The habits we live by every day have a powerful influence on our
health. Fortunately, habits are something we can control, and it's
never too late to make positive changes.
You can't change your genetic make-up—at least not this year. It
is also hard to make quick changes in our environment. But we do
choose - either consciously or unconsciously - what we eat and how
much we exercise every single day.
Our diets should be balanced. The USDA food-guide pyramid
provides excellent information to establish a healthy eating plan
that is high in complex carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low
in fat. It is important not to skip meals, and to avoid fad diets;
there is no quick fix. Remember, we are talking about eating for the
long haul and developing healthy patterns to last a lifetime.
We recommend obtaining a copy of the food-guide pyramid from the
Government Printing Office. In addition, keep the following tips in
- Plan your meals ahead, thinking about the total balance of
fruit, fiber, vegetables, fat and protein for the day.
- Avoid processed food high in sodium and fat. Don't keep these
foods around the house.
- Keep snacks handy - fresh fruits and vegetables or unsalted
low-fat crackers or pretzels.
- Eat more fish and chicken and less red meat.
- Make sure you have enough calcium in your diet, 1000 to 1500
mg daily. If your body doesn't digest dairy products well, this
can be tough. Many over-the-counter calcium supplements are
available to give you the right amount.
- If you follow the food guide, supplemental vitamins are
usually not necessary. It won't hurt to take a daily multiple
vitamin, but large doses of vitamins can actually be dangerous.
So what about exercise? Do we expect you to eat healthier and
exercise too? Don't forget, it's your choice, but most people
find that making changes in their diets and exercise habits at the
same time is actually easier than working on one area at a time.
Your good behaviors have a positive reinforcing effect on each
- There are many benefits of exercise, including:
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Weight control
- Reduced risk of osteoporosis
- Increased strength and balance, leading to reduced risk of
falls and injuries
There is even more good news about exercise. A little goes a long
way. We recommend a regimen that becomes incorporated in your daily
routine so you are less likely to skip it. Walking is a great way to
start, as briskly as feels comfortable, for 15 to 20 minutes at a
daily stretch. If you have the time and it's not hard on your
joints, you can build up to 30 to 45 minutes. For seniors with
arthritis of the knees and hips, swimming is probably the best form
of exercise, provided you have access to a pool. If you require a
medically supervised fitness program, you may want to consider a
special senior program. Your doctor and therapist can help plan a
safe exercise program that is right for you. Lifestyle changes can
be difficult. Some of us need a wake-up call such as an acute
illness to shock us into action. Try not to wait for this.
As you start to make changes, don't be too hard on yourself,
especially if you find yourself back-sliding into your old ways. Old
habits are hard to break. But stay focused on your new goals, and
you'll find you really can develop a healthier way of living.
Dr. Pourrat Monahemi