LSU AgCenter Nutrition Expert Points The Way To Healthy Aging

4/19/2005 10:28:30 PM

We rarely think about our health in later years. A healthy lifestyle, along with regular physical activity, can prevent some of the problems associated with the aging process, according to LSU AgCenter nutrition expert Catrinel Stanciu.

As we age, our body goes through physical and physiological changes. Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular (CV) disease, diabetes, obesity or osteoporosis are not uncommon.

During September, Healthy Aging month, Stanciu focuses on the positive aspects of getting older. "This is the time you should wonder whether you care about your health, independence and well-being," the nutrition expert says, adding, "If the answer is ‘yes,' you may want to assess your lifestyle, health status, eating habits and fitness level."

Questions like, "Am I going to be a healthy elderly person?" or "Am I going to keep my independence?" should come to you early in life, because the younger years are the time to prepare your body for the aging process.

Older people are now more educated, have a higher living standard and want to live, not only longer, but healthier. Increasing quality and years of life among elderly is an important public health issue.

"Good nutrition and regular physical activity are two critical factors for the health and well-being of the older generation," Stanciu says, advising to look for the warning signs of poor nutrition: disease, eating poorly, tooth loss or mouth pain, economic hardship, reduced social contact, many medicines, involuntary weight loss or gain, needing assistance in self-care, over age 80.

"Anyone with three or more signs is at nutritional risk and should consult a doctor, registered dietitian or other health care professional," Stanciu warns.

She also emphasizes that physical activity is important at all ages, and we have to make it part of our daily routine. For example, if you used to take the stairs instead of the elevator when you were a child, you will tend to do that as an adult, and you will continue to do it as you become older (unless medical reasons interfere).

Physically active adults will continue to exercise, even when they get older. This is OK, but the intensity and the duration should decrease with age. The elderly should aim for about 20-30 minutes of physical activity, preferably every day.

"It is never too late to start being physically active, but sedentary children and adults become usually sedentary seniors," Stanciu says, explaining that the older you get, the more difficult is to start being active.

"But it is not impossible!" she affirms, adding, "Even frail elderly can and need to be physically active, be it under professional supervision." She says the most important thing is to find an exercise that you like and stick with it.

Stanciu says physical activity increases muscle strength and stamina, improves cardiovascular function, helps maintain the ability to live independently, reduces the risks for falling and fractures and reduces symptoms of depression and social isolation.

What else do we need to do besides being physically active?

• Build and maintain strong bones. Eat calcium and vitamin D-rich foods. Start during childhood and continue throughout life.

• Drink plenty of fluids every day. Water is the healthiest drink.

• Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a variety of foods, from all groups.

Stanciu says eating healthy and staying physically active should be lifelong goals. The effort of staying healthy should never stop.

For local information and educational programs in related areas of family and consumer sciences, including nutrition and health, parenting and family economics, log on to the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com  or call your parish LSU AgCenter Cooperative Extension office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/
On the Internet: Healthy Aging Campaign: http://www.healthyaging.net/index.htm
Source: Catrinel Stanciu (225) 578-6924, or cstanciu@agcenter.lsu.edu

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