Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

November 17, 2009

Table of Contents:

  • C-h-h-e-s-s-s-t-t (Try this gentle stretch)
  • I'll Have Some Phytochemicals, Please (Research in the battle against obesity)
  • Working Out With Your Wife (Exercise motivation advice for men)
  • Contest Results (Our brainy computer-quest winners)


Here's an easy chest stretch that can make for a nice change of routine. It provides a subtle, gentle stretching feeling, not a strong pulling sensation:

Stand facing the wall with feet shoulder-width apart, weight equally distributed over both legs. Extend your right arm straight out to the front and place your right palm on the wall at eye level, fingers pointing up. You must stand far enough away from the wall so that your right arm can remain comfortably straight throughout the exercise. Your left arm should be relaxed down by your side. Slowly turn your upper body and hips away from the wall (toward the left) as far as feels comfortable. To open the chest up a little more, move your left shoulder slightly backward. Hold for approximately 10 seconds, breathing regularly and naturally throughout. Slowly return to starting position. Perform up to 3 repetitions. Repeat on the opposite side. Over time, you may wish to build up to holding each stretch for approximately 30 seconds.

I'll Have Some Phytochemicals, Please

Below is a compelling research report from UF Health Newsnet, which provides news releases on the latest medical and health advances from the University of Florida Health Science Center. Although the subjects of this study were younger adults, people of all ages should be interested in the results!

The cheeseburger and French fries might look tempting, but eating a serving of broccoli and leafy greens first could help people battle metabolic processes that lead to obesity and heart disease, a new University of Florida study shows.

Eating more plant-based foods, which are rich in substances called phytochemicals, seems to prevent oxidative stress in the body, a process associated with obesity and the onset of disease, according to findings published online in advance of the print edition of the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

To get enough of these protective phytochemicals, researchers suggest eating plant-based foods such as leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes at the start of a meal. Using what is known as a phytochemical index (which compares the number of calories consumed from plant-based foods with the overall number of daily calories) could also help people make sure they remember to get enough phytochemicals during their regular meals and snacks, said Heather K. Vincent, Ph.D., the lead author of the paper.

"We need to find a way to encourage people to pull back on fat and eat more foods rich in micronutrients and trace minerals from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and soy," said Vincent, an assistant professor in the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute. "Fill your plate with colorful, low-calorie, varied-texture foods derived from plants first. By slowly eating phytochemical-rich foods such as salads with olive oil or fresh-cut fruits before the actual meal, you will likely reduce the overall portion size, fat content and energy intake. In this way, you're ensuring that you get the variety of protective, disease-fighting phytochemicals you need and controlling caloric intake."

The researchers studied a group of 54 young adults, analyzing their dietary patterns over a three-day period, repeating the same measurement eight weeks later. The participants were broken into two groups: normal-weight and overweight-obese.

Although the adults in the two groups consumed about the same amount of calories, overweight-obese adults consumed fewer plant-based foods and subsequently fewer protective trace minerals and phytochemicals and more saturated fats. They also had higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation than their normal-weight peers, Vincent said. These processes are related to the onset of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and joint disease, she added.

"Diets low in plant-based foods affect health over the course of a long period of time," Vincent said. "This is related to annual weight gain, levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. Those are the oxidative processes of disease that debilitate people later in life."

Oxidative stress occurs when the body produces too many damaging free radicals and lacks enough antioxidants or phytochemicals to counteract them. Because of excess fat tissue and certain enzymes that are more active in overweight people, being obese can actually trigger the production of more free radicals, too.

Because many phyotchemicals have antioxidant properties, they can help combat free redicals, Vincent said. Phytochemicals include substances such as allin from garlic, lycopene from tomatoes, isoflavones from soy, beta carotene from orange squashes and anythocyanins from red wine, among others.

"People who are obese need more fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholesome unrefined grains," she said. "In comparison to a normal-weight person, an obese person is always going to be behind the eight ball because there are so many adverse metabolic processes going on."

Instead of making drastic changes, people could substitute one or two choices a day with phytochemical-rich foods to make a difference in their diets, Vincent said. For example, substituting a cup of steeped plain tea instead of coffee or reaching for an orange instead of a granola bar could increase a person's phytochemical intake for the day without even changing the feeling of fullness. Over time, replacing more pre-packaged snacks with fresh produce or low-sugar grains could become a habit that fights obesity and disease, Vincent said.

"We always want to encourage people to go back to the whole sources of food, the nonprocessed foods if we can help it," Vincent said. "That would be the bottom line for anyone, regardless of age and body size, keep going back to the purer plant-based foods. Remember to eat the good quality first."

Currently, there are no recommendations for how much of these plant compounds people should be getting each day, says Susanne Talcott, Ph.D., an assistant professor of food science and nutrition at Texas A&M University. Using the phytochemical index could be a good way to come up with these recommendations, she said.

Like Vincent, Talcott also cautions people to try and stick to the whole sources of foods and be wary of processed foods that promise benefits from added plant compounds.

"Consumers should stick with what we have known for decades and eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables," she said. "Stick with those kinds of foods rather than reaching out for a tropical wonder pill or juice."

Working Out With Your Wife

SFA author Jim Evans is a 41-year veteran of the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior fitness consultant. Today Jim offers a discouraged would-be exerciser some sound motivational advice.

DEAR JIM: My wife has been bugging me to get in shape for years -- I'm 67 -- and, while I've tried to follow your exercise advice, I have a terrible time staying motivated. I've tried just about everything without success, and I'm really disappointed in myself. Do you have anything new or different I can try to get back on track and stay on track? BUGGED IN BELOIT

DEAR BUGGED: Motivation is not easy when it comes to exercise, so don't be so hard on yourself. After all, exercise is, by itself, not particularly pleasurable for most people until it becomes a habit. But take my word for it: Once you start experiencing the positive results from your exercise regimen (which usually takes at least 30 days), the motivation often takes care of itself. You will start feeling more energetic, and every time you look in the mirror you will start seeing the "new" you. It's all a matter of getting into the habit of exercising.

So, what to do to get you moving in the right direction? Try exercising with your wife. You know that old saying, "Behind every good man is a good woman"? Well, it can be especially true when it comes to exercise. You and I can both remember how we used to show off as youngsters every time there was a girl in the vicinity. We ran a little faster, we threw the ball a little harder, we tried a little harder at whatever we were doing -- you know what I mean. But now there is something more than just anecdotal evidence to back it up, and age has nothing to do with it.

A German doctor has found that men exerted themselves in a bicycle stress test 12 percent more when supervised by a female doctor as opposed to when they were supervised by a male doctor (Men's Health, February 2009). And they complained about it less, too. Sound familiar? Dr. Christian Jung claims that "working out with a woman might help you push harder, probably because men are evolutionarily programmed to impress women." No kidding.

The bottom line is that this might be a unique opportunity to add some spice and motivation to your workouts by asking your wife to join you and bring out your innate "evolutionary" programming. You probably won't both have the same strength level, and you may not like the same kind of exercise but, with a little give and take, you should be able to find some form of exercise that you can both enjoy together. Worse case scenario (and it isn't a bad case scenario) is that you can walk around the block together holding hands!

There have been numerous studies touting the benefits of a same gender workout partner in providing more motivation, but working out with a female seems to offer a different -- and apparently effective -- twist for men. I don't know if working out with you will make any difference for your wife, but what's good for the gander may just be good for the hen, too. At least she won't bug you anymore if you invite her along for the ride.

Contest Results

The American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) thanks all the Experience! readers who took part in last issue's internet search contest "The Game Is Afoot" and congratulates our three winners!

Following are the questions with their best answers:

1. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, how many Americans were age 65 and over in 2006?

This was the hardest question to answer and we accepted a range of justifiably "correct" answers from credible internet sources including 37,000,000, 37,191,004, and 37,300,000.

2. SFA president Janie Clark's article "Ramping Up Senior Fitness" was written for which organization?

The article was written for Parks & Recreation magazine, the official publication of the National Recreation and Park Association.

3. What specific SFA service earned the NCOA Health Promotion Institute's 2009 "Best Practices in Health Promotion and Wellness Award"?

SFA was proud to accept the National Council on Aging's Best Practice Award for "professional education systems that prepare older adult physical fitness trainers, instructors, and recreational activity leaders."

Our three winners, selected in a random drawing from a pool of all participants providing correct answers, are:

  • 3rd place: Malka Y. of Massachusetts receives the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
  • 2nd place: Carol A. of Illinois receives the DVDs The Brain Fitness Program and Brain Fitness 2: Sight & Sound.
  • 1st place: Amanda J. of Missouri receives SFA's professional education program Brain Fitness for Older Adults.
  • 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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