Category Archives: Healthy Aging
People with strong social networks tend to be healthier, live longer and are happier.
By: Andrea C. Cuniff, M.D.
You’re probably familiar with the social benefits of friendship. Our friends:
- Increase our sense of belonging and purpose
- Boost our happiness and reduce our stress
- Improve our confidence and self-esteem
- Help us cope with trouble, such as serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one
Now, there’s a growing body of research showing that strong friendships can also improve your health. Adults with good social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and obesity. Women have better odds of surviving ovarian and breast cancers, and both sexes live longer after surviving a heart attack.
In fact, a recent study of older adults found that those with large circles of friends lived 20% longer than others with fewer friendships.
Despite the proven benefits of friendship, many of us find it difficult to maintain existing relationships or make new ones. In our busy lives, time with friends takes a backseat to jobs, children and other responsibilities. Or maybe you moved to a new community and haven’t met many people yet.
It’s also important to remember that when it comes to friendship, quality counts more than quantity. It’s good to have a big circle of friends, but you also want to cultivate a few truly close ones who will always be there for you.
Maintaining friendships takes time and effort. Try these tips to keep your existing relationships healthy:
- Practice kindness. Think of friendship as an emotional bank account. Each kind deed and word is a deposit into this account, while criticism and negativity reduce the balance.
- Listen closely: Ask what’s going on in your friends’ lives and pay close attention to their responses. When they share details of hard times, be sympathetic but don’t give advice unless they ask for it.
- Open up about yourself. Being willing to disclose personal experiences and concerns shows that your friend holds a special place in your life, and it deepens your connection.
- Show that you can be trusted. Follow through on commitments you’ve made. When your friends share confidential information, keep it private.
- Make yourself available. Building a close friendship takes time. Make an effort to see new friends regularly, and to check in with them in between.
Making new friends
It’s just as important to expand your circle of friends. Look at your existing social network for possible new connections. Think about people who:
- You’ve worked or taken classes with
- You’ve been friends with in the past but have lost touch
- You’ve enjoyed chatting with at social gatherings
- You share family ties with
If anyone stands out, reach out. Extend an invitation to coffee or lunch, or ask a mutual friend to introduce you. You will need to be persistent, and you may need to meet a few times before you can tell if this new relationship will work out.
Other good ways to make friends include:
- Attend community events: Look for groups or clubs that gather around an interest or hobby you share.
- Volunteer: You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.
- Join a faith community: Attend special activities and events for new members.
Starting and keeping friendships takes time and commitment. But it’s an investment that can pay off in better health and a happier life for you and your friends.
Dr. Andrea Cuniff received her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and completed her residency program in Family Medicine at Franklin Square Hospital Center. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and sees patients at MPCP’s Annapolis office.
By: Janice Rutkowski, M.D.
The holiday season is approaching, filled with parties, family and, for many of us, a few extra pounds. If you stand on the bathroom scale January 1 and see a higher number, you may resolve to take off those pounds ─ fast.
If that’s the case, be careful how you do it. There are fad diets on the market that promise quick weight loss, but many of them take an unbalanced approach to diet and nutrition. Some tell you to avoid “bad” foods, such as carbohydrates or fats, while others restrict you to just a few foods.
Any diet that restricts certain foods or strictly limits calories can lead to initial weight loss. But fad diets rarely bring long-term results because people return to their poor eating habits when the diet ends. Also, people who use these extreme diets may not be getting all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Let’s examine five fad diets to avoid in 2017. Then we’ll give you tips for the right way to control your weight during the holidays.
- The Five-Bite Diet
The Five-Bite Diet encourages you to count bites instead of calories. You skip breakfast and then eat five bites of whatever food you want at lunch and dinner. The problem with this approach: even if you choose high-calorie foods for your five bites, you may only take in about 800 calories a day, which is less than half of the recommended daily amount. This diet won’t provide you with the key vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs, and may cause deficiencies that lead to anemia, bone loss, decreased cognitive function, and low energy.
- The Raw Food Diet
The Raw Food Diet teaches that cooking food destroys nutrients and natural enzymes, so you should only eat raw fruits, vegetables and grains. Since raw foods are often low in calories and fat, you’ll probably lose weight and get some nutrients on this diet. The downside is you’ll also miss some important nutrients, including protein, iron, calcium and minerals. Also, cooking food has some benefits, such as killing bacteria and making food easier to digest. Eating only raw foods can also lead to bloating, indigestion, constipation, malnutrition and a lowered immune system.
- The Baby Food Diet
The Baby Food Diet is an Internet phenomenon that cuts calories and controls portions by having you replace one or two meals a day with baby food, which ranges 25-75 calories per jar, and then eat a healthy dinner. This diet has several notable drawbacks. It is very low in fiber, which can lead to digestion problems. It is low in fat and protein, which will leave you hungry in an hour or two and increase your chances of binge eating. Also, since baby food is very bland and there’s little chewing, you will probably feel unsatisfied and crave something else.
- The Blood Type Diet
The Blood Type Diet is based on the assumption that the foods you eat react with your blood type, so your blood type dictates what you should eat. If your blood type is A, for example, you should have a mainly vegetarian diet; type O’s should consume meats and avoid grains; type B’s can eat a variety of foods; and if you’re type AB you can eat anything on the A and B lists. But research has not supported this diet’s claims, and following it can deprive you of vital nutrients. For example, people with type A blood may not get the proteins and carbohydrates they need for good health.
- The Master Cleanse
Master Cleanse claims to rid the body of harmful “toxins” and promote weight loss. It is a liquid diet that lasts three to 10 days and features a special lemonade drink made of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. This concoction is a diuretic that will cause you to shed water weight. The problems with the Master Cleanse are shared by all “cleansing” regimens. First, its claim that it rids the body of toxins is questionable since your liver and kidneys do that on a continual basis. Second, once you stop the diet, the water weight will return. Third, the diet only gives you 600-1,200 calories a day, well below the recommended daily amount. And finally, because of the lack of nutrients and calories, you may experience fatigue, nausea, dizziness and dehydration.
Now that we’ve looked at wrong ways to deal with weight gain, here are 10 good tips to help you enjoy the holidays while keeping your weight under control:
- Be realistic. Instead of trying to lose pounds during the holidays, try to maintain your current weight.
- Plan time for exercise. A moderate increase in exercise can help offset holiday eating. Try walking briskly 10-15 minutes twice a day.
- Before a party, eat a light snack like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite.
- At a party buffet, take small portions of a variety of foods, including vegetables and fruits.
- Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed. Chew your food slowly and enjoy the flavor.
- Limit the amount of alcoholic beverages you drink. They can lessen your inhibitions and induce overeating.
- If you overeat at one meal, eat less at the next to balance out your calorie intake.
- Plan group activities with family and friends that aren’t all about food. Try playing games or going on a walking tour of decorated homes.
- Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering.
- Prepare favorite dishes that are lower in fat and calories. Here are some tasty, healthy holiday recipes to get you started.
Dr. Janice Rutkowski is an MPCP partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She sees patients at the Arundel Mills office.
For adults age 50 and over, making healthy food choices and staying active are crucial lifestyle habits. Recent studies show that a good diet can not only help you resist illness and prevent certain diseases, but also defy or delay some of the common effects of aging.
“We need fewer daily calories as we age because our metabolism naturally begins to slow,” says MPCP Arnold physician, Amanda Malone, M.D. “Since you don’t need as many calories, those calories you do consume become very important. Your diet after age 50 should include a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods. Add in daily exercise and you’re on the path to a higher quality of life and enhanced independence as you age,” she adds.
Body Changes & Diet Needs
As we all know, our body changes with age. There is a reduction in muscle, an increase in body fat, and your total body water decreases by up to 20 percent. You need fewer calories than you did at a younger age since your basal metabolic rate decreases as muscle mass declines.
The good news is that moderate exercise helps preserve muscle mass and can slow the rate of this process. Of course, regular exercise has other benefits, including cardiovascular fitness, bone strength, better mobility and balance, as well as feelings of well-being. Dr. Malone adds, “Try to include exercise that increases lean muscle mass, like weight training. And consider yoga or pilates, which are great for flexibility and boosting your metabolism.”
Another effect of aging is that the body becomes less efficient at absorbing vital nutrients and minerals from our diet– including calcium, vitamin B and folate. Certain medications can also affect appetite, or block absorption of some vitamins and nutrients.
So, what should we “over 50s” do?
1. Make calories count.
“When patients ask ‘How many daily calories do I need?,’ I tell them it depends on how active they are and where their calories are coming from,” says Dr. Malone. Just counting calories isn’t enough for making smart food choices, but here are some general guidelines for maintaining (not losing) weight:
A woman over 50 who is:
-not physically active needs about 1600 calories a day
-somewhat active (housework, yard work, etc.) needs about 1800 calories a day
-very active (exercises regularly 30 mins. or more most days) needs about 2000 calories a day
A man over 50 who is:
-not physically active needs about 2000 calories a day
-somewhat active needs 2200-2400 calories per day
-very active needs 2400-2800 calories daily
These calories should come from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (5 a day when possible), unprocessed grains, and good sources of protein. To include more high quality protein in your diet, try replacing red meat and processed meat with fish, skinless chicken and turkey, low-fat dairy, and plant-based protein like beans, nuts and seeds.
“A variety of foods is best because you’ll have several sources of required vitamins and you won’t get bored by the same foods. Also, the more ‘whole’ unprocessed foods you can eat, the better. Go for the whole fruit, not fruit juices. Go for fresh, grilled or baked chicken, not processed lunch meat,” says Nurse Practitioner, Rachel Sweeney, of MPCP Arnold.
Also, if you are trying to maintain- or lose weight- keep track of daily calories with a food diary or a free app, such as myfitnesspal.com.
2. Drink water & eat more natural fiber.
As we age, we can become more prone to dehydration. Post a note in your kitchen reminding you to sip water throughout the day and to drink water with meals. Nutritionists say in general that 3-5 large glasses of water a day is adequate after age 50…you don’t need to go for 8-10 as we often hear. Make drinking more water a daily habit and you will help keep your mind sharp, and body regular. Staying hydrated keeps skin looking younger too!
Dietary fiber also helps keep the body and bowels regular, but can do much more, such as lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Women over 50 should aim to eat at least 21 grams of fiber a day, and men over 50 at least 30 grams per day. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, oatmeal, beans, and uncooked fruits and vegetables like carrots, apples and berries.
3. Don’t skip meals.
While it’s okay to skip meals occasionally, regularly missing meals or heavily restricting calories is unhealthy. Nutritionists advise those over 50 to eat three meals a day, or to break meals up into 5 smaller meals.
“Skipping meals causes our metabolism to slow down, which affects energy level and usually doesn’t help with weight loss,” says Rachel Sweeney, CRNP. “When we skip eating, our blood sugar levels drop, but they can surge again when we eat a big meal. This yo-yo effect is unhealthy and it’s much better to keep our blood sugar levels more even throughout the day with regular, healthy meals.”
Starting the day with a healthy breakfast gets your body going and is a good way to get some fruit, fiber and protein in your diet. Try yogurt topped with bran cereal and berries, or a veggie-packed omlette, peanut butter on whole grain toast or old-fashioned oatmeal with walnuts and fruit.
Snacking is okay as well to tide you over and keep your energy up during the day. Choose healthy options like almonds over chips and fruit instead of cookies. Other good snacks are a slice of cheese and whole grain crackers, veggies and hummus, and even a small cup of soup.
4. Read labels, and cut added sugar and sodium.
While it takes a bit more work, reading food labels can definitely help you make better food choices. Labels break down how much protein, carbohydrates, fats, sodium, key vitamins and minerals, and calories are in a specific serving.
Each label also has an ingredients list, which lists the ingredients from largest amount to smallest. Once you start reading labels you’ll be surprised how many foods list sugar or high fructose corn syrup as the first (largest) ingredient! Sugar is added to many of our foods to enhance the flavor, but many are crediting all the sugar in our diet to the obesity epidemic. Sugar may also cause inflammation in the body, so limiting it is good not only for weight control, but also possible disease prevention.
Reducing sodium (salt) will help prevent water retention and high blood pressure. Look for “low-sodium” options when shopping or try to season meals with herbs and spices other than salt.
5. Be cautious about supplements.
If you are over 50, some of the key vitamins and minerals you should get enough of are vitamin B12, vitamin D, folate and calcium. It is better to meet your needs through diet, but these are so important that you might want to consider taking supplements. Talk to your doctor about which, if any, supplements you need and don’t overdo it. High doses of certain supplements can be harmful, especially if you are on medications.
6. Stay Active!!
The benefits of exercise throughout your life can’t be over-stated. But as you age, even moderate exercise has been proven to add years to your life—and to make those years more enjoyable and independent.
“Regular exercise slows the effects of aging and many age-related disorders such as diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis,” says Dr. Malone. “But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We know that exercise reduces the risk and seriousness of falls and fractures, keeps our minds sharp, and encourages social interaction,” she adds.
It’s never too late to start exercising either. Start slow– take the stairs instead of the elevator, keep carrying your groceries, and try a new exercise class. As always, talk to your doctor about an exercise plan, and which activities you should consider given your age and current health status.
“Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” This quote from the poet Robert Browning, while written back in 1840, is the way many people are looking at aging today. We are on the cusp of learning more and more about the secrets to longevity—and the fact that our health isn’t predetermined only by our genes. Our lifestyle habits and choices have a huge impact on aging well, and successfully.
The average life expectancy in the US today is age 76 for men, 81 for women; and many people are living well above these averages into their late 80s and 90s. But for most of us simply living longer isn’t enough.
“What we really want is to live longer- and healthier,” says Michael Riebman, M.D. of MPCP in Annapolis. “Quality of life and staying active enough to do the things we enjoy is the goal of most of my patients.” And, according to Dr. Riebman and other health experts, there is growing scientific evidence that much of how well we age lies in our own hands.
While it definitely helps to have good genes, here are eight research-based tips on what you can do to encourage a longer, healthier life :
- Exercise Your Body. Staying physically active is crucial to maintaining your health and weight. Shoot for 30 minutes of activity every day to help your cardiovascular health, bone & muscle health and mental health. Fitness also helps your balance and reduces the risk of falls and fractures as you age.
- Exercise Your Mind & Social Skills. Stay engaged and try new activities to keep your mind sharp. Start a new hobby, take a course in something that interests you, listen to different music. Also make sure you stay engaged socially. According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the relationships we cultivate have a greater impact on aging well than the events we experience.
- Eat Well & Maintain Weight. Obesity is a huge problem in our country and contributes to many diseases. “Eating a balanced diet and having a proper weight can’t be overlooked for good health,” says Dr. Riebman. He encourages a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. “Getting essential nutrients from our food is key and even taking some supplements as we age can help,” he adds.
- Get Regular Check-ups. Preventive care and early detection of disease helps you live longer. See your primary care doctor as a partner in health and be frank about your health concerns. Staying on top of high blood pressure or cholesterol, or other chronic problems, as well as getting the right screening exams at certain ages, is critical. Even some vaccinations are now suggested for older adults.
- Stop Smoking Already! Cigarette smoking is the #1 cause of preventable death. And, it’s never too late to quit and start getting immediate health benefits. There are many options to help you quit, so talk to your doctor or seek out resources.
- Be Safe. Studies show that important daily habits, such as wearing a seat belt, using a bike helmet, taking medications correctly, using sunscreen regularly, etc. all add up to a significantly longer, healthier life.
- Sleep Well. Sleep is restorative to our bodies and adults need 7-8 hours a night. This doesn’t really change as we get older so make sleep a priority at every age.
- Attitude Adjustments. According to a major Gallup poll of people age 18-85, levels of stress and worry hit a low point and well-being hits a high point by age 85. People with a positive attitude live longer and enjoy life more. Talk to someone if you feel depressed or anxious; there are many ways to help. And try to add a little humor – laughter is one of our best defenses!