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Secrets to Staying Young

--by Donna M. De Cunzo, R.D., L.D.

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Lucille Ball once stated: "The secret to staying youthful is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age."

In ancient Rome, a newborn child could expect to live to 22. In the 1900's, in the US, 49 was the average life expectancy. In 1991, the average life expectancy was 75 years. Between 1950-1980, the population of those over 65 doubled, and by the year 2025, the group of people aged 60 and over will have grown from 376 million in 1980 to 1.12 billion.

With these statistics in mind, you can see how quality of life has become increasingly important. Good health is an important factor in quality of life, and proper nutrition is vital for continuing good health. Many Americans consume too many calories and too much fat, cholesterol and sodium. They don't get enough complex carbohydrates and fiber. Such diets are a major cause of America's high rate of obesity and diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

Dr. Bill Evans and Dr. Irv Rosenberg of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center at Tuft's University have studied aging. They have come up with the following five factors - called biomarkers - that can help people live a longer, higher quality life.

1. Diet
As the body ages, it requires fewer calories. Men and women 55 and older need 150 to 200 fewer calories per day than those younger than age 55. This decrease may be due to a natural decline in metabolic rate and/or decreased physical activity. However, the need for essential nutrients does not changed. Thus, there is not much room for high calorie, low nutrient foods. According to the USDA's Human Consumption Survey, those over 55 were found to consume less than 70% of the RDA for B6, B12, calcium, magnesium and vitamin A. Even for those who require special diets to treat diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, a diet low in animal products and high in fiber - from whole grains, fruits and vegetables - is beneficial.
2. Lean Body Mass (LBM)
Lean body mass, or muscle mass, generally decreases at a rate of 2% per decade after age 40. When LBM decreases, disuse syndrome occurs, resulting in obesity, fragility, depression and decreased cardiovascular function.
3. Body Fat Percentage
Keeping body fat down and lean body mass up is important in preventing injury and disease.
4. Aerobic Capacity
Exercise aerobically at least 3 times a week, keeping the heart rate at about 70% of maximum for 30 minutes or longer.
5. Strength
Weight bearing exercise is especially important in reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Dr. Bill Evans studied a group of people at age 90 who needed assistance with daily tasks and had a history of falling. Dr. Evans had the group lift 80% of their one repetition maximum weight for an eight week period. After eight weeks, the group increased muscle strength by 60% and increased LBM by 10%.

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