National Nutrition Month

You may or may not know, but March is National Nutrition Month.  At work there is a bulletin board outside my gym that I am in charge of changing each month. I was thrilled when I was put in charge of this task!  This is right up my ally! I can put whatever I please on the bulletin board–health/fitness related stuff, month related stuff, or just complete nonsense that lets the residents laugh.  This month I designed it as a St. Patrick’s themed National Nutrition Month bulletin board.  Take a gander.

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See, how fun! Who wouldn’t want to do this?

I have facts for older adults plastered all over the board too.  My favorite one says “Enjoy your food, but eat less”–such a simple concept, but seems so hard to follow these days.  Now, regardless of your political preference, you can not deny that Michelle Obama has done great things for nutrition and nutrition for kids. (PLEASE do not post your political thoughts on my blog–it is a political free space.)  One of the more recognizable changes in nutrition is the design of the food pyramid. It went from the traditional pyramid that we all knew as kids to a plate with the sizes defined as a portion of the plate.  I love the change–every person on earth understands that!

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Newer pyramid on left, older on right.


I personally think the old food pyramid makes more of an impact on people than the newer one.  But they did not ask me when they redesigned it.  I think the new one could lead people to misinterpret it much more than the old one for a number of reasons, but we won’t get into that.  I do however like that the new one is saying to eat everything in moderation and that one type of food is not more important than another.  My favorite addition? Exercise! The exercising guy walking up the stairs was a big hit for me when they changed it, maybe for obvious reasons.  Many of the older adults still believe that the older pyramid (one on the right) is the end all; the older one (if you forgot) tells us to start at the bottom of the pyramid and decrease the amount of what we consume as we go up the pyramid.  No no no, there was a reason that the old one was changed.  The base of our meals is no longer solely concentrated on grains.  I put a picture of My Plate up on my bulletin board because I wanted the residents to see what their plates should look like every day.

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I have gotten quite a bit of grief from some of our residents.  They do not believe the plate and I have been continuously defending the plate.  Most of them believe that we need to have a lot more protein than the plate shows. I finally had to grab a deck of cards and show them that a deck of cards is the actual serving size of the amount of protein we are supposed to have.  I had one guy laugh and told me that he could eat that in 2 bites, and what was he supposed to eat for the rest of dinner.  My response was very simple: Eat the rest of the plate.  He just laughed and said that I can not teach an old dog new tricks.  At 97 years old, I guess I can not win them all.  A lot of the residents do not like the idea of having so much of their plates full of vegetables–because “vegetables are for rabbits and they don’t fill you up.  I will wait for the rabbit to eat the vegetables and then I will eat the rabbit.”  Hmm…well there’s a thought. I have heard so many different views on nutrition. It has really opened my eyes to what people really do not know.

I have great news, totally unrelated to National Nutrition Month.  My chair fitness class has broken a record, I had 27 people a few weeks ago!  That is a lot of therabands, sponges, koosh balls, and chairs to find.  The normal size has grown to an average of 20-24 people every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I am debating breaking the class into two classes, but I do not think the residents would be ok with 1. Changing the time and 2. breaking up the class.  They are stuck in their routines and I know better than to try to change the time on them, but we are getting pretty crowded in our small room.  I also thought about having everybody do an evaluation and putting them into different levels of class and then I would moderate each class based on what their level is, but again, not sure they will want to be separated.  More to come on that once I make a decision.

A few days ago I had two older gentleman in the gym exercising; both in their late 80’s, early 90’s.  It always starts out the same way, a conversation between the two men while the stock market is running across the bottom of the muted TV and radio blaring NPR.

Man 1: “Hey, how are your earnings today?”

Man 2: “What are earnings? Why don’t you just say what they are, portfolios, or maybe stocks so that this young lady can understand.”

Man 1: “Ok old man, have it your way, how are your STOCKS doing today?”

Man 2: “Oh they are doing just fine. Yours?”

Man 1: “Superb.” “I am still living here, and Jennifer is still employed, so somebody’s stocks must be doing alright.”

Man 2: “Well there you go Jennifer, your still employed, so somebody’s stocks are doing well.  There is some profound wisdom for you to start your day.”   “If the stock market crashes, 99% of the people living here would be out of a house” “What do you think of that.”

Literally, this is an everyday conversation.  It is fun, they enjoy bickering back and forth.  A few days ago they were talking about their times in the military and the good old days of basic training.  They decided that I was tough enough to make it through basic training, a complement well received.  One of the men was in the Marines, the other, in the Air Force.  The retired Marine was bummed that he is no longer able to chest press what he used to be able to do.  He also thought it was a drag that he is always out of breath.  He asked why he gets so fatigued so quickly.  The retired Airman chimed in and said “you’re ancient, what did you think would happen?!”

I could tell he wanted a real physiological response.  I told him that oxygen consumption decreases with age.  That is caused by a few factors:

(1) the loss of lung elasticity (so you can not take a deep breath like you used to). That decreases that amount of oxygen in the blood stream. **I did not tell them this, but lung capacity decreases by 40-50% by age 70.

(2) As we get older the amount of oxygen carrying proteins (hemoglobin) in the blood decreases, so less oxygen is getting to the working muscles, even if the lung capacity was normal.

(3) Our maximum heart rate decreases as we age (10 beats per decade of life). Therefore the heart is not able to pump the (decreased) oxygenated blood into the working muscles quickly enough to keep them oxygenated and working without fatiguing.

One of the men asked why that happens, the other guy said “that’s the body’s way of pushing us over the edge to the great beyond.” I said that it was just the way that we were put together.  They thought that it was pretty cool that our body’s can slowly start to shut down like that.  I guess at that age, dying is no longer scary.

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