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Posts Tagged ‘Living Longer’

Men Must Learn to Cope with Longer Lives

March 28th, 2016 at 8:10 pm by timigustafson

Men used to have shorter life spans than women, according to statistics that seemed unchanging for many decades. But lately the gap started to close, and at least part of the male population is now making headways in terms of healthy aging and longevity.

Causes for higher mortality rates among men were traditionally seen in health problems like heart disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, and greater accident proneness, all mostly related to diet and lifestyle habits.

Many of these outcomes are related to behaviors that are encouraged or accepted more in men than in women, according to government research, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating highly caloric foods, and also engaging in risky activities like gun use, extreme sports, and working in hazardous jobs.

Smoking in particular is still seen as a leading contributor to early deaths. On the other hand, reduction in tobacco use is being credited as one of the most important factors in the improvement of public health and life expectancy, especially among middle-aged and older former smokers.

However, the benefits of positive lifestyle changes are not equally distributed. Almost only educated and well-off males are seeing their odds turning in their favor. High earners in non-hazardous occupations who live in safe and clean environments, can afford to eat well and have easy access to healthcare can expect to live significantly longer than their less fortunate counterparts, recent surveys report.

Surprisingly, it is older women – even if they live reasonably long lives – who nowadays suffer from more diseases and disabilities than other demographics. One reason may be that aging females, especially if they live alone, have on average fewer economic resources available to them. Therefore they may not be as able to accommodate their declines in functioning when they occur, says Dr. Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study on age-related health issues.

Unfortunately, debilitating illnesses tend to build on each other, she says. That, of course, applies to both sexes. It becomes harder to perform daily routines like dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, driving, etc, which all worsen outcomes in many ways.

The fact is that we cannot simply judge the health status of older generations in terms of added years of life expectancy, but that we should look more closely at the quality of their day-to-day lives.

While expanding lifetimes can certainly be seen as part of healthy aging, how this extra time can be filled and enjoyed may be the more compelling issue.

For aging Baby Boomers, this may become the greatest challenge they have to face yet, namely how to make their unprecedented longevity sustainable, both for themselves and for society at large.

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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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Eat Less, Live Longer?

April 2nd, 2014 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

Finding ways to extend the human lifespan by observing certain diet and lifestyle regimens has been a centuries-old quest. Indeed, our average life expectancy has dramatically increased over time, at least in the wealthier parts of the world, due to improvements in hygiene, health care, and food supply. Yet science has still not been able to provide definite answers to what we can do to live longer.

Studies on longevity in connection with diet and lifestyle have been undertaken as early as the 16th century, most notably by one Luigi Cornaro, a Venetian who was known for his hard partying until his health failed him before he reached 50. In his autobiographical book, “Discourses on a Sober and Temperate Life,” which is still in print today, he claims that a radical change from unrestricted indulgence to Spartan simplicity not only restored his health but also added many more years to his life. He died at 98 – an exceptionally old age at his time.

A more systematic approach to studying the effects of diet on longevity was taken in the 1930s when scientists noticed that lab mice put on a calorie-restricted diet lived up to 40 percent longer than their abundantly fed counterparts. But still nobody knew the exact causes of the dramatic lifespan increases, let alone whether the findings were applicable to humans.

Two relatively recent studies tested independently from each other the impact of calorie restriction on health and mortality in rhesus monkeys. Both came up with opposite results.

In 2009, a study report issued by researchers from the University of Wisconsin claimed that a calorie-restricted diet regimen did actually favor longevity in the monkeys. But three years later, scientists at the National Institute of Aging laboratory in Baltimore who conducted similar studies found no evidence that providing their monkeys with less food made any difference in terms of lifespan, as they documented in their own report.

A subsequent dispute between the two research teams over their differing study results continues today.

Regardless of what animal tests are (or are not) able to show, it remains unclear how the outcomes can be made useful for humans.

To understand the effects of calorie restriction, one has to be careful to distinguish between undernutrition, in which all the essential nutrients the body needs to function properly and stay healthy are provided – albeit by using fewer calories, and malnutrition, where at least some nutrients are missing, potentially resulting in harmful deficiencies over time. The latter is certainly not recommended and is not likely to have any health benefits, including for longevity.

In the light of what we know about the health effects of diet to date, we can say with reasonable certainty that moderate calorie restriction in support of weight control is healthy and in any case preferable to excessive weight gain, one of the largest health threats looming today. To what extent that implicates life expectancy remains to be seen. More important to realize, however, is the fact that health-promoting diet and lifestyle choices contribute to the quality of life at any age and become even more significant as we grow older.

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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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Great Plans for Retirement, but How Much Will Materialize?

March 19th, 2014 at 5:22 pm by timigustafson

In the 2002 movie, “About Schmidt,” a recently retired insurance agent (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) goes on a road trip in a brand new RV to see his daughter, and a bit of America along the way. What unfolds is a story as complex and convoluted as Schmidt’s new life. He realizes that his work of many years has quickly become irrelevant, and that his ties to family and friends have long frayed. Now he is intent on making up for the many sacrifices and missed opportunities in his past. Even his wife’s sudden and unexpected death doesn’t change that. There is still more to come in his “Golden Years,” or so he hopes.

More so than any other generation before them, today’s retirees have great expectations about what they will be able to accomplish after officially leaving the work force. There are many good reasons for that. People live longer, have a wider variety of skills and interests, are more mobile, and can take advantage of technologies not available only a short time ago.

On the downside, a great number are not financially secure enough to be able to afford retirement. They hope to continue working, at least part-time, to supplement pensions and savings. According to surveys, three fourths of Americans say they plan on working beyond retirement age in some capacity.

But that may be easier said than done. In actuality less than one fifth manage to remain in the work force. Many retire even sooner than they had envisioned – in most cases not by choice. According to the AARP, older Americans may want to continue working because it provides them with much needed income, keeps them busy and engaged, allows them to stay socially connected, and so forth. But often retirees underestimate the difficulties of finding any job, let alone one that fulfills them and gives them pleasure.

True, much of today’s work environment does no longer require hard physical labor, so aging people are not necessarily as disadvantaged as they used to be. But well paying jobs, as scarce as they are, typically demand long work hours as well as skills older workers may not have and find hard to acquire.

Also, while blatant age discrimination is unlawful, many employers are hesitant to hire workers late in their careers, even those with valuable expertise, if they can get their needs met by younger ones for less money and fewer benefits.

There are, of course, numerous examples of retried persons finding meaningful and rewarding things to do. Those who can afford to busy themselves for free are invited to volunteer for countless causes. But for the majority that’s no solution. According to consumercredit.com, more than 70 percent of Americans are financially too insecure to retire without some source of income in addition to their pension plans and/or social security checks.

Among the greatest concerns, unsurprisingly, are rising healthcare costs. This is where many of the elderly feel most vulnerable. Whether the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) will change that remains to be seen, but presently there is much uncertainty about the new law’s impact, particularly on those who suffer from chronic ailments.

For this and other reasons, we all, but especially the now retiring baby boomers, are well advised to pay close attention to our health needs, preferably in terms of disease prevention through diet and lifestyle improvements. Contrary to widespread belief, illness and decline are not inevitable parts of aging. In fact, with few exceptions, we have considerable control over our own aging process. And how well we do health-wise determines greatly what else we can hope to accomplish in every other aspect.

So, to my fellow-retirees who are still highly active and full of plans for the future, I say: let’s keep up our zest for life, but let’s start with the fundamentals, and see where we can go from here.

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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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It is common knowledge that eating healthy is conducive to our well-being, including our natural aging process. But can adherence to a vegetarian diet actually add to our life span? One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found evidence that vegetarians have a slightly better chance at living longer than omnivores.

There are clearly beneficial effects of vegetarian diets in the prevention of chronic diseases and the improvement of longevity, according to Dr. Michael Orlich of the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, the lead author of the study report.

For the study, the researchers interviewed over 70,000 participants about their eating habits. Those who identified themselves as vegetarians were divided into different categories of vegetarianism, including vegans (eating nothing but plant foods), lacto-ovo vegetarians (eating plant-foods as well as dairy products and eggs), and semi-vegetarians (eating mostly plant-foods but also some animal products like fish and poultry).

Using national databases, the researchers then determined differences in mortality rates during a follow-up time of six years. They found that over one year five to six per 1,000 vegetarians had died compared to seven per 1,000 meat eaters.

Since all causes of death were included in the analysis, it is not altogether clear what made the differences in the mortality rates, but critics have pointed out that the vegetarian groups had other health-promoting advantages as well such as overall healthier lifestyles, abstinence from smoking, lower average body weight and higher education levels than their omnivorous counterparts. But the vegetarians also tended to be older.

Still, the study’s findings confirm that people who eat mostly plant-based foods are less likely to develop chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

So, should we all consider becoming vegetarians for the sake of a longer life? Not necessarily. Longevity is not dependent on just one aspect of our existence but rather on all the things we do for the benefit of our well-being. You may eat all the health food you want, but if you have a hard time handling your stress at work or at home, it will still affect your heart. If you put off exercise for too long, you can gain weight on a vegetarian diet as well.

The trick is to understand that all our actions are interconnected. If we get run down in one area, it has consequences for all the others. I know that if I don’t eat right, I feel sluggish and without energy. The same happens if I don’t get enough physical activity or I’m sleep deprived. If my mind is not stimulated and I’m bored, I lose focus. If I allow myself to get stressed out, it impacts my work as well as my relationship with family and colleagues.

So, of course, it’s a good idea to eat foods that offer the greatest benefits and the least detriments in terms of good health and perhaps also a longer life. But the point is that it has to come in one whole package called healthy living. As I have emphasized many times before, longevity alone should not be the goal, but the highest possible quality of life to the very end.

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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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How Can Education Make You Live Longer? It’s Complicated

April 4th, 2012 at 4:39 pm by timigustafson

The average life expectancy of all Americans has continuously increased over the past few generations for a number of reasons, including advances in nutrition, hygiene and medical care. But there are significant disparities within the population, which seem to be linked to social, economic and – as it turns out – educational differences.

According to a new study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there could be a direct correlation between a person’s education and the number of years he or she can hope to live.

For this study, researchers analyzed over 3,000 counties nationwide and ranked them within their respective states by a number of diverse measures, including access to quality healthcare, obesity rates, tobacco sales, unemployment, environmental pollution, crime rates, even the density of fast food outlets. The significance of education levels stood out.

“If you have a community with a high number of high school dropouts, with a high unemployment rate and with children living in poverty, you can absolutely predict that poor health outcomes will be coming down the road,” said Dr. Pat Remington, associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and director of the study.

Unemployment and poverty do not only lead to deprivation of essential resources such as good nutrition and basic health care but often also to self-destructive behaviors like smoking and alcohol- and drug abuse. “All these things are part of a web of health,” Dr. Remington added.

The Wisconsin study is not the first that has found a link between education and longevity. A study from Harvard University, published in 2008, described “a stunning correlation between the longer lifespan of people with at least one year of college compared to people with a high school education or less,” according to Dr. David Cutler, dean of social sciences at Harvard. Better educated adults gained on average 1.5 years of life expectancy over 10 years and an additional 1.6 years over 20 years compared to those with a high school diploma or less.

Going to college by itself, of course, does not automatically make you live longer. But the study does suggest that better education often leads to better lifestyle choices. “It turns out that across the board, if you look at any health behavior, better educated people do better than less educated, said Dr. Cutler. “Anything from smoking, obesity, wearing seat belts, having a smoke detector in your house, not using illegal drugs, not drinking heavily, better educated people do better,” he said.

Conversely, the average life expectancy of obese people, smokers and those without access to preventive health care has begun to plateau. Due to growing childhood obesity, some experts predict that the lifespan of significant parts of the population will likely decline in the future.

Needless to say that none of these findings are clear-cut. There are plenty of folks with PhDs and beyond who are overweight and smoke and drink heavily. “Sometimes, even a good education can’t keep smart people from doing dumb things,” said Lee Dye, a science writer for the Los Angeles Times who reported on the Harvard study.

And even centenarians have bad habits. Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that the 100 plus crowd does generally not adhere to dramatically healthier lifestyle choices than the rest of us. There seems to be no particular formula that allows some people to live exceptionally long lives. Even genetic factors have turned out to be less important than some have suggested, as demonstrated in studies that followed identical twins who were separated at birth, lived under vastly different circumstances and died at different ages.

Besides reasonably healthy diet and lifestyle choices, one thing, however, seems to matter greatly. People who remain free of debilitating illnesses at old age, physically as well as mentally, are typically very active. They enjoy a vibrant social life, pursue multiple interests, maintain a positive attitude and know how to take care of their needs. They may be well educated, but not always in terms of formal education. An open mind and an insatiable curiosity may have gotten them just as far.

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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