Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

Put Life Into Your Years
Instead of Adding Years Onto Your Life!

Want to join the estimated 1 million people in the U.S. who are expected to have lived to 100 or older by the year 2050?

Stop sitting around.

In the past year, several studies on the effects of sitting startled the medical field by demonstrating that sitting for long hours is bad for you even if you’re not overweight and you exercise vigorously at other times. When researchers study only healthy people who exercise regularly, they still find that those who sit a lot each day have higher blood pressure, greater risk of diabetes, and larger waist circumference than those who sit less.

Researchers are still studying the issue, but experts are warning of a “physiology of inactivity” that seems to set in, causing your body to release dangerous molecules that affect how you process fats and sugars.

Change your habits. Watch TV or use the computer while bouncing on an exercise ball or walking around. Before your favorite show comes on, get out a yoga mat and some hand weights and resistance bands and do some gentle stretches and strength training while you watch. If you are sitting for a long while, pause and take breaks to stretch or walk the dog. Even rocking in a rocking chair keeps you moving a bit.

Go green and orange for dinner, red and blue for dessert.

Ongoing studies at Tufts University’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and other institutes show that certain fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, packed with disease-fighting phytochemicals, with the potential to ward off cancer, protect against heart disease and diabetes, and even slow aging itself — at least to some degree.

Blueberries, for example, have been shown to reverse balance, coordination, and memory problems. Cranberries deactivate bacteria and prevent infection. Broccoli made headlines last year when it was shown to ward off prostate cancer in men who were at risk.

Anti-aging “superfoods” give themselves away by virtue of their color: The dark green of broccoli and kale; the rich orange of squash, sweet potatoes, and mangos; the deep purple of grapes; and the rich reds, blues, and purples of berries all indicate these foods are essentially medicine in food form. Nutritionists say the best thing to do is “eat a rainbow,” choosing brightly colored foods and steering clear of those that are light-colored or colorless.

White vegetables like garlic and onions contain important phytochemicals too. In addition, cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, which are eaten in “bud” form before they leaf out, have chemicals called indoles that protect against cancer; and leafy greens like spinach are rich in folate, which protects the heart and prevents birth defects and colon cancer.

Dancing does it; Put on your dancing shoes!

Learning a new skill, particularly one that’s fairly complex and involves coordination between the brain and the body, is one of the best ways to protect memory and preserve cognition, experts say.

Commit one night a week to learning something new that challenges you both mentally and physically. Sign up for tai chi, join a Zumba class, or learn to meditate.

Calories count; Cut calories.

Studies in animals and people show that reducing calorie intake between 15 and 30 percent of normal levels leads to a host of anti-aging benefits. Experts believe calorie restriction lowers metabolic rate and causes the body to generate fewer damaging free radicals. It also has a beneficial effect on the thyroid, which regulates your overall metabolic rate.

Calorie restriction isn’t as daunting as it sounds. The secret is to cut simple carbs, fats, and sugar. Serve red meat sparingly, and replace it with turkey, fish, and eggs. Eat more beans and legumes. For dessert, try strawberries or fruit parfait. For snacks, eat nuts or whole wheat crackers. Portion size is key, too, since calorie cutting is more important than eliminating certain foods.

Good fat; Boost brainpower with brain-healthy fats.

Research into the importance of omega-3 fatty acids continues to pour in, and researchers have begun to better understand the vital role these fats play in brain health. According to neurologists, two thirds of your brain is composed of fats. Myelin, the protective sheath that covers neurons, is 70 percent fat — and the membranes of neural cells are composed of fatty acid molecules as well.

The body can’t make its own omega-3 fatty acids; you have to get them from food, so boost your diet with as many fatty acids as you can. Stock up on ground flaxseed and add it to everything you can think of. Sprinkle it on oatmeal or cereal; add it to a bowl of yogurt and fruit or a smoothie; stir it into soup or sprinkle on a salad.

Adorn your table with a decorative decanter for olive oil (it keeps its potency best in an opaque bottle) and drizzle it over veggies and salads or dip your bread into it. Keep a jar of fish oil capsules on your kitchen counter and take one as you begin each meal.

But eat seafood too; some studies have shown that populations that eat a diet high in fish are much healthier and longer-lived than populations that don’t. Algae is high in DHA, one of the key omega-3 fatty acids, and some people incorporate algae-based supplements, such as spirulina, as well.

Stand up straight; Protect your posture.

Sitting and stress are the enemies of the spine, aging experts say. Why? Both tend to make us hunch forward, head jutting forward between rounded shoulders. Rounded posture compresses the nerves and disks in the spine, restricting blood flow to the supporting muscles and leading to neck, shoulder, back, and other aches.

In addition, recent research has focused on the connection between poor posture and breathing disorders and circulatory health. Some doctors have patients do this experiment: While hunched forward, try to draw a deep breath into your lungs. You’ll find it’s very hard to do.

The key is to relearn how to stand, sit, and lie so your spine is stretched straight and tall, says Esther Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back (Pendo Press, 2008), who teaches posture therapy classes in Palo Alto, California. To put Gokhale’s principles into practice, roll your shoulders back and down, opening up the chest, and “stack” the spine directly over the hips, stretching it as tall as possible. Tuck your ribs back against your spine, letting your pelvis come naturally forward.

Socialize.

It’s not just a question of a lonely person becoming more isolated; loneliness tends to spread and infect others. The researchers don’t know exactly how this happens, but they liken it to the fraying of a sweater. A lonely person makes others around him feel lonely, and the social fabric that knits people together starts to unravel.

Helping lonely people recognize that that’s what they’re feeling is an important first step; consider companions who can visit for a few hours weekly to overcome the isolation and quickly stimulate conversation and interest for the senior that may feel their life has lost it former importance. It’s good to reminisce and focus on what things bring us joy and happiness. Companions are a great resource to stimulate these types of interaction and positive reaction.

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