Aging and the Immune System

Diane Francis: Treating aging like a disease is the next big thing ...

The most recent issue of AARP Bulletin had an article about aging and how it can affect the immune system. The entire issue highlighted COVID-19 and its impact on the older adult population and it is worth a read if you can get your hands on a copy. Here is the link to the article: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-immunity-age-risk.html

The article points out that how our immune system can become more vulnerable as we age, and how important it is to do what we can to keep it strong.

How does growing older affect immunity?

  1. Our bodies produce less immune cells, particularly B and T cells that fight viruses.
  2. Our bodies develop chronic low-grade inflammation. Inflammation is when a part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and/or painful, which is how our bodies fight germs and heal injuries. When inflammation is constant (inflammation should only be a temporary condition), the immune system becomes degraded.

The author, Mike Zimmerman, points out that there are things we can do to boost our immunity (see my blog post of May 18 on this topic).

  1. Keep moving–regular workouts increase immune function and lowers inflammation.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight; visceral fat releases inflammatory cytokines into the body; it becomes a spiral where more inflammation leads to weight gain which leads to inflammation… Avoid this by eating properly.
  3. Get to know your health situation better. Track your endurance and ability to do activities of daily living. Use digital devices to track heart rate, calories burned, etc. Note when there are significant changes and let your doctor know.
  4. Eat smart. There are certain vitamins and minerals that help our immune system (A, B, C, D, and E; folic acid, iron, selenium and zinc); look for foods that contain these nutrients
  5. Chill. Find ways to reduce stress like yoga, meditation, exercise, or a good movie, favorite song, etc. This is tough during sheltering at home, but it is essential to reduce stress.
  6. Vaccinate! Although as we age, vaccinations can be less effective, they still work and even if you do get sick it will most likely be a milder case.
  7. Meds. Some medications do lower the immune system’s ability to fight illness. Do your research; if a medication you are on does this, talk with your doctor and see if there are alternatives.

It is important to approach COVID-19 sensibly. Take all the appropriate precautions for sure, but be pro-active as well. Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we are sitting ducks for this virus. Take action and stay healthy!

Boosting our Immunity

Here is a great post from FitAmbitiousBlond. Something to consider as we make our way through this pandemic. We are not just sitting ducks. Aside from wearing masks, staying home, washing hands, etc., there are things we can do to keep ourselves healthy that help to boost our immune system at the same time.

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/145951722/posts/2136

Staying on Track

3,000+ Free Railroad Tracks & Train Images - Pixabay

It has been about a month since I wrote about how many of us are “growing” during this time of sheltering in place–and I meant it in terms of our waistlines. I shared how I was having my own struggles with a house full of food and not as much activity as my body is used to.

My first attempt at trying to get on track was to try intermittent fasting. This was, as you may recall, not a success; it just didn’t fit with my schedule. I am also not convinced it is a long-term solution or a pattern of behavior that is sustainable in the long run.

My second attempt was to count those calories. I have had the assistance of My Fitness Pal (I do not get a kickback for mentioning them), and it is making a difference. I have used this app in the past and found that it makes me more aware of the food I am eating and when I am eating it. This was a theme of my Torah commentary a couple of weeks ago as well. Following MFP has not been as difficult as I expected. It has helped me to plan better and kept me cognizant of how often I have the craving to snack. (I am of Hungarian Jewish descent and I cannot say “no” to pastry; I come by it honestly!) Another plus is that I feel like I could do this for a while; the cravings are dissipating and I am drinking less alcohol as well.

My real downfall has been Shabbat when according to Jewish tradition we are to eat three fine meals. In many Jewish homes, the typical Friday Night dinner does not look that different than a Thanksgiving Dinner. The past couple of weeks, I have approached Shabbat with the same kind of planning that goes into the holidays. I was careful about what I ate; portion-control, avoiding seconds, limiting myself to two small glasses of wine, and not going crazy at dessert actually paid off. I have watched the weight slowly come off. I am a still a way off from pre-quarantine levels, but I am pleased with my progress.

The JCC where I work just purchased an InBody Assessment tool; it tracks body composition and is way better than the old equipment we’ve been using. All of the personal trainers had to take a 2-hour online course and pass a test before we could administer an assessment…and wait for the gym to re-open. What the training reiterated was that weight is only one number and it is a complicated one. I know that I’ve been working out more since COVID-19 and it is likely that I am building muscle which is denser than fat. I look forward to checking the other factors like body fat percentage to get a truer picture of how well I am taking care of myself.

In the meantime, I am making progress and this encourages me to stay on track. I am taking control of my fitness…and it feels great!

What gets you on track…and what keeps you there?

Fat Memes during COVID-19

Weight Gurus black bathroom scale on wood floor

I have noticed a lot of postings on Social Media joking about how overweight we will all be once we are through with our self-isolation/quarantining. To put it bluntly: not funny.

First, there are many people who struggle with their weight and their overall fitness all the time–not just during this unique period. My guess is that these are NOT the people posting these jokes and pictures; are they posted by “skinny” folks who feel safe because they know they are not really talking about themselves?

Second, how is it that in polite company and in social media it is not okay to joke about someone’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and yet fat-shaming is still acceptable? As a personal trainer, I know that many people at the gym are keenly aware of this inconsistency. It is part of the reason why many with weight issues avoid the gym: fear of being judged or, even worse, ridiculed.

Third, there also folks out there who have genuine eating disorders. Eating properly and healthy are a daily battle for them. Can we even imagine what being stuck in a house full of food is like? It is a matter of mental and physical health…but, hey, if it gets a chuckle let’s post it on Facebook or Twitter!

Joking about someone’s physical condition should never be acceptable. During this difficult COVID-19 period, we should be especially sensitive to those who struggle with their health and their weight. It is hard enough for the rest of us to try to maintain proper diets while we are stuck at home or having to order take-out…let’s not make light of what for many is a very serious issue.

There is plenty of other funny stuff out there to joke about. I hear that cats are funny…

We Are What We Eat

Eat This Way!

I just returned from a “trying” trip to the supermarket. I haven’t been to a grocery store in about 10 days–attempting to avoid it by buying online and having it delivered–but this trip was unavoidable the day after Passover. I stood for 15 minutes in line in the snow (yes, it’s snowing here) to get in the store as they only let a certain number in at a time.

Food shopping used to be a relatively carefree activity that didn’t require a whole lot of thinking. Now, however, it means planning in advance, sanitizing, getting in and out as quickly as possible…or avoiding it altogether and having it all delivered.

I’ve been pretty thoughtful about my food consumption and shopping for quite a while. I have been a pescatarian for about 13 years and before that kept kosher; that means I’ve always had to consider what I was eating, where and when. When I was a single father co-parenting (one week on/one week off) I had to plan meals that were balanced, healthy and that the kids would eat. Since becoming a personal trainer, I’ve had to focus on food issues even more as I counsel clients about how to meet their fitness and health goals. But most of us don’t think about it that much…ergo the proliferation of drive-thrus.

The Torah portion for this week, Shemini, introduces us to the Jewish dietary laws–Kashrut (or kosher)–for the first time. The system in the Torah is not nearly as complicated as it is today; there has been a lot of development and clarification over the years. What Shemini does is cover the animals that are permissible to be eaten and which are not. The Torah gives no rationale. It is not health-related; the vast majority of people in the world do not follow these laws and they are no less or more healthy than those who do.

The dietary laws are aimed at making us more holy–or at least helping us to make more holy decisions about what we put in our bodies. Many years ago I taught a young man (13 years old) who had been diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes just before his Bar Mitzvah. It turned out that this was also his Torah portion. The parallels were clear. Before his diagnosis, he ate what he wanted when he wanted. After his diagnosis that was no longer possible. He had to consider what he ate and when he ate it. It made him much more aware of the role of food in his life.

Kashrut does the same thing. Hopefully, it also leads us to appreciate that we do have food on our plates…and to ensure that those who don’t get what they need. The trip to the grocery store was trying, but I don’t dare really complain; I know that there are many who are way worse off than I am. This was a mere inconvenience that led me to consider what food and the lack thereof truly means.

Passover/Easter Nutrition Tips

Seder2012_2.JPG

There are several times during the year when we know that whatever good nutritional habits we have built up are going to be challenged. July 4, Thanksgiving, New Years, Super Bowl, etc., are all times when the rituals are accompanied by food…and lots of it.

Passover and Easter fall into that same category, but Passover has its own challenges. The Seder feast is two nights, not one, and the holiday itself goes on for a total of 8 days (7 in Israel). Typically during the rest of the year, I find that whatever progress I make during the week gets dented by Friday night; our typical Shabbat dinner is several courses of delectable food with delicious wines. If I “backslide” each Shabbat, how can I succeed at being healthy when the Seder meal goes on for hours and has lots of ceremonial foods that accompany the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt? And then there are the four mandatory cups of wine (or grape juice). What strategy is there to not overdo it?

As always, a little planning goes a long way. It makes sense to go easy during the day leading up to the big meals. Don’t fast, though, or you’ll come to the table famished and overeat. Rather, eat light meals and plenty of water.

At the actual meal, set some simple rules for yourself. At the Seder, it might be to drink four cups, but have them be small cups, or fill the plate once but don’t go back for seconds, or choose one dessert. This year, with social distancing we may actually get a break; there will be less food on the table since most families are celebrating in small groups. We may also get through the Haggadah (the book that contains the Seder ritual in the correct order) a little more quickly. Even so, we will still need to plan ahead so that we do not overdo it–especially two nights in a row.

During the week of Passover, there is a tendency to eat lots of carbs. Remember that much of what we eat during the rest of the year is fair game: fruits, vegetables, legumes (if you eat those on Passover), lean meats, poultry, and fish. No one says you have to eat tons of matzoh; as a matter of fact, according to Jewish law, we are only required to eat it at the Seder. Our psyche, however, tells us that we are being deprived of certain foods so we may snack a little more to make up for it. Don’t fall into the trap of grazing; those Jell Rings, Tam Tams and dried fruits add up.

Finally, if the week is not as successful as you had hoped, don’t get discouraged. Instead, hop right back on the good nutrition path. There are always occasions that are difficult when it comes to eating right. It is a part of life. Plan ahead, do the best you can, stick to it…and stay at home!

Happy Passover and Easter…or whatever you may or may not celebrate!

Not the Yeast Infection that was Expected

Passover @ Marilyn's 2007

This Shabbat is the last Shabbat Hagadol–the last Sabbath before Passover. The weekly Torah portion is Tzav, the second portion in the Book of Leviticus.

There is an interesting connection between Passover and the Tzav. Last week we were introduced to a number of offerings and sacrifices that were to be brought to the Tabernacle (and later to the Temples) for various occasions. That theme continues into this week’s Torah reading.

One of the offerings discussed is an offering of unleavened bread–matzoh! This is, of course, what we eat for the 8 days of Passover (7 in Israel) since we cannot eat anything with leavening in it. Lev. 6:10 notes that this offering for the priests is “most holy.” What makes it so holy?

A commentator, Kle Yekar, notes that matzoh is symbolic. In the rabbinic mindset, yeast is equated with sin and transgression. If you have ever used yeast, you know that when you put it in warm water to activate it, it begins to bubble. This is just like sin. It takes just the right mix of circumstances and it begins to bubble up too. Matzoh is, in a way, “sinless” bread and therefore most holy…and a symbol to the priests.

Kle Yekar explains that a truly righteous person is one who has never experienced sin; there are not a whole lot of people like this. Our tradition teaches that such individuals are actually at a lower level than those who have transgressed and then atoned. The act of atonement–of cleansing one’s self and reaching a higher level–brings one greater holiness and merit. This is reassuring to those of us who have faltered over the years.

Typically, we eat bread. The priests also used bread as part of the rites performed in ancient times. This matzoh offering, though, represents that the yeast has been removed. It has been “cleansed” in a way and that is what makes it most holy.

This idea also has parallels in the fitness world. It is always impressive when we strive to be physically fit. Some people are active in sports and exercise since youth; that is awesome! They are like bread. Many others, like myself, only came to it later in life after being out of shape; we are like matzoh…we have gotten rid of the leavening of bad habits, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition. Our accomplishments are all the more impressive.

As we approach Passover and get rid of the literal leavening in our lives, we should be inspired to remove the spiritual “yeast infection” too. We should never think that it is too late or that there is too much inertia working against us. On the contrary, the more spiritual yeast we remove, the greater the reward!

How is Quarantining Helping You Grow?

Weight Gurus black bathroom scale on wood floor

OK. So this was not really the kind of growth I was looking forward to. I will admit that I have learned a lot about myself and those around me during the current COVID-19 unpleasantness. It has come at some cost to my fitness for sure as my waistline is growing too.

A few posts back I mentioned that I was going to give Intermittent Fasting a shot…and I did. I tried it for one week, but found it untenable. Most folks doing this choose to eat only from 11 am – 7 pm, while the rest of the time they only drink liquids. I teach a daily workout online (search Facebook for Kosher-Fitness) at 10 am and I’ve got to fuel up before that. We also usually sit down to dinner between 6:30 and 7:00 pm which doesn’t fit the schedule either. The real proof was (you should pardon the expression) in the pudding; I was continuing to put on weight.

This is totally to be expected since most of us are way less active now than we usually are. Typically at work as a personal trainer I am doing a lot of walking around with clients, demonstrating exercises, and sometimes even doing certain things right along with the person. Ironically, the workouts that I teach online are more strenuous than my typical exercise regimen. Even so, I’m still at a deficit when it comes to burning calories.

I’ve decided to follow the advice I give to my own clients. I am counting calories now. It’s not as bad as it seems; I’m using the My Fitness Pal app–which I have used on and off over the last year. I find that it benefits me in two ways at least. First, it makes me aware of just how many calories I am consuming–which is usually more than my ballpark guesstimates. Second, I’m too lazy to keep going to the app, so I simply decide not to have that little snack so that I don’t have to go through the trouble. It’s like keeping kosher–observing the Jewish dietary laws; I make myself much more aware of what I am consuming.

I will keep you posted on my progress. How are you all doing? Are you finding that you are growing in unexpected ways too? No one knows how long this will go on, but if we put on a pound a week for a couple of months, it will be a challenge to get back to where we were.

Finally, remember that weight is only one aspect of health and fitness. Don’t forget about maintaining strength and cardio-vascular health. Remember to be kind to yourself and care for your emotional self too. Staying healthy is a multi-level endeavor; don’t ignore any of those parts and pieces.

Know Your Numbers and…

Image result for numbers

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear a registered dietitian, Robin Rood, give a presentation about diets at the Mandel JCC to our Big Weight Loss Challenge participants. I was curious as to the content of the presentation since I had not been one of the organizers of the event, and discussing diets can be a tricky thing.

Robin went over a number of different diets, explaining what they are, the science behind them, as well as the pros and cons. This was informative for most of the crowd. There is a lot of talk out there about various diets and it is difficult to know what they are and which is the best.

What Robin emphasized to us from the beginning was that not every diet is right for everyone. It is important for us to know our numbers. By that she meant not just our weight, but our blood pressure and blood sugar. Knowing where there are imbalances in our systems should guide us to the diet that is most appropriate if we seek to trim our body fat percentage.

Numbers aren’t the only thing we need to consider. She cautioned us to also be aware of family medical history. If there is a history of diabetes or coronary disease, that will have bearing on which diets are even safe to try. Certain diets are risky for those with a history of eating disorders (like intermittent fasting). Having the history and the numbers can narrow down the choices quite a bit.

The overall message was that the most effective way to find a healthy way to eat is to know ourselves first. We need to know our numbers, our health history, and even our own emotions and shortcomings. We know what we are capable of doing and what will be too difficult.

Of course, diet is only part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Robin shared with us as well the importance of exercise, getting enough rest/sleep, and finding ways to de-stress.

Choosing a diet isn’t as easy as selecting what a certain celebrity is doing, or what you’ve heard about on the news, or even seen in a magazine. It is a personal decision….and how you choose will determine your success and your overall health too.

Water…water…

Desert, Jordan

The Weight Loss Challenge where I work is now in full swing. Last night was the first group fitness class offered by one of the other coaches. It was a big group and notable that many had not brought water with them. This is not a formula for success.

We hear a lot about keeping hydrated. We are not like camels who are able to store water for long periods and long distances. We use water to nourish our bodies and we lose water through sweating which helps to keep us cool. We must continually replenish. So what are the rules for water consumption with exercise?

Generall speaking the following guidelines apply:

  • 2-3 cups of fluid 2 hours BEFORE the start of exercise
  • 1 cup of fluid every 10-20 minutes DURING exercise
  • 2-3 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost AFTER exercise

You’ll notice that I put “fluid” instead of “water.” Water is always excellent, but there are sports drinks that work as well. It is also better to drink something cool that something hot; this improves the speed of absorption. We also know that there are some liquids that actually accelerate dehydration: coffee and alcohol are two prime examples. This is not to say that you cannot have a glass of wine at dinner after exercising; just remember that this cannot be your primary form of hydration.

Dehydration is not pretty. It can lead to dizziness, loss of conscience, nausea and headaches. Bring a water bottle to the gym or to your class; this will help ensure that you are drinking enough.

Get your exercise on, but remember to get your hydration on as well!