Calorie Restriction: Breakthrough or Fad?

The publication earlier this year of Greg Crister's Eternity Soup: Dying for Eternal Youth as well as a big story in The New York Times Sunday Magazine last October have brought calorie restriction into the mainstream. Calorie restriction is a theory and practice of consistently and permanently eating an extremely low-calorie diet with the aim of extending one's lifespan.

Calorie restriction diets that aim to extend lifespan aim do so by consuming fewer calories than are needed to maintain normal weight, while still including all the nutrients and vitamins needed for good health. Most people who follow this diet eat 20 to 30 percent less than is normally recommended for their weight and age.

Proponents of calorie restriction contend that since processing calories uses energy, taxes organs, and creates cancer- and disease-causing free radicals; keeping calories to a minimum thus extends life. The easiest analogy is that our bodies are like cars and eating/digestion is like driving them – the less you run them, the longer they'll last.

The science behind calorie restriction is based primarily on animal studies. The theory, according to Crister, stretches back to the 16th century when the Renaissance humanist Alvise Corano posited that an extremely modest diet would lead to a longer life. His doctor recommended a simple diet because of symptoms that sound like type 2 diabetes. Corano ended up living to the age of 83 and credited his long life to his modest eating habits.

Modern and scientific studies cited by calorie restriction proponents have mostly been done on rodents. Mice fed a diet that reduced their calories by 30 to 60 percent from a young age increased their lifespan by 30 to 60 percent. Mice given a diet that reduced their calorie intake by 44 percent as "adults" lived, on average, 10 to 20 percent longer. Calorie restriction also seemed to lower cases of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer as well as decrease the rate of nerve damage from Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and strokes.

The problem (or the good news if restricting less than 1,000 per day sounds more pleasant) with this theory is that it doesn't carry fully over to humans. The limited studies of calorie restriction in humans have found both positive and negative effects, and no evidence that it extends lifespan. According to the Mayo Clinic, the limited research that has been done on calorie restriction in humans has shown it beneficial in lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and (not surprisingly) maintaining a healthy weight. Yet seniors and leaner people are particularly susceptible to the ill effects of calorie restriction which include hormonal changes, reduced bone density, and a loss of muscle mass. Calorie restriction has been shown to cause depression, irritability, and lethargy.

Eternity Soup points out that there is a difference between lifespan and life expectancy. A lifespan is the maximum number of years that an organism can, with all things being optimal, live. While no one is sure about the true possible human lifespan, many agree that it probably hovers around 120 years. Of course, because of disease, lifestyle, and environmental factors, our life expectancy is nowhere near that and instead hovers in the 70s and 80s.

The possible benefits of calorie restriction become even murkier when one considers the emerging notion of longevity quotients, which is how long an animal lives relative to how long it should live based on its body size, all questions of optimal life span aside. Calorie restriction allows animals such as mice with low longevity quotients to reach their full lifespan. People already have a high longevity quotient, that is, we live longer than one might expect based on our size. The possible lifespan-enhancing effects of calorie restriction, following this logic, are minimal.

What is clear is that balanced modest diets – not restricted but not gluttonous either – have clear health benefits at every stage of life. The Balanced Care Method™ focuses on maintaining a lean body mass through a diet high in nutrient-rich, plant-based foods, regular physical activity, and eating until 80 percent full.

Corano, the Renaissance Italian who believed less food would help people live longer, believed the perfect meal was one of panatella, a soup made of rich chicken broth, bits of dried whole grain bread, a poached egg, and a generous spoonful of olive oil: Delicious, healthful, and a good addition to the Balanced Care Method™.

This recipe is inspired by Corano's description of a good, simple meal. We've added a few vegetables to make it more Balanced Care Method™-perfect. This recipe makes one serving but is easily doubled, tripled, and beyond.
  • 1 slice whole grain bread
  • 2 to 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tomato (fresh or canned), chopped
  • 1 cup spinach or chard leaves, cut into ribbons
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Toast the bread. Tear or cut the toast into bite-size pieces and place in the bottom of a soup bowl.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Reduce heat to a steady simmer and add tomato. Bring broth back to a simmer and add the spinach or chard. Cook until spinach or chard is tender, about 2 minutes.
  3. Crack egg into soup and simmer, undisturbed, until cooked to desired doneness (about 3 minutes for cooked whites and a runny yolk, about 6 minutes for a set yolk). Use a slotted spoon to transfer egg onto toast pieces in the soup bowl. 
  4. Pour broth and vegetables over the egg and toast. Garnish by drizzling with the olive oil. Serve hot.

Travel Tips For Seniors

Going on a trip? Are you traveling by plane, train or bus and you want to pack light? Here are some great travel suggestions for Seniors Citizens who plan to travel for a one week stay to almost anywhere for two:

• If you have to take our shampoos, lotions, tooth paste, mouth wash, etc. either buy the small traveler sizes or, if small bottles available, transfer liquids to these.

• Pack only cotton underwear (3) and cotton socks (men 3 pr.- women one pr. panty-hose, one pr. knee-highs one pr. cotton socks), and roll these to save space (they can be placed into shoes). Note: you can wash these items while there.

• Pack items of clothing to ‘layer’, i.e. one light-weight cotton knit cardigan to wear over two or three different cotton knit shirts or blouses (NO bulky sweaters).

• No more than TWO pairs of shoes (one pr. comfortable walking and one pr. dress), the comfortable clothes will probably be worn in travel.

• Two pairs slacks (we’ll probably travel in a third) or skirts (if preferred). Choose items that can mix/match with everything packed.

• Pack medicines, book/magazine, snack, flat slippers (in case the feet swell) and only other necessary items in the carry-on tote. If there is a necessity for dress clothes, pack these in the fold-up hanging bag, shoes can fit in these, also, along with odd/end items.

• Don’t carry on board anything but the tote and a jacket/coat (when necessary-but don’t pack them); leave the ‘handling’ to others. If going to visit friends/family, and want to take gifts, box them and mail ahead of time; let the postal dept. help! Pack your needs, but pack them wisely! Happy traveling!

Airport Security Measures
Before you go on that senior travel tour make sure to check security measures and what you can and cannot take on board with you. Go to and click on “travel and consumers.” You will find a list of prohibited and permitted items for checked and carry-on luggage.

Invest in Portable Luggage
How many of us are still dragging around those heavy pieces of luggage? Well, it’s time for some new pieces! You know the kind that has the expandable tote-handle and wheels! Ah, what relief for our backs! I found these sizes to be so handy: 21″/22″ Carry-on (but don’t carry on :o) 27″ Upright, then add the 15″ Tote (to carry with you containing your medications and other absolute senior travel necessities), and the hang-up/zip-close ’suitor’ that has great extra compartments. These latter two MUST have handles, so you can lap these over either the Upright or Carry-on extended handles, and shuffle along your way! Don’t throw out the old luggage, however; use to store old keepsakes, clothing, books, whatever, and place in the attic to one day give to your grandchildren!

Traveling Off Season, The Senior Way!
Remember when we were younger and took the kids on vacation? And how crowded places of interest were? We had to make reservations far in advance to get a motel room. I’ve enjoyed a much slower pace of senior citizen travel and find it not hard to get reservation when traveling in the ‘off-season’; that is, when kids are back in school! We’ll also be giving families a break by not competing with their ‘time’. So try to plan your trips around this time of year (school summer vacations); you’ll find your trips more relaxing and easier to make plans.

Why Any and All Activity Matters

The health benefits of exercise are extraordinarily well documented. Regular exercise lowers your risk of a stroke by 27%, reduces instances of both high blood pressure and Alzheimer's disease by 40%, cuts your chance of developing diabetes by 50%, and lowers your risk of developing colon cancer by a whopping 60%. As well, it obviously helps maintain a healthy weight. Plus, exercise has been shown to be just as effective at fighting depression as both SSRIs (like Prozac) and therapy.

A recent study from the Appalachian State University's Human Performance Lab even showed that people who took a brisk walk five days a week had fewer and less severe colds and flus than sedentary control subjects. So it's not just long-term chronic and fatal conditions that being fit staves off – regular exercise actually helps you battle the common cold, too!

Beyond full-on exercise, however, a recent study out of Australia also shows the health risk of being inactive. The study from the physical activity lab at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia found that the more television its subjects watched, the greater risk they had of dying at a younger age, particularly from heart disease.

Subjects in the study who watched four hours or more of television per day were 80% more likely to die from heart disease and 46% more likely to die from all causes, even when factors such as: education levels, overall health, age, past smoking, waist circumference, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure of the subjects was taken into account.

The study concluded that the real problem with television watching is that it is done while sitting, and sitting with extraordinarily little muscle movement. Such "extreme" inactivity affects metabolism overall, not just during the time spent inactive. A study from July 2008 showed that standing engages muscles and promotes the distribution of lipase, a fat-absorbing enzyme that triggers the body to process fat and cholesterol. Most important, the benefits of this regular, unremarkable movement are independent from the amount of time subjects spent exercising.

That same study found that the health consequences that develop from too much sitting are very different and independent from those that result from too little exercise. Along with the recent Australian study, it found that the negative health consequences of prolonged periods of sitting – larger waistlines, higher bad cholesterol levels, lower good cholesterol levels, heart disease risks – were not fully counteracted by regular exercise.

In other words, regular exercise – beneficial as it is – doesn't counteract the negative effects of long periods of inactivity.

Part of the issue is that television watching is fundamentally inactive. Harvard Health Publications estimates that, when it comes to calories burned, watching television (56 calories per hour) is closer to sleeping (46 calories per hour) than it is to sitting and reading (84 calories per hour), which itself is more akin to standing in line (94 calories per hour) than it is to watching television. (Note: calorie counts are for a 155-pound person.) In other words, watching television is an inactive as a person can get without sleeping.

Along with limiting television watching, these studies point to the importance of remaining active throughout the day. The good news is that it ends up that the simple physical movements of standing and moving between rooms has significant health benefits. When watching television, standing up during commercial breaks, going to get a glass of water, or even putting down the remote control and getting up to change channels and adjust volume the old-fashioned way can help people from staying in one extremely inactive position for extended periods of time.

Light household tasks and self-care – activities encouraged by the Balanced Care Method™ whenever clients are physically able – can help keep people moving. Not only does such daily activity help keep people physically active longer, we now know it also can help fight heart disease and other health risks.

The Changing Perspective on Aging

Our society today is growing older at a faster pace than any other time in history. In fact, centenarians (those aged 100 and over) are the fastest growing demographic in the United States as technological improvements and emphasis on long-term care have boosted the number of centenarians in the United States to almost 100,000. By the middle of this century, many demographers believe that one-in-fifty women and one-in-two hundred men will live to age 100. Furthermore it is expected that by 2015, the number of seniors over the age of 65 will exceed the number of children under the age of 15. By 2031, seniors will account for approximately a quarter of the North American population.

Given these tremendous changes in demography, Western society is reshaping its views on aging and life after retirement. In a study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), 93% of respondents between the ages of 65 and 70 would be happy if they could live another 10 years. As Emmy-award winning actress Doris Roberts stated in a 2003 Senate hearing on ageism, "the majority of seniors of self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young people, and with time and talent to offer society. That is not to say that ageism does not exist. In a 2001 survey by Erdman Palmore, 31% of respondents over 65 reported being ignored or not taken seriously because of their age. Clearly, Western society is not yet aligned with tradional Asian views on aging, which consider their elders to be jewels of society and revered symbols.

The change must start from within, with the attitudes of the seniors themselves. There is even a significant health benefit to greater self-esteem among seniors. A study by Yale University found that among people aged 50 and older, those with more positive self-perceptions about their age lived on average 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. However they key is to change the views that today's younger generations hold about seniors through education. Findings revealed that students who took courses on Aging and Family had more positive attitudes toward older adults. Courses that try to help students understand to perspective of seniors increases empathy and understanding of the difficulties that they face. This is just one of many examples of the growing age sensitivity that continues to pervade Western society which will lead to a harmonious future where people of all ages are respectful to each other.

Source: Live to 102 by Dr. Kathy Johnson

Home Care Senior Survey

Take this test to assess a senior's need for in-home care
The following checklist can help you to decide if the senior you know is capable of living independently and to define his or her needs for in-home eldercare. Also consider how many of the following activities require you to help the senior yourself. In-home senior care doesn't just assist seniors; it brings respite and peace of mind to their families, too.

Take this care needs test

Do you have an aging spouse, parent, other relative or friend who needs help with...

1) Dressing and undressing?
2) Driving or using public transportation?
3) Shopping for groceries and clothing?
4) Preparing healthy, regular meals?
5) Taking a bath or shower?
6) Getting in and out of bed?
7) Having social interaction and companionship?
8) Using the bathroom?
9) Doing laundry or light housekeeping?
10) Remaining active and interested in life and hobbies?
11) Walking, climbing stairs and getting around the house easily?
12) Remembering to take medications?
13) Practicing prescribed physical therapy exercises?

If you can answer “yes” to any of the above you may need some sort of care.
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