyone to move more, but that is not easily done, considering our existing work and living environments. The consequences are plain to see, and they are among the greatest health concerns facing us today.

According to surveys conducted by CareerBuilder, the employment website, most industries see their employees gaining weight. Almost half of the workers interviewed for this latest study said they put on weight at their current job, with over 20 percent having gained 10 pounds and 9 percent having added 20 pounds or more.

Office workers seem to have the hardest time staying fit and trim. More than half in this category described themselves as overweight. Older employees, especially females, are more likely to have weight problems than their younger colleagues. Those in leadership positions are particularly vulnerable.

“Weight gain in the office is common and is a result of a variety of issues, including today’s economic stress and poor eating habits,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

This is not the first of such surveys the company has conducted. In 2009 and again in 2012 the same trends were observed, and the numbers are worsening.

There is not just one culprit to point to. Half of those interviewed in the 2012 survey named having to sit at their desk for hours on end as the primary reason for becoming heavier. However, it’s not only the sedentary lifestyle but also poor diets at home, frequent snacking, eating out several times a week, overeating because of stress and anxiety, sleep deprivation, and lack of tools to better cope with all the pressure they’re experiencing that makes them prime candidates for unhealthy weight gain and a host of other health problems that come with it.

Employers realize the implications of a fatter and sicker workforce, not just for the workers themselves but their own bottom line. Company-sponsored wellness programs are now the rule rather than the exception, at least among larger firms. But still much more needs to be done.

Workers must receive better health education as well as opportunities to apply their knowledge. Some companies provide sports and workout facilities on site. Some improve their cafeteria menus and offer healthier choices. Not all can afford these, but every work place can foster a health-conducive climate in some ways, perhaps through seminars, counseling, or other incentives to build an environment where everyone can preserve and nurture their health and well-being. It’s one of the best investments they will ever make.

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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).

A Slower Pace May Not Only Reduce Stress but Can Enhance Productivity, Studies Find

April 23rd, 2014 at 1:06 pm by timigustafson
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Americans are well known for their strong belief in hard work. The idea that we can get ahead in life, achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams solely by virtue of our own efforts remains tightly woven into our cultural fabric. At the same time, there is a growing sense that our quality of life may be suffering from our restless pursuits, and that the (mostly material) rewards are perhaps not as gratifying as we hoped.

The strong public reaction to a car advertisement released by General Motors earlier this year, in which the company seemingly ridiculed French work ethics by comparison to ours, illustrates that ambiguity. According to the ad, the French put in fewer work hours, make less money, and therefore don’t have as many toys to play with, i.e. big, shiny cars. Thousands of viewers expressed their disagreement.

But it’s true. Not just France but many other European countries mandate shorter work weeks (35 to 37 hours) and longer vacations (4 to 6 weeks) than here. People also take hour-long lunch breaks and spend much time socializing with family and friends. Not quantity in terms of productivity and earnings seem foremost on their minds, but the quality of daily life.

Nobody can deny that this comparatively slow pace has its problems and may not be sustainable forever, at least not to its present extent. But there is no doubt that having a full life outside of work can provide important benefits many of us sorely miss out on.

A recent study by researchers at San Francisco State University found that pursuing interests after work, especially when they appeal to one’s creative side, may not only reduce stress and stress-related health risks, but also enhance productivity when people return to their daytime jobs.

For the study, several hundred participants were surveyed in terms of how active they were after regular work hours. As it turns out, those who pursued hobbies like painting, writing and other creative activities also performed better in their professional occupation, compared to those who spend their free time more passively, e.g. by watching TV.

It seems that engaging in different kinds of pursuits, some to earn a living, others for recreation and pastime, is especially helpful for the brain.

“Creative activity may provide an experience of discovery and growth, which includes the discovery of new cognitive pathways,” wrote Dr. Kevin Eschleman, a psychologist at S.F. State and lead author of the study report.

More than daily routines and repeating performances, creative activities, which many of us can only take up in their personal time, can give us a sense of mastery and control over our lives, which in turn may benefit all other performance-related outcomes, the researchers concluded.

As for the French – whom some like to characterize as such slackers – they rank among the most productive workers in the world. Go figure.

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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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