Posts Tagged ‘Lifestyle Changes’

How to Avoid the Retirement Trap

March 21st, 2016 at 7:30 am by timigustafson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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For Weight Loss, the Right Kind of Support Can Be Critical

August 16th, 2013 at 7:53 am by timigustafson

Addressing weight issues, especially when it involves others like family, friends or co-workers, is always a delicate matter. Asking for support can be difficult, and trying to be helpful can easily backfire.

Research has shown that the attitude of loved ones has enormous influence on people’s weight loss efforts, both positive and negative. Encouragement and genuine support are essential components for success. On the other hand, criticism, even if meant to be constructive, can do serious harm. So can sabotage and non-cooperation.

For example, one recent study found that urging a partner to go on a diet, even when done with the best of intentions, can lead to serious eating disorders. Almost half of the participants in this study reported that they were more likely to engage in binge eating, bulimia and other dysfunctional behavior around food when they felt challenged by significant others to lose weight.

Fear of rejection and being found unattractive leads especially women to take sometimes drastic and ultimately counterproductive steps in response to outside pressures.

In the workplace, corporate health and fitness programs are becoming increasingly popular, and they can indeed offer many benefits, including promoting team spirit and lowering healthcare costs. But if they are imposed in ways that make overweight employees feel disadvantaged and even discriminated against, they can quickly overreach.

In any situation, it can be hard to make one’s personal needs known, particularly when they conflict with those of others who will also be affected. No one wants to be a spoiler or the weakest link everyone else has to be considerate of.

For instance, it can be very difficult when only one member of the family, or any other group or partnership, is trying to change his or her eating habits, and the rest either doesn’t have to or doesn’t want to, says Linda Spangle, a nutrition counselor and author of “100 Days of Weight Loss” (SunQuest Media, 2006) to WebMD in an interview on the subject.

Asking for support can also be tricky if you are not quite sure what kind of help you actually want and would find useful. Stop and think about what you really expect in terms of support, then take pen to paper and write your “in a perfect world” list, Spangle suggests. This list should consist of ways others could lend a hand in your quest for a healthier you.

Ideally, not just you but everybody around you should be able to benefit from your actions. So instead of isolating yourself or forcing others to join you, it is advisable to point out how positive eating and lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.

For example, you don’t want to ask your family to give up certain favorites because they interfere with your diet program, but rather discuss how eating more healthily and becoming more active can improve the health and well-being of all members. Or, instead of avoiding your colleagues at lunch hour or after-work get-togethers, you can suggest getting more physical exercise such as walking, bicycling or playing team sports – together. You may discover that your co-workers, too, can use some nudging and may even thank you for it.

Good communication is always key when you request help, Spangle advises. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say, “Be nice to me,” or, “Help me.” Instead, clearly state what you want others to do or not do in your presence.

If you are the only one who needs or wants to make changes, be aware of the potential consequences and give those around you enough space, so they don’t feel inconvenienced and imposed upon. At the same token, stand up for yourself and don’t lose sight of your goals, whether they are seconded by anyone else or not.

Also, keep in mind that different relationships in your life can play different roles. Not everyone has to fit into the same scheme. Your choice of going to the gym early in the morning doesn’t mean your spouse has to jump out of bed with you. Buddy-up with someone who has similar habits or follows a similar schedule.

What matters most is that you can draw strength from your surroundings, not resistance. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard enough without having to fight for it or suffering setbacks caused by others.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Sometimes the Best Way to Lose Weight Is a Change in Venue.”

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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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Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 through 1964 – will live longer than any other generation before them, but they will not necessarily be healthier. In fact, many are already burdened with more chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes than their parents and grandparents were. Most of these health problems are lifestyle-related and could be prevented through changes in diet, exercise and weight management, but for some reason these messages seem hard to get across.

A recent study conducted by the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that despite of better education and greater awareness in health matters as well as advancements in medicine, baby boomers will likely face more sickness in their twilight years than generations before them.

The study found that the number of boomers who have high cholesterol has more than doubled compared to the previous generation. Nearly 40 percent are obese, an increase of over 10 percent in just 12 years. Less than half exercise regularly, and a rapidly growing number can’t walk without using a cane or a walker. Boomers are also reported to suffer more from mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction than their parents did. In other words, baby boomers appear to be heading for retirement in worse shape than those born before World War II.

According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private nonprofit research organization specializing in economic studies, some of the lifestyle choices of this generation are resulting in “hazardous trends” in terms of health and aging. Especially the drastic increase in weight problems and obesity over the last few decades raise serious concerns about the future health and physical functioning of aging baby boomers, the report concludes.

At the same time, a large percentage is woefully unprepared for retirement in terms of finances and coverage of their health care needs. Nearly 90 percent are not sure they will have enough money to live out their years in comfort and financial security. 44 percent have little or no faith that they can sustain themselves without outside help, and 25 percent don’t think they will ever be able to retire, according to a survey by the Associated Press.

That is why health concerns are a priority for baby boomers not just per se but also for financial reasons. When Merrill Lynch, a wealth management company, asked in a recent survey thousands of Americans age 45 and older about their perspectives on retirement, the prospect of serious health problems topped the list of worries, followed by becoming a burden on loved ones and running out of money.

Health disruption is especially worrisome because it’s unpredictable, can be very expensive and can force people to retire earlier than they had planned or were ready to because of disabilities, says Dr. Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist and bestselling book author who took part in conducting the survey.

The good news is that baby boomer retirees have more and better tools at their disposal to improve their health and age better than any of their predecessors. The keyword is prevention. Just as important as putting money aside for a rainy day is to take care of one’s health by eating right, exercising, staying within a healthy weight range and keeping the mind sharp. For this, it is never too soon or too late to start.

Undoubtedly, baby boomers are about to face many unprecedented challenges as they approach retirement in great numbers. But they are also well equipped to handle them with the same adventurous and pioneering spirit that got them through life so far.

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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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