Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

August 15, 2008              

Table of Contents

  • From East Coast to West Coast (Answers to seniors' fitness questions)
  • Chocolate -- A Healthy Junk Food? (A new way to look at dieting)
  • Exercise and Wildfire Smoke (Nasal breathing for better health)
  • Summertime Heat and Older Adults (Safety advice)
  • Tai Chi and Seniors' Sleep Quality (Medical research)
  • Bears 'R' Us (Humor)

From East Coast to West Coast


SFA author Jim Evans is a 40-year veteran of the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant. In the two following articles, he answers a Georgian's question about dieting and a Californian's question about exercising in a region affected by wildfire.

Chocolate -- A Healthy Junk Food?

DEAR JIM: At 75 I finally decided to stop being stubborn and follow your advice after all these years -- that is, to try and lose weight by exercising more and watching my diet. Unfortunately, I think I may be sabotaging my efforts because I have a bad habit of eating too much chocolate. I just can't seem to get enough of it. I don't "pig out" and eat it all at once, but I snack on it all day long. What can I say? It makes me feel better (until I look in the mirror and see that I haven't lost any weight yet). Any suggestions? SWEET TOOTH IN SAVANNAH

DEAR SWEET TOOTH: Don't beat yourself up over this. At least you made the decision to finally do something about your weight. As for the chocolate, there may be some things you didn't know about chocolate that can help you lose those extra pounds.

According to University of California researchers, there is now documented evidence that the tendency to overeat sweets such as chocolate is a natural physiological response to chronic stress. Dr. Abby Aronowitz has taken things a step further by endorsing chocolate -- and other "healthy junk foods" -- in her revolutionary book Your Final Diet.

Dr. Aronowitz holds two master's degrees and a doctorate from Columbia University. She has been a consultant to Weight Watchers International, Inc., and is a member of the American Psychological Association. She believes that managing sugar, other carbohydrates, and fat is a more effective way to lose weight than bingeing or depriving. "A well-adjusted secure feeling will replace the highs and lows of failed diets," says Aronowitz from her home in Woodbury, New York.

"Sugar and fat relieve chronic stress on a biological level," she says, "and chocolate cake and ice cream, for example... [can bring] relief and relaxation. Therefore, we must learn how to manage the foods we crave instead of overindulging or depriving ourselves.

"We need to address what to consume, as well as how to cope with emotional eating. It is also important to begin changing the cultural thin ideal, which creates a sense of personal inferiority upon which the billion dollar diet industry thrives."

In her book, Aronowitz suggests that people incorporate some natural foods into a personalized food plan by consuming fewer artificial ingredients. She warns against intense denial as impossible to tolerate over time. Going against the grain of many traditional weight loss programs, Your Final Diet advises readers to:

  • Manage sugar, carbs, and fats instead of bingeing or depriving.
  • Personalize their food plans.
  • Reinvent sexuality: "Thin does not equal sexy!"
  • Become good role models for children regarding food and body image.
  • Overcome pressure to be unrealistically thin.
  • So, if you are really serious about losing weight there may be an alternative to conventional, old-fashioned dieting. "Just imagine life without obsessions about fat and body image," says Aronowitz. "Let's finally become our personal best... and stay there!"

    Exercise and Wildfire Smoke

    DEAR JIM: Like many people, I have recently been exposed to smoke from the wildfires in Southern California -- in fact, the ash is still everywhere around us, and you can still smell it. I don't have any particular health issues at 68, but everyone is saying that I should curtail my outdoor physical activity for at least a few weeks until the smoke and ash have dissipated. What do you think? SMOKEY IN SANTA YSABEL

    DEAR SMOKEY: It is probably a good idea to do most of your exercise indoors for a couple of weeks longer. Exercise can increase your air intake by 10 to 20 times that when you are at rest, which can greatly affect the amount of pollution that enters your lungs. Moreover, since most people tend to breathe through their mouths when exercising, they inhale more pollution deep into their lungs, circumventing the natural filtering function of the nose.

    Breathing through the mouth is usually preferred when exercising because of the body's increased demand for oxygen, but many people habitually breathe through their mouth even when they are not exercising, which can cause or exacerbate other health problems. Aside from the fact that nasal breathing is more socially acceptable (and attractive) than breathing through the mouth, it is almost always healthier than breathing through the mouth -- especially in a smoke-filled environment -- because it filters the air through the sinuses and enhances oxygen absorption. Inhaling and exhaling through the nose is also important for preventing the throat from becoming dry or sore in situations such as dehydration, cold weather, and laryngitis.

    While you are waiting for the air to clear outside, you might try working out at your local gym or health club, and ask the owner to adjust the air conditioning or furnace to re-circulate the inside air rather than bring in outside air. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can also be added to the ventilation system to reduce the number of fine particles in the air.

    The smoke will eventually dissipate so that you can return to your outdoor exercise regimen. In the meantime, be sure to breathe through your nose. It is the best filtering device you have, and it works if you use it.

    Summertime Heat and Older Adults

    As reported by HealthDay's Kevin McKeever, most Americans who die from health complications arising from extreme heat and high humidity are age 50-plus. This is because older bodies do not cool down as quickly and efficiently as younger bodies. In a prepared statement, Dr. John B. Murphy, president of the American Geriatrics Society, noted: "Sometimes older people may not feel hot when the temperature is dangerously high and are also less likely to feel thirsty, which means their bodies have lost too much water." As SFA-trained senior fitness professionals know, heat-related health problems may include dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Below are some practical safety measures advised by Dr. Murphy:

  • Be aware that fans will not cool down the body sufficiently during intense heat waves. At those times, stay in air conditioning -- whether you are at home, traveling about town, shopping, running errands, or performing other activities.
  • Avoid long periods of sun exposure.
  • In high temperatures, do not walk for long distances, lift heavy objects, or undertake other strenuous tasks.
  • Drink generous amounts of water (and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic clear fluids). Here's a simple test that is a good indicator of whether or not your fluid intake is satisfactory: When one's urine is light yellow in color, the body is receiving adequate water. But if the urine is darker, one's body needs more fluid.
  • Beat the heat with cool showers, baths, or even sponge baths.
  • Wear clothing and hats that are loose-fitting, light in color, and lightweight.

  • Tai Chi and Seniors' Sleep Quality

    With aging, sleep problems may arise due to a variety of factors such as health problems, hormonal changes, or a heightened sensitivity to noise. Perhaps performing the smooth, flowing motions of tai chi can help, according to wire reports on a recent study published in the journal Sleep.

    The investigation involved 112 subjects (average age approximately 70 years old) who were experiencing ongoing sleep problems. Two potentially useful interventions were compared by the researchers. One group of subjects performed tai chi three times per week (40 minutes per session) while the other group attended classes on sleep issues, including education about relaxation and physical activity, for an equal amount of time.

    After approximately six months, the subjects' sleep patterns were evaluated according to standardized rating scales. Researchers found that 63 percent of those in the tai chi group were no longer sleep-impaired. This was true of only 32 percent of the sleep-classes group. The tai chi participants fell to sleep more quickly, stayed asleep longer, had fewer sleep interruptions, and experienced less drowsiness during the daytime.

    For more information about tai chi, visit For more information about age-related sleep issues, visit and select its "Sleep & Lifestyle" section.

    Bears 'R' Us

    Alan Alexander Milne was an English author who lived from 1882 to 1956. We suspect he had more than his beloved character Winnie the Pooh in mind when he wrote these words:

    "A bear, however hard he tries,
    grows tubby without exercise."

    -- A.A. Milne

    Experience! readers: Thank you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest to our members.

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