Food, Friends and Fitness

May 31 is National Senior Health & Fitness Day and it’s a perfect time to remind seniors and their care givers about the importance of a healthy lifestyle which is much more fun – and just as beneficial – as regular exercise alone.

In honor of this special senior day, let’s take a more holistic approach and view health for what it really is – a well-rounded lifestyle that includes delicious, nutritious food, great friends and a potpourri of fitness. 

Food

There is no better example of the importance of nutrition and the impact it can have on a senior’s health than this quote:

Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates

Food is one of the most social and shared experiences among people of all cultures. Coming together for a meal allows us to indulge, savor the tastes of good food, and catch up with friends and family. While the events surrounding food are often fun and beneficial in their own right, what we actually consume has a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing.

The foods we consume can greatly affect how our bodies respond. For example, heavy, processed foods can make you feel sluggish, whereas foods high in nutrients can give you a burst of energy. While it is okay to indulge every now and then, it’s important for seniors (and all of us) to focus on eating balanced and nutritious meals most of the time. Include lean proteins, complex carbohydrates such as colorful vegetables & fruits, and healthy fats into your daily intake.

Visual Food Group Reminder

Protein

Acts as the building blocks of muscle to help maintain strength through exercise

Carbs

Provides your body with energy throughout the day and decreases fatigue

Fats

Aids in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, enhances the immune system and provides energy

Incorporating a balanced diet with the foods suggested above will help a senior (and you) maintain their overall health and wellness.

Friends

Our social connections are just as important to our health and wellbeing as exercise and nutrition. Studies have shown that friendships and strong bonds with family can actually lengthen your lifespan. According to a Harvard study, social connection “helps relieve harmful levels of stress" which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors “trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.”

Additionally, our friendships and positive family relationships can also stimulate the mind through conversation and activity, as well as, give one a sense of belonging. The impact of our social connections should not be taken for granted. They may likely be the source of our good health, especially as we age.

Fitness

Have you ever heard the phrase “Exercise is Medicine?” This is not a new idea – just take a look at a few of these quotes from some prominent figures in history:

Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it. - Plato

 Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning. – Thomas Jefferson

Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. - JFK

Exercise is in fact one of the most effective forms of preventative medicine. People who exercise can decrease their risk, or even reverse, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity. In addition, exercise can decrease the risk of osteoporosis, sleep disorders, depression, and even some forms of cancer.

The wonderful thing about using exercise as medicine, is that it really doesn’t take much: 30 minutes of low to moderate aerobic activity 5 days per week. Even better, studies have shown that the 30 minutes of exercise can be broken into two 15-minute sessions, or three 10-min sessions. Aerobic activity can include things like walking, riding a bike, or swimming. If you don’t have access to a bike or swimming pool, it’s time to get walking!

Walking can be done almost anywhere, requires no equipment, and is free! It also is a great way to encourage and maintain lower body strength, core stability, and posture. Not sure what constitutes low to moderate activity? No problem! You should be able to maintain a conversation without feeling like you need to gasp for air. So grab a friend or loved one to get some fresh air and exercise.

While regular visits to your doctor are important, it’s never too late to incorporate a well-rounded approach to your health. Let’s celebrate National Senior Health and Fitness by connecting with a senior friend or family member to go for a walk or share a tasty meal together. 

Stephanie Grier, MS (Kinesiology and Biomechanics), ATC, CSCS, is a health and wellness expert at digital healthcare company Reflexion Health.  For additional tips and her latest insights, please follow her at @stephaniedgrier.

 
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