Nutrition As We Age

In my last blog post I shared with you the obstacles that can get in the way of our Aging In Place, which is the ability to live in your own home and community safely, independently and comfortably.

  • Poor Eyesight and/or Hearing
  • Reduced Muscle Mass/ Less Strength
  • Diminished endurance and stamina
  • Increased risk of accidents due to bone fragility, poor balance, loss of strength
  • Decreased mobility and agility
  • Decreased flexibility

Exercise, Nutrition, Hydration, Social interaction and Mental stimulation are areas to focus on and are things that we can do, right now.    I’m going to talk about Nutrition today and how it relates to keeping us functionally strong (able to do everyday activities) and how proper nutrition supports muscle mass and bone density which goes hand in hand with being functionally strong.   Having more strength, more muscle mass and stronger bones decreases our risk of accidents and better ensures that we can do the basic activities of daily living.

Age related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function is called sarcopenia.  Throughout childhood and until about the age of 30, muscles grow larger and stronger. In those who are physically inactive, muscle mass declines between three and eight percent each decade after the age of 30 and increases to five and 10 percent each decade after age 50.  After age 50, those who are inactive can experience a 15 percent loss of strength per decade. Of those 65 and older, 16 to 18 percent of women and eight to 10 percent of men in the United States cannot lift ten pounds, bend forward to pick something up off the ground or kneel to the floor. After the age of 75, this increases to 66 percent of women and 28 percent of men being unable to lift more than ten pounds.

Muscle strength is strongly correlated to physical independence and fall prevention. Loss of muscle mass and strength is related to functional impairment and an increased risk for a fall. Leg strength, particularly the ability to rise from a chair, has been found to be a major predictor of frailty and mortality. Leg strength and walking gait speed are two variables predicting fall risk. Additionally, muscular endurance necessary to maintain balance under multi-task conditions such as cooking, gardening or recreational activities, and the importance of muscular power in reactive balance such as slipping on ice or tripping over a curb are important fall risk factors in older adults.

Nutrition and resistance-based exercise are vitally important to minimize sarcopenia and the loss of function as a result.  They go together.  I will talk about exercise in my next column.  We must fuel our bodies with the nutrients it needs to keep us thriving and performing.  This is especially true as we get older since. We simply don’t have time to recover and rebound from poor choices.

What do our bodies need?  Food with nutrients: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, phytonutrients, omega 3 fatty acids, and fiber.  These are substances that our bodies need to thrive, not just survive.  We find these nutrients in vegetables, fruit, unbroken whole grains, healthy fat from whole food sources and lean protein (animal &/or plant-based).  We should base our diet (the way we eat) on these whole foods. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is an across-the-board great dietary habit to get into since produce is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. The more colorful the better; Think dark green, orange, purple, yellow and red.

Protein. Calcium. Vitamin D.   We need to especially focus on these 3 things since they support healthy, dense bones and muscle mass.   Older adults need more protein than they are likely eating; if your diet is too low in protein, then the rate of muscle mass loss accelerates because you are not giving your body the building blocks needed to maintain or build muscle mass.

Protein is present in every cell of the body and is needed to perform a variety of functions from muscle repair to immune function to fluid balance.  Our bodies don’t store or manufacture the protein we need, so we must get it from the food we eat. Older adults have an increased need for protein to improve bone health, strength, function and muscle mass – all of which decline with age. In general, older adults need between 1 – 1.5 g per 1 kg of body weight.  To keep it simple: 100 lbs. of bodyweight = 50 – 75 grams of protein.  Protein is found in a variety of animal and plant-based foods; ensuring you are getting in a good amount of protein isn’t difficult, but you do need to keep your eye on the ball.   Aim to have protein with each meal and snack.  Where to find it?

  • Plain Greek or Icelandic Yogurt, 1 cup   20g
  • Flavored Greek Yogurt, 1 cup                   13 g
  • Cottage Cheese, 1 cup                                 20 g
  • 1 oz.  hard cheese                                          7 g
  • Large egg                                                         6 g
  • Chicken Breast 3 oz                                      30g
  • Turkey Breast, 3 oz                                       30g
  • Ground Beef. 3 oz                                          30g
  • Steak, 3 oz                                                       30g
  • Pork Chop 3 oz                                               30g
  • Fish, 4 oz                                                         30g
  • Shrimp. 4 oz                                                   30g
  • Lobster tail, small                                         20g
  • Scallop, 1 average                                           3g
  • Canned Tuna, 4 oz                                        30g
  • Canned Salmon, 4 oz                                    25g
  • Beans & Lentils, 4 oz                                   13-18g
  • Vegetables        All vegetables have protein, but they are not as rich of a protein source as animal-based protein, beans or lentils.  Asparagus, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke, Watercress, yellow corn are the top 7 vegetables highest in protein.    1 large spear of asparagus or broccoli has ½ g of protein on average; therefore 10 spears will have 5 g of protein.

Set a goal of paying attention to your protein intake ensuring you are eating protein with every meal and snack. Ask yourself: “What am I going to eat with my protein”?  Challenge yourself to always think protein first when planning your meals and snacks.

Stay Healthy. Be Strong. Get After It.

How CHERRIES can impact your Health

Cherries. They are beautiful.  They are cheery little morsels that are sweet, but also tart.  Have you ever thought about how a handful of cherries per day could be a dose of medicine that you are missing out on?

As Hippocrates said: “Let food by thy medicine and let medicine by thy food”. 

Cherries are loaded with antioxidants.  Tart cherries have properties that are different, and often more potent, than sweet cherries.  Sweet cherries can be a delicious lower glycemic load snack (important for diabetics and others with insulin resistance), but when it comes to supplementing your diet with cherry juice, make it tart!

Tart cherries have long been used as a natural pain killer and are particularly effective against gout. Scientists believe that compounds in the cherries called anthocyanins are responsible for the effect. Cherries have been shown to lower levels of uric acid in the blood which is one of the most common causes of gout pain. Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis triggered by high levels of uric acid in the blood.  Look for tart cherry juice at the grocery or health food store (Knudsen is a common brand) and get in the habit of having a small glass each day. Tart cherry juice is, well you know: Tart. It is straight up juice, no added sugar or other ingredients.  I like it chilled and I drink it from a juice glass. I’ve been working with a gentleman for a few years now as his health coach and he hasn’t had a flare up of gout since he added tart cherry juice to his daily routine.

Anthocyanins from cherries are also highly anti-inflammatoryConsuming them on a regular basis may help lower the risk for heart attack, stroke and even colon cancer.

In addition to cherries, foods that are rich in anthocyanins include blueberries, blackberries, purple carrots and pomegranate juice.  The richer the color of the fruit or vegetable, the greater likelihood it’s loaded with the health-giving compounds.

Osteoarthritis and Muscle Pain.  These are ailments that I struggle with and I’m betting many of you reading this also feel the same pain.    A cup and a half of tart cherries or one cup of tart cherry juice daily can reduce joint pain of osteoarthritis and muscle inflammation and soreness.

What are some other benefits of adding cherries, specifically tart cherries and tart cherry juice to your diet?

  • Can help you sleep better. Drink cherry juice 30 minutes after waking and 30 minutes before your evening meal to boost melatonin. Cherries are a good source of melatonin and have also been found to help with jet lag.  There is a higher level of melatonin in tart cherries compared to sweet cherries.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association includes cherries as one of the memory boosting foods because they are rich in antioxidants.
  • May reduce the risk of stroke. Tart cherries provide cardiovascular benefits. The anthocyanins may activate PPAR which regulates genes involved in fat and glucose metabolism and thus, reduce risk factors for high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Improve the aging of our skin. Cherries and their high antioxidant level help the body fight the aging process.
  • Help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. The phytosterols in cherries help reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.

I don’t know about you, but that is a lot to Cheer about. Why don’t you head out to find yourself a jar of tart cherry juice and put it in your fridge to chill.

Stay Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get After It.

 

I share my thoughts with you to provide information and food for thought aka pondering. Pondering which will lead to more reading, education and Eureka! moments. However, please don’t take it as medical advice. It isn’t. If you have a medical condition, or suspect you have one, always seek care from a licensed medical professional. That way — it’s all BAMtastic! 

Chamayne – Why She Runs

This is a guest blog from my friend, Chamayne Metcalfe Johnson.  Chamayne and I graduated from high school together in 1981 and are 55 this year.  Age 55 may not be the same as it was for our mothers, but the years tick on for all of us.  One thing that is  different for us is that we are better equipped to change up our habits so that we can be stronger and healthier as we age.  This is Chamayne’s story.

I did indeed have a very special birthday this year. I ran my first 5K race — at age 55.  I placed 5th in my age group and only started running 3 months ago.

Here’s the story: After steadfastly refusing for years, um…decades, when asked by friends, I started running on August 22, 2018. Well, maybe more like shuffle-jogging at times but still…

I had never run in my entire life. And I do mean never. In high school and into my 20’s, I was what most people might consider to be fairly fit and “athletic.” However, there’s a big difference in being “athletic” and being an athlete. I was not an athlete. I never participated in organized sports teams, never had a coach making me run, and therefore, I.NEVER.RAN. EV-ER. And in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, well….enough said.

But then…

For the last two summers, for some unknown reason, I’d wake up and see the sun shining, hear the birds singing, and have a real urge to hop out of bed, go out the back door, and actually run. I never did it, but something was just there — a nudging, an itch, a restlessness.

I ran into a teaching friend a couple of weeks into school who made changes to his lifestyle for the sake of his health and because of his loved ones, so that he’d be here for them. He told me that every day, he looks in the mirror, points at himself, and says, “You will NOT be a sorry ass!” For some reason, that hit me hard. It began to motivate even the stubborn no-I’m-never-gonna-run me. It resonated and stuck with me.

The final piece of the puzzle, the determining factor, the catalyst… Kenny. My sweet husband has coal miner’s pneumoconiosis…black lung disease.  He is also a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. He’d give anything to have his health back, to breathe easily. He’d love to be able to inhale our beautiful mountain air deeply and exhale fully until his scarred belly is concave. He’d love to run. He can’t, but by golly….I can.  And so I am.

All of those things just came together in God’s perfect timing and I made my mind up to start one day after school. I’m doing it. Running. I’m more tortoise than hare, but I am a runner now. I love it. I’ve fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. I’ll probably never be fast but then that’s not my goal anyway.

My goal is not to waste the health that God has so graciously bestowed upon me. I’ve been so very blessed with strong legs, healthy lungs, a heart that’s still beating, and eyes and ears that can gaze upon the majesty of nature and hear the beauty of birdsong as I run.

My goal is to be healthy, to be here for my loved ones. My husband needs me, my mother needs me, my son needs me. I’m doing it for me, for them, and for those who can’t.

I’m doing it for my mother, who due to ulcerative colitis, grief, and other concerns, is in very poor health and begs me to do whatever I must to stay healthy, maintain good balance, prevent falls, and promote strong muscles and bones.

I’m doing it for my mom’s lifelong best friend who’s had two total knee replacements.

I’m doing it for Mamaw, who, before her death, was crippled and confined to a wheelchair by degenerative osteoporosis.

I’m doing it for my brother, Britt, who died by suicide. I think of him often as I run here on the farm.

I’m doing it for Daddy and Pappy who died of heart disease.

I’m doing it for Papaw, Memmy, and my cousin Karen, who each died from stroke complications.

I’m doing it to set a good example for my and Kenny’s kids and grandkids.

I’m doing it to encourage others, especially anyone who’s never run before, anyone in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s…anyone who’s never really been active and thinks it’s too late. It’s not! No matter your age, young or old, teenager or grandparent, you CAN make a change. If I can do it, you can do it.

When I first started, Wednesday, August 22, 2018, I didn’t even know if I COULD run. I truly didn’t know if it was possible at 54 years, 11 months, and 6 days old. I have beginning cataracts, damaged cervical vertebrae from a car accident, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis curvature from childhood, arthritic-like joints at times, and numerous kidney stones just waiting to be jarred about and send me to the ER again. Not to mention, zero cardiovascular stamina.

I solicited the help of my friend Erica. She and another friend started back in January, asked me to join them, and I practically laughed in their faces as I categorically refused, saying, “This ole gal don’t run!” Oh, but I ate those words, incorrect grammar and all, and now needed advice on apps and some “coaching.”

I started the Fitness22 5K app, an eight-week program. You run 3 times per week, building up run time. You always start each run with 5 minutes walking to warm up and end with 5 minutes walking to cool down. Between warm up and cool down, you alternate run time with walk time. For instance, Week 1 Day 1 is: 1 minute run/1.5 minute walk, 6 times. That’s it. Sounds doable, right?

Guess what? I thought I’d DIE trying to run ONE MINUTE. Yes, 60 seconds! It was awful, even with 1.5 minutes walking in between. But I stuck it out. I did the next day and next day and the next day, week after week. If I couldn’t finish one of the training runs, I’d repeat it again until I could accomplish it before moving on to the next level. At the end of the 5K app, you’ve built up to running 35 minutes non-stop with no walking in between. (I’ve actually worked up to 53 minutes and over 3 miles a few times.)

So, I started running literally 60 seconds at a time, gasping for breath like a galloping horse, and today, I completed a 5K, running the whole way, never walking one step and never stopping one time.

I can’t wait to do it again.       ~  Chamayne

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the “good” types of fat that blunt inflammatory responses. They may help lower the risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients; like all other essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, they are used routinely by the body in critical metabolic functions. In the case of omega-3 fats, they are incorporated into cell membranes and are a major construction material for a large family of hormones known as prostaglandins.   Prostaglandins are, among other things, regulators of the immune system and the body’s inflammatory responses. Some classes of fat, including most omega-6 fats, are used to construct prostaglandins that accentuate inflammatory responses. The prostaglandins manufactured from omega-3s tend to help weaken such responses, and this is why fish oil is often called “anti-inflammatory” because it leads to the manufacture of hormones that blunt inflammatory responses.

Where can you find them?

 FISH & SEAFOOD

  • Salmon (Wild Alaskan Salmon is best)
  • Arctic Char
  • Sardines
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Anchovies
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Mussels
  • Crab
  • Cod

Those are the fish and seafood that are highest in Omega 3s.  However, eating any variety of fish that lived in the sea or rivers and lakes that are abundant with a variety of algae will reward you with some Omega 3s.

FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS

You are looking for at least 500 mg of EPA and DPA per dosage, not the total amount of Omega 3 fish oil used to make the product (which is what the label usually highlights)Fish oil supplements from Nordic waters are noted to be especially high quality.  Single source Cod Liver Oil is also an option. Brands that I recommend:   Carlson’s and Nordic Naturals

SEA PLANTS 

“Seaweed” is the common name for countless species of marine plants and algae that grow in the ocean as well as in rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.

  •  Kelp
  • Kombu
  • Wakame
  • Dulse
  • Nori

NUTS and SEEDS

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds (ground or grind the whole seeds yourself)
  • Pumpkin (pepita) seeds

OILS

  • Cod Liver oil
  • Flax Seed oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Mustard oil [can be found in Indian food stores]

 Try mustard oil in salads instead of olive oil; dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale have Omega 3s

VEGETABLES & FRUIT

Dark leafy greens

  •  Spinach
  •  Kale
  • Collards
  • Broccoli rabe

Cruciferous vegetables

  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts

Winter Squash

Berries

  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  •  Blueberries
  • Mangoes

Honeydew Melon

SPICES & HERBS

Virtually all herbs and spices have a great Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio; the ones with highest Omega 3s:

  • Oregano
  • Marjoram
  • Tarragon
  • Cloves

Cortisol & Lowering Your Stress Levels

Cortisol is a stress-induced chemical that is produced by the adrenal glands. This “stress hormone” helps regulate blood pressure and the immune system during a sudden crisis, whether a physical attack or an emotional setback. This helps you to tap into your energy reserves and increases your ability to fight off infection.  The trouble is, relentless stress can keep this survival mechanism churning in high gear, subverting the hormone’s good intentions. Chronically high cortisol levels can cause sleep problems, a depressed immune response, blood sugar abnormalities, and weight gain (especially in the abdominal area).  When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories—a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator but not if you’re fretting over how to pay bills. You don’t have to “feel” stressed out for your body to be stressed.

Fortunately, an antidote to the body’s fight-or-flight mode has evolved:  the relaxation response.  Here are some things to manage stress that can reduce your cortisol levels and get your body (and your mind & spirit) chilled out.

  • Breathing / Mindfulness Meditation
    • Check out the CALM app or Deepak Chopra’s Meditations
  • Sleep
    • Take a Nap
    • Go to bed earlier
    • Improve sleep hygiene practices
  • Laugh
    • Hang out with a funny friend
    • Comedy – watch a movie; head out to a comedy club
    • Read or listen to a “mindlessly” funny book and escape the world for a while
  • Book a Massage

In addition to keeping cortisol under control, massage sessions reduce stress by promoting production of dopamine and serotonin

  • Cut back or eliminate sugary and heavy-duty caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks

These beverages spike cortisol levels almost immediately

  • Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet
    • White bread and pasta; candy, cookies, snack cakes, etc.

Processed flour & sugary carbs (usually found together) cause a spike in cortisol & increase blood sugar levels which makes you feel anxious

  • Make sure you are drinking enough water

Just a half-liter of dehydration can raise cortisol levels. Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. If your urine is darker colored, it’s probably a sign that you’re not drinking enough water. Adequately-hydrated individuals have urine that is light, almost water-like, in appearance.

  • Add more Omega 3 fatty acids into your diet
  • Brew up some black tea

The “cup that cheers” has deep associations with comfort and calm—just think of how the English revere their late-afternoon teatime. As it turns out, science confirms the connection: When volunteers at University College London were given a stressful task, the cortisol levels of those who were regular black-tea drinkers fell by 47% within an hour of completing the assignment. Study author Andrew Steptoe, PhD, suspects that naturally occurring chemicals such as polyphenols and flavonoids may be responsible for tea’s calming effects.

  • Low Intensity / Relaxing Exercise
    • Yoga. Pilates. Tai Chi.
  • Listen to Relaxing Music
  • Sit down with a Coloring book and Crayons
  • Head outside and spend some time with Nature
    • Stretch out and relax in a field of daisies and just enjoy the sun and gentle breeze on your face
    • Lie in a hammock under the stars
    • Grab some binoculars and head out for some bird watching

Get Your Morning Started Right

Looking ahead to the day?  Here are 4 things that you can do each morning to get your day started & give your body and mind some Oomph.

1. STRETCH before you get out of bed. Move those joints (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck)  and those big muscle muscle groups ( legs, chest, back) and when you swing your legs over to finally stand up: stretch toward the sky.

2. OPEN the blinds & let daylight in.

3. DRINK a glass of cold water. Your body hasn’t had hydration for hours and the cold water will give your body both hydration & oomph. Note: we walk around dehydrated a lot of the time – our brains, lungs, heart , liver, muscles ( you name it!)need hydration, they need straight up water. Our Metabolism needs water!

4. EXERCISE a wee bit after you have water, but before you take a shower or eat breakfast. I’m not talking a full out workout , I’m talking movement & exercise. Walk up & down your driveway. Intentionally walk stairs a few times. Do some jumping jacks        (seated or standing). Dance to a favorite upbeat song.  Ride a stationary bike. 10 minutes – you’ve got it in you !

 

STAY Healthy. Be STRONG.  Get AFTER IT!

OSTEOARTHRITIS. Eat Well & Move your Joints!

Arthritis pain and stiffness can make you feel that you don’t want to move, so you find yourself sitting more and moving less. That seems like the thing to do, but it isn’t.  Our joints need movement.   When healthy joints move, the bones glide against one another little friction due to a layer of slick articular cartilage and slippery synovial fluid.  Synovial fluid provides cushion and lubrication for the joints. When a joint is at rest, cartilage absorbs some of the synovial fluid. When the joint is in use the synovial fluid is squeezed out of the cartilage; moving our joints is essential to circulate the synovial fluid.  Gently moving the joints for 10 minutes each morning will start your day off with less stiffness and can lessen pain when you continue to move throughout the day.  Even if you are sitting, you can be moving your joints.  Exercise that is joint friendly without impact to the joints is essential.  Creating a habit of 10 minutes of Ageless Grace® practice is a great way to start your day for your body and your mind.

Food What we put into our bodies matter.  Food is indeed medicine.  A basic place to start is eating more fruits, vegetables and crowding processed sugars out of your life. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar is added to many commercially prepared foods, many that you wouldn’t expect.  White flour products (bread, rolls, crackers and many cereals) are refined and lack fiber. These foods fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation.

Beyond those basics, add more Omega-3 fatty acids to your life.  Omega-3s blunt inflammatory responses that may help lower the risk of arthritis, dementia, heart disease and depression. Prostaglandins are regulators of the immune system and the body’s inflammatory responses.  Omega-3s help weaken inflammatory responses while Omega-6 fats increase inflammatory responses.  We tend to get more Omega-6 fats in our diet due to convenience foods, and we don’t get enough Omega-3s.

Where can you find Omega-3s?  Eating more fish and seafood is an excellent way to get more Omega-3 fats. The fattier the fish, the richer it is in Omega-3s.  Best choices are: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Arctic Char, Sardines, Halibut, Mackerel, Tuna, Rainbow Trout, Cod, Anchovies, Oysters, Shrimp, Mussels and Crab.

Nuts and Seeds also have some Omega-3s. Walnuts have the greatest amount. Chia seeds, Flax seeds (ground or grind the whole seeds yourself) and Pumpkin (pepita) seeds also are good sources.  Flax seed oil, Walnut oil and Mustard oil are also rich sources. Mustard oil can be found in Indian food stores. Try mustard oil in salads instead of olive oil. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale have Omega-3s; try a salad made with those greens and mustard oil for an Omega-3 punch.

Vegetables and Fruit also contain Omega-3s. The richest sources are: dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards and broccoli rabe.  Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Winter squash, Berries, Mangoes and Honeydew melon.  Citrus fruits due to their rich Vitamin C content, aid in collagen production which is beneficial for joint health.  In fact, read my blog post on Collagen.

Get excess weight off your joints.   If you are overweight and certainly if you are obese, getting at least 10% of your extra bodyweight off your joints will help tremendously.  Every additional pound of excess bodyweight puts approximately 4lbs of extra stress on our joints.  Less stress on your joints = less wear and tear and less pain.

In summary, rid yourself of excess weight on your joints, eat less processed sugar and commercial baked goods. Eat more vegetables and fruit especially leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and berries. Eat more fish. Eat more walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. Consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement or a vegan algae supplement.  Get movement into your life and your joints every single day.

Stay HEALTHY. Be STRONG. Get AFTER It.

 

Longevity of Health & Our Core

I don’t care about having a six-pack, so why should I care about my core? Because. Your. Core. Is. Everything.

Something that makes me a bit crazy is when I hear someone say they need to do some core exercises because they want to rid themselves of belly fat. Typically, that doesn’t end the way they were hoping. Why? First of all, it isn’t just our abdominal muscles. Secondly, you can exercise those abdominal muscles all day long and you aren’t going to get rid of much belly fat. You will get stronger abdominal muscles, perhaps a sore back and often your midriff will get larger because you’ve overworked those ab muscles, and you still have fat on top of said muscles. To burn fat, it takes more than just throwing down a lot of targeted exercises for your rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominis and the obliques. Instead, compound exercises, aerobic exercise and nutrition geared to fat loss is the name of the fat loss game.  But I digress.

Our core is a complex series of muscles that connect from our upper back down to our lower back and hips.  Essentially, it is our entire trunk – front and back.  From our upper back to our hips, our core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as a stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another or initiate movement itself. Our core is vitally important for our stability and balance.

Our core primarily works as a stabilizer and force transfer center rather than a prime mover. Yet, people consistently focus on training their core as a prime move in isolation – aka targeted abdominal exercises. They are doing crunches instead of deadlifts, overhead squats and pushups and other functional closed chain exercises. By training that way, not only are you missing out on a major function of the core, but you are missing out on more efficient movement, better strength gains and longevity of health. When it comes to our core our back, hips and pelvic floor should be getting lots more attention.

How does have a strong and well-functioning core impact our lives? As we age, and we are all aging every day, our health, our quality of life and our independence rely on a strong core.

  • Normal life stuff. Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, maintaining balance on an icy sidewalk, carrying groceries, walking up a steep flight of stairs or simply standing still are a few of the actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed use our core.
  • At Work.Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.
  • Healthy Back.Low back pain is a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives and may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it.
  • Sports & Pleasure Activities.Golfing, tennis, biking, swimming, kayaking, playing with your children or grandchildren are powered by a strong core.
  • House & Yard work. Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, digging, hammering, reaching overhead, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting all utilize the core.
  • Balance & Stability.Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. A strong stable core protects against falls and injuries.
  • Good posture.Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture makes us all look better.

How can you have a healthier core and a healthier life? Core work is different from strength-training programs that isolate a single muscle group. Instead, they challenge as many muscles as possible in integrated, coordinated movements. Core moves should engage your entire body, from head to toe. A good place to start is with activities you enjoy and can incorporate into your daily life such as swimming, bicycling, yoga and walking with fitness poles. Beyond that, get a core assessment from a qualified physical therapist or personal trainer and implement a core strengthening and stabilizing training program in conjunction with developing a habit of incorporating daily exercise into your life.  A professional core assessment will include testing for core stability, static and dynamic strength; the training program will be customized for you based upon the results of your assessment.

Stay HEALTHY. Be STRONG. GET After It.

LYMPHEDEMA – What can you change up?

According to an article from Medical News Today published in July 2013, lymphedema occurs in up to 13% of breast cancer patients, increasing to 40% after lymph node dissection and radiation, and it’s not only breast cancer patients that are at risk: “Surgery and radiation after lymph node removal can cause scarring that blocks the lymph ducts, not only in the underarm but also in the legs, groin, pelvis, or neck after treatment for uterine, prostate, ovarian, or prostate cancer, as well as lymphoma and melanoma.“

WHY am I writing about this topic?  My cousin is a breast cancer survivor and she asked me if there was anything she could be doing differently with her food and/or exercise to help alleviate her symptoms.  Her doctor had advised the lymphedema would progress in severity, but didn’t offer her any “real world” advice beyond what she already knew. Compression garments, massage by specially trained therapists, pneumatic pump therapy and therapeutic exercise overseen by a physical therapist. She wanted to know what ELSE she could personally do. Therefore, I did some research for her.  What I found was interesting and very straightforward.  I keep learning that Food is indeed medicine. What I keep finding out over and over again – what we eat and how we move can make a GREAT impact on our overall health.  What I found out about lymphedema isn’t really any different than basic good nutritional guidelines that we should all be following to safeguard and improve our health.

Lymphedema is a build-up of fluid in soft body tissues when the lymph system is damaged or blocked.  Edema = Swelling.   If you have Lymphedema you know it. It isn’t silent or hidden.   If you have edema or swelling in your hands, arms, legs, feet, neck, groin – please seek medical attention, diagnosis and treatment.  If you have Lymphedema and are reading this – please discuss this information with your doctor to see if it may be right for you.  

If you are a Lymphedema patient and haven’t been referred to a Registered Dietitian –  seek out a referral.   Nutritional support is a vital piece of the treatment plan that often is neglected.  A Health Coach can work with you in conjunction with your medical team to support you in your goals.

Rebounding. Jumping on a mini trampoline.  Rebounding may help move lymphatic fluid through your body and act as a “pump”. If you don’t have a mini trampoline, sit in a sturdy chair and bounce your legs up and down as if jumping on a trampoline.  Before starting any exercise program – consult with your physician.

Lower your sodium intake.  Sodium lurks everywhere and is especially high in processed “convenience” foods. If it’s been packaged, boxed, jarred or canned by the food industry – keep your eye on the label.   Canned vegetables, soups, frozen entrees, condiments, sauces, deli meats and fast food are the primary culprits.   If you cook the majority of your meals from REAL ingredients – you have better control of the quality.   When you are cooking, herbs add flavor without salt.

Potassium rich foods.   We tend to get plenty of sodium in our diets, but not enough potassium. Potassium helps balance out sodium in our diets and is key in helping to decrease blood pressure.   Most folks immediately think bananas when thinking potassium, but they are not the top of the list.  Spinach and dried apricots are high on the list of potassium rich foods.  If you are on medication, always check with your physician or pharmacist since some foods can interact with medications.

Weight Loss.  If you are overweight, losing weight can be beneficial.   The goal is to lose fat while maintaining your muscular strength.  Balanced nutrition and moderate exercise that incorporates weight bearing / resistance exercise is key.  WALKING is an effective, low-impact, weight bearing exercise that most individuals can easily do.   Before starting any exercise program – consult with your physician.

Nutrition.  Balanced.  Lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates with an emphasis on eating a variety of vegetables and fruit, and healthy fats.  Minimize sodium and processed grains, sugars and fats.   If you are mindful of crowding OUT fast food and processed “convenience” foods as discussed above – you are on your way to minimizing sodium and processed grains, sugars and fats.  Remember:  Keep it REAL when it comes to your food.

Water.  Drink water as your primary beverage. Get into the habit of having a favorite tumbler that you fill with water and have it with you throughout the day.  Adequate hydration is essential for basic cell function and is especially important for the body to remove waste products.

Flavonoids, Selenium & B-Vitamins.  Flavonoids are compounds from plants that have anti-oxidant properties and are beneficial in reducing inflammation and supporting vein health.  Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The mineral Selenium also has anti-oxidant properties and has been reported in studies along with B-vitamins as helpful in managing the severity of acute & chronic lymphedema.   Selenium and B-vitamins can be easily obtained in a balanced, varied diet.

Horse Chestnut.  Standardized Horse Chestnut extract is a natural / alternative remedy to support leg edema and to help prevent varicose veins.  As with ANY supplement – consult with your physician. 

STAY healthy. Be STRONG.  Get AFTER IT.