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Though something we rarely like to think about, aging is a natural (and unavoidable) part of the life cycle. Our bodies go through many changes as we age, but taking the steps to maintain your health throughout every stage of life can play a significant role in helping you to look and feel your best at any age.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge report that the combination of four behaviors – not smoking, engaging in regular exercise, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables daily – can add an average of 14 years to your life!1
Lifestyle. According to the CDC, regular physical activity can improve health, help manage weight, support healthy joints and muscles, and contribute to a healthy mood.2 To maintain health, the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association recommend healthy individuals under age 65 do 30 minutes of moderate cardio exercise 5 days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous cardio exercise 3 days a week and strength training exercises twice a week. Individuals over 65 (or adults 50-64 with significant chronic conditions) have the same recommendations with the possible addition of an extra strength training session each week. And for individuals who are at risk for falls, incorporating balance exercises can help increase stability. Be sure to work with your health care professional to develop your physical activity plan to manage any risks and to take any personal therapeutic needs into account.3
Diet. As we get older, good nutrition plays an increasingly important role in how well we age. Yet statistics show that only 17% of Americans over the age of 60 consume a good diet. Try to consume a diet that is low in cholesterol, fat (particularly saturated fats), and salt and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber. Also keep in mind that as we age, our body’s daily energy needs slowly decrease, requiring an intake of fewer calories. Women over 50 typically need between 1,600 and 2,200 calories a day, while men require between 2,000 and 2,800 a day.
Nutrients. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that helps convert food to energy, and maintain the health of red blood cells and the nervous system.* But as people grow older, some have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 that is found naturally in food. Additionally, B12, along with folic acid and vitamin B6 has been shown to help support healthy brain function as we age.*4 B6 is also important for healthy immune system function in older individuals. Calcium plays an important role in maintaining the health and strength of bones, which is increasingly important as we age.* Vitamin D, which our bodies produce through exposure to the sun’s UV rays, helps to promote absorption of calcium.* However, many older adults do not get sufficient vitamin D though sun exposure, which can result in less than optimum calcium levels in the body.*
1.Khaw K, et al. PLoS Med 2008;5(1):39-47.
3.Nelson ME, et al. Circulation 2007;116:1094-1105.
4.Leblhuber F, et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;82(3):627-35.
By Alan Greene, MD, FAAP
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently doubled their recommended daily amount of vitamin D for our kids – and many kids weren’t getting enough even before this change. The more closely we look at vitamin D, the more we learn about how important this sunshine vitamin is to both short- and long-term health for children. I’m happy to see the new level at 400 IU.
A preliminary study presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology found that children with low levels of vitamin D have a higher chance of respiratory problems. The results support other research that looks at how vitamin D might help support better respiratory health. Other studies suggest that adequate vitamin D helps maintain health for many body systems.
But parents are going to have to work a little harder to meet these new levels, as it has become more difficult to get enough vitamin D in recent years. Kids are consuming less vitamin D-rich foods such as tuna and vitamin D-fortified milk (in favor of sweetened drinks with less nutrition). A study released in 2008 showed that forty percent of healthy babies and toddlers were not getting enough vitamin D – and an earlier report said the same about American teens.
Kids get their vitamin D from three sources: the sun, food, and supplements. Getting the sunshine vitamin from the sun itself was the primary way through most of human history, when most of us spent most of our days outdoors. Today, even when we are outside, the (wise) use of sunscreen blocks the UVB rays that trigger vitamin D production. During the winter months, winter clothing restricts sun exposure even more. Plus, in the winter, the decrease in daylight hours and the change in the angle of the sun’s rays make it more difficult.
How much sun exposure does it take to get the vitamin D you need to thrive? The answer depends on your skin color, clothing, location, time of year, and time of day. Because of the angle of the sun’s rays, kids only make significant vitamin D after 10 am and before 3 pm in most of the US -- the hours that kids may be in school or daycare.
During the middle of the day, the amount of sunshine needed is a fraction of something called the minimal erythema dose (MED) – or the amount of sunshine it would take for the skin to turn slightly pink. In Florida at noon in the summer, the MED might be 4 to 10 minutes for people with pale skin and 60 to 80 minutes for people with dark skin. It could be much longer in the winter or in Maine. To get optimal vitamin D, if 40 percent of the skin is exposed (e.g., wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt with no hat), all you need is a quarter of your MED every day. In a bathing suit it may only take 1/8th MED.
Most foods do not contain a significant amount of vitamin D, but you can find vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurt, cereals, breads, and infant formula. Fatty fishes such as tuna and salmon might contain almost all the recommended amount of vitamin D in just one serving. In comparison, a child would have to drink a quart of fortified milk to get the same amount.
One reliable way to ensure your children are getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is to add the vitamin to their daily routines. Breastfed babies should start getting drops containing 400 IU shortly after birth. Another way to accomplish this could be for nursing mothers to take 4000 to 6000 IU daily. Formula-fed babies and toddlers should start taking vitamin D also, but not until months later when they start drinking less than 32 ounces a day of formula or milk. Older children may also benefit from a multivitamin containing 400 IU of vitamin D.
You try your best to lead a healthy lifestyle - you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise, monitor portion sizes, and read nutrition labels before purchasing foods. But nutrition labels can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when the nutrition info on the back of the label seems to conflict with health claims, such as light or natural, that are made on the front of the label. Don’t fall for these sales gimmicks – we’ve broken down each section found on nutrition labels and created tips to help you eliminate the guesswork so that you can compare the facts for yourself.
Serving size. The first items you’ll see listed on nutrition labels are the serving size, and the number of servings per container. Be sure to check the serving size on food items; You may be surprised to find that your favorite “snack size” treat actually contains more than one serving per container, leading you to consume more calories than you think. Fortunately, serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods and make the best choice for you. If you know that you typically consume twice the serving size of a particular food, take that into account when comparing food labels and making a selection. Because while you are doubling the nutrients you consume, you are also doubling the calories and fat.
Calories. Next on the label you’ll find listings for the number of calories as well as how many of those calories come from fat. Many Americans consume more calories and fat than they need while consuming insufficient amounts of key nutrients. Though caloric needs vary from person to person, your calories from fat should be between 20-35% of your daily calorie intake.
Nutrients. The nutrients listed first on nutrition labels are ones that we typically get enough or too much of, and should be limited. They are: fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Identifying these nutrients on food labels can help you to make healthier food choices. Health experts recommend that intake of saturated fat, trans fat (which is found in most processed foods) and cholesterol be as minimal as possible. Lower down on nutrition labels, you’ll find nutrients that are important to consume in sufficient amounts, but which many Americans don’t. They are: dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.
Percent Daily Value (% Daily Value or %DV). The % Daily Value tells you what percentage of the recommended daily intake a food item provides for a particular nutrient. The percentage is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. % Daily Value is useful in helping you determine if you are getting enough of certain nutrients, and can tell you whether a certain food is high or low in particular nutrients. If a food contains 5% or less of the Daily Value, it is considered low in that nutrient. If it contains 20% or more of the Daily Value, it is considered high in that nutrient.
The footnote. Have you ever noticed the asterisk that appears next to % Daily Value on nutrition labels? The asterisk refers to the footnote at the bottom, which tells you that the % Daily Value is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, larger nutrition labels will tell you more than that – they will tell you the daily recommended intake for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and dietary fiber, based on a 2,000 calorie diet as well as a 2,500 calorie diet. Nutrients that have an upper daily limit – total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium – appear first on the footnote. You should try to consume less than the daily value for these nutrients. Nutrients with a lower limit – total carbohydrates and dietary fiber – indicate that you should try to consume at least the recommended daily value.
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