Beyond the binge
Babe Ruth was known as the “Sultan of Swat” for his outstanding play on the baseball field. In 1924 he led the league with a .378 batting average and 46 home runs! But his off-field drinking turned him into the Baron of Binge, and in 1925 it caused him to miss part of spring training and 56 games.
A study found that binge drinking — downing five or more drinks at a time (guys) or four or more (gals) — isn’t confined to superstars. Seems 10 percent of Americans 65-plus are bingeing. The research, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, looked at the habits of 10,927 seniors and found that such marathon drinking sessions are a growing problem. What’s more, bingers are frequently combining alcohol with cannabis.
Risky business: When older folks take a hit of alcohol (plus pot) they’re more likely to fall and break bones. (Binge-drinking elders end up in the emergency room more often than non-bingeing peers.) In addition, the research found the most common chronic diseases among older binge drinkers were high blood pressure (41.4 percent), cardiovascular disease (23.1 percent) and diabetes (17.7 percent), and that alcohol can make it hard to manage those conditions. Plus, when it mixes with meds for those disorders — yikes!
So if you or someone you know are binge drinking, ask yourself: Is it to overcome social anxiety? Because of alcohol dependence? To manage chronic pain? Look for support groups that can help you find healthier solutions, and swat that problem out of your park.
How excess weight damages your brain
When weatherman Al Roker hit 340 pounds, he knew he needed to change his ways. Bariatric surgery in 2002 launched him on a journey that, with ups and downs, helped him cruise into his 60s as a much healthier 190-pound man. How did he change his relationship to food? One bite at a time. For example, he says, “I try not to read and eat, and interestingly, since I stopped that habit, my comprehension is even better.”
That wouldn’t surprise researchers who recently discovered that a healthy weight and smaller waist size mean a more robust brain, and that a higher body mass index and larger waist is associated with a thinning cerebral cortex — that’s where thinking, seeing and talking go on.
Their six-year study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at almost 1,300 folks, average age 64. Participants who were obese (BMI of 30+) had an average waist circumference of 41 inches; those at a healthy weight (BMI of 18.5-24.9) averaged a 33-inch waist. An MRI scan of their brains revealed that every unit increase in BMI was associated with a measurable decrease in the thickness of the brain cortex. For obese folks the thinning was pretty dramatic, especially in those younger than 65. Their brain aging was accelerated by at least a decade!
So, to stay smart, aim for a healthy weight: Ditch highly processed foods and red meat and get 150-300 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, plus two 30-minute strength-building sessions weekly. Just think how smart you’ll feel!
Waist not, want not
“He will waste nothing; but he must want nothing.” — Theologian John Wesley, 1772
“Waste not, want not.” — A modern-day version of the time-tested saying
Let’s update it even more: “Waist not, want not.” That’s the conclusion of researchers who looked at 157,000 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. They found that normal-weight women with so-called central obesity — that’s a fat tummy and a large waist size — risked premature death as much as obese women. And they were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and cancer than healthy-weight women without belly fat.
Why? Visceral fat clustered around internal organs is inflammatory and interferes with organs’ normal functioning. That’s why, at any weight, if you have a waist circumference greater than 35 inches (gals) or 39 inches (guys) — measured over your belly button while you suck your tummy in — it’s time for a flat-tummy campaign.
■ Eat 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Ditch processed carbs and added sugars or syrups; they’re pro-inflammatory foods that increase inflammatory belly fat.
■ Work out using resistance bands and hand weights to build lean muscle mass and trigger fat-burning. One study found that 20 minutes of strength-building exercise daily was twice as effective at reducing belly fat as 20 minutes of daily aerobics.
■ Eat most of your calories before 3 p.m. and try intermittent fasting. For info check out www.sharecare.com, www.WhenWay.com and Dr. Mike’s book, “What To Eat When.” What you eat and when you eat are equally powerful ways to fight belly fat.
Put your taste buds through training camp
Summer camp in the National Football League; summer league in the National Basketball Association; and of course, spring training in Major League Baseball: They’re all dedicated to getting players ready before the season officially starts. And it works, bringing out the best in athletes (newbies and veterans), so they can perform at their optimal level.
It works the same way with your perception of flavors, whether you’re a rookie kid or retired senior. You can train your sensory systems for taste and smell to respond more positively to the flavors and aromas of oh-so-healthy, but bitter foods, so that when it comes to deciding where broccoli or kale will play on your plate, you’ll give them a starting position.
University at Buffalo researchers have found that you can change the way the 1,000 or so flavor-controlling salivary proteins in your mouth respond to foods and make bitter flavors become milder and more acceptable. All it takes is repeated exposure. (We think your sense of smell works the same way.)
So if your kids are veggie-shy or you’re not getting your seven servings of produce daily, you can change that! Encourage repeat tastings — just one bite at this meal, two at the next. Do that by making tough-to-eat veggies like baby carrots, individual asparagus spears and broccoli sprigs into finger foods. Combine them with favorite flavors like hummus or peanut butter, or add spices with aromas you enjoy, like mint, basil, thyme or rosemary. Create a taste and smell training camp for the whole family and become major-league foodies!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.