All posts in Aging

5 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits

This past week I was invited to speak to the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club on any topic relating to health and wellness that I’d like. Having been an active Rotarian in the past, I knew it would be a tough assignment because my audience of intelligent, middle-aged men already knew the basics of staying healthy. What could I tell them that’s new?

I opened with a brief description of my own bout with breast cancer, how I won that battle and what I was doing to maintain both my physical and mental well-being. Obviously, I explained, my health wasn’t as great as I assumed it was 11 years ago. I got cancer even though I wasn’t overweight, did not smoke and exercised regularly. So, I had to get extremely honest with myself. What was I doing or not doing in my life that caused me to get cancer? I had to move past my fear, learn all that I could about the disease and make the necessary changes if I wanted to have quality in my later years.

What I learned was that preventive maintenance is by far the most important step to take to shield oneself against chronic ailments; in fact’s it’s 80% of it. Not genes, luck, or bad luck in this case, but how I chose to live my life day in and day out. This was something I could control and wanted to control through making healthy choices and doing away with some of my bad habits. My focus last week with the Rotarians was on how to do the latter.

Here are 5 tips I shared for breaking bad habits regarding health:

Tip #1: Notice When Your Habits Are Automatic: Most habits occur thoughtlessly. Our minds are pre-occupied with other things. Lighting up a cigarette, gobbling down a bag of chips, consuming too much alcohol and staying put on a comfortable couch rather than going out for a walk are all mindless habits.

Tip #2: Practice Mindful Awareness: A few of us can quit bad habits cold turkey. For everybody else, it requires a conscious awareness and an abundance of determination. Mindful awareness is the ability to take notice of when and what we are doing habitually without becoming upset when we realize it. The goal is awareness, not action. Be conscious that you are smoking a cigarette or eating a whole bag of chips or lying around for no good reason. Engaging in your bad habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of unhealthy patterns. Know what you are doing but don’t beat yourself up. It’s counterproductive.

Tip #3: Identify Daily Triggers: Habits are often tied to things we do on a regular basis. Do you automatically grab a cigarette after a meal or when you get into your car? Do you eat more than you are aware while in conversation or standing up? Do you become a couch potato every evening after dinner and click on the television? Note your triggers and think about them.

Tip #4: Mind Your Emotions: In addition to habits being tied to everyday events, they are often tied to emotional situations. We eat when we’re sad, stressed, depressed, lonely or bored. We order another drink when we’re happy and having fun. You get the message.

Tip #5: Ride the Urge Wave: Being aware brings to light a worrisome urge to engage in a bad habit. Be aware of this. Understand the urge before it starts, and be prepared to ride the wave of discomfort when it comes. The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Problem is, the mind focuses on short-term pleasure but not the pain that comes in the long run. However, most urges last only from one to five minutes. So, learn to ride it out. And the more times you ride it out the less often and intense the urge will be when it repeats itself.

Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk

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How do Strong Social and Community Ties Impact your Health?

I called my friend, also named Lisa, who lives in Houston, Texas. Hurricane Harvey’s devastation had not only hit Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, but many communities in the Gulf Coast region. According to my friend, who lives on the north side of Houston where they got no flooding except for those who were near a river or large body of water, the worst of the rain is over. People are leaving shelters scattered thought-out Harris County, where Houston is located.

Out of the 6.5 million people in the greater Houston area only about 1.5 million lost power and most all the water is drinkable. No need for ice, a valuable commodity, for many of us here in Charleston who experienced the wrath of Hurricane Hugo. Unlike Houston, Hurricane Hugo, also a category 4 storm, was a direct hit and as a result we not only got the flooding but also high winds. But no one can deny that the Houston area experienced the worst flooding in its history, with some areas getting as much as 50 inches of rain. And because Hurricane Harvey’s devastation was so widespread, it will take years for the region to recover from this natural disaster.

My friend, Lisa, who is originally from Charleston, knows about hurricanes and the emotional roller coaster they bring; the anxiety before the storm of not knowing exactly what is going to happen, the storm itself, the flooding and aftermath once the storm has passed. No doubt, you too, no matter where you call home, are aware of the horrific situation the residents of the Gulf Coast region, north of Brownsville, Texas, are now experiencing. Lives have been lost, people displaced and the uncertainty of what’s ahead. It is one thing to watch the news again and again and be reminded of the destruction and the anguish. But to just absorb the information without acting when we can help can be paralyzing and emotionally harmful. So I asked Lisa to suggest a few vetted and creditable charities in the Houston area that need our help:

Animals as well need help and assistance. Donate to the Houston Humane Society, which is helping animals affected by the storm. The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, is another charity. You may also want to check out Charity Navigator to further ensure your donations are helping those in need.

By helping those in need, you too can benefit. Studies have shown that people with strong social and community ties tend to live longer, are less likely to report being depressed, and have a stronger a sense of belonging, purpose and self worth.

Are you over 50, feeling socially isolated and/or trying to figure out your life’s purpose for the second half? Let’s talk.

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How Does Poor Quality Sleep Lead to Alzheimer’s?

I am obsessed with sleep, or in my case quality of sleep. As a result, I read everything I can about how to get a good night’s sleep, both for myself and my clients, who often after the age of 50 suffer from the same malady, not necessarily lack of sleep, but quality.

According to a sleep and brain health survey done in 2016 by AARP, they found that only 41 percent of people 40 and over say their sleep is excellent or very good. So, with so many people suffering and wanting nothing more than a good night’s sleep, what can we do?

Sleeping pills are often the first line of action for many. According to the same study, nearly a third of people age 40+ take prescription sleep medications and another third take over-the-counter meds. Many people take both. But like anything in life, if it’s too easy, beware. In fact, many of the over-the-counter options, if taken in high dosage combined with other medications and/or taking them too long can have serious repercussions. And with over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills, new studies show long-term use of these sleep aids can increase a person’s risk of dementia.

These over-the-counter options can affect short term memory in the short run, and long-term use, 60 days or more, can significantly increase your risk for developing dementia, according to professor emeritus, Sonia Ancoli-Israel, at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine and a study conducted in 2013 of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Researchers are finding that it is no longer the amount of sleep, the 7-9 hours that is often cited, but rather the quality of the sleep. But why? It appears your brain flushes out toxins during sleep and one of these toxins is beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. If you are not sleeping well, even though you are asleep, your brain and body are not clearing out these proteins.

So even those the prescription medications provide you with quality sleep, the side effects of increasing your risks for Alzheimer’s might negate the benefit as delivered in the British Medical Journal in 2014. Another study warns health-care providers to avoid prescribing prescription sleep aids for people 65 years or older.

How can you improve the quality of your sleep without relying on pills? Many of us over 50 who wake up one or more times during the night to go to the bathroom or wake knowing we are not sleeping deeply. What can we do? The Global Council on Brain Health, an independent group of scientists, health professional, scholars and policy experts make the following recommendations:

1. Only go to bed when you feel drowsy. Don’t stay in bed if you feel awake.

2. Exercise daily if you can because physical activity promotes good sleep

3. Avoid caffeine after lunch and alcohol several hours before bedtime.

4. Limit your eating and drinking, even water, three hours before going to bed.

5. Talk with your doctor about sleep issues, and instead of pills get a referral to a sleep therapist.

One method that has proven to be effective is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. With CBT you keep a sleep diary and then work with a sleep therapist. In a 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who underwent CBT for insomnia fell asleep about 20 minutes faster and were awake nearly 30 fewer minutes at night than those who didn’t undergo therapy. And that’s comparable or even better than test results for people taking Ambien or Lunesta, according to Julie Corliss at Harvard Health. With handling your sleepless nights this way, you may remember in a few more years that you have been getting a good night’s sleep.

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Do you have a Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media?

Do you have a Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media?

We are social beings by nature, but nowadays there is less time to do all the things we need to get done and still have time to connect with families and friends on a serious level. We’re like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s easy to get on social media for a “quick fix” of updates, entertainment and “likes,” and receive a quick dopamine rush that tricks us into thinking we’re connected to people and events that really matter.

I am over 50 years old now. When I was at the College of Charleston I did not take the only computer course offered to business majors. The computer on campus was as big as a small classroom, and student seating was at a premium. It was an elective course, not a requirement to graduate. I enjoyed working, studying and socializing with my classmates and not necessarily in that order. To me the computer course was isolating and boring. Nor was it the cool thing to do…. communicate with a big, odd looking machine.

I didn’t get my first mobile phone until I was in my 30s, and it was the kind that was mounted on the floorboard of my little foreign car. Back then the only ways to seriously communicate with people was in person, by U.S. mail and telephone — all of which were pleasingly social.

Of course, things have changed a great deal since the early-1980s, but certainly not my desire to be “social.” I am not alone with this. But, as I’m sure many of you would agree, I have developed a worrisome love-hate relationship with today’s ubiquitous social media apps and devices.

Indeed, smart phones, tablets, texting, tweets, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat provide unending opportunity to connect with others, to learn and “to grow.” I’ve quoted the trite phrase “to grow” here because we should all know by now what happens to one’s derriere when one sits around on it day in and day out “socializing” instead of moving.

So, for health reasons if nothing else, it’s best to maintain your more traditional ways of social interaction — those that allow us to truly be with other people, to interact with them using our well-developed physical senses, and to reach out and hug someone if need be.

How do you balance your use of social media and face-to-face interaction with family and friends on a significant level? By “significant” I mean an interaction that brings actual joy, richness and quality to our lives through personal contact. Consider the following:

First, get yourself clear on why you use social media? Is it a work requirement? Is it how you keep up with current events? Do you use social media as your primary way to stay in touch with family and friends?

Now, carefully consider your answers to these questions because, if you don’t have a clear vision of why you’re using it, you will end up wasting hours upon hours of your valuable time day after day on nothing. Fact is, there are not enough hours in the day to be active on the plethora of online social platforms. So be very selective. Choose wisely and use it to suit immediate needs.

Be honest with yourself. How you feel when you look at various posts. Do you feel more informed or less? More joyful or less? Do you feel more socially isolated because you are not actually doing things other people are doing, and comparing your life to someone else you see and hear in a virtual reality realm?

Do yourself a favor. Use social media only at certain times of the day instead of logging in whenever you have a free minute or receive some sort of inane notification. Schedule social media use just as you would any other significant appointment. If you find joy from social media, then relax and treat yourself at the right time. It can be as fulfilling as reading a good book, having your nails done or getting a massage. But don’t allow it to consume you. That leads to stress and we all know what stress does to your health….need I say more?

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What’s The Secret To Healthy Aging?

What’s The Secret To Healthy Aging?

In an earlier blog, I talked about the MIND diet (Mediterranean Intervention for Neurodegenerative delay) as it relates to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. This is one of several healthy “diets,” but the truth is any healthy diet can add years to your life, and life to your years. We all can start now and reap the benefits today of aging well from the food choices that we make. It’s all about quality of life, right?

To become a nationally board certified health coach, (I take my national exam in September) a candidate must have a general understanding of good nutrition and how it plays a part in weight loss, healthy aging and preventing specific chronic diseases.

The basics of understanding a healthy diet includes knowledge of what is unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods, lean protein, adequate fiber, healthy fats and the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. We understand the need for water intake, and the roles hunger and thirst play in maintaining weight balance.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) describe what healthy eating is all about for people over 50. These guidelines are flexible enough so you can choose a diet of nutritious foods that you like, are readily available and fit your budget.

They suggest people 50 and older choose these foods every day.

Fruit — 1½ to 2½ cups. What is the same as a half-cup of chopped fruit? A fresh two-inch-in- diameter peach or 16 grapes.

Vegetable — 2 to 3 1/2 cups.  What is the same as a half-cup of chopped vegetables? Two cups of uncooked leafy vegetables.

Grains — 5 to 10 ounces.  What is the same as an ounce of grains?   A small bagel, a slice of whole grain bread, a cup of flaked, ready-to-eat cereal or a half-cup of cooked rice or pasta.

Protein foods — 5 to 7 ounces.  What is the same as an ounce of meat, poultry or fish? One egg, one-quarter cup of cooked beans or tofu, a half-ounce of nuts or seeds or one tablespoon of peanut butter.

Dairy — 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk.  What is the same as one cup of milk? One cup of plain yogurt or 1½ to 2 ounces of cheese. One cup of cottage cheese is the same a half-cup of milk.

Oils — 5 to 8 teaspoons.  What is the same as oil added to cooking? Foods like olives, nuts and avocados have a lot of oil in them.

Keep fats solid at room temperature and added sugars and sodium small. If you eat too many foods containing these ingredients you will not have enough calories left in you daily allotment to get in the more nutritious foods you need.

So how much should you eat?  It depends on how active you are.  It’s calories in, calories out as determined by how active you are each day.  If you eat more calories than you use, you will gain weight.

But don’t get obsessed with counting calories. Try to use your daily calories wisely and choose foods that have a lot of different nutrients but not a lot of calories. That way you can eat more food, and if you are like me, you love to eat.

Consider these foods as an example, which can be eaten together or separately:  A medium banana, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and a glass of milk. The milk gives you more calcium than the peanut butter but the peanut butter gives you more protein. The banana gives you potassium. That’s why it is so important to eat a variety of healthy foods.

How many calories do people over 50 need each day?

A woman who is not physically active needs about 1,600 calories a day. One who is somewhat active needs about 1,800 calories. A woman with an active lifestyle needs 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day.

A man who is not physically active needs about 2,000 calories. One who is somewhat active needs 2,200 to 2,400. And a man with an active lifestyle needs 2,400 to 2,800 calories per day.

And one last tip:  Aim for at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of physical activity each week.

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Are Vitamin Supplements A Waste Of Money?

Are Vitamin Supplements A Waste Of Money?

Strolling down the vitamin isle of your favorite drug store is like taking a long walk off a short dock. If you aren’t careful, you might be all wet when it comes to having good health. This is especially true of so-called heart-healthy supplements.

Consumer Reports says in its July 2017 issue of “On Health, the Truth About What’s Good for You,” that most of those shelves loaded down with expensive dietary supplements touted to help you heart are a waste of money. These include omega-3 fish-oil pills, Q10 (or CoQ10) and red yeast rice.

Consuming foods — like sardines, tuna and mackerel — do contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for maintaining a healthy heart. But taking a pill as a substitute is extremely “iffy” based on numerous studies endorsed by the American Heart Association. People who have already had heart attacks or been diagnosed with heart failure might benefit from taking heavy doses of fish-oil supplement, but only reduce their chance of dying of heart disease by a mere 10 percent.

Coq10 is another supplement that is not all that it is hyped up to be. Supplements of this compound, produced by the body as well as some healthy foods, are touted as been good management tools in the prevention of heart failure and alleviating muscle aches associated with cholesterol-lowering statins. But here again, there is a significant lack of conclusive evidence that this supplement does what it is supposed to do.

Red yeast rice pills are the latest unproved heart-healthy supplement making the vitamin shelf rounds. Red yeast rice is said to lower LDL (or “bad’) cholesterol in the human body. However, Consumer Reports lists red yeast rice as one of 15 supplement ingredients to avoid.

Remember, with over-the-counter supplements, the user seldom knows what she is getting because there is little or no government regulation by the federal government. Although there are some high-quality supplements available, it is best to get them through your trusted health-care provider. Otherwise you might be wasting not only your money but also your health because some over-the-counter supplements interact badly with certain prescribed medications.

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How to Make Stress a Healthy Behavior

How to Make Stress a Healthy Behavior

No one today would argue with me that most Americans are overly stressed. Technology, feeling the need to immediately return text and emails, and the pace at which we live today has created an epidemic of chronic stress and mental fatigue. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of doctor visits today are a result of this chronic stress. And of course, when we are stressed we make poor lifestyle choices. Which means we eat on the run, make unhealthy food choices, and take too little, if any, time to exercise, rest and do the things that bring us joy. The cumulative effect of all this stress? Burnout and chronic disease.

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What’s Better than Treating a Chronic Disease? Never Getting it!

What’s Better than Treating a Chronic Disease? Never Getting it!

Last week, I attended the 15th annual Chronic Disease Prevention Symposium for one of my clients — the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.  It was two days of up-to-date research and information on how to prevent a variety of health problems.  These include hypertension control, brain health to include Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation control, and obesity’s link to cancer.

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Drink Up: The Health Benefits of Coffee

Drink Up: The Health Benefits of Coffee

One of the things I look forward to each morning is a cup of fresh-brewed coffee. In fact, I enjoy it so much I often list it as one of the three things I am grateful for each week. My morning Joe helps me to ease into my routine; it is my time to be quiet and savor the beginning of a new day.

What I have learned is that I am not alone, 54 percent of all adults in the United States drink coffee daily. If you fall into that category, you may be happy to learn that coffee drinking is a healthy habit. Coffee is full of disease-fighting antioxidants, as are many other plants. Yes, we often forget that coffee is actually a plant. The coffee bean contains more than 1,000 naturally occurring substances called “phytochemicals.” They are antioxidants that protect cells from damage by free radicals in your body.

Drinking coffee has also been shown to reduce tooth cavities, boost athletic performance, improve mood, and stop headaches. It also can reduce your chance of getting Type 2 diabetes, lower cancer risk, prevent strokes, and fight off Parkinson disease. Coffee also improves cognitive function as we age.

So how much coffee do we need to drink each day to reap these wonderful benefits?

Researchers have found that for those who drink four to six cups per day, versus only two or fewer, their risk for Type 2 diabetes decreased by almost 30 percent. The number decreases by 35 percent for people who drink more than six cups per day. Of course, my first thought when I read this was four to six cups a day is too much. I’d be bouncing off the walls. The good news is the benefits are the same if you drink decaffeinated coffee.

Regular black coffee only has two calories so it’s a great alternative beverage to soft drinks or energy drinks. The federal dietary guidelines state that up to five cups of coffee a day are in line with a healthy diet. But make sure you go easy on the cream, sugar and other additives… We don’t want to turn a healthy habit into something that negates the good!

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20% Genes + 80% Lifestyle= ?

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My Great Aunt, 108 years old.

I have a great aunt that is 108 years old. She is still mobile, lives at home and is mentally sharp. She is one of the oldest citizens of North Carolina and often interviewed by the media on secrets to longevity and quality of life. Although her sister (my grandmother) lived to be 97, her health and quality of life declined in her late 80s.

What’s the difference between these two sisters even though both had longevity?

Researchers agree that a person’s genes account for only 20 percent of human longevity. The balance depends on how you live life in your younger years. Both ladies owned their own businesses. My grandmother worked until her late 70s, my great aunt until her early 90s. Neither had regular exercise routines, but both were always very busy with their businesses. My aunt walked, climbed stairs and did a bit of lifting in her younger years because she owned an interior design business. She never seemed to sit down. My grandmother was a little overweight most of her life, and my great aunt was always thin and still remains a snappy dresser. Neither of them watched very much television.

My grandmother smoked occasionally earlier on. My great aunt never did. They both enjoyed a little wine with their food, and my grandmother would have a beer occasionally. They both ate a predominantly Mediterranean diet — especially lots of olive oil and fish. I’m convinced that their diet is the second key contributor to their longevity.

The four basics to a Mediterranean diet:

1. Eat more plants — Plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains are critical to good health, yet most of us come up short on these.

2. Choose healthier fats — The Mediterranean diet is not low in fats. But olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and fish are extremely good for you, so eat as much of them as you can.

3. Lean protein — While plant-based foods make up the majority of a Mediterranean diet, lean meats can also play a key role. Protein consumption via seafood, poultry, eggs and lean meats in moderation are important.

4. Beverages — A little wine may be included in a Mediterranean diet, but moderation is extremely important. Water is by far the critical staple. So drink lots of it throughout your waking hours.

Do you want to make changes in you lifestyle and look and feel better? Is the quality of your life important now as well as in the future? I can help you make the necessary changes and help you stick with the program. Consider taking advantage of my free, 30-minute optimal health breakthrough session. It is designed to improve your eating and other health habits critical for enjoying a long and quality way of life.

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