Making The Good Life

It's not what you have, but how you live.

Archive for the category “Health”

Changes

As usual I’m behind again, letting over a month pass since my last entry! There’s a lot going on, and in an attempt to have some degree of balance in my life, this was put on the list of things that could wait.

My younger son is graduating from high school soon, and we’ve beDSCF4228en having some final things lately. Final stage production for drama, final chorus concert, final voice recital coming up. It’s been my privilege to share almost every day of the last 21 years of my life with two bright, talented, funny, handsome and loveable young men, and the second of the two is getting ready to move on to a new and exciting stage of his life. It’s all excitement and brave new world for him, and of course I am happy for him and immensely proud of him, but it’s somewhat bittersweet for me. I’ll be happy to see a couple of the changes – no more waking up to make breakfast at 5:15 am for example – but sad to see others. Ah well, it’s about time I stopped waking up at the crack of dawn with my kids! Both will be off to school before the end of the summer (my oldest is a rising college senior) and I will be figuring out what I want to do with my mornings.

Last time I was here, I was thinking of sugar. I did chart my added sugars over the course of several days, and I discovered a couple of things. Overall, I do reasonably well. And it doesn’t take much at all to blow past the newest suggested lower limit for the day.

In my last post, I mentioned a recommendation for sugar consumption of 15% of total daily calories. This was the 2010 US government guideline for “calories from solid fats and added sugars”. (pg 28) I can’t ACTUALLY find a specific reference to added sugar alone in the 2010 Guidelines. I thought that deserved clarification.

It turns out that as of March, 2014, there is a new (draft) World Health Organization recommendation. They say that adults should set an upper limit of 10% of daily calories from sugar (50 grams/12 teaspoons), but 5% of total calories (25 grams/6 teaspoons) of added sugar would be better.

ImageIf I give in to a VERY small serving of Chunky Monkey, I’m over that lower limit for the day. In fact, ½ cup of the heavenly stuff packs 28 grams of sugar! That leaves no room for a little sugar in my morning coffee. I hear the message that we need to cut sugar for better health, but when a single, small dessert is over the recommended limit, I wonder how many people will be successful? I know that even with my (reasonably) healthy diet, I don’t hit that mark every day.

I might be able to manage 10% on a pretty regular basis, but 5% is a serious challenge. Unfortunately I can’t see the US government getting a published recommendation of 5% past the sugar lobby, since they don’t seem to be able to do what’s right in the face of money and opposition from any food industry lobby. I’ll be curious to see what happens, and will continue to monitor my own progress.

What else is going on? Local produce is coming in – the fresh strawberries are fantastic so far this year. I know these aren’t very low-carbon-footprint, but I adore Champagne mangoes (18 grams of sugar each) which are plentiful in the stores, and breakfast has been a fruit and Greek yogurt smoothie (with no added sugar but plenty in the fruit) almost every day for the last three weeks. I’ll post a recipe when I get a chance. It’s different every day, but I’ll try to get some measurements and write it down. It’s a wonderful time of year to increase the plate space given over to locally grown fresh veg and fruit!

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The Not-So-Sweet Life

ImageThe news has been full of stories about the evils of sugar for some time now, but a recent analysis of past studies has upped the ante just a bit. I realize that the study discussed in the linked CBS article may have some limitations, but I’m still intrigued by the suggestion that even for those who aren’t overweight, too much added sugar can have an impact on both longevity and quality of life. Heart problems tie far too many people to high medical bills, prescription meds with side effects, and a limited lifestyle in the later years.

I don’t currently track my daily calories and I don’t have a weight problem but I do add sugar to my diet. I’ve already added about 5 teaspoons in the form of honey on my toast and sugar in my coffee. I don’t drink soda and have nearly cut out the sweet tea I grew up on here in the south, but I’ll bet if I logged it I would be above the recommended 15% of calories, at least some of the time. Based on my estimated daily calories (from past times when I have tracked them) my maximum would be about 16 teaspoons of added sugar a day. The study doesn’t include sugar from fruits or juices (but juice should count!) so a whole-foods, plant-based diet still sounds like the best way to go.

I’m planning to track my added sugar for a week and see where I end up. Maybe better than I expect, or maybe (gulp) worse. It’ll be interesting anyway. I make breakfast and dinner at home most days, but lunch is in the cafe where I work. No labels there. I’ll have to ask questions to see what they put in the food – I don’t want to change what I eat because I’m counting, I just want to see what my current habits add up to. Then I can make changes if needed.

What do you think? How hard would it be for you to cut back on sugar now in return for better health in your future?

Back to the Beginning, Again

Hmm. Let’s see if I can actually get this thing off the ground now. Maybe show up once a week at least, maybe more. How about I start with something easy, like movement?

I don’t move enough. I used to, and it’s not for lack of desire, but because my hip hurts. All. The. Time. It’s been hurting for over a year. I’ve been to an orthopedist, physical therapy, massage therapy, I’ve tried stretching and some strengthening, but it still hurts. Sitting hurts, walking hurts, standing and even just running errands hurts. I can’t walk a mile without limping. The docs tell me I have bursitis, but I think we’re all barking up the wrong tree so on Thursday I plan to have some imaging done. I mean really, bursitis just means that my hip bursa is inflamed – but why?? That’s what I want to know. I want to work on the root cause, not just the symptom. (I think it’s tendinitis, from the reading I’ve done.) If I ever get it healed and working properly again, I want to be like this man.

Stephen Jepson

Stephen Jepson, in his playground

Mr. Jepson is amazing. Not that what he does is out of reach for the rest of us (it isn’t), but because he’s living proof that movement keeps you moving. He is certainly serving as an inspiration for me once I can get moving again. Until then, I can stand on wobbly things, play with balls, pick up things with my feet and work on my hand-eye coordination. If you go to his website, Never Leave the Playground, you can learn more about him, and watch videos of him explaining his philosophy of playing for better health and quality of life.

From his website: “Every cell in the body is affected by movement. The brain improves as we use our muscles, which, in turn, grow with use.Scientific studies show that physical movement is the single most important thing to do to be physically healthier and smarter, regardless of age. Movement training can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Neural pathways open and increase throughout our lives as we learn new activities.”

I’m worried about this – things won’t get easier as I get older. I’m too young to have a major joint that isn’t functioning, and which IS contributing to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. I want to get started trying to preserve and improve on what I’ve still got. Here’s to planning my backyard playground!

Sleeeep…

Saturday was the best day I’ve had in a long time. I felt really light and happy (or at least content) nearly all day. I got up early, cleaned my deck, had coffee outside, made breakfast for the boys and served it outside on the deck table. It was delicious and the boys enjoyed a little family time before we went off in different directions.

Alan and I did several small but impactful projects together outside, and it felt good to get them done. He’s so handy – reminds me of his grandfather. I wish that they had had more time to work together on things. Dad would have enjoyed teaching him to use the power tools in his basement as much as Alan would have liked learning from him.

Joey had a double shift at work, so he headed off soon after our “brunch” was finished. I did some work in my shade garden after Alan and I finished our projects, then we went off to the pool for a bit to relax. It was a lovely day, met up with friends at the pool and just really enjoyed the time. Later that night I made fresh pesto from the basil in my garden, a friend came over and we had wine and chocolate on the deck.

Yesterday was a nice day, but my mood wasn’t as light. The sadness of recent weeks seemed like it was always close at hand. Today has just been awful. I feel grumpy, sad, depressed…

So what was the difference? Sunday was a similar day to Saturday. The only thing I can come up with is how much I slept prior to Saturday and since then. During the week before, I was concentrating on getting 7 ½ to 8 Photo by Liz Lawleyhours of sleep a night until Saturday night. I stayed up too late Saturday night watching a movie after my friend left, but went ahead and got up early anyway because I had a full day planned. Last night was worse – got maybe 6 hours. How much difference does sleep make in one’s mood, especially when already dealing with sadness and depression?

Most of the research that I could find focused on lack of sleep and depression:

Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can make depression worse. (http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-sleep-disorder)

Insomnia and depression feed on each other. Sleep loss often aggravates the symptoms of depression, and depression can make it more difficult to fall asleep. On the positive side, treating sleep problems can help depression and its symptoms, and vice versa. (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-surprising-results?page=2)

My experience of grief has been that it FEELS a lot like depression at this point, so I’m firmly convinced that there is a connection.

I think that in addition to the other positive benefits that sleep has on your health and wellbeing, it’s going to be important for me in moving through this period in my life and healing from grief. While I don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t hurt, I also don’t want this grief to overwhelm me and stop me from enjoying what I still have. I need to experience it and deal with it, but in a constructive way. So, early to bed I will go, for the rest of the week. Let’s see how I feel in a few more days.

Back to the Beginning

When I started this blog, I intended to write about aging gracefully, healthfully and with acceptance. By acceptance I mean not giving up to the inevitability of poor health and infirmity that we so often see in our elder population, but acceptance of the unchangeable fact that I am aging. I have probably been alive for more years than I have left; I have passed my halfway point. This blog is about how I want to live what I have left.

I got derailed right away by my dad’s death. I haven’t felt like writing and indeed didn’t feel that I had anything to say. What can you say after watching an incurable disease steal what should have been a healthy and productive period in someone’s life? He had no heart disease, no diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. He should have been with us for a long time.

But with a little bit of time and distance I’ve been able to look at things differently. He gave me a great genetic inheritance (in addition to all of the other lovely intangible things about being his daughter). What can I do to make the most of it?

So, I am going forward. Some of the resources I’ve been looking at are:

YOU: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, Michael F. Roizen MD and Mehmet C. Oz, MD.

While I totally feel a little bit like Dr. Oz has become far too commercial and unreliable recently, I do really like the content of this book. It makes sense, and is presented in his typical humorous style. Dr. Roizen is the co-creator of the RealAge concept and author of the best-selling book of the same name.

The RealAge Makeover: Take Years off Your Looks and Add Them to Your Life, Michael F. Roizen MD.

Dr. Andrew Weil on aging gracefully. I watched a video, available on Netflix, called Dr. Andrew Weil: Healthy Aging. It had a profound impact on how I’ve been thinking about aging.

There are more, and I’ll share them later. Some are more fun, light hearted, and vain, others are serious and educational.

What Dr. Weil, Drs. Oz and Roizen and I have in common is the belief in (maybe hope for, in my case) the ability to age well and remain healthy and active well into the senior years, with decline and infirmity happening only very near the end of life. They call it “compression of morbidity”. That just means that you live your senior years in reasonably good health, with a sharp dropoff at the end rather than the constant decline and years of poor health that so often happens.

What does that mean for you and me? It means you can live in your home if you want to, not in an assisted living facility. That you can continue to participate in life and the lives of those you love. That you can work, if you want to, or volunteer if you want to, go to grandchildren’s graduations and weddings, travel, garden, have lunch with friends…really anything you want to do.

How do we get there? From what I can learn, it seems simple and straightforward (on paper):

  • Keep your weight down, in the healthy BMI range
  • Eat a good diet (more later)
  • Stay active, and I don’t mean just taking the stairs
  • Control your stress
  • Maintain some kind of social life
  • Control inflammation (LOTS more on this later)

We all know that it’s harder in actual practice than it looks on paper, of course! And I’m only 49 – why worry about 70 or 80 now? You already know the answer to that. The sooner you start, the better the result. I’ve already got a head start on weight and diet – I’m 126 pounds and I’ve had an interest in healthy eating for a long time. My views have evolved some over time and will probably continue to do so.

I’m concentrating on more physical activity, fine tuning my diet, stress management (really needed right now) and my finances in preparation for retirement. I may never fully retire, but I’d like to choose whether and how I work, and not be forced to greet shoppers at WalMart.

I’ll talk more about each in the coming weeks. Until then, how do you feel about aging? Are you ready for a healthy old age? If not, are you willing to change?

Conflicted

A lot of people are, you know. Conflicted. About lots of things but in particular I’m talking about the big 5-0 lurking around the corner. You see, part of me wants to walk right up to 50 and stick out my tongue, say “I’m not afraid of you!” or something like that, and sail gracefully and serenely into my 50s with the absolute conviction that these will be the best years of my life. But the other part is a little bit…uncertain.

It’s a pretty big milestone in most peoples’ lives. As I approach 50, I still have teenagers at home – one full-time and one part-time, since he’s in college. I’m helping my father who is dealing with serious illness. My mom has had one ailment after another, from breast cancer to a bad hip to cataract surgery, weight problems, high blood pressure… (They’re divorced. She’s on her third husband.)

I have a fear of declining physically. When my mom was in her early 60s – not that much older than I am – she really couldn’t get off the floor or out of a low chair without help or something to pull herself up with. She wasn’t able to really enjoy playing with her grandchildren when they were small because of it. I may not have grandchildren, well…ever, but if I do it won’t be for a long time. I want to be able to enjoy them the way I did my own kids!

"Mature" runners

These are the things that inspire me to try to take the best possible care of my body. Eat well, be fit, get all of my screenings (I’m a little bit behind on those) and keep my stress levels down. Not sure how much that helps really, but it makes daily life more pleasant, and that’s really all we have anyway. I realize that I can’t stop time,

but I feel like maybe I can slow down what lately seems

to be inevitable decline. While much of that has recently been attributed to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, attitude and perception play a part as well. This article in theNew York Times covers a lot of ground on the impact of both activity and attitude on aging.

Then there’s vanity. Yep, I am going to admit to that part too. I won’t pretend that it’s all about great health and serene acceptance. I’ve tried to downplay the part that vanity plays in all of this but recently decided that rather than feel guilty about it, I’m going to embrace it. It is, after all, a motivator! I want to keep my figure. I want to look nice, wear my hair long, and look at least a little bit like I feel inside for as long as I can.

So, health, fitness, beauty (or at least an effort at it) and a positive attitude. It’s not much – I can handle that! Come to think of it, I’d better wind this up – it’s time to go to the gym. I’m working out with my 15 year old tonight!

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