Diet :: Diet and Exercise – The Real Fountains of Youth

You can take every pill and rue your parents for passing on their genes, but if you want to live long and well there are two things you must do — eat right and exercise.

And while there are no guarantees in life, adopting these healthy pursuits can enhance your chances of vitality as you reach your 60s, 70s, 80s — and beyond, experts say.

But a new report by the nonprofit Center for the Advancement of Health says that’s not always easy for older people in a society that has built its streets for drivers, not walkers, and put convenience — think fast foods — for the young over possibilities for the old.

With 35 million Americans aged 65 and older — a number expected to double during the next 25 years — seniors and government must both make healthy choices, said Nancy Whitelaw, director of the National Council on the Aging’s Center for Healthy Aging, which funded the report.

When it comes to nutrition and activity, “people know the message,” she said. “The challenge is to make it operational in our daily lives.”

People who get regular exercise, eat healthfully and avoid tobacco have a lower risk of chronic diseases that lead to premature death, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. They also have reduced rates of disability, better mental health and cognitive function, and lower health costs.

Conversely, individuals who are physically inactive are almost twice as likely to develop heart disease as active people, according to the report. Inactivity is also linked to the development of diabetes and colon cancer, and can result in loss of muscle strength and mass, which can lead to frailty and lethal falls.

Yet, approximately one-third of persons age 65 or older have not engaged in any leisure-time physical activity within the past month, including the majority of those over the age of 75, according to the study.

Just 30 minutes of activity five days a week can make the difference, said Whitelaw. The idea is to get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes, and participate in activities that build balance, strength and flexibility. Recommended exercises include walking, swimming and bicycling. Doctors also endorse strength training two days per week.

But, the right kind of activity, coupled with a diet rich with fruits and vegetables and light on refined and processed foods, can lead to a longer, happier life, she said.

“But this can all be hard to do if the only grocery store in your area is a convenience store at a gas station” that doesn’t sell fresh vegetables, Whitelaw said.

Only about one-quarter of U.S. adults eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day, according the report. And, studies show that older people consume inadequate amounts of key nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus, which play a key role in maintaining muscle and bone health.

So reach for an apple instead of the chips, Whitelaw said. And if you can’t do 30 minutes of exercise at a time, try it in 10-minute spurts. You can also stretch when you’re washing the dishes, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and walk across the parking lot rather than fight for the spot closest to the door. Better still, walk to your destination if it’s less than a mile away.

These are things we all know, she said. “We just got out of the habit.”

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