By Nancy Smorch
Caring for aging parents is a task that consumes an increasing amount of time for a large portion of our population here in the U.S. Growing older, of course, is something that no one can hide from – but there are steps we can take in our own lives to make the transition more gentle… and there are actions we can take to ensure comfort and health for our loved ones already in (or nearing) that period of their lives.
As I look at the life journey of my own parents, 3 important areas stand out to me as having made the biggest impact on their health.
The ﬁrst area is how they connect socially. After retirement, and after the kids are all grown and out of the house, many adults, if not careful, can easily become isolated. We are social creatures by nature, and it is so important to our health - both physically and mentally - to have some sort of connection to others. To feel a part of something. To contribute. For many, it’s with other humans. For others it might be with animals, and still others may satisfy that connection through nature. At any rate, this need for connection is something that deﬁnitely shouldn’t be ignored.
The second area impacting health as we age is physical activity. You would think this would be an obvious need, and maybe it is… but the reality of actually doing some sort of physical activity and putting a little bit of stress on the body to keep it challenged and to keep things moving - is a different story. It’s been proven time and again that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to your health, yet this key ingredient to a healthy lifestyle is all too often ignored - with signiﬁcant consequences.
Physical activity is something that can make a HUGE difference, especially in the elderly. Aside from the obvious beneﬁts of physical activity, other, more subtle beneﬁts include keeping the digestive system regular, helping prevent deterioration of balance, having quicker recovery times from injuries, illness or surgeries, increased mental clarity, and an increase in overall positive attitude.
I know even for many younger people, physical activity is a challenge - sometimes it’s just plain hard and uncomfortable - it’s probably much more inviting to sit in your chair and watch TV, or read, or be on the computer. Speaking from experience, I know that I have to work out, otherwise my muscles get tight and I get tired. And, yes, exercising is tiring in the moment and sometimes it’s difﬁcult to actually start. But once I’m done, I am energized, wide awake, and able to handle much more coming at me that day.
The third area which has a huge impact on our health as we age is the food we eat. Obviously, a lifetime of eating poor quality food is going to most likely catch up with you and cause setbacks. But, even if you had a lifetime of poor eating habits, it’s never too late to make some changes. Realizing the limitations of modern medicine, I feel nutrition is a key factor in health that is most often overlooked. Let’s face it, your body is a complex network of cells and electrical pathways that need the proper molecules to function correctly - many of which need to be broken down from the food we eat.
With my parents getting older, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately. Although I can’t force them to do anything, and often my suggestions (although they may say they agree with them) fall short of actually being implemented, I can try to make it as easy as possible for them to eat better quality food. So now, every time I head to the Eastern side of the state to visit them, I always try to take some sort of healthy food with me, hoping it will spark some new ideas for meals or some enthusiasm for the importance of good food.
I’m also working on dispelling the myth that healthy food tastes bad. I think a few years ago when everyone was on a diet of some sort, they started limiting their fat intake and tried to eat low-calorie meals. They ended up equating healthy with low or terrible taste. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! In fact, when you take away the layers of artiﬁcial colors, ﬂavors, processing, heavy sauces, etc., and get to what real food actually tastes like - it’s really amazing!
So, what all did I take to Flint this past Monday?
I took the NutriBullet blender along with some coconut water so my dad could have Beachbody’s Chocolate Shakeology drink as a mid-afternoon snack (I thought I would take advantage of his love of chocolate!). It’s loaded with superfoods, enzymes, phytonutrients, probiotics, protein, and antioxidants. I also took some of the organic homemade peanut butter I made a couple of weeks ago, along with some organic bread from Kismet Bakery here in town, and some bananas, and made him a peanut butter and banana sandwich. He said it was an unusual combination, but he loved the taste of it. I couldn’t believe he had never had one before!
Also, since it’s blueberry season here in West Michigan (yay!), I took some fresh blueberries for snacking on, and to add to his oatmeal, and some local raw honey which he really likes. Oatmeal is something my dad has recently added to his diet for breakfast - he used to eat a bagel with cream cheese… not much nutritional value in that! I know he talks about how good the food is where he lives, and although I know they are doing a great job, I’m quite certain that the actual nutritional content of the food isn’t as high as I would like it to be.
A comment from my dad’s doctor prompted questioning about the sodium content of the oatmeal he had switched to. When I looked at the label of Quaker Oats instant Maple and Brown Sugar oatmeal (a similar brand) I saw that there are 260 mg. of sodium in a serving! I immediately went on Amazon and had some of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Quick Oats sent over his way – which has 0 mg. of sodium, prompting me to reiterate that reading labels is something we should all make a habit of doing! A food item may market itself as “healthy,” but that doesn’t always mean it’s good for you.
I ﬁgured those were some easy to implement changes in my dad’s diet - and probably enough pushing from me for now. Next time I head that way I’ll take something else that’s tasty and nutritious - and I will have to stop by my mom’s and try to talk her into some new eating habits as well.
But that’s a topic for another blog (or two)! Please, please, please, don’t ever underestimate the power of good, quality food on the health of your loved ones - at any age!