Dr. Roberto Vicinanza MD and PhD and instructional associate professor of gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School, and a specialist in geriatric medicine, joins us for a conversation about healthy aging, including tips on how to keep the body and mind functioning for as long as possible.
Quotes from this episode
On the importance of setting small goals
“People may have all the good intentions, but they might set up goals that are too ambitious and then when they don’t reach that goal, they feel frustrated, and they quit… We have to let them understand that goals must be small…So, an apple a day. We have to eat the apple a day and be happy and recognize when we reach three or four days in a row that we are eating the apple, right? So celebrate the success even of small, very small goals.”
On keeping your diet simple
“Diets cannot be too restrictive for a long period of time. The majority of people will give up. It is important that diet needs to be easy to follow, but at the same time needs to be healthy. When we talk about a simple diet, we are now referring on something that needs to be easy to follow, but also simple in terms of the way we make food. So we have to eat in a very simple way. So, avoiding ingredients that are maybe tasty, but not that healthy. And sometimes they also cover the, the real flavor of, of food. We have this tendency to add always sauces and creams and other things on food that actually cover the real flavor of food and also contain a lot of saturated fatty acids, heat and sodium, sometimes sugar. So, we increase these calories by adding something that we don’t really need. Diet must be simple in terms of the type of diet that we have, but also in the way we cook and prepare dishes.”
On the benefits of the Mediterranean diet
“So, the results that, that we have referred to the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is characterized by high consumptions of fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and a moderate intake of fish, and a low intake of dairy products and meat products. So, we do have robust evidence suggesting that high adherence to these dietary patterns is linked to positive health outcomes, in particular for cardiovascular diseases, dyslipidemia and diabetes.
But another important result was that the adherence to Mediterranean diet was inversely associated with a number of medications. So, patient who were more adherent to Mediterranean diet, they also used less medication.
Another interesting observation that we found was related to depressive symptoms and comorbidity. When we analyze our data, we found out that the relationship between comorbidity and depressive symptom was high in older adults…In patients with higher adherence with Mediterranean diet, this correlation was weaker. When Mediterranean diet adherence declines, this relationship was stronger. So Mediterranean diet played seems to play a crucial role in mediating the relationship between the presence of comorbidity and depressive symptoms.”
On the importance of physical activity
“Although we don’t have big clinical trials on physical activity, we have small, randomized control trials showing that certain level of physical activity, may have some benefits in terms of improving the cardiovascular health and, utilization of glucose in the muscle in modulating inflammation, improved cognitive function and physical performance. Some of the benefits that we have from being active and also exercise regularly include an improvement in the cardiac output improving the health of the heart by improving cardiac contractility, oxygen uptake. And we know that we don’t have to do long sessions of exercise or being extreme physically active. Already, if we walk between 45 to 75, 85 minutes a week, we can already see some benefits. Of course, the more we exercise, the more benefits we see, but at some point we reach a plateau.”
“With the aging process, there is a decline in our muscle mass, strength and also performance. And this phenomenon is called sarcopenia. The level of physical activity, the changes in the hormones that occurs in older adults the amount of proteins that we eat when we are old all of these factors may contribute to the onset of sarcopenia, and also the progression of some sarcopenia.
In terms of dietary intervention for sarcopenia, it is important in older adults to maintain an adequate protein intake. Recent studies suggest that older adults need to ingest between one to 1.2, 1.3 gram per kilogram a day of protein to sustain their muscle mass and functionality. And this amount can also be adjusted based on the body composition.”
On weight management
“Weight management is a complex problems and obesity is a complex condition that can lead to health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes … but weight is not the only parameter that we should take into consideration when we talk about weight loss in particularly in older adults.
So, it’s not only important to monitor the fat content and the weight, but also evaluate the composition of the weight. There is some studies and meta-analysis conducted in older adults showing that even if the BMI is likely higher in older adults, this is not really associated with overall risk of mortality. So, on the other hand, if the BMI is low, below 22 or 23, the risk for mortality increased. Why that happened and why this has been observed, because of course, malnutrition may have some serious consequences in older adults.
Weight fluctuations is another risk factor. So not only being underweight, but also this fluctuation of weight in older adults may have a negative effect. So, it’s good to have a stable weight, preserve our muscle mass, do not rely only on the weight on the scale, and have an evaluation of the body composition. “
“Stress is an adaptive mechanism that allows the body to perform better in certain circumstances and situations, and to cope with temporary threats. However, when process become chronic these adaptive mechanisms of the body become destructive. Chronic activation of stress can alter our metabolism, can disrupt our endocrine system, including the reproduction, the reproductive system, glucose metabolism, but it can also affect our immune system and other many cell function. And all of these can accelerate the aging process. Now we also known that chronic stress may affect also our chromosomes. A large body of evidence has linked stress with shorter telomeres, and shorter telomeres are associated with cellular, aging, inflammation and chronic diseases.”
On healthy aging
“Aging is a dynamic and complex process where biological, psychological, environmental, and behavioral factors are involved. And the complex interactions of these factors explain, at least in part why there is significant inter-individual variability in the way we age. But it also suggests that modification of some of these factors, when possible, can also slow down the aging process.
I think that we cannot feel satisfied by considering healthy aging only when there is absence of disease. I think we should be a little bit more ambitious and consider aging as a physiological process that despite all the biological changes that occurred during this process, allow us to maintain an adequate physical, mental, and social wellbeing by preserving not only our basic functions, but also our functional reserve and functional capacity as long as possible. This will have a tremendous impact not only in terms of quality of life, but also or our loved ones and the community will live.”