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In this article I will discuss the nutritional and activity needs for an individual over 50 to live well. There is a difference in survival and thriving. We at David’s Way are always thinking about thriving. Food and activity are the core of our existence. These two components must be well balanced for optimum health and fulfillment. We promote nutritionally dense foods with zero added sugars and processed foods. We promote an active lifestyle. We will investigate various sources for some baseline recommendations for a full life over 50.
As we begin our day, it’s easy to fall into the sugar trap. Sugar gives us the dopamine jolt in our brains that is associated with motivation.¹ This same circuit is lit up by cocaine and heroin. When this circuit is activated, we naturally crave that feeling again. A major problem with triggering this circuit first thing in the morning is that we will reach for that feeling again and again during the day and ingest massive amounts of calories and pack on the pounds as we eat sugar all day long. If we activate that reward center first thing, we will continue to need that reward all during our waking hours. Vending machines, bakery racks, drive-throughs and food brought into work will all call our name. In an attempt to get that sugar rush we will find excuses to eat cake, cookies and candy, sometimes even hiding that fact from others. Does this behavior sound familiar? It sounds like an addictive behavior because it is. Sugar is implicated as a cause of inflammation in our bodies.² Chronic inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions, including some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.³ Be sure to include plenty of complex carbs in your diet for overall health and mental well-being. Carbs help your body to produce serotonin, a feel-good neurotransmitter. I especially like oats, apples and sweet potatoes. If you get enough complex carbs, you won’t crave simple carbs after your initial withdrawal from sugar.
It’s important to begin our day with protein. I like eggs with 6 grams of protein each. I have them in a protein shake but I know that is not for most people and I am not necessarily recommending that. Get your protein any way that you like, but make sure that you get it. Eggs are a quick, easy and inexpensive protein source.
The Institute for Health recommends 0.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight however there is evidence that this is about half of what is needed in older adults.∞ Researchers from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences gave one group 0.8 gram/kilogram of body weight and gave 1.5 grams to another group. After only four days, the group who received the larger amount were building muscle more efficiently. ∞ Muscle is critical to our well being as we age. It is the fuel that stokes our metabolism which is the Bunsen burner for every chemical reaction in our bodies. If you want to get stoked, eat some protein.
Muscle is also critical to our mobility and stability. Try getting up from a deep chair without strong thigh and abdominal muscles. You will be struggling, leaning to one side, pushing on the arms of the chair and grunting. With strong muscles, that chair is a non-factor. You rise easily. Muscle stabilizes us. A good strong muscular system holds us upright and makes us stable when we’re moving from one position to another. As we age and muscle declines, falls become all too common.
There are many exercises that are good for older adults. Always get permission from your physician before beginning any exercise program. “Walking is the best restorative exercise.” (David Yochim) unless it is contraindicated by an existing medical condition. Exercise for older adults is usually based on stretching and balance, but strength training to increase muscle mass can be beneficial. At 64, I am an avid power lifter, lifting heavy weights to build strength and shapely muscle. While this is not for everyone, there are other ways to build some muscle. Body weight exercises such as push-ups, jumping jacks, sit-ups and squats using only the body are examples of calesthenics. Our military still uses calesthenics as the main form of strengthening. They are an excellent and usually safe way to build muscle and increase overall strength. There are small hand weights, resistance bands and tubing of all sorts, dumbbells and barbells. There is always someway to add weight to your day. There are instructional videos online to show you how to use these items. I have collected weights for years and I will always strength train. There is a confidence that comes with strength that nothing else can imitate. Strength creates independence and what more creates a full, vital, thriving life than independence?
If we are blessed, we will age. The alternative is an early death. The question is, how will we age, slowly becoming weaker and developing various complications associated with weakness and debilitation or lighting up the darkness in a time that is feared by many. In most cases, the choice is ours. We hold the keys to vibrant golden years in our hands. What will we do with them? Will we lay them on the coffee table beside the cake or take those golden keys of nutrition and activity and unlock years of our lives that were worth waiting on? Quite often, the choice is entirely ours.
Aging well is an art. I challenge you. Be an artist.