Aging & Longevity: Part 2 – Healthy Eating & Exercise

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Note #1: The pictures for today are from the Internet. I Googled pictures of eating and exercise and found pages and pages….

Note #2: My friend and neighbor Mim sent me an interesting article by Jane Brody, nutritionist who writes a column for The New York Times. Here are some tidbits from her January 11th column. When I use Brody’s own words, I put them in italics. My personal comments are in parentheses.

A healthy old age is a goal most of us would like to have. As Brody notes, however: There is no virtue in simply living long; the goal should be to live long and well.

While many Americans have improved their diets, based on the guidelines from the government and information from physicians as well as friends and family, we still have a long way to go. Brody states in her section, The Longevity Diet, that Americans are consuming less meat, saturated fat, and trans fats from processed foods, as well as increasing our intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

But, and this is a big but, we are a long way from consuming the kind of diet most closely linked to a low risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and dementia. That diet need not be strictly vegetarian, but it should emphasize plant-based foods over the meat and other products that come from animals that eat plants. The closer to the earth we eat, the healthier — and leaner — we are likely to be.

Brody continues with a discussion touting whole foods over supplements that provide individual nutrients. For examples, she says that antioxidant supplements cannot protect us the way fresh fruits and vegetables can. Rather than isolated nutrients, combinations of them, along with other perhaps unidentified substances in foods, are now thought to confer the observed health benefits.

(Personally, I think most Americans already know this. Supplements are more like an insurance plan, since fresh fruits and vegetables, even organically grown, are not picked from the ground or trees and eaten right after they are picked unless you have a garden. Even then, then soil could be depleted of nutrients.)

Jane continues with a discussion about the now much touted Mediterranean, diet which seems to  be linked to longevity, since it lowers the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and  stroke, as well as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. The Mediterranean diet consists of  nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, beans and grains, fish and shellfish, but relatively little meat and poultry. Olive oil is the primary fat for cooking and eating, even replacing butter as a smear on bread.

As Brody emphasizes, this diet is not in pill form, but rather the benefits are gained from  eating real food. However, Brody does suggest calcium and vitamin D as supplements that are in “short supply.” Studies suggest that  these supplements will protect our bones and possibly improve muscle strength, which helps to reduce the the risk of falls and fractures. She also notes that various studies suggest these supplements may also help prevent several common cancers, counter depression and enhance cognitive function.

(Before taking supplements, I would suggest that you check with your doctor to see if you have a deficiency of these nutrients. es)

While diet is important, Brody does write that  regular physical exercise is important for staying healthy as we age. She also discusses that most people make excuses about why they can’t exercise. (Here I don’t agree with her because I think she puts a negative spin on exercise.  Having been helped by my neighbor Mim, a personal trainer who sent me this article, we both agree that  our attitude toward exercise need not be negative. Exercise isn’t punishment; it’s part of the joy of living. Here ‘s where my theme of JOY fits in! I find that when I don’t exercise I feel cranky and lethargic. It’s not a chore, but a responsibility I have to my body, so I work it into my weekly activities.)

I do agree with Brody’s statement that: The single most effective activity, studies have found, is an aerobic activity like brisk walking — about 30 minutes a day. If you can’t get out of the house, walk inside. Go up and down stairs, walk the hall, walk from room to room, walk in place. If walking doesn’t suit you, try dancing to music. The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated.

(What I have found is that my exercise doesn’t have to be so vigorous and rigorous that I am exhausted the rest of the day.  Gentle Yoga, Golden Zumba, and other kinds of exercise geared to older bodies can be as beneficial, to me, al least, as running around a track until I can’t breath!)

The article ends with this simple quote and “command”: So get off the couch and make this year the year you discover the joys and benefits of movement.

(P.S.  I would add: Also, get back in the kitchen and discover the joys and benefits of eating well! Maybe this year is a good year to take some cooking classes that reflect the Mediterranean diet.  My recipes reflect this diet in that they are high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and olive oil. If you are new to this site, check out my recipes under Kitchen Nutrition with Recipes. Joyful eating and joyful moving!