Posts Tagged ‘Chronic Stress’

Many Reasons to Gain Weight with Age, and Many More Excuses

February 3rd, 2016 at 5:08 pm by timigustafson

As we grow older, many of us find it harder to avoid or undo unwanted weight gain. This is such a widespread phenomenon, it is almost taken for granted that aging and weight problems go hand in hand. However, while there are objective reasons for such a connection, they are by no means the whole story.

The human body undergoes constant changes throughout life that include its shape. These are natural and unavoidable, regardless of genetic makeup, diet or lifestyle. We can slow down some of the process, but only to a certain extent. Still, it is important to understand the multiple factors that play a role in our aging and counteract them as best we can.

Genetic makeup
Like many of our individual characteristics, the appearance of our body is influenced by our genes. Numerous studies have shown how genetic components factor in our response to food intake, physical activity, lifestyle choices and health risks. But experts have also maintained that despite of this predetermination we can still exercise a great deal of control and alter outcomes.

In other words, heredity is not necessarily destiny. This becomes clearer as we mature. A lifetime of habits and behavior will likely have the greatest impact on how well we fare, more than what we started out with.

Changing metabolic rates
It is a popular belief that slowing of the metabolism – the biochemical process by which the body converts calories into energy it needs to function – is one of the main culprits of age-related weight gain. Yes, there is some truth to that, but scientists say it really plays only a relatively small part when it comes to weight issues.

Beginning at around the age of 25, the average person’s metabolic rate declines by between 5 and 10 percent per decade. It means that as the years pass, fewer and fewer calories are needed to stay within a healthy weight range, and everything beyond may lead to overweight.

The good news is that the effects of a slowing metabolism can be mitigated. Again, behavioral adjustments can make a big difference. It is a simple equation: As the body’s needs change, so should one’s eating and lifestyle choices. Cutting back on portion sizes and getting regular exercise are important proactive steps to start with. (More on this later on.)

Loss of muscle mass
Another reason for a lessening metabolism is loss of muscle mass. Age-related sarcopenia, as the process is called, begins typically in a person’s mid- to late 30s, in part because of sedentary lifestyle- and working conditions. It can continue at a rate of 3 to 5 percent per decade, depending on activity levels.

Research suggests that women lose muscle mass twice as fast as men of the same age. Because muscle is much more metabolically active than fat, it becomes increasingly difficult to control or lose weight for both gender as people grow older.

Obviously, strength training is the best counteraction one can take, combined with a healthy, balanced diet rich in lean protein.

Different kinds of fat
To successfully avoid weight gain, it is also important to understand the differences in how fat tissue accumulates in the body. Most women tend to carry additional fat primarily in the hips, thighs, and buttocks, while most men do so in the abdominal area.

Different types of fat react metabolically different as well, and some may become less active with age than others, meaning, they are harder to get rid of.

Also, excessive abdominal fat, or belly fat, can be the source of a number of serious health risks, including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. Reduced calorie intake and regular exercise are the most logical remedies.

Lifestyle changes
Following a healthy diet and exercise regimen is obviously crucial for successful weight management at any time in life, and ever more so in later years. But these can only do so much. Other important ingredients are stress management and also getting enough sleep.

Chronic stress and sleep deprivation have routinely been identified as contributing factors to overeating and use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

In other words, to escape the traps of unhealthy aging, it is imperative to look at the larger picture and pay close attention to all our actions. As we age, there is less and less room for compromise – or shall we say excuses. The best way is to start a health-promoting diet and lifestyle regimen as early as possible, and not deviate much from it, regardless how hard that may seem at times.

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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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Silence Please!

October 14th, 2015 at 5:29 pm by timigustafson

According to the 17th Century French philosopher Blaise Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Such a statement may sound a bit overwrought for most moderns, however, it is a well-known fact that ubiquitous exposure to noise is one of the great stress factors of our time. Unfortunately, even for those who seek it, silence is hard to come by.

To be sure, not everybody suffers from lack of quiescence. Most of us are now used to being constantly connected with the outside world, with our workplace, with family and friends. It can be bothersome, but it can also be addictive.

study by CNN found that most pre-teens and teenagers would rather be “grounded” at home than having their smart phones taken away from them as a form of punishment. Staying in touch via social media means more to these kids than almost anything else in life, according to the researchers who conducted the study.

Of course, craving for social interaction is not limited to young ones. Neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles discovered in a recent study that the human brain is wired to be social, especially when there is little else to do that requires attention. “The social nature of our brains is biologically based,” they concluded.

Yet, experts warn that, although we may be social creatures, not having enough downtime to be by ourselves may have consequences we don’t yet fully understand.

The fact that people make (or have to make) themselves constantly available for interaction increases the risk of “burnout,” commonly defined as physical or mental collapse by overwork or stress, according to neurophysiologist and Nobel Prize laureate Thomas C. Südhof.

The pressure of always being within reach can become a form of chronic stress that affects how our brains function. Over time, this may lead to lasting damages. To counteract it, he says, we need regular brakes and time out to recover.

In addition to the onslaught of social demands, the sheer fact that most of us live in noisy environments makes things only worse. According to studies by the American Psychological Association, noise pollution plays a role in numerous health issues, including learning disabilities among children. By contrast, researchers found that when “quiet time” was introduced in selected schools, students found it easier to concentrate and had better peer relations.

Naturally, not everyone can decide to tune out and escape his or her world on a whim, even if nothing else would be more welcome. Finding a truly quiet spot for relaxation, meditation, or simply a short nap may be difficult. But there are other solutions. A walk in a nearby park after work or an afternoon in the woods or on a beach can do wonders.

Much of what we experience also depends on our attitude. Does that phone really have to be on 24/7? Can answering those e-mails wait a bit longer? What if you’re not up on the latest news?

Letting it all go for a while may be a better choice. Besides, most of what you missed out on will still be there when you get back.

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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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Why Taking Vacations Is Important for Your Health

May 29th, 2013 at 7:55 am by timigustafson

Memorial Day weekend used to be the traditional kickoff for summer getaways. But for millions of Americans, going on a vacation or even taking a few days off here and there is a luxury they can ill afford. Among the 20 most developed countries in the world, the United States ranks dead last when it comes to recreation.

Unlike in Europe, where paid vacations of 20 to 30 days annually are the norm and guaranteed by law, the labor standards in this country generally do not require employers to provide such benefits. What’s more, even those lucky Americans who are entitled to paid time off often forego part of it.

There is no doubt that American workers, including millions of immigrants who have chosen the American way of life, have a particularly strong work ethic. But countries like Sweden or Germany, not exactly known as slackers, have fared well with their mandatory vacation policies, without losing their competitive edge. In fact, according to the latest report on global economic competitiveness by the World Economics Forum, the U.S. came in only fourth behind Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore. And even Canada, a country that is arguably closest to us in culture and lifestyle, mandates a minimum of 10 days vacation time per year for all its workers.

So, what makes Americans so much less inclined to quit work and relax for a few weeks or even just days on end?

For low-income workers it’s primarily a question of money. Those are typically the ones with the least benefits, including paid vacation or sick leave time. For others it’s fear they could be passed over for promotions or even lose their jobs if they are absent too often or too long. Some think it’s not worth the extra hassle to tie up loose ends before they leave or catch up after they return. And there may be a few who just don’t know what to do with themselves outside of work.

What’s often not discussed is that not taking time off regularly can lead to serious health problems. The results are comparable to chronic stress, when there is no reprieve not just from one’s workload but also from repetitive routines.

Often people get into a mindless routine at work and home, which can be broken if they distance themselves once in a while, says Dr. Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University, in an interview on the health benefits of vacationing and travel with CNN. Uninterrupted routines tend to result in boredom, which hinders creativity and mindfulness, she says, and is therefore counterproductive. By contrast, having new and interesting experiences on a trip, for example, can be brought back to the workplace and enhance one’s performance.

But it’s not just mental health that must be restored on occasion. Chronic stress takes its toll on the body’s ability to resist infections, maintain vital functions and even the ability to avoid injuries, according to Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor for psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and contributor to Psychology Today.

“When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way.”

And mentally, she says, “not only do you become more irritable, depressed and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely and depressed.”

For these reasons and others, your vacation, should you decide on taking one, must not end up causing you even more stress.

If you travel somewhere away from home, I recommend choosing a destination that is truly different from your familiar surroundings. It doesn’t have to be a deserted island, just unlike what you’re used to.

Leave your smart phone and laptop behind, so you cannot be reached from the office and won’t be tempted to “check in” every so often.

Don’t get involved in too many activities, even though they seem fun, if they turn your vacation into another hectic event.

Live in the moment and make the most of each day. Focus on all the things you never seem to have enough time for such as leisure, pleasure, conversation, etc.

If all or most of this seems impossible to you, perhaps it’s time to rethink your priorities.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Even Going on Vacation Can Be Scary.”

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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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