On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Getting Active: Better Late Than Never

DEAR DR. BLONZ: As people in our mid-60s, my spouse and I are aware that we are getting on in years. General stiffness in the mornings and occasional body aches have limited our activities to a degree, but aside from that, we are in good shape. We have not been very physically active, though, and are interested in some general coaching to help limit the chances that one of the serious ailments will come knocking on our door. -- T.C., Sun City, Arizona

DEAR T.C.: I recall when thoughts of retirement began in one’s 50s. At present, productivity and vitality often continue well beyond that -- with people living longer, doing more and enjoying better health than ever before. A good deal of the credit can be attributed to research on how various short- and long-term behaviors affect our health. There is also better health care that can focus on potentially life-altering conditions before they become disruptive. Unfortunately, such advances have yet to become accessible to all levels of society. That’s certainly something to work on.

That said, our lifestyle and the foods we eat remain vital components to help us hold back obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and cognitive decline, at least to the extent that we can. Good nutrition helps the body’s disease-fighting immune system to work at its best, but the years will always take a toll. What occurs is a product of our genes, mixed with how we have led our lives.

A widely held theory on aging pins some of the blame on compounds called free radicals, which gum up the works and facilitate the path toward disease. Research evidence continues to reveal how whole grains and nutrient-rich whole foods can combat free-radical damage. Phytochemicals, the beneficial compounds that plants evolved to help them survive, can help our bodies, as well. But it takes a plant-based, whole foods diet to facilitate that payoff. Eating well can help keep you off the sick list -- though nothing can be guaranteed in this regard, of course -- and, if you do become ill, can aid in faster wound healing, fewer surgical complications and shorter hospital stays. This is of critical importance in today’s debates about health care.

Energy is the most basic commodity of life, and the body saves all it gets its mitts on. We are designed to cut back on systems that are not routinely used, saving extra energy whenever possible. Dietary excesses get converted to energy and stored whenever possible, but being “wealthy” in this regard can set us up for chronic disease.

A healthful lifestyle keeps the body on notice that we want to keep all our parts in working order. Even the best-built engine will become sluggish if not used regularly. The “use it or lose it” proposition comes into even greater play as we age. It is easier to maintain fitness than to become fit, but patience, persistence and guidance from knowledgeable professionals can chart a course that is appropriate for each situation.

We can’t undo years of inactivity with last-minute changes, but the body can be very forgiving. It’s better to make positive changes at any age than give up without trying. There is no antidote for aging, nor is there a magic product or formula that can assure good health. A wellness visit with your health professional can assess things as they are, and you can discuss options moving forward; perhaps you would benefit from a personal coach, or you can enroll in a class at your local Y. (Many facilities now offer online classes that can be done from home, if that better fits your needs.) Keeping your focus on the big picture and maintaining the right attitude will help you enjoy all the healthy years your body can give.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.