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Posts Tagged ‘Aging’

Of Loss and Letting Go

February 16th, 2016 at 6:30 pm by timigustafson

I recently saw the movie “The Lady in the Van” with Maggie Smith in the leading role. In a nutshell, the film is the adaptation of a memoir about an elderly women who has fallen on tough times and is forced to live out her late years in a shabby van parked in the driveway of her reluctant host, a playwright who eventually tells her story. While reviews have been mixed, it is clear that the subject matter touches on a critical issue: How much, or how little, does it take for things to go awry as we age? Like in this case, growing old can be outright scary.

The fear of aging, of course, is not limited to financial concerns, although they often take center stage. Deteriorating physical and mental health, loss of loved ones, social isolation, and the progressive inability to cope with daily tasks and challenges can make people dread the so-called “golden years” rather than embrace them.

Such fear can manifest itself in numerous ways. “Gerascophobia,” as the scientific term is called, can generate forms of stress and anxiety that can be quite debilitating. These may oftentimes be unfounded, but they are not necessarily irrational. Aging does in fact entail significant losses and forces us to let go of what we have long taken for granted.

Especially in our society that so strongly favors self-reliance, it can be hard to imagine how a life dependent on the help of others could be worthwhile. Surveys show that most adults are more afraid of losing their independence in their twilight years than they are of death.

And yet, considering that ever-larger portions of the population are entering their senior years, we will sooner rather than later be forced to re-examine our views of aging with all its implications.

Yes, many people live longer and are healthier and more active late in life than their parents and grandparents could ever imagine. But many also struggle with chronic diseases and disabilities that diminish their prospects. Learning to deal with all sides of the aging process is a real challenge.

“Life is an Indian giver,” as a song by the rock band Modest Mouse goes. It gives us everything and then takes it all away again.

While this is undoubtedly true, it is another matter how we relate to that obvious fact.

By definition, loss is something that happens to us against our will. We don’t normally perceive it as a gift, a blessing, a chance, or anything else positive. The losses that come with age are generally impoverishing, not enriching or enhancing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

“For some, the downsizing that inevitably comes with age is like living in a mournful country-western song, suffering one loss after another. Angry and embittered, they become cranky or depressed. For others, it becomes a kind of spiritual journey, an opportunity to affirm what is really of value. Finding new interest and meaning in life around them, they become wise and content,” writes Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a psychologist, family counselor, and columnist for Psych Central.

Finding something new in the disappearance of the old and familiar is indeed the best outcome we can hope for – if we are open to it. A friend of mine once compared the way she tried to handle her own aging experience to “pruning of an old tree.” You cut back and dispose of what is no longer fruitful. But you also make space for anew growth, and you may be surprised at times what still emerges.

If loss is what we undergo passively, letting go – consciously and willingly – is the active countermeasure we can take. This is not resignation in the face of the inevitable, but the human spirit staying in control and remaining intact, regardless.

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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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Act Your Age When Exercising

June 23rd, 2013 at 8:22 am by timigustafson

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit China and spend some time in Beijing. One of my favorite morning activities was to go to a public park close to my hotel. Initially, I just went for walks on my own, but soon I was invited by a small group of local seniors to join in their Tai Chi exercise. It was a first for me, so I had some learning to do, but everyone was extremely helpful and showed me the ropes. Although I didn’t continue practicing regularly after returning home, the message I received from the encounter stuck.

Tai chi ch’uan, as the exercise was originally called in China, is in fact a form of martial arts. However, unlike aerobic and weight training, its primary purpose is not to increase athletic ability but rather promote harmony between the physical and mental aspects of our being.

It’s not about being able to run marathons or lift hundreds of pounds. It’s not about winning in competition, says Arthur Rosenfeld, a tai chi master and author of “Tai Chi – The Perfect Exercise: Finding Health, Happiness, Balance and Strength.” It’s a more mature way of accepting one’s body, how it works and how it looks, and also about aging gracefully and with acceptance of one’s inevitable decline.

Much is being talked about the new way of aging as the Baby Boomer generation approaches retirement. Unlike their parents and grandparents, today’s retirees are not ready to spend their twilight years quietly. Those who have worked hard and played hard all their lives, we are told, will continue to do so – and many actually try. But that doesn’t mean we can defy the laws of nature forever. The fact that there are many more senior athletes who can run a marathon in their 70s and 80s doesn’t make aging a thing of the past. The fact that modern medical technology can treat most ailments and control symptoms nearly indefinitely doesn’t make us immune to disease. On the contrary, some studies have found that Boomers are aging worse than past generations in a number of respects.

Of course, staying physically active at any age is an important ingredient for good health. Exercising regularly can prevent many age- and lifestyle-related ills, including diabetes, heart disease, and also help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Endurance and strength training continue to be important as the body ages, perhaps increasingly so. Stretching for flexibility and balance exercises to prevent falls should be added. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend for older adults to spend at least 150 minutes on moderately intense aerobics and 60 minutes on resistance training per week.

Naturally, more time in the gym or on the bike path can yield higher benefits. But equally crucial is acting age-appropriately, knowing one’s limitations, avoiding injuries, and accepting (grudgingly) that things are not the same as they used to be. There is no point in denying nature taking its course.

What I learned from my brief encounter with the Chinese Tai Chi practitioners was that there can be joy in doing less and achieving little – such as finding pleasure in simply moving one’s body with grace and gratitude. Realizing that didn’t make me feel old, it made me feel rich.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Healthy Aging: Exercising the Body Benefits the Mind, Too” and “Adjusting Diet and Exercise to a Slowing Metabolism.”

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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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Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson

Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

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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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What is a guy to do when he starts feeling his age? What if he’s less energetic, less playful, less romantically inclined than he used to be? Should he accept it all as an inevitable part of life or should he fight back?

If you watch television at all, you cannot miss the onslaught of ads directed at male baby boomers who wonder where all their mojo has gone. Could it be low testosterone, “low T,” as the abbreviation goes? If so, the advertisers assert that hormone therapy, or more specifically testosterone replacement therapy, can do the trick.

Sales of prescription hormones have more than doubled since 2008, reaching $1.6 billion last year, not including supplements purchased over the counter, according to IMS Health, Inc., a company that analyzes healthcare-related data.

Men are bombarded by these advertising campaigns, urging them to ask their doctor about low testosterone, says Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in an interview on the subject with WebMD. So they come complaining about feeling fatigued, weak, depressed and without sex drive, which are all common symptoms of a drop in testosterone.

Testosterone levels can be determined by a simple blood test. A normal testosterone range is between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood. Less than 300 is considered low T.

In Dr. Mezitis’ estimation, about a quarter to a third of the patients he tests have levels below normal. But in most cases, the symptoms have other causes. While lower levels are to be expected with aging, he says, lower than normal scores can have a number of different reasons, including diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Testosterone is a hormone responsible for a man’s libido, sperm production, and also for muscle and bone strength. A gradual decline in testosterone usually begins after the age of 30. Other health problems in addition to natural aging may accelerate the process.

Treatment for low T. comes in multiple forms, including injections, patches, pellets, tablets and gels.

Ideally, the goal would be to keep testosterone at levels consistent with those of a 25-year-old male. But hoping for that kind of rejuvenation may be a stretch.

A new study found that older men who used testosterone gels saw small improvements in their muscle-to-fat-ratio, but not too many noticeable benefits to their physical wellbeing in terms of energy, flexibility and endurance.

Based on these findings, it is not altogether clear what testosterone therapy can do in addition to physical exercise, said Dr. Kerry Hildreth of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, the lead author of the study in an interview with Reuters. The therapy may be “widely used in people where it really may not be appropriate or may not provide the benefits that people think it’s going to,” she added.

There are also concerns over side effects. Skin irritations such as acne and rashes as well as premature balding and breast development have been reported in cases of prolonged use of testosterone boosters. There are also risks of liver damage.

Besides the physiological effects, there can be a psychological impact as well. Mood swings, irritability and aggressive behavior have been noticed.

To maintain physical vigor at an advanced age, regular exercise, especially strength and endurance training, may still be the best way to go. As the study mentioned above showed, testosterone therapy brought few if any advantages beyond what could be achieved by exercising alone. In addition, I would advocate a healthy diet and stress management, both issues that grow in importance with aging.

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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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Living Long, Living Well

August 29th, 2012 at 5:47 pm by timigustafson

Americans may be less optimistic about the future in general than they once were, but a solid majority still hopes to enjoy a long life. In fact, longevity is considered by most as part of a good life, on par with health, prosperity and loving relationships.

60 percent expect to live at least until they’re 80. 40 percent think 120 to 150 years could be feasible within their own lifetime due to further advancements in medical and biological technology. And one percent believes that death could eventually be eliminated altogether, according to a survey conducted by David Ewing Duncan, a science writer and author of “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

Considering that two thirds of the population are currently dealing with weight problems and a host of lifestyle-related diseases, this may be wishful thinking for many. But the fact is that the average life expectancy has indeed dramatically increased over the last century due to improved hygiene, diet and medical care. In 1900, people could expect to live just under 50 years. In the year 2000, it was nearly 77. The average lifespan was lengthened between 1.5 and 2.7 years per decade, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

What’s even more stunning is that our chances of living longer seem to go up all the time. How so? “Because the more time you spend in the world, the more time the world gives you,” says Ted C. Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray” (Scribner, 2010). “For every hour we live,” he claims, “the average human lifespan increases between eleven and fifteen minutes. Every day sees the average lifespan grow another five hours.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply for everyone across the globe, Fishman admits. “Your odds are better if you have avoided the obesity epidemic and live in a place that enjoys good health care, education, and freedom from war and terrible poverty.” It also helps if you can manage to stay mentally fit and don’t suffer from memory loss and cognitive decline. A loving family, a circle of friends and other supportive social surroundings add to your chances.

Unfortunately, many of these important factors for longevity cannot be taken for granted. Baby boomers, now entering retirement, are rightly worried about their prospects when it comes to their financial security, health needs and social life.

“It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all,” warns Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor for public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies longevity, in an interview with Reuters. More recent studies show that life expectancy gains in the U.S. have actually flattened out since the 1960s. Despite of dramatically increasing expenditures for health care, many Americans live with chronic diseases that are left insufficiently treated, especially among the uninsured and those with limited coverage. One study concluded that poorer citizens have on average a shorter lifespan of up to five years than the more affluent.

Obviously, money can’t buy everything and life remains an uncertain enterprise no matter how rich you are. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities to take care of our health and well-being by eating right, exercising, etc. (you know the drill) – and for this, it’s never too early to get started.

Researchers found that physical fitness achieved during middle-age can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure in later years and may be associated with compression of morbidity at old age. Compression of morbidity is what many health experts consider the optimal outcome of aging. The idea is “to delay the onset of age-related disease and inevitable decline without worrying about extending life,” writes Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling health books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). Not longevity itself should be our first concern, but the quality of life we have as long as we are around, he says.

This reminds me of the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. who died last year at the age of 56, when he spoke of the inevitability of death at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. […] Your time is limited,” he ended, “so don’t waste it…”

Even the longest life can be a waste if it’s not brought to its full potential. Even the shortest life is rich and fulfilled if it’s lived well.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The High Cost of Living Longer.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Adjusting Diet and Exercise to a Slowing Metabolism

April 7th, 2012 at 2:02 pm by timigustafson

Nothing in your lifestyle has changed, you are eating the same way and exercise as often as you always have, but, as you get older, you are gaining weight. How come? What you may not be aware off is that your body’s metabolism has slowed down, which means that you are burning fewer calories than when you were younger.

Starting at about age 25, the average person’s metabolism declines between 5 and 10 percent per decade, according to Dr. John Berardi, president of Precision Nutrition and author of “The Metabolism Advantage.” This means that the typical American loses between 20 and 40 percent of metabolic power over the course of his or her adult life span.

Typically between 40 and 50 years of age, the body requires fewer calories due to lower expenditure. There can be several reasons for this. You may be less physically active, spend more time working at a desk, endure longer commutes and adopt an all-around more sedentary lifestyle. You may also undergo an increasing amount of muscle loss, partly because of the natural aging process, partly because of physical inactivity. Either way, your calorie needs go down. If you don’t reduce your food intake accordingly, you gain weight from storing fat.

These effects can be more pronounced when someone already has weight problems. The more fat is stored, the less efficiently the body is able to burn calories. Add to this a lesser amount of physical activity and you have a scenario where more weight gain is almost unavoidable.

Genetics and certain medications can also play a role as well as hormonal changes. Women after menopause are especially prone to undergo metabolic shifts.

But it’s not all bad news. A vastly slowed down metabolism isn’t inevitable, said Dr. Berardi. The main problem is that we all tend to become far less physically active over the course of our lives. People who preserve their physical activity levels can expect to see only a 0.3 percent metabolic decline per decade, a 1 to 2 percent total drop over a person’s lifetime, he added in an interview with WebMD.

So what can you do to fight nature every inch of the way? Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have compiled a number of strategies that can give a boost to your aging metabolism.

• Adhere to a healthy diet. If you reduce your calorie intake to avoid weight gain, it is crucial that you make up for the difference by eating more nutritious foods. Whether you are concerned with weight control or not, it is always helpful to cut back on empty calories and go for highly nutrient-dense items instead.

• Eat breakfast. Having a healthy meal at the start of your day gets your metabolism out of its resting state and back into burning mode. Skipping breakfast forces the body to endure longer periods of fasting, which can leave you excessively hungry and tempt you to overeat at the next opportunity.

• Eat frequently. Instead of consuming large meals two or three times a day, try to keep your metabolism consistently on ‘slow burn’ by eating small amounts of food every three or four hours.

• Eat lean protein. Your body burns more calories when digesting proteins rather than carbohydrates and fats. Preferable are low-fat protein sources such as lean meats and poultry, beans and non-fat dairy products.

• Do aerobic exercise and strength training. Regular age-appropriate exercise and resistance training are highly recommended. As we age, we are at greater risk of losing lean body mass, which can initiate a vicious cycle of change in body composition, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, author of “Healthy Aging.” To control weight, you may, in addition to eating less and exercising more, try to increase lean body mass – by weight training, for example – in order to keep the metabolic furnace burning.

• Get enough sleep. Our busy lifestyles keep too many of us chronically sleep-deprived. Among other effects, not getting enough sleep can interfere with your appetite-regulating hormones. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can lead to unhealthy eating habits, similar to stress.

• Avoid supplements. Taking metabolism-boosting supplements such as caffeine, kola nut, bitter orange and others, all of which are stimulants to raise your metabolism by boosting your heart rate, is not a good idea because of many potentially serious side effects. One of the most popular stimulants, ephedra (Ma-huang), was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after its use was linked to several deaths.

The body has many ways to adjust to its changing needs. The best thing you can do is to be aware of these changes and respond accordingly.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Gourmet Dining on a Slowing Metabolism

January 11th, 2012 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson

Today’s retirees have many more options how to spend their golden years than any generation before them. Baby boomers, especially those who are well off, can satisfy their curiosity and adventurous spirit by exploring new business endeavors, continuing their education or traveling around the world. Some discover new passions and acquire new skills they never had time for while working.

One of those late pursuits that is rapidly gaining in popularity is gourmet dining, both at home and at restaurants. Interest in advanced cooking classes has never been greater, not to mention the high ratings for food shows and competitions between celebrity chefs on TV. The auditoria of culinary institutes around the world are filled with students in their sixties, seventies and beyond, eager to familiarize themselves with the latest trends and techniques in the world of haute cuisine.

Fine wining and dining has always been a prerogative of those who like (and can afford) to indulge in the better things life has to offer, but today it’s a whole different ballgame. In an article for the New York Times (12/28/2011), Charles Isherwood, a food writer, describes his parents (both retired) as “foodies” for whom eating well has become their lives’ mission. “My parents practically live to eat,” he writes. “At home [they] eat out three or so times a week. But when they come to New York, we sample the city’s restaurants in five-day, two-big-meals-a-day binges that have become something of a legend.”

Of course, besides being tremendously pleasurable, fine dining also conveys an aura of culture and sophistication (not to mention exclusiveness due to oftentimes ridiculous pricing). However, many food lovers also seem to think that eating at the best restaurants or cooking with the most expensive ingredients automatically means their diet is healthy. But this is not necessarily true.

Gourmet chefs typically focus on taste and presentation. Calorie counts and fat contents are not their primary concern. The individual portions may look small compared to lower-end eateries with their “all-you-can-eat” value offers, but if you order three, four or more courses, you end up with a similarly large amount of food in your stomach.

You may say, well, it’s only on rare occasions that you go all out like that. But what about eating out three times a day when you travel? What about a cruise where limitless access to great food is one of the perks?

The unfortunate truth is that as you get older and have more time and funds to indulge a little more than you used to, your metabolism begins to slow down. In fact, it slows down about 5% to 10% every decade or so, beginning in your mid-twenties. This means that the typical American loses between 20% and 40% of metabolic power over the course of his or her lifespan, according to Dr. John Berardi, best-selling author of “The Metabolism Advantage.”

The reasons are easy to understand: Your metabolism converts calories into energy. When your calorie intake is higher than your energy expenditure, weight gain occurs. As you grow older, it becomes harder to maintain a healthy calorie-energy balance because your lifestyle probably becomes more sedentary and your physical activities get less strenuous. Another result is age-related muscle loss. Diminishing muscle mass means that fewer calories are being burned off and your metabolism slows down. While this is an inevitable, natural process, there are things you can do to prevent it from happening too fast.

The best way to counteract muscle loss is weight training. Lifting weights does not only add muscle, it also burns off calories even while you rest afterwards. Doing aerobics, of course, also helps with calorie burn. People who are said to have a faster metabolism are probably just more physically active all day.

Not surprisingly, adherence to healthy eating habits also matters more with age. Your calorie requirements may go down, but your need for high-quality nutrients remains the same throughout your life. Simple but nutrient-dense foods are the best choices for a healthy, age-appropriate diet – such as fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, whole grains, fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

So, before you try out your next culinary sensation downtown or at home, keep in mind that your health is too important to throw all caution to the wind, just because you can.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Vision Loss at Old Age Becomes a Growing Concern

November 30th, 2011 at 5:17 pm by timigustafson

Aging baby boomers worry more about losing their eyesight than almost any other disease, including heart attack, stroke and cancer. But most have little knowledge about the causes of age-related vision loss or prevention measures they could take, according to a recent report titled “Eye on the Boomer.” For the survey, which was sponsored by Bausch & Lomb, a global eye health company, 1001 randomly chosen participants, ages 45 to 65, were interviewed via telephone about their concerns for their vision. 78 percent said they valued good eyesight more than any other of their senses. But almost half of the respondents admitted they didn’t get annual eye exams. Even fewer were aware that the quality of their nutrition and lifestyle choices played an important role for their eye health.

“If people are at risk for heart disease, they typically make lifestyle modifications. This survey found that people are as concerned about their eyes but do not know the simple steps they need to incorporate into their daily lives to take care of them,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, OD, FAAO, president of the Ocular Nutrition Society (ONS), which published the study.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), the number of Americans with vision problems will double over the next three decades as the baby boomer generation reaches old age. The growing demand for eye health services will add yet another significant burden on the health care system, especially since eye diseases are often related to diabetes, which is already reaching epidemic proportions in this country.

Unfortunately, the diet most Americans adhere to lacks many essential nutrients that could help protect their eye health. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, richly found in salmon and other coldwater fish, are highly beneficial for the eyes. So are the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are present in eggs and many green leafy and collard vegetables. Both of these nutrients defend cells in the body from the damaging effects of so-called “free radicals” and protect the eyes from developing macular degeneration and cataracts.

Because of notoriously low consumption of fruits and vegetables, many Americans do not get sufficient amounts of carotenoids for most of their lives and the negative effects become apparent as they age. Smoking and high alcohol consumption can diminish carotenoid levels in the blood stream, adding to the damage. People who take cholesterol-lowering medications may be at risk of lacking carotenoids because of reduced nutrient absorption.

For these reasons and others, taking daily vitamin supplements to bridge nutritional gaps is highly recommended. Good supplemental sources for lutein and zeaxanthin come from marigold flowers. Preferable would be whole food sources like kale, spinach, turnips, broccoli, romaine lettuce, zucchini, Brussels sprouts and peas.

“As we grow older, the need for certain vitamins and nutrients to support the eye increases,” said Dr. Anshel. “Over the past couple decades, there has been a national focus on better nutrition and healthy living. This survey highlights the need for greater education on lifestyle modifications that baby boomers should be incorporating into their daily lives, including proper nutrition, to safeguard eye health as they age,” he added.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Don’t Grow Old Alone

October 9th, 2011 at 3:23 pm by timigustafson

People who are lonely and isolated in their senior years tend to be in poorer physical and mental health than their contemporaries who are in loving relationships. These are the findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior that investigated links between social connections and health in older adults.

“Feelings of loneliness and isolation can affect older adults’ health in a number of ways. They can, for example, create stress, lower self-esteem or contribute to depression, all of which can have physical health consequences – either by affecting a person’s lifestyle choices or through direct effects on the body,” said Dr. Erin York Cornwell, a sociology professor at Cornell University and lead author of the study report.

Social isolation may even shorten your life expectancy, according to Dr. James Lynch, author of “The Broken Heart: The Medical Consequences of Loneliness.” Human beings are social creatures throughout their lives. As people grow older, their need for social interaction remains the same, but their ability to satisfy this need may become diminished: They retire and lose contact with former co-workers; their children grow up and move away; they become widowed or divorced; their circle of friends shrinks. As a result, many elders find themselves increasingly deprived of the important benefits of companionship. Life becomes less satisfying and loses its meaning. Consequences are often severe depression and lack of will to live.

“Suicide is more common among older Americans than any other age group,” according to Jane E. Brody, a columnist for the New York Times who writes on issues of personal health. “While people 65 and older account for 12 percent of the population, they represent 16 percent to 25 percent of the suicides. Four out of five suicides in older adults are men. And among white men over 85, the suicide rate – 50 per 100,000 men – is six times that of the general population.

Older widowers and divorcees are at the highest risk. When wives die or move away, their husbands’ social connections often cease as well, especially when the women did most of the social networking. “Men are poorly prepared for retirement and don’t know how to fill in the hours and maintain a sense of usefulness when they stop working,” said Dr. Martha L. Bruce, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

“Many older people despair over the quality of their lives at the end of life. [We] think that sadness is a hallmark of depression. But more often in older people it’s anhedonia – they’re not enjoying life,” Dr. Bruce added.

Conversely, having loved ones to spend time with, making new friends and sharing experiences and interests with others can help decrease the susceptibility to loneliness, depression and illness. Nurturing new relationships and even falling in love again can bring back a renewed zest for life. Research has shown that seniors who remain sexually active enjoy better physical and emotional health than those who do not, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, professor of medicine and director of the Program for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and best-selling author of numerous books on health and wellness, including “Healthy Aging – A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-being.” “The youth culture would have us believe that sexual pleasure is the birthright of the young, that old people shouldn’t be thinking about sex, and that imagining old people having sex is distasteful. None of this is true. [Physical contact] is a basic requirement for optimum health,” he added. “This need does not diminish with age.”

Thankfully, the baby boomers are less inhibited in this regard than previous generations may have been. Today’s 55-plus crowd definitely does not think the party is over any time soon. And they know where to look for love in all the right places – via the Internet, of course. Memberships of dating sites are booming, and the older demographics are growing the fastest. “With so many older Americans unattached, living independently into their later years, and increasingly comfortable using the Internet, they too are logging on for love,” observed Stephanie Rosenbloom in an article for the New York Times (10/6/2011), titled “Second Love at First Click.” Not everyone is looking for true love, let alone marriage. But companionship and romance are in high demand and the dating industry is happy to help.

Living longer and healthier as we grow older through sound nutrition, physical exercise and mental activity is very important, but it’s only a worthy goal if the experience is enjoyable and gratifying – and that includes love.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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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