Forever younger?Most people of a certain age would never actually want to be "young" again with all the angst and discontent that youth entails. But just about all of them wish they were "younger." Guess what. That's a wish that can come true."Boomers have changed everything all along, haven't they?" asks Sara E. Rix, the director of economic studies at AARP's Public Policy Institute. It's a pattern that's holding strong as those born at the start of the baby boom era turn 65 next year. One in five Americans will exceed that age by mid-century. Mission number one for many of them is to change the very concept of aging.The generation that once sang along with The Who, "I hope I die before I get old," is finding a somewhat more positive attitude to aging, but the sentiment remains, so they instead are finding ways to hold off the effects of time as long as possible and, whenever possible, to reverse those effects. That's right. Aging boomers don't just want to stay fit. They want to grow young.For many, this won't be a cakewalk. The last wave of boomers is sometimes called the Sandwich Generation, taking care of elders and children simultaneously, a double bind that often bumps their own health and welfare to a back burnerBut even for late bloomers and reformed couch potatoes, there is hope. Bodies and minds respond to exercise, even small amounts, and the rewards of renewed mental and physical fitness can be just as addictive as a pint of Ben & Jerry's. A number of websites and blogs devoted to boomers and aging - aginghipsters.com and www.reinventingaging.org are but two - help point the way for oldsters keen on increasing meaning, pleasure and engagement by making room for happiness, for life dreams and for the spiritual, soulful and cultural in their lives, no matter their age. If the past is any indication boomers will take charge of their elder years with gusto and determination.And, in response to this quest for a better second half of life, scientists, doctors and wellness experts are coming forward with advice to enhance fitness on every level, to increase the odds for a healthier life that is longer and better than ever. To that end we present the advice of some experts - on nutrition, physical wellness and graceful physical and mental aging - to help sort fact from fiction in our present-day whirlwind of information overload.Primal Fitness: The Game is AfootThe modern world is not a fitness-friendly place for the primitive hunter-gatherer dwelling inside each of us.There was an evolutionary reason for us to stand up; our skeletons are geared for running," says Tom Walton, a certified personal trainer who runs the wellness center at Northeast Delta Dental in Concord. "We have evolutionary imperatives in our DNA to move, but with large quantities of food in our homes, we pound it down like our last meal. This behavior then signals our physical brain that the next meal is uncertain and we must hold on to that weight and store rescue fat."Walton is a consummate coach, a constant presence at local running events, known for his tendency to finish the race well before most of his younger competitors and then double back on the course to offer encouragement. The 62-year-old fitness advocate teaches a certification program for personal trainers and a course called Personal Wellness, based on the New York Times bestseller, "Younger Next Year," by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge.He says the basic tenet of the book resonated with him: that the only way to handle the perils of the modern world is to tap into our evolutionary journey, tending in equal measure to our physical, emotional and thinking brains to offset years of ill health during the last third of our lives. After all, it's only been the last few decades where we have staved off hunger and eliminated most of the activity required to keep food on the table."We've outsmarted ourselves," says Walton. "We're still wired to be hunter-gatherer-foragers, not to sit in front of a screen for hours on end. We cannot handle a sedentary lifestyle. We are meant and wired to move. In a way it's a battle between our intellectual, sedentary selves and the part of us that demands movement."How to escape this vicious cycle of leisure and plenty? "We must defy the modern world and honor the physical brain which is tied to our emotional and thinking brains." In effect, he says, we need to trick those different brains by giving them a shared overriding objective. "We need to make them think we're on the hunt," says WaltonWalton can be contacted for personal training or questions about fitness at twalton@Nedelta.com.Tom Walton's Wellness RulesYou must exercise every day, mixing aerobic and resistance exercise. You will not find the time to exercise; you must make the time. Vigorously protect this time; don't let anything interfere.You need to log in or record your physical activity to reinforce the behavior.Don't tempt yourself with bad foods. Stop eating crap.Judgments, guilt and shame do not motivate a better lifestyle. They feed a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.Train your brain to love exercise; ignite a personal passion for it. If you change your point of view and your thinking about exercise, you can learn to fall in love with it.Based upon rules found in "Younger Next Year" [Workman Publishing, N.Y.] A version especially for women is also available.The Mind in GearThe science of "brain health" is providing new grease for the mental crankcase of aging boomers. Dr. Stephen J. Bartels says, "I've always had an interest in mind and body interactions in the elderly. When I was young my father Carl, a career physician at Leahy Clinics, took me on visits to his elderly, isolated patients at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I had an early exposure to the medical and mental health problems in older adults."These early experiences, strengthened by close bonds with his grandparents, motivated Dr. Bartels, now director of the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging in Lebanon, to find his own medical niche. During a psychiatry residency at Harvard he eagerly treated elderly patients who presented a complex mix of mind and body issues."Over the past century we've witnessed an amazing increase in life expectancy. At the turn of the century average life expectancy was age 47. Now, that age is 78 and the fastest-growing subgroup are those over age 80," he says."What many of us are asking is: How can we remain independent and be both physically and mentally healthy as we age? This is summarized in the goal of 'adding more life to years, not just adding more years to life.'" It's a point he often makes when giving talks to the elderly about how to attain this level of wellness. "We all know older adults in their 80s who look and function like 60-year-olds, as well as older adults in their 60s who appear and function like 80-year-olds. Some of this variability is due to genetic factors outside of our control," he explains.The study of long-term mind and body wellness is an emerging one, and is gaining increased funding and attention. The Centers for Health and Aging recently received a five-year federal grant for its education center."The good news is that many of the factors that help us to age well are within our control and there are things we can do even into later years that can help to maintain functioning. What is clear is that 'brain health' is central to living longer and better," he says.Your Brain: Use it or lose itPerhaps the most important thing that we can do as we age to promote brain and body health is physical exercise. Not only does exercise results in greater cardiovascular health, muscle strength and bone strength, but exercise also appears to be associated with less age-related brain tissue loss. Part of this effect may be due to improved vascular supply to the brain. However, research based on animals shows that physical activity can actually increase a natural hormone that promotes brain cell growth called brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF.Exercising your brain through activities such as computer games or crossword puzzles may be helpful, although the effects are likely to be modest at best. Similarly, there has been significant interest in the association between drinking red wine and brain health and longevity. Probably the best advice is that if you have a choice between sitting and doing a crossword puzzle while drinking a glass of red wine versus going for a walk, go for a walk. Stimulating environments and mental activity appear to be important in maintaining brain health and in promoting increased brain connections. Studies comparing laboratory rats in stimulating and sterile environments have shown that rats in the stimulating environments develop more nerve cell connections through a process called neurogenesis. This may have something to do with the improved emotional and physical health that is found in older adults who are more socially engaged and involved in creative activities.There is also evidence exercise and activities such as yoga and tai chi have special benefits for older adults in improving balance, reducing the risk of falls and improving overall physical and mental health. To date, the effects of dietary supplements and vitamins on brain health are less certain, with the possible exception of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. Overall, the effects of exercise, good nutrition and stopping smoking are much more potent for improving brain health and longevity than less-established measures.We know that older adults who have had a hip fracture or who have had a heart attack are more likely to die if they are depressed. Depression can also affect the body's natural immune response to fight off infection and to wage resistance to cancer.Social engagement is also critical to physical health as well as mental health in late life. For example, residents of nursing homes who are socially engaged live longer than those who are socially withdrawn or isolated.Studies of health promotion and prevention demonstrate that it's never too late to engage in health behavior change that can improve your physical health, mental health, and overall functioning.Stephen Bartels, M.D.
Director, Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging
Professor of Psychiatry and of Community and Family Medicine
The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and Dartmouth Medical SchoolSpecial EffectsSeven spectacular skin care tips from famous makeup artist Kriss Soterion will help you roll back the years.Exfoliate: As skin ages it begins to lack the luster of youth. It becomes sluggish and loses its ability to shed dead skin cells, making it look dry, pasty and dull. The best-kept secret for polishing skin to perfection is found right in your kitchen, baking soda. Twice a week in the shower make a paste with water and baking soda, and buff your skin in circular motion and splash off with water. Your skin will feel like it did years ago.Retexturize: A tell-tale sign of aging skin is enlarged pores and fine lines that accumulate through the T-zone and eye area. To combat these imperfections, product technology has soared with the formulation of primers. (Try Kriss Cosmetics famous Refreshing Primer.) Primers hydrate, plump and dramatically improve the way skin looks under makeup by filling imperfections. Skin will look younger.Illuminate: Giving makeup a dewy, luminous glow will always make your appearance more youthful. All mineral makeup is light-reflective and therefore creates the optical illusion of fresh looking skin. Looking younger is all about special effects.Brighten: Eyes can look tired with age. By keeping eye shadow on the lid light and luminous, eyes will look brighter. Avoid highlighting the brow bone like you did in earlier days; this will only make it stand out more and cause the eye to appear more sunken back. Don't forget to open your eyes with black mascara, too.Plump: Don't make the mistake of turning to matte lipstick if you're aging. Matte colors lack frost and shine and create the illusion of thinner, smaller lips. Shine and frost will always make the lips look fuller and more voluptuous.Eat Well: Staying sugar-free, caffeine-free and generally toxin-free with a clean diet is the best way to promote youthful skin. Increasing good fats such as fish oils in the diet create younger looking skin.Makeup: Dewy is always youthful, so creating moist-looking skin is a great tip. As we age, makeup can be our magic wand. I suggest spending time with a makeup artist to learn age-appropriate techniques and to be introduced to effective formulas for aging skin.Kriss Soterion is a makeup artist, owner of Kriss Cosmetics in Manchester and chief of makeup for CNN Special Events.Back to BasicsDoes our country have an eating disorder?Marcia Herrin, a professor at Dartmouth College, founded one of the most respected programs in the nation for preventing and treating eating disorders. She also operates a private practice in Lebanon where she helps children and adults with weight issues. Her conclusions are radical in that they often sound like the advice that baby boomers got from their parents, i.e. eat a well balanced meal and then you can have your dessert.She says baby boomers tend to want nutritionists to tackle specific age-related food issues, such as diets geared toward menopausal women or supplements such as calcium to keep bones strong and fiber intake to keep digestion regular."In our culture people are confused, overly worried or too careless about good nutrition," says the woman who started a food co-op in her native Montana that still thrives. "Health is a spectrum and genetics is a factor. Being overweight, an indicator of health, usually means you have no nutrient deficiencies. It simply means you are taking in more calories than your body needs."We definitely see information overload as an issue in nutrition that confuses the public. Everyone is bombarded with the latest in nutrition but in truth there aren't going to be any new findings that rock the boat." She cites the current fascination with "super foods" as one symptom of information overload, noting that they don't make evolutionary sense.Herrin explains, "Humans are designed to be healthy in lots of climates and geographies around the world, perhaps places where the highly touted blueberry, pomegranate or asparagus may not be available. What is super are vitamins and minerals and these are all available in a normal diet. There's no way a few foods can supply these, plus the proteins, carbs and fat we all need. The fact that we hear so much about the blueberry and other so called super foods is because we are now really studying the properties of these foods for the first time."Herrin's basic nutrition advice is "to choose well and heed the boring advice we all heard in fifth grade: Look for foods that supply protein, carbs and fat in every meal. Eat fruits and vegetables. Eat three balanced meals each day, minimize snacks and have dessert at lunch and dinner to satisfy our natural urge for fat and sugar. When we eat well, we prove to our bodies that starvation is unlikely. Listen to your body. Stop when you are satisfied. You are eating too much if you aren't hungry for your next meal or snack.Visit her website, www.marciaherrin.com, to download a PDF of "The Marcia Herrin Food Plan."Balance. Variety. Moderation.Balance: Eat three meals each day. Make sure to have at least two decent servings (3 ounces meat etc., which translates to 20 grams of protein). Eat snacks only if you are hungry. Have dessert with lunch and dinner. Make sure you are getting the equivalent of at least 1,000 mg (1,500 mg if you are past 50 or have bone loss) of calcium per day whether from foods (1 cup of milk or yogurt equals 300 mg of calcium) or from supplements.Variety: Balance is more important, but once you have that down your health will benefit from variety. Eat beans, eggs, meats, fish for protein. Eat seasonal fruits and veggies.Moderation: Eat so you are hungry for meals and snacks. Stop when satisfied. Portions vary with individual needs, but in general a portion equals 1 cup or twice what is listed on the label as serving. Calories are too hard to count accurately, so I don't bother, but use weight as a judge. If your weight is going up, you are eating too many calories. If you are losing weight, you aren't eating enough to maintain your weight. If your weight is stable, your calorie level is maintaining your weight.Marcia Herrin holds masters and doctoral degrees in nutritional education, is a noted expert on eating disorders and obesity. Her advice has appeared in the pages of People and on the "Today" show. She has had a long affiliation with Dartmouth, where she worked as the college's first nutritionist and co-directed many special nutrition programs. She has authored books, including "The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders" [Gurze Press, 2007] and "Nutrition Counseling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders" [Brunner-Routledge, 2002].One Person's StoryThe surgical solution. When all else fails.You'd never know it, looking at the her glam shots, but Diva Taunia was a chubby band geek in high school and was morbidly obese for most of her adult life. At 311 lbs., she'd had enough and underwent gastric bypass surgery on March 25, 2008. To date she has lost and maintained a loss of more than 160 lbs. The Nashua resident is a professional vocalist and radio host with a weekly program dedicated to living life after weight loss surgery. She's also the vice president of public relations for the Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America, www.wlsfa.org. This June she attended her 20th high school reunion in style, even inviting her online fans to help her pick out the sexiest dress for the occasion. Here are her top five tips for anyone considering weight loss surgery:Do your research. Weight loss surgery is a drastic and life-altering decision. Do as much research as possible and find out about the numerous different types of surgeries, the complications and risks, and the vitamin and supplement care needed post-surgery. The more prepared you are and the more knowledge you have before surgery will greatly improve your chances of success after surgery.Make sure you have a support system. Most hospitals and bariatric programs offer weekly or monthly support groups, but you can also find support in some less-traditional places. YouTube has an amazing community of weight loss surgery patients who come together for "meet & greets" all over the country. People chronicle their journeys in videos so that others can learn what to expect. (My channel is www.youtube.com/divataunia.) There are plenty of online message boards and forums dedicated to the weight loss surgery community.Start exercising - now. The stronger you get your body pre-surgery, the better your recovery process. Most bariatric programs require a mandatory pre-surgery weight loss of approximately 10 percent of your body weight. It's important to understand that diet and exercise will still be part of your life post-surgery, and if you can't commit to that now before surgery, when will you?Learn to set non-scale goals for yourself. Most weight loss surgery patients drop weight rapidly in the beginning, and they tend to lose big numbers as well. When the weight loss slows down a bit, many people go into panic mode, thinking they won't lose any more weight. It's important to gauge success in different ways so that you don't lose motivation if the scale doesn't reflect a huge loss. Make a list of small everyday goals for yourself that you can go back and visit during those times. Example: 1. Touch my toes 2. Wear a seat belt comfortably 3. Sit in a restaurant booth 4. Wear high heels. You'll be amazed at how drastically your life changes with these little moments.Be prepared to be the center of attention. You're going to get a lot of it once you start losing weight!For more information about Diva Taunia, visit www.divataunia.com or www.backstagepassradio.com.
This article appears in the September 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine