“First mend yourself, and then mend others.” This old Jewish proverb speaks directly to the heart of senior health issues. As a whole, the Jewish people are known for taking care of everyone around them and then, with what little time remains in the day, taking care of everyone else.
Research demonstrates that the time is right at any age to focus on nutrition and exercise for better health. Nourishment and fitness are important keys to wellness because the secret to aging gracefully is not only to live longer, but to live stronger.
As the body ages and the risk of disease increases, the odds of living a quality life may seem stacked against us, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Studies prove that a great investment in wellness is a diet packed with nutrient-dense foods full of vitamins and minerals. Exercise is another good way to combat bone-density and blood sugar issues. Eating well and moving more today allows you to be at your best tomorrow, no matter what your age.
A balancing act
As we reach and surpass the 60-year mark, our bodies need fewer calories. This means making the right food choices becomes even more essential. Seniors should try to eat at least two balanced meals each day. Two 3-ounce servings (about the size of a deck of cards) of meat, poultry or fish provide your full daily protein requirement. Better yet, instead of relying on animal proteins, consider plant-based proteins, which are high in fiber, nutrient dense and lower in calories. By swapping that burger for legumes, such as chickpeas or lentils, you are eliminating the saturated fats that can cause disease.
Pair your protein with a half-cup of complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, quinoa or whole grain bread. Eating complex carbohydrates as opposed to simple carbs, such as white bread, white rice and white pasta, adds bulk to your diet. This satisfies your hunger and aids with elimination while helping maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Fat, fruit and fiber
Maybe you’ve heard you should avoid saturated fats, but this doesn’t mean eliminating all fats from your diet. In fact, adding a small amount of “good fats” (from plant sources such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds) can make you feel satisfied longer. This helps with weight control, which, in turn, lowers the risk of heart disease.
And finally, two fruits a day and plenty of vegetables will provide fiber and many of the vitamins you need to boost your immune system.
Use it or lose it
If you aren’t exercising, you should be. Weight-bearing exercise, even with light hand weights, has been shown to help prevent and reverse muscle atrophy. Aerobic exercise four times a week, such as a brisk walk, gets your blood pumping and is as healthy for your brain as it is for your heart. And if getting out of the house is a challenge, chair-based exercise is a good alternative.
Of course, stiff and sore joints can derail even the best intentions to keep active. As the body ages, the padding between joints wears down and osteoarthritis sets in. Getting past the aches to exercise can be a challenge, but take heart: There are foods that can help ease the pain.
Selenium: This little-known trace mineral helps antioxidants clear out cell-damaging free radicals. People with selenium in their diet tend to have less osteoarthritis. Brazil nuts (just a few), tuna, brown rice and shiitake mushrooms are the highest food sources for selenium.
Vitamin C: This vitamin has superstar status for a good reason. Not only does it fight colds and support immunity, but it also helps lessen cartilage breakdown and repair connective tissue. Red and green peppers, kiwi and oranges are among the highest sources.
Vitamin K: A deficiency in this vitamin can narrow the space between joints and cause bone spurs. Cooked leafy greens such as spinach and kale are major sources.
Omega 3 fatty acids: The epitome of anti-inflammatory ingredients, omega 3s are essential for fighting disease. They are found in enriched eggs, tuna, wild salmon, sardines, canola oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts and almonds.
Vitamin D: Studies confirm this vitamin reduces the risk of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The recommended amount is 600 IU up to age 70 and 800 for those over 70. Best sources are enriched dairy, wild salmon, sardines and the sun. Taking a supplement is often recommended. Maintaining normal levels of vitamin D can lead to increased muscle strength and help maintain healthy cartilage.
Of course, always talk to your doctor before starting a new diet or exercise program. And then, remember that Jewish proverb to mend yourself. You’ll not only be healthier and happier, but also then in a prime position to help mend others.
Jeannie Solomon is a nutrition and wellness coach at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.