Seniors learn about healthy foods and exercise for mind and body

MUNSTER – “Embrace aging, and fight to preserve your mind,” Terri Sakelaris, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and lifestyle coach at Community Healthcare System, urged members of the Seniors of STM group at a March 6 meeting held at St. Thomas More.
“Healthy Aging” was the topic, and Sakelaris tried to ease her audience into making diet and exercise choices that can improve their quality and quantity of life. “I may throw out 40 ideas, and maybe you’ll pick out four that you want to do,” she suggested.
Sakelaris asked the senior citizens to “Remember ‘the 3 W’s’ – Water, Walking and Window. Water picks up the sugar and toxins and removes them from your system.” She recommended drinking half your weight in ounces of water a day.
As for walking, the dietitian encouraged walking outdoors whenever possible, but also suggested “walking in place in front of the TV” if that is a more convenient option. “When you walk, your muscles will open up and suck up that sugar from your system,” she said. 
Windows improve your mental health, she added. “Look outdoors when you are depressed or down, and see the horizon or something green,” she advised. “That will get your mind off your troubles and get you thinking about who or what you see out there.”
Sakelaris offered an example of how even gentle exercise can help promote good health from a diabetes education class she taught. “I had the men in the class check their blood sugar, then I played a recording of rain sounds while they did some simple chair yoga,” she explained. “Then I had them check their sugar again and it was down 10-20 points. When you have a blood pressure or blood sugar count you don’t like, remember the 3 W’s.”
As for diet, Sakelaris recommended a form of the Mediterranean Diet that is well-balanced, full of nutrients, offers variety and is full of fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds and grains, with olive oil as the main fat and a reliance on more fatty fish and less red meat.
“Look at your diet and make sure it is well-balanced – don’t always have corn flakes for breakfast,” she said. “To make it full of nutrients, look for colorful foods because they often are nutritious, and make it interesting by varying your choices. Most importantly, make sure you can stick with it – or you won’t.” 
Referring to a documentary movie, “Living To 100 – Blue Zones,” Sakelaris explained that filmmakers talked to people in Okinawa, Greece, Italy and Costa Rica who appeared to be living healthy lives well into older ages and found they ate a plant-based diet and drank a lot of tea, “all kinds of tea, because it’s been shown that tea leaves soaked in hot water release antioxidants. They also ate very little processed foods.”
“Also, (the filmmakers) followed their activity and watched them keep getting up from the floor, which kept them active,” Sakelaris added. “So when you sit, use arm weights and march in place in front of the TV.”
Sakelaris suggested seniors, “Think of food as medicine – by eating high fat fish twice a week, your chance of a heart attack drops 50%. The bulk of your diet should be antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to protect yourselves so your muscles don’t get oxidized.
“Be active, eat with family or friends when you can so you take your time while talking in between taking bites. That allows good digestion. When you do eat alone, set a time of at least 20 minutes before you get up to get seconds. You may feel full by then.”
The dietitian even offered a trick that works in restaurants. “Visuals stimulate us to eat more, so sit with your back to the buffet table and you may not eat as much,” she said.
Joyce Urzua, a Munster resident and Seniors of STM member, said she already tries to follow a healthy diet. “Today was like a checklist for me,” she said. “I drink a lot of water, and already eat more fruits and vegetables and less and leaner meat. When you are away from home, it’s hard not to have a sandwich, but I try to avoid white bread and lunchmeat. 
“Today’s program showed me that I’m heading in the right direction,” Urzua added.
Joe O’Drobinak, a St. Thomas More parishioner and Seniors of STM member from Dyer, said he and his wife, too, try to eat well-balanced meals. “If we eat chicken, we make sure to have vegetables, too, and we also snack on nuts. I like cashews, walnuts and pecans, and my wife freezes small packets of almonds for snacking,” he said. “I like wine, but I didn’t realize that anything more than one glass isn’t good for you.”
Sue Oczkowski, vice president of Seniors of STM and a retired physical education teacher, led the group members in a chair yoga routine she developed to the song “Stand By Me” and offered some tips for staying active in mind and body.
“Graciously accept what you’ve been given, and graciously accept what you’ve lost. I try not to let age define me, but the side effects are getting worse,” she said with a touch of humor.