Page 22


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Medical Journal 2011


Morning Sentinel


Healthy eating and exercise helps seniors add years of joyful living BY J.P. DEVINE Correspondent

The winter of the year is here. It’s deep and dark, cold and icy. Jack D., who is pushing 72 and was a star football player in his youth, has gone to the mat. He’s starting to hibernate, inhaling comfort food, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and doughnut holes. It happens to all ages. Winter nights in the winter of our lives are full of temptations to lay back, eat the meatloaf and sit in front of a football game, chewing on chicken wings. It can be a hammer blow to the body. As he sits watching others play football, Jack’s arteries are closing up, his muscles are softening and he is developing something his father never heard of — a “ hypertriglyceridemic” waist. This is the abdominal or “visceral” fat, a deep layer that wraps around internal organs. It may not show on the belly, but it’s in there...waiting. In one of America’s premier fatso states, it’s waiting for us all. When I stepped on a scale last spring to see 210 leap off the glass, I went into panic mode. I stopped putting anything in my mouth that wasn’t nutritious. All fast foods stopped, along with a wary eye on sugar content, white bread and flour. Cutting out those three items alone pulled l8 lbs off my aching body. Walking two miles a day every day, and three days a week at the gym, stopped the “senior decline.” But mostly it was about eating. Many Americans are jumping on the new plant-based diet craze, the one former President Bill Clinton has successfully adopted, and it is growing in popularity. It doesn’t work for everyone, especially those seniors who grew up on fatty foods, such as chops and steak and meatloaf. “Breaking up,” the song tells us, “is hard to do.” Your mama and daddy and your grandparents rolled with the punches and let nature take its course. People lied to one another then just as they do now: “That weight looks good on you,”

J.P. Devine photos

Paul and Chris Falconer, 75 and 76 years old, members of Champions Silver Sneakers Club.

they’d say. “We need a little fat to protect us against the cold,” was another. A person could print a whole book full of the soft soap lines that our friends and relatives handed us. It was easy for them, because they were as out of shape as you were. Our grandparents’ senior life was much harder than ours, and food became a reward at the end of the day. Starches and sugar took up a lot of space in the pantry, lard was a prime ingredient in baking and the life expectancy in my grandparents’ day was around 48 years. It’s 2011.We’re living longer now

despite a reluctance to give up lifelong bad habits. This is mostly due, I’m told, to the nudging of our more health-conscious children, and the constant hammering of health oriented commercials. “I watched so many of my friends go to an early grave,” one senior told me, “ I didn’t want that to happen to me.” That belly hanging over Jack’s belt was once just a common side effect of “getting on.” Today we know it’s apt to contribute to diabetes, prostate cancer and myriad health problems, such as a stroke. Jack’s daughter, who spends

hours online and was fearful of the sharp decline in her “senior” dad, pulled him, and her mother, back from the abyss. The number of seniors who are scrambling to hold onto their health is growing. The term “pre-existing condition” has become a hot item. More and more insurance companies are asking about life styles, and doctors are, reluctantly, beginning to learn more about nutrition. Ron Chayer, a 70-something former Keyes Fibre vice president who retired after 30 years on the job, remembers when as a youth in Boston he was 230 lbs and a couch potato. He long ago turned that around and has no plans to go back. Ron now still keeps one foot in the marketplace as a computer software business consultant, while making time each day— that’s every day — to hit the machines in the gym. At 72, Ron is a trim 178 pound man who ends his day in his kitchen making healthy gourmet meals for his wife. Ron, like most neo-health watchers, doesn’t believe in diets. “I eat whatever I like, Italian, Chinese, everything. It’s just all about proportions,” he said. Proportional eating is another fast-growing mode of living. Older couples have picked up the trick of dining out healthfully. One couple told me of their new habit of ordering one dinner and sharing it, along with a salad. More seniors, like Paul and Chris Falconer, are joining or rejoining their local gym in such programs as Champion’s “Silver Sneakers “ program, where they’ve discovered what doctors have been teaching for years, that exercise is a helpful tool in fighting depression — a problem many retirees deal with in the golden years. Paul, a former Marine and former commandant of the Maine State Police Academy, found himself looking less and less like the fit Marine that went through rigorous training at the infamous Parris Island boot camp in South

More on SENIORS, Page 23