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Healthy eating, exercise can help senior live longer

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People can feel the benefit of healthy eating and exercise at any age, but senior citizens can glean many positive health effects, including the ability to stave off diseases.

According to Stefanie Jarrett, dietitian manager at Montefiore and The Weils in Beachwood; Diane Menges, community wellness coordinator at Judson Smart Living in Cleveland; and Danielle Vespucci, admissions director of HCR ManorCare in Mayfield Heights, senior living facilities make sure residents are supported by exercise and healthy eating initiatives.

“It goes hand-in-hand,” Menges said. “If you’re eating properly, you have the energy to exercise or support your daily activities. Even for a younger person, they can get low blood sugar if they don’t eat well. It’s important to eat a proper diet to sustain your normal activities.”

Vespucci said because she’s also a nurse and fitness instructor, she incorporates that knowledge into her community.

“As we age, continuing to stay active is important to maintain our health and wellness,” she said. “And with certain medications, you have to be on a certain diet, so I also help with diet planning. We do a lot of planning and it’s definitely important because everyone is living longer now.”

Jarrett said, “First and foremost, (exercising and eating well) will actually help (seniors) reduce their risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as decrease their risk for memory impairment, but will also increase their socialization and reduce their risk for depression. Eating well and exercising can also increase their bone density, as well as help keep their lean body mass.”

At HCR ManorCare, Vespucci said seniors can attend a monthly tai chi class as well as monthly stretch and balance courses.

“We also have a registered dietitian and nutritionist that meets with every patient within 24 hours of them being admitted,” she said. “As far as the kitchen, we have a chef that is employed to make specific meals in terms of any individual health needs.”

Along with a healthy and low sodium menu options, Jarrett said Montefiore’s wellness department offers daily exercising as well as residents and employees yoga classes. She also goes out into the community to present group education sessions at senior centers.

“I have found that the aging population is the biggest group of individuals who have nutrition questions,” she said. “They are reaching retirement and have more time to search the web and attend the programs. They have these important questions and want more information.”

Menges said if a senior citizen is eating a balanced diet, his or her body will be capable of doing more and in turn, giving them more energy to exercise.

“When your body from the inside out feels better from the foods you’re eating, the body is capable of doing more, wants to do more and has the energy to do more,” she said. “Keeping moving is very important. Since your metabolism goes down as you age, everybody needs to watch what they are eating and how much they are eating. What they are eating has an impact on everything else.”

Jarrett agreed, quoting the old adage, “you are what you eat.”

“Eating well and exercising has a lot of physiological benefits to the body and it also improves memory,” she said.

Vespucci said, “As we take care of ourselves and we do the right things, that’s going to create longevity in our lives. We don’t know when our time will end, but by putting fresh fruits, greens and nothing processed in our bodies, that does make a difference. You should always have some type of regimen no matter the age.”

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