Celebrating the Treats of Summer While Staying Healthy
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Celebrating the Treats of Summer While Staying Healthy

Summer is the time to spend your days soaking in the sun, splashing in the pool and grilling out with friends. Some people might be found spending an afternoon at the ball park, indulging in traditional fare such as hot dogs, popcorn and pretzels. Parents and kids on summer vacation may be more inclined to hit the drive-thru at their local fast food restaurant or call for pizza delivery, feeling too tired to cook after spending a fun-filled day at an amusement park or the beach. Suffice it to say, many people let their diets slide during the summer months.

If that’s not enough, July is the month we celebrate some of the most delicious and, unfortunately, bad-for-you foods. July is not only National Ice Cream Month, but its days are packed with celebrations for such tasty treats as fried chicken, piña coladas, french fries, chicken wings and mac ‘n’ cheese. If you partake in all of these decadent delights, you may notice that they take a toll on your health. If you recognize the adverse effects these foods can potentially bring and adjust your lifestyle accordingly, you can have the best of both worlds – good health and good eats.

Although it’s pretty well known that fast food is not the healthiest choice due to its higher fat content and lack of nutrients, it hasn’t stopped people from eating at their local fast food restaurant.  A 2013 Gallup poll found that while older adults eat less fast food than their younger counterparts, over 40% of the respondents who were over the age of 50 said they ate at a fast food restaurant at least once a week. 

Fast foods are generally high in saturated and trans fats, and these can raise your cholesterol. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. The high fat and sugar content of these foods can also lead to obesity, which also puts your heart health at risk. And, as much as you might love salty fries and chips, taking in too much sodium can raise your blood pressure.

A review of studies on fast food consumption by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that a regular diet of hot dogs, burgers, and other unhealthy foods is a main risk factor for lower diet quality as well as higher calorie and fat intake. Making frequent trips to the drive-thru resulted in abdominal fat gain, impaired insulin and glucose homeostasis, lipid and lipoprotein disorders, induction of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. In addition, higher fast food consumption also increases the risk of developmental diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

Overindulgence in fried, sweet and salty treats puts people at a high risk for obesity. According to Health.gov, between the years of 2009-2012, 65% of adult females and 73% of adult males were overweight or obese. Obesity is most prevalent in those aged 40 years and older and, since the early 2000s, abdominal obesity has been present in about half of U.S. adults of all ages. The prevalence of obesity is higher with increasing age. 

Despite your best intentions to maintain a healthy diet, it’s often hard to resist the temptation of fast foods. As you age, it’s important to “eat for your age.” It’s okay to indulge in the occasional sweet treat, as long as you maintain a healthy regular diet packed with fruits, vegetables, and protein. Make sure you’re including items that help boost your cardiovascular health when planning your meals.

Fortunately, there are lots of healthy alternatives for some of your favorite indulgences. If you crave salty chips, try kale chips or rice cakes to get that crunch. Bake fries and chicken instead of frying them. Ground turkey makes a delicious burger and there are vegetarian versions of hamburgers and hot dogs that are just as tasty and versatile as the original versions. If sweets are your weakness, throw some grapes or raisins in the freezer for a cool and satisfying substitute. Check out some additional healthy options to satisfy your junk food cravings.  

If you’re having problems planning healthy meals for you and your family, there are a wealth of resources readily available to help you make better choices that benefit your well-being. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines provide you with a solid framework to ensure you are getting what your body needs to stay in shape and fight off obesity-related conditions. 

And, while diet is important in the fight for good physical health, it’s only part of the equation.

Keeping exercise as part of your daily routine offers many other benefits to older adults.

A recent study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked into the walking habits of 139,000 Americans with an average age of 71 years old when first monitored. Thirteen years later, those who reported little-to-no weekly walking had died at a rate 26% higher than those who walked regularly, but for less than two hours a week. Those who walked two to six hours a week had a mortality rate 36% lower than the under-two-hour walking group. So, you don’t have to be a gym rat or a weightlifter to see results. Take a walk and keep yourself moving to ensure you’ll be able to enjoy many more delicious days.  

Follow these tips and enjoy the best of both worlds – palate-pleasing dishes and tip-top physical health. Don’t let that spare tire and sluggish tendencies give you a case of the summertime blues. Eat, drink and be merry in moderation and make this a food and fun-filled season.

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