Tag Archive for: nutrition basics

exercise and aging

exercise and aging

Most people know the basics of staying healthy—at least in theory. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Sleep enough. But putting these healthy habits into practice is where there’s room for improvement. This is natural. Nobody is perfect, after all, and change can be difficult, especially after years of forming certain lifestyle habits.

Here’s the good news: supporting health at any age is possible no matter how long you’ve been putting off healthy lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to start living your best life.

Many people—especially those in middle age and later—think they’ve passed a point of no return on their health journey. That is, they think it is too late to see the health benefits of certain lifestyle changes. But studies show you can enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

In other words, it’s never too late to start caring about your health and learning how to take care of your body. The first step is learning about the supporting science, and then applying health tips for all ages to support physical and mental health throughout your life.

Neuroplasticity: Habits, Change, and the Aging Brain

Humans are creatures of habit. Daily life is built around routines—meals, work, sleep, and hobbies. And, as you’re probably aware, these habits can be hard to break or change.

There’s a neurological reason for this. As you repeat certain behaviors or activities, the neurons in your brain rewire and adjust the way they fire to code that behavior as a habit. So the behavior literally becomes wired into your brain.

Naturally, these wired habits are difficult to break—difficult, not impossible. Your ability to change habits has, in part, to do with neuroplasticity, which is simply your brain’s ability to change.

From infancy and childhood (even into early adulthood), the brain is incredibly plastic. This means it changes and develops easily. As you age, this process slows so much that scientists used to think neuroplasticity disappeared completely around age 25. In other words, they thought the brain’s wiring was fully set by your mid-twenties.

Recent studies, however, have shown this isn’t the case. Your brain can form new connections, create new neurons, and change its structure at any age. The process might look different as you age, but it is still possible.

So yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And, more importantly, you can form new habits to support health at any age.

Out With the Bad: The Benefits of Dropping Unhealthy Habits Today

When people confront lifelong habits—whether it’s smoking, drinking too much, or eating too many processed food—they often ask the same question: how much of a difference could it really make?

The answer is simple. Dropping unhealthy habits as soon as possible can have a huge positive impact on your health.

Take smoking for instance. For a pack-a-day smoker of 20 years, each additional day spent smoking might seem like drops in the river. But the health benefits of quitting smoking, such as decreased risk of heart disease, can be seen after just one day.

Remember, if your goal is to replace unhealthy habits in your lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Each day that you stick to your goals, you work towards rewiring your brain. So even if you’re not seeing immediate health benefits, you are working to create new neural pathways that will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Making the Change: How to Take Care of Your Body as You Age

The habits you set in early adulthood are factors that will shape your health profile later in life. Depending on your lifestyle, your risk for serious ailments will change. But those statistics aren’t set in stone.

Adults in their sixties, seventies, and beyond can still see the benefits of improving their diet, physical fitness, and mental health. Together, these positive lifestyle changes can set the stage for a happy and healthy life that extends well into old age. Whether you’re a teen, early adult, or pushing past middle age, look at the following tips for supporting health at any age:

  • Incorporate exercise into your routine: Whether it’s a daily walk, weight training, or high-intensity cardio, it’s important to stay active no matter your age. In young adults, high levels of physical activity improve cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and can help you maintain a high level of fitness later in life.
    If you’re middle aged or older, physical activity is just as important, if not more so. Increased levels of physical activity can help support you overall cardiovascular health, and more. And for older adults, physical activity helps keep muscles strong, helping maintain mobility and ensuring you can continue performing day-to-day tasks.
  • Eat nutritious food: Your diet affects nearly every aspect of your life. Food is fuel, and you want to make sure you’re giving the body the nutrients it needs to run effectively throughout life. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to grow and develop.
    As you age, your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight—which looks a little different for everyone—and can help support total body health throughout your life.
    Additionally, healthy eating can just make you feel better. It’s hard to quantify, but people who eat nutritious foods often report feeling more satisfied and energized throughout the day. And this is a benefit you can take advantage of at all ages.
  • Keep your brain engaged: Scenic walks, reading, or learning a new skill are a few activities that can help keep your brain engaged throughout life. The brain loves a challenge—so why not give it one?
    By striving to learn throughout life, you can keep your brain active. This promotes neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to continue to learn and grow into old age. Staying mentally engaged and challenged can also help optimize mental health throughout life.

Stay Positive with a Growth Mindset to Stay Healthy as Your Age

No matter your age, caring about your health involves adopting a growth mindset. It means believing that your health and lifestyle can change for the better. It’ll just take time and effort.

Remember, these changes don’t have to occur all at once. Start small and work towards your larger goals. It’s natural to slip up, but it’s up to you how you respond to your mistakes. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step towards health—no matter how small.

Little girl refuse to eat

Little girl refuse to eat

Whether it’s your food preferences, a picky spouse, or a child that will eat anything but a vegetable, you’ve probably had to deal with a picky eater in one form or another. This can range from a minor inconvenience to a major annoyance. But can picky eating also be a health concern?

Nutrition, after all, is a fundamental aspect of health no matter your age. And a key part of nutrition is eating a well-rounded diet. But is it possible to eat a balanced, nutritious diet as a picky eater?

The short answer—it depends. Read on to puzzle out the long answer and find tips for how to deal with picky eaters, and—whether it’s yourself, your child, or your partner—how to provide the nutrients they need.

What is Picky Eating and What Creates Picky Eaters

Picky eating looks a little bit different for everyone. There are a number of eating preferences that can be described as pickiness and each of these can range in intensity. But if you distilled the variety of picky eater experiences into one, single definition, you’d end up with something like this: picky eating is the avoidance of specific foods, textures, flavors, or other elements of food and eating.

When it comes to picky eating, most people have the same question: how can I get my picky eater to be, well, not picky? But before you start thinking about solutions for how to deal with picky eaters, it’s important to understand the underlying causes of picky eating.

Not all picky eaters are the same. Some avoid certain foods simply because they dislike the taste, while others’ aversion is based on texture. Some have a visceral reaction—gagging, spitting, or inability to swallow—to the foods they avoid, while others simply prefer not to eat certain items. The severity of an individual’s aversion to specific foods—as well as their reaction to those foods—can help you identify the underlying cause of their pickiness.

In some cases, picky eating can be attributed to neophobia (the fear or dislike of new and unfamiliar experiences). New foods can introduce you to a wide array of new experiences— flavors, textures, smells, etc. This multifaceted experience is part of what makes eating enjoyable and exciting. But for some, these new sensations can be intimidating.

Familiar foods are comforting and predictable. And some people want their eating experiences to be just that: comforting and predictable. While there’s no single identified cause for food-related neophobia, some studies suggest it is an inherited trait. That means if your parents are neophobes, there’s a good chance you will be, too.

There is also a link between picky eaters and being introduced to different foods later in childhood. Basically, the longer a toddler settles into the routine of only eating a set assortment of foods, the more likely they are to develop picky eating habits. If they aren’t exposed to tart foods early on, for example, they may develop an aversion to tart foods.

If a picky eater experiences bodily reactions, such as gagging or spitting, to certain foods, their pickiness may be the result of sensory food aversion. Individuals with sensory food aversion experience heightened sensory input from certain aspects of their food. This could be temperature, texture, taste, or smell. And because of this heightened sensory input, eating these foods can be overwhelming and unpleasant.

Is Picky Eating Unhealthy?

Picky eating can be frustrating for everyone involved. But for many parents, that frustration is rooted in concern. Eating a well-balanced diet is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. And in many cases, picky eating stands in the way of a well-balanced diet. In short, it can start to impact nutrition.

This leads many parents to the same question: just how bad is picky eating for my child’s health? While the effects of picky eating on nutrition vary from person to person, there are common trends that parents should note.

One of the most common effects of picky eating in children is difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. For extremely picky eaters, especially those with sensory food aversion, eating can easily become a chore. There just aren’t many foods picky eaters like, and so they don’t eat as much as they need to. While being underweight isn’t always a health risk, it   can indicate malnutrition—meaning a child isn’t getting the nutrients they need to support the body’s growth and development.

Oddly enough, picky eating can also have the opposite effect on your child’s weight. Because picky eaters tend to avoid fruits and vegetables, their diets often consist primarily of carbs—especially refined carbohydrates—and processed foods. And, when eaten in high quantities, both of these food types can lead to weight gain. Once again, this is an indication that your child isn’t acquiring the nutrients they need.

Put simply, children (and any picky eater adults, for that matter) should eat a variety of whole foods, including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Unfortunately, these are typically the foods picky eaters avoid most. Without fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat, and whole grains, it is difficult to get the appropriate amounts of fiber, protein, and vitamins a child’s growing body needs.

Strategies for How to Deal with Picky Eaters

So your suspicions have been confirmed: picky eating isn’t exactly healthy and is certainly not ideal. What’s next? Fortunately, picky eaters don’t have to be picky for life. There are a variety of strategies you can use to help a picky eater broaden their tastes—it’s just a matter of choosing the right strategy for the situation.

Studies suggest many food aversions can be overcome with repeated exposure. This means a picky eater may come to enjoy a food they avoid if they try it enough times. Say your child hates tomatoes—if you offer them tomatoes enough times, in a variety of forms, they may eventually come to enjoy them. If you’ve heard the term “acquired taste,” the same principle applies here. It’s just a matter of helping your child acquire a taste for certain foods.

Children respond to modeling. If you don’t eat your veggies, there’s a good chance your child won’t either. Don’t prepare separate meals for you and your child—sit down and eat the same food together. Show your picky eaters that you enjoy the tricky foods. Additionally, preparing food in a variety of ways can help a child branch out to new foods. If they hate raw carrots, try steaming them. (Worried about how this will affect the nutrient content of your food? Read up on the effects of cooking on vegetables!)

6 Tips to Make Feeding Your Fussy Eater Easier

If you’re looking for a variety of simple, actionable items to try to get your child to eat, look no further. Give these six tips a try!

  1. Give your child options: As children grow and develop, their sense of autonomy grows, too. This means kids may want more say in what foods they eat. Obviously a four-year-old boy shouldn’t have full control of his diet, but you can indulge his budding sense of autonomy by providing options. If you’re struggling to get your kids to eat carrots, it might not be about the carrots. It might be about the children’s sense of autonomy and control. Instead of forcing them to eat a carrot, provide two healthy options and ask which they’d prefer. Sometimes a question as simple as “Do you want carrots or green beans tonight?” can solve the problem.
  2. Don’t prepare separate meals: As mentioned above, children look up to their parents for modeled behavior. Don’t give in if your child sees a meal you’ve prepared and demands something else. Sit down to eat the meal together. As they watch you eat and enjoy the food, your picky eaters might decide to do the same. Again, be sure to allow for choices within the meal—peas vs. broccoli, for example—but don’t simply let kids opt out and choose a different meal entirely.
  3. Establish and maintain routines: Children thrive in an environment with established routines—and mealtime is no exception. A lot of picky eating can be attributed to children avoiding the unfamiliar. Trying new foods and branching out is stressful enough for young children, so try to make the rest of their eating experience predictable and consistent. Set aside blocks of time each day specifically for meals. Be consistent in when and where you and your children eat.
  4. Be patient and don’t force it: If your child refuses to eat broccoli, they probably won’t wake up one day and miraculously love it. Acquiring the taste will take time and repeated exposure. This might mean your child chews up a piece of broccoli only to spit it out—and there’s nothing wrong with that! Give picky eaters time to adjust to new foods and keep giving them opportunities to try the different items.
  5. Mix it up: While repeated exposure is one way to help a child eat a food, this doesn’t mean you should only prepare that food until they like it. If your child hates raw bell peppers, for example, don’t try to feed them raw bell peppers every night. Remember, their aversion might be rooted in texture. Mix up your preparation and try grilling or sauteing. And, let’s be honest, bell peppers aren’t the only healthy food out there. Don’t be afraid to give it a break and serve your child other nutritious foods—maybe carrots, broccoli, or green beans.
  6. Give feeding therapy a try: If you have an extremely picky eater or a child with sensory food aversion, feeding therapy is also an option to consider. Feeding therapy is especially helpful for children with strong bodily aversions to food—in other words, kids who gag, cough, spit, or choke when eating foods they don’t like. Although it shouldn’t be your first solution, feeding therapy can be a great way to help your child enjoy eating when all else fails.