10 questions for savvy seniors

25 Jul 2019 | 04:00

Life is a marathon, so as long as you’re in the running, it pays to stay fit from head to toe. Here are some answers to questions arising along the way.

Why doesn’t my food taste as good as it used to? The problem’s not your sense of taste says Charles J. Wysocki, a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. It’s your sense of smell. Here’s his proof as reported on Webmd.com: Hold your nose closed, and pop a few jelly beans in your mouth. Taste buds on your tongue which recognize sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory), will announce “sweet.” But actual flavor chemicals come in through your mouth and escape from your nose where they are decoded. In other words, you have to open your nose to tell if the jelly beans are cherry or lemon or lime. With age you lose receptors that do the job, your sense of smell decreases and food may not “taste” the same. The tradeoff? Irritating stuff like horseradish and hot peppers may not be as irritating. Bring on the chili.

Why is one drink suddenly as potent as three once were? Alcohol is metabolized primarily in the liver which grows bigger but less efficient with age, says Gary Murray of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition, your body makes less alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. The result, in Murray’s words: “A bit bigger buzz.” Possible solution? One and done. PS: because many drugs are metabolized by the liver, this is also one reason why your new prescription may be a lower dose than your old one.

Why do I need to exercise? The National Council on Aging says that regular exercise, even something as plain and simple as a brisk half hour walk each day, will strengthen your bones, reduce the risk of falls and maybe even smooth out the occasional emotional turmoil which exercise seems to exorcise.

Should I adopt a dog? If you live alone, caring for a living breathing creature in the house makes life more pleasant. Can’t walk a dog or just don’t want to? Get a cat, a creature who manages her own personal business. Or choose an aquarium-size school of fish. They’re also alive, and, like music, watching the tank is known to soothe even the most savage breast. Sandra DeFeo, executive director of the Humane Society of New York says HSNY experts will work with you to determine exactly which adorable adoptable cat or dog best fits you and your lifestyle. As for fish, select from full color pictures on PetCo’s website (https://www.petco.com/shop/en/petcostore/category/fish/live-fish) and pick them up at your local store. Woof. Meow. Swish.

Should I be embarrassed that my 10-year-old granddaughter has to show me how to use the split screen on my computer? Not if you decide to check your local Public Library branch for one of NYPL’s free TechConnect programs ranging from one-on-one sessions for true newbies to actually learning how to code. Ace-ing that last one ougthta show them young’uns.

Where did I pick up five extra pounds? As you age, your metabolism slows, your body loses muscle mass, and you add fatty tissue, so even if your calorie intake stays the same, you’re likely to pick up pounds and find it hard to lose them. One remedy: Step up your activity to increase your muscle mass because muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat. Be aware, though, that a few extra pounds cushion bones and while the top “healthy” Body Mass Index (BMI) is set at 24, several studies here and abroad suggest that adults older than 50 who hold their weight steady at a “moderately overweight” BMI 27 tend to live longer than those who periodically lose or gain weight. What does BMI 27 look like? This: A person 5’3”tall/153 pounds or a person 6’1” tall/205 pounds. Find where you fit by calculating your own BMI at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm

Do I need to take vitamins every day? Maybe. Maybe not. Vitamins and minerals may be natural, but they’re also medicines with specific health effects. If you’ve got a vitamin deficiency disease such as scurvy (not enough Vitamin C), yes, you need your vitamins. But if you’re healthy and your varied diet provides the nutrients you need, taking more than you need may be problematic. For example, B vitamins are water soluble so any excess should be flushed away in your urine, but megadoses may trigger adverse effects ranging from skin rashes to muscle cramps and an irregular heartbeat. As for the often-recommended calcium and vitamin D, a mega-study in China with data from 33 different trials enrolling more than 50,000 patients showed no evidence that the combination could reduce the risk of broken bones but high doses of calcium may increase the risk of kidney stones and even low doses can bind with and inactivate certain antibiotics such as tetracycline. In short, check with your doctor before checking into the Health Food store.

Do I really need to get one of those alert system things to wear at home? Falls are not inevitable at any age, but The National Council on Aging says they are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans. That being true, if you live alone, an alert thingee is a smart idea. After all, who wants to lie on the floor yelling for help that may take its time in coming when you can reach someone just by pushing a button. To choose a system, check Consumer Report’s detailed report at https://www.consumerreports.org/medical-alert-systems/how-to-choose-a-medical-alert-system

Why shouldn’t I get a facelift? A) It’s expensive.

B) It won’t make you one minute younger.

C) As the TV show “Botched” makes clear, fooling with your face or parts below can go wildly wrong. Cultivate a gorgeous personality instead.

Should I do one of those DNA kits to tell my kids where we all come from? Sure. Americans are a motley crew, and even if your great-great-great-greats came over on the Mayflower or stood on shore to welcome the ship, you never know who met who since then. The story might be more interesting than you think.

Carol Ann Rinzler, onetime nutrition columnist for The New York Daily News, is the author of more than 25 books on health including the best-selling “Nutrition for Dummies” and the award-winning “Estrogen & Breast Cancer: A warning for women.”