Active aging

We are living longer and thanks to science, medicine and advances in fitness and nutrition, we can live a healthy, active life well into our 90’s.

But for most, living longer doesn’t necessarily equate with quality of life.  Although many of us have not reached the point where we can be referred to as “elderly,” the time to start thinking about living an active life is not when we’ve reached age 70 or 80, and here is why:

We reach maximum muscle size by about the age of 25. There is a 10-percent decrease between the age of 25 and 45 with a 45-percent shrinkage over the next 30 years, and then acceleration of shrinkage after the age of 50.

We reach peak bone mass by age 30, and then lose 1 to 2 percent per year for the rest of our life.

Falls, resulting from loss of balance as we age, result in 1.5 million fractures— hip, spine and wrist each year. Many of these become lifetime disabilities.

The good news is most of this is reversible. Research has shown that regular exercise, even when started late in life, has profound health benefits and can increase longevity. Exercise reduces disease, from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise also slows down the rate of aging.

Even a small amount of exercise may protect the elderly from long-term memory loss.

Women between the ages of 75 and 85, all of whom had reduced bone mass or full-blown osteoporosis, were able to lower their fall risk with strength training and agility activities.

Moderate exercise among those aged 55 to 75 may cut the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases heart disease and diabetes risk.

Among those who started exercising at age 50 and continued for 10 years, the rate of premature death declined dramatically, mirroring the level as seen among people who had been working out their entire lives.

Exercise significantly improved muscle endurance and physical capacity among heart failure patients with an average age of 76.


Get off the Sugar Train

Nutrition plays a significant role in aging well, and sugar consumption is a major factor. “The average American consumes 53 teaspoons of sugar per day”, says author of “Healthy at 100”  John Robbins, who turned down the Baskin Robbins fortune he was heir to when he learned what the standard American diet was doing to people’s health. In his book, Robbins makes the point that in cultures where people live to over 100 they consume no refined sugar.

The typical American diet includes white bread, white rice and white pasta, all of which turn to sugar the moment it touches the digestive enzymes in the mouth. We’ve traditionally been taught that it’s the excess of fat in the diet that causes heart disease, obesity, and other chronic ailments. In truth, the No. 1 dietary cause of heart disease and the obesity epidemic is the amount of carbohydrates we consume.  And by carbohydrates, we mean sugar.

Sugar is the culprit of several aging concerns.

When consumed in large amounts the body stores excess sugar as fat.

The body uses insulin to move sugar out of our bloodstream and into the cells for energy consumption. The constant bombardment of sugar in the diet causes the insulin receptors to burn out, which leads to Type 2 diabetes.

The long-term complications of Type 2 diabetes include visual impairment, kidney dysfunction, heart disease, and poor circulation and wound healing, leading to amputation of limbs.

Sugar is the primary fuel for cancer cells.

Sustained exposure to sugar sets up a cascade of abnormal hormone functions that lead to premature aging and illness.

Sugar increases the acidity of the body, creating an environment in which all disease thrives.

If you’ve attempted to eliminate white flour and sweets from your diet, and have moved strictly to whole grains, you’re on the right track. But there is more to consider. Make sure that the food label reads “100 percent Whole Grain”, rather than a portion of whole grain mixed with refined flour. Remember that organic sugar, maple syrup, honey and cane juice, while less processed than white sugar, have the same negative impact on your body. Dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, maltodextrin, and honey are all types of sugars that should be limited. Finally, as you lessen sugar from your diet, you may go through a seven- to 14-day withdrawal period. During this time, you may want to look to natural sweeteners, such as Stevia and Xylitol, which do not elevate blood glucose, insulin, or cause inflammation. n


Connie Roethel, R.N., MSH, is a wellness expert and is president of Core Health Group in Mequon. Jessica Connors contributed content to this article.

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