Getting the right stuff as you age

One way we sometimes discover that age is getting on is to see the physical deterioration in our appearance and bodily functions. The belly begins to bulge and for others less fortunate a pain sets in the knees. These are often conveniently blamed on the woes of ageing. While organ functions and metabolic activities do decline along with the march of time, have you wondered why some elderly folks are still running marathons, traveling around the world, speaking heartily with booming voices, looking fit and in shape, while others of similar age are even having problems standing up?

Decline in functional status of our body can be delayed if we take steps to slow down its onset by taking on a healthy lifestyle. Yes the older we get the more effort it takes to stay healthy. Weak muscles and bones will benefit from exercise, but it can be dispiriting when the process causes discomfort and exhaustion. Here are some tips on how you can eat to retain your strength with an intake of good nutrition to supplement your body needs.

Strengthen your bones

Osteoporosis, the decrease in bone density with age which raises risk of fractures, is a common problem for elderly, especially women. You can
strengthen your bones by consuming calcium-rich food. Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of calcium. Choose low-fat alternatives whenever available. This way you don’t pile on the cholesterol.

Do you get discomfort in your stomach such as pain, gas or even diarrhoea after consuming something with milk? Lactose intolerance may set in with age. Go to the doctor to get tested and obtain advice on dairy products that are still suitable for consumption.

Non-dairy sources of food that also contain calcium include sardines, green leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, celery, sesame seed, oranges, soya beans and tofu. Spinach, despite being rich in calcium, contains oxalates which prevent calcium from being properly absorbed. They may cause calcium oxalate kidney stones in people who have a family history of it, and should not be considered a reliable source of calcium.

To properly absorb calcium, Vitamin D is essential. Sunshine is a good source of Vitamin D. Eggs, oily fish like salmon, anchovies and tuna, and mushrooms are rich sources of this vitamin.

On the other hand, excessive vitamin A may increase risk of bone fracture, according to one Harvard University study. High vitamin A intake raises the risk for hip fracture in postmenopausal women. The main cause is retinol, the active form of the vitamin. Retinol is found in supplements, liver, eggs, full-fat dairy products, fish liver oils, and fortified foods such as cereals and skim milk. Liver of any animal is high in vitamin A. So, refrain from consuming it more than once a week, or just consume it in small portions. Salt also leads to calcium loss, so cut down on the salt, opt for low-sodium options and replace salt with other spices for flavouring.

Increase your energy levels

A lack of iron results in fatigue and lethargy, discouraging one to get up and about (Source: MedicineNet.com.). Include some iron-rich foods in your diet, such as pulses (peas, beans, lentils), oily fish, eggs, bread and green vegetables. Lean red meat is known to be one of the richest sources of iron. However, due to its saturated fat content, it is not suitable to be consumed regularly and frequently especially in old age.

Healthy fats provide energy, as well as protect the body against bad cholesterol (LDL or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) while raising the amount of good cholesterol (HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol). Sources containing healthy fats include fish, olive oil, avocado and nuts.

Do not skip meals as you will be losing out on energy and nutrition. With age, appetite and desire to cook may decrease. Nevertheless, skipping meals or eating at irregular times may cause gastric and digestive problems. Eating late at night as a result of skipping meals in the day is a burden on your digestive system. Always have breakfast as it is the most important meal of the day, giving you a good start with fuel to go about your daily activities and stay focused. You can consume small portions of nutritious foods throughout the day if you do not have the appetite for a full meal. Examples of nutritious foods include fruits, sandwiches with vegetables and egg or some meat, cereal, and organic soups and biscuits.

Keep your food safe

With decreased appetite, leftovers are common. Extra care must be taken to keep food safe to eat as older people have lower immunity to fight off infections and can become very sick from food that has turned bad. Try to only buy and cook according to how much you can eat each day.

If you have a habit of stocking up, be sure to handle raw food carefully. Keep it apart from cooked food and food that does not need to be cooked. Prepare your meals in sanitary conditions, using hot soapy water to wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces. Do not store leftovers beyond one day, and re-heat thoroughly before consumption to get rid of germs. Pay attention to the “use by” date on all packaging.

Stay hydrated

Losing sense of thirst is also part of the package that comes with old age. Be sure to keep up with the age-old golden advice of eight glasses of liquid per day, including water, milk, fruit or vegetable juices and soups. This will keep you hydrated when you exercise or carry out your household chores.

Avoid drinks with caffeine like coffee and tea as they can lead to insomnia. Frequent and high consumption also accelerates bone loss at the spine.

Putting these into practice can improve your well-being and keep you energised for more challenges. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Relationships – The little rainbows in our lives

After a long day or week of work, it is always a nice feeling to look forward to a meal, enjoy a tete-a-tete session or some sort of gathering with family and friends. Indeed, according to a study on the social conditions for human happiness at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, people tend to be happier if they can go out for meals and have close friendships.

It is said that friendship is the rainbow between two hearts sharing seven colours: feelings, love, sadness, happiness, truth, faith, and respect. When skies are grey, or in times of downpour, we all need a little rainbow to brighten up our day. Having good social connections with people – friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues etc, is relevant to personal well-being and happiness. Having people whom we can rely on and confide in reduces the tendency to experience negative emotions like sadness, isolation, low self-esteem and depression. It also leads to fewer stress-related health problems and a lower risk of contracting mental illnesses.

Additionally, being part of a group instils a sense of identity and belonging. It reminds us that we are part of something larger, and that validates our self-worth. More importantly, strong relationships create safety nets for us to explore the world, discover ourselves and help us become better people. With the loving support of our parents, we are able to pursue our dreams. With the faith and understanding of our spouses, we have the courage to carve out completely new career paths mid-life. In fact, you will find that with encouragement and care from loved ones, we recover faster from illness and trauma.

Materialism and happiness

A New York Times article in 2010 discussed the “hedonic adaptation”, a phenomenon in which people quickly become used to changes to maintain a stable level of happiness. For example, when you buy a new car you may experience a rush of adrenaline and pride for a short moment. But after a while you will get accustomed to it, and then probably think of getting another new car. Materialism prompts one to pursue newer, better things instead of being contented. Such happiness is often fleeting.

Relationships, on the other hand, may be are immune to this phenomenon. Positive emotions derived from connecting with others are lasting. When we enjoy being with someone, we often want to continue interacting with that person. Rarely do we choose to forget about him or her and find a new friend.

Elderly and Children can instil more optimism in you

Many young couples these days believe they can derive greater joy from freedom of living on their own. However, being around elderly and children can actually evoke positive emotions.

Contrary to common misconceptions of old people being grouchy and difficult, livescience.com (a science news website) reveals that older adults are happier than younger or middle-aged adults. This is largely due to their ability to accept outcomes that they can’t control, and acceptance and contentment are important factors for happiness. Notice how parents may push their children, while grandparents often discourage against it. It isn’t always about spoiling the grandchild, but perhaps because the grandparent is able to accept the child’s abilities and recognise his/her achievements regardless how minor they may be. Listening to an elderly person share guidance and wisdom is not only beneficial for knowledge, it can even be therapeutic as a welcome change from the competitive pace of life. Try spending more time with your grandparents, elderly neighbours or even at the old folk’s home. You may take comfort in it.

Raising children is a major challenge for parents yet it is undeniable that children are great fun to be with. If we just cast aside our worries for awhile and join them in their world, there is much we can be inspired from them about living the moment through sheer honesty, imagination, confidence and curiosity. Devote time to family and friends, and appreciate them for the happiness they give you. Nurture your relationships so that the rainbows are there to stay.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.