Gym-going seniors get more than just exercise

Until an injury temporarily sidelined him recently, Burt Abramowitz, 81, and his 76-year-old workout partner had a standing commitment three times each week. They’d work out at the Gold’s Gym in Rockville, Md., then eat at a Dunkin’ Donuts.

Abramowitz jokes that sometimes the food would negate any benefit from the workout, but the food was never the point. It was the camaraderie he cherished.

His experience mirrors that of an active senior population, where the gym has become a place to build not just muscle but community. Studies have linked strong social relationships to a longer life span.

In a British Medical Journal study, researchers wrote that social activities might be as effective as fitness activities in lowering the risk of death. They followed more than 2,800 people over 65 for a 13-year period. The researchers noted that social activities “conferred equivalent survival advantages compared to fitness activities.” According to the researchers, this means that “activities that entail little or no physical exertion may also be beneficial.”

The problem is that social connections slowly weaken as we age. Friends and relatives retire, some move away, and others die. A retirement community is a salve for some. But for seniors who age in place, this means living alone in a changing community as familiar faces disappear.

That’s why many find the health club a good place to strengthen social bonds. It’s a natural gathering spot, pulling people together to engage in a common activity. And working out with a partner is a commitment; you’re more likely to show up if you’re meeting someone. That’s what Abramowitz found so appealing.

“The motivation … was the camaraderie,” he said. “It was the friendship, someone to kibbitz with.”

Nick Crossley, a professor of sociology at the University of Manchester in England, has researched community building in health clubs. He said that these places are particularly effective because they encourage socialization on a routine basis, often with the same people, even if by chance.

“People become familiar with each other that way,” Crossley said.

Studies have borne out the role that fitness centers play in maintaining social bonds in seniors. In a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, which conducted focus groups of participants in a fitness program for older adults, one woman said that “being able to socialize with people and to laugh helps the body become better and the mind stronger.”

The researchers noted the strong sense of cohesion among members, “a dynamic process reflected by the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in pursuit of its objective.”

In Abramowitz’s case, the socializing afterward was just as important as the workout.

“The quality time after, when we’d go out to eat, was something we really looked forward to,” he said. “I wouldn’t have seen my friend three times a week if it wasn’t for the gym.”

ben opipari, Washington Post


Food allergies can develop after years of no problems

Can adults develop food allergies?

Yes. Preliminary data from a large, new national study that is under review suggests that nearly 52 percent of American adults with a reported food allergy developed one or more of the allergies after age 18.

While it is true that we can outgrow some childhood food allergies — usually those to milk, eggs and wheat — other allergies can crop up as we age. For instance, shellfish allergy is more common among adults than among children, indicating that it tends to appear later in life.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, a food allergy researcher at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who led the national study, noted that at allergy meetings, “you’d hear more and more about adult-onset food allergy. But this was all anecdotal. That’s the reason we did the study, to get the numbers behind how frequently.”

Several patterns have been observed that are unique to adults who develop food allergies. One is called oral allergy syndrome, which occurs in a small percentage of adults who have seasonal allergies. It “involves your body getting tricked,” said Dr. R. Sharon Chinthrajah of Stanford University School of Medicine.

She explained that some adults might have allergies to tree pollen, for example, and some of the tree proteins are similar to those in fruits and vegetables, “so when your body eats the raw form of those foods, it thinks you’re eating tree pollen.”

Adults who develop a food allergy wonder what caused it — the “turn-on switch” as Gupta calls it. Anecdotal reports suggest that pregnancy, for example, can trigger new allergies, leading some to hypothesize that a hormonal connection may be at play. But there still is no definitive answer as to what causes a new reaction to a food after someone has eaten it for decades without incident.

Importantly, an allergic reaction is not the same as a food intolerance. An allergic reaction is characterized by marked symptoms, such as itching, hives, swelling, trouble breathing or vomiting, within two hours of consuming the food in question. Symptoms that appear the next day may be characteristic of a food intolerance.

Just because you have a reaction once doesn’t mean you must completely remove a food from your diet, Gupta said. Instead, if you have concerns, seek an allergist to get tested.

Sophie Eagan, New York Times