Eating Differently in a Pandemic

April 13, 2018

The most recent issue of AARP Magazine (August/September 2020) featured an article by Ruth Reichl entitled “The Changing American Table.” In it she discusses how food tastes, the taste of food, shopping habits, and eating habits have changed over the last 50 years. It is a fascinating look at the major events and trends that helped to define American cuisine. Here is the link: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2020/changing-food-trends.html.

What was most intriguing was her take on the effect that the COVID-19 Pandemic has had in the last 6 months. The pandemic disrupted (and still does) our food chain. Packing plants became COVID-19 hot spots, restaurants shut down (some temporarily, others permanently), some food went to waste, and other food simply wasn’t produced. For many Americans, it was the first time that we actually began to fathom all the steps that take place from the farm or sea to our tables.

Americans (you should pardon the expression) are a little late coming to the table on this one. Judaism has always emphasized an appreciation of food–what we may or may not eat, how it is prepared, and how it must be sanctified through blessings before and after the meal. An observant Jew at each meal is reminded through all these steps exactly where the food came from…and the many miracles that accompany its journey to our stomachs.

Reichl noted that during this pandemic many people turned their attention back to the sources. People planted gardens and grew vegetables. Others began cooking and baking from scratch. Many in rural areas did what the norm was a half century ago and went straight to the farm to purchase produce and meat. If there may be one silver lining to COVID-19, it is that it reconnected us to an awareness of the sources of our food…and to the fragility of the system.

Personally, I have been a cook and bake from scratch kind of guy (although not exclusively) for a long time. There are still a lot of processed foods in my diet. Even so, during the last several months, I have found myself trying to go back to the basics. We even planted some basil, tomatoes, peppers, parsley and cilantro!

Whether COVID-19 will have a long term impact on how we view the food we eat is unknown. Certainly there are encouraging signs that we will think more about where our food comes from. On the other hand, we know that many of us have put on a few pounds, simply because we are sitting at home more surrounded by food and because our gyms and other ways in which we are active are not as accessible.

My hope is that our society will learn from the Jewish approach to food. It is a blessing and it is to be enjoyed–but always in the right context and as a way to fuel the human body (not destroy it). A good lesson for a pandemic…and afterwards too!

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!

HIIT for Seniors?

A little reminder

What it is HIIT? It stands for High Intensity Interval Training, which means working out at a lower intensity for a given amount of time, followed by working out at a higher intensity for a given amount of time, in a cycle. For example, a person could walk for two minutes, run for 30 seconds, walk for two, run for 30, etc. HIIT has gotten a lot of hype because the research shows that it is an efficient way to work out.

HIIT now encompasses many modes of exercise. There are HIIT aquatics classes, weight training, and cardio applications. The results are that one can get the same benefit as a regular workout, but in a compacted amount of time…and the benefits can continue for a while after the workout ends. Research shows that when we raise our heart rate significantly, we can continue to burn calories at the higher rate for several hours. That is efficient! And that explains the popularity.

But is it OK for seniors? AARP ran an article on this topic last year: https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2018/high-intensity-interval-training-workout.html. Being a trainer “of a certain age,” I clipped out of the bulletin and took it into the gym, figuring I’d give it a shot.

For many of my hour-long sessions I start out with the beginner’s HIIT suggested in the article: 3 minutes low intensity, 20 seconds high intensity, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, 2 minutes low, 20 seconds high, and then 2 minutes of low–for a total of 10 minutes. Of course, how to do HIIT with seniors will differ with each person. A couple of my clients have advanced to the point that we now do 30 seconds high intensity at each interval. Depending on their ability, balance and agility, I use walking on the track, elliptical, NuStep, or a stationary bike. It is sometimes scary at the beginning since many seniors are not used to “pushing it,” for fear of a heart attack, or because they’ve been told that they are too old for that intensity of exercise.

Trainers and seniors alike should be cautious, but from my experience, HIIT can increase cardio capacity, affecting both endurance and power. As my clients progress, I will continue to tweak the formula. Although skeptical at first, I am a believer in HIIT for older adults when done appropriately. I have seen the results myself!

New Study out from NIH and AARP: Over 50? Start Exercising now…

Waiting For Their Turn
Is this what our senior years should look like?

A article in the most recent AARP Bulletin (May 2019, Vol. 60, No. 4, pg. 4) highlights something that those in the Fitness Industry have been saying for years…and now there is even more research behind it.

The study began in 1995 as a joint venture between AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and the NIH (National Institutes of Health), and tracked the exercise habits of more than 315,000 people ages 50-71. It showed that even if a person has been inactive most of their lives, getting into regular exercise can add years to our lives and quality to those years as well.

The research shows that: “those ages 40-61 who begin exercising after years of physical inactivity can still extend their longevity. They had a 32 to 35 percent lower risk of mortality. The odds of death from cancer and heart disease also decreased. Compared with those who never exercised during the multiyear study, those who exercised their entire lives had a 29 to 36 percent lower risk of death.”

This is good news indeed–especially for fitness professionals who face the skepticism of those who have never been physically active during most of their lives. Of course, the real challenge is changing that behavior in the first place. Those who have felt that exercise or taking proper care of themselves was not a priority earlier in their lives are not necessarily going to “see the light.” Usually it takes a “wake-up call” or “Aha moment” to change the way they act. It should be comforting for them to know that not all is lost; even in their later years, they can have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of years in their lives.

As for change, Judaism has always taught that we are capable of change. Most religious traditions have a similar viewpoint. This is why there is a strong emphasis in the faith community on redemption in its many forms; there is a sense that we can always improve ourselves, and as a result, the world around us. We are not stuck with “it is what it is.” We have the potential to make “it what it ought to be.”

Good news indeed!