Monday, February 15, 2010

Never too late in life to alter health habits

USA Today By Emily Bregel, Chattanooga Times Free Press CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Three years ago, at age 92, Marjorie Townley of Chattanooga felt resigned, seeing little chance for improvement in her quality of life. At 220 pounds and falling regularly, she was edging closer to needing nursing home care. Her discomfort led her to avoid socializing and remain holed up in her apartment at Creekside at Shallowford retirement home. But the result of a few simple dietary changes recommended by her nutritionist has been staggering to her family and her doctor. Nutritionist and physical therapy assistant James Igani, who manages Summit Physical Therapy's clinic based at Creekside, suggested tweaks such as eating sliced apples and bananas for breakfast instead of cereal, forgoing most desserts and cutting back on salt. Sticking to the changes, Ms. Townley dropped 70 pounds gradually over the past few years, which has lessened the burden on her body and allowed her regular doctor to recommend she stop taking most of her 11 medications, Igani said. Ms. Townley said she hasn't fallen in a long time and she now socializes and goes out with family more than she has in years. "My family are tickled to death. They tell me if it hadn't been for James coming along I'd probably be in a wheelchair now with somebody pushing me," she said. Even late in life, small changes in nutrition and activity level can make a huge difference in quality of life, Igani said. Replacing processed, cooked items with raw and unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables can improve nutrition and significantly reduce water weight and fat stores, he said. "If you offer proper nutrition to your body, your weight goes to where it's supposed to. Your body seeks balance," he said. At Alexian Brothers Community Services' adult day care program, some senior diabetic patients even have lost enough weight through healthy diet changes to go off their diabetes medications, said Peggy Noblett, registered dietitian with the program. Minimal activity also can burn excess calories and improve strength and balance, boosting one's attitude and motivation to be social, experts say. Chattanooga geriatrician Dr. Lorna Birch emphasized that older folks should consult with a doctor before beginning any exercise program, and start slowly. Low-intensity activities such as walking, swimming or even just moving from room to room at home can make a difference, she said. "Adding any physical activity will help. People always think it has to be fancy but it doesn't," she said. Exercise can be "doing more things around the house, walking up the steps instead of taking the elevator." Elderly people often lack protein in their diet because they often don't like to cook, especially if they live alone, Ms. Noblett said. Adding other sources of protein such as soybeans, eggs and peanut butter can help balance a diet, she said. Particularly for those in their golden years, a healthy diet shouldn't be about self-denial, but rather should focus on balance, Ms. Noblett said. "You need to have some pleasure in life and eating is one of the big pleasures," she said. "We try to just average things out where you can have your cakes and pies, and yet not have them every day." Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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