Fountain of Youth

Lifestyle changes adds years to your life

By Lou Sorendo

Preventing aging is commonly perceived as something a person does a year or so before retirement.

That’s really not the case, according to Laura H. Brown, professor and chairwoman of human development at SUNY Oswego and coordinator of its gerontology minor.

“You need to start much earlier,” she said.

“It’s really important as we get older to eat a balanced diet,” Brown said. “But the bigger picture for older adults is that our metabolism almost always automatically slows down, so we have to decrease portion size.”

She said there are not necessarily any “forbidden foods,” and approaches that include only eating protein, eliminating carbohydrates or not consuming animal products from one’s diet “are really difficult to keep up with on a regular basis.”

“When you eliminate those major food groups, you are probably losing out on some nutrients. If you go to a completely vegan diet, it’s hard to find high-quality protein sources. There are some, but how many beans can you eat on a daily basis?” she asked.

She said a diet should consist of a variety of fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates like whole grains and lean protein sources.

“The key is your portions have to get smaller, and in the United States, portions have got really out of control,” she said.

She said consumers are eating things like processed sugar and flour. Even worse, high fructose corn syrup has crept into many foods.

“That is a major no-no. It is cheap, so manufacturers put it in all sorts of food, including things that you would never think of having a lot of sugar like catsup,” she said. The recipe for Coke produced today features high fructose corn syrup, believed to be five times worse for consumers in terms of accumulating belly fat.

“Belly fat is especially damaging to internal organ growth and maintenance,” she said.

Time to get moving

Obviously, cardiovascular and strength training exercise is vital.

“You don’t necessarily have to lift weights, but you do have to do things that have resistance to them,” said Brown, noting swimming is a good example.

She said yoga and flexibility exercises that work on balance are important as well.

“One of the bigger health problems for older adults are falls, so if you can maintain balance — and yoga is hugely helpful with that — it’s going to give you more flexibility and prevent falls in the future,” she said.

“There’s not many 55 year olds falling on a regular basis, but we can do things now like increasing core strength that make those problems later on less likely to happen,” she added.

Attending to one’s mental health as they get older is also essential.

“We pay much more attention to quadriceps and biceps than we do to our brains in term of exercise,” she said.

For someone in early retirement who decides they are going to just play golf for the rest of their life, that is not going to do it, Brown said.

“You have to stay in a zone where you are challenging yourself on a regular basis, whether you’re working in the workforce, volunteering or learning a new language,” she said.

She said some of the best strategies to prevent deteriorations that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease are to read, listen to music or write.

Recapturing youth

While people are striving to feel better, they are also looking to appear younger.

In terms of anti-aging strategies, there’s Botox, which gets rid of “those little lines between your eyebrows” through an injection in the forehead, or plastic surgery in the form of a facelift or to eliminate “turkey neck,” she said.

“I think that is a lot less authentic than things like non-invasive procedures such as laser treatments to tighten sagging skin without any cutting or stitching,” she said.

There are also various ways to get rid of belly fat, including the extreme measure of doing gastric bypass surgery.

“This limits the amount of food your stomach can actually hold, and therefore you can’t eat as much,” she said.

Not as drastic is liposuction, where fat is extracted from the body.

Brown noted a new trend is cool sculpting, where doctors super cool fat cells normally located in the abdomen or buttocks.

“Over time, that super cooling actually kills off fat cells and they get eliminated from the body. It’s non-invasive and you are not doing any injections or surgical process,” she said.

“At a certain point, there is no amount of Botox that will prevent your skin from aging,” she said.

“You have to face the fact in your 50s and early 60s that you are not going to look like you did when you were 25,” she said.

“Middle-aged spread” is also inevitable, she noted.

Job satisfaction plays role

“For the most part, if you’re happy with your job and you’re feeling it’s serving a useful purpose, then you’re going to want to stay in that occupation longer,” Brown said.

“People bounce around in jobs a whole lot more than they used to. It used to be that you graduated school, entered a field and might get promoted a few times and didn’t completely reinvest yourself,” she said.

However, nowadays people are taking stock in themselves in their 40s and early 50s and saying, ‘I’m really not liking what I am doing,’ so they will go back to school and sort of retool themselves and find something that satisfies them. It’s an increasing trend in the U.S., she said.

An example is her husband Scott, who formerly worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep. He decided in his late 40s to become a physician assistant, and was one of the first in his class to obtain a job as a physician’s assistant in Auburn.

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