Fermenting foods to soothe an older gut

Fermenting cabbage, tea, and milk at home
Fermenting cabbage, tea, and milk at home

So much fermentation in my kitchen! How come?

Old digestive systems grow a bit cranky and tender. And it’s so irritating when you realise you can’t handle quite as much coffee as in your wild and wicked years of youth. But that’s not why my kitchen has gradually become a bacteria brewery.

For years I’ve eaten various fermented foods, including yoghurt, sauerkraut, cheese, wine, umeboshi, and miso. Now that science is demonstrating their many benefits, I’ve started making my own. It’s kind of fun, and I only do the easy ones. I began with sour plum concentrate and then kombucha to control a lifelong acid reflux problem: beats medication hands down.

  • Sauerkraut is working away in that blue and gold bowl under a bag of water. This one is from red cabbage. Great with Hunter sausage and boiled new potatoes.
  • Kombucha (fermented tea) is brewing in the pottery jar topped with a dish cloth, and another batch is having its second brew in bottles: I added lemon and ginger this time for flavour and to create more fizz.
  • Yoghurt? Home made is best but it’s far too tricky, so I make yoghurt from a packet.

King Kefir: best of all fermented foods is the easiest to make at home

home made kefir in jars
Fermenting milk kefir is ridiculously simple

I make kefir from skim milk with added calcium, adding a dash of cream to thicken it up. But you really can’t go wrong. The long-suffering kefir starter grains are hiding in their own slimy milk in the smaller jar, ready to work on the next batch. Kefir on porridge, kefir smoothies — anything yoghurt does, kefir does better.

Fermented foods are yummy but what work do they do?

You’ll find heaps of research on the subject in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, if you’re interested. For older people, the benefits may or may not include the following:

  • may help digestion
  • may prevent acid reflux
  • may moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms — one small study so far suggests this
  • may help with depression
  • may help to control diabetes.

And who knows what else? The mysterious, pervasive, holistic function of our microbiota is a hot new playground for scientific researchers in numerous fields.

More information from trusted sources about fermented foods

For any life strategy, ask a child

Row of Barbies ready to kill zombies with a sneer
Row of vintage Barbies preparing to kill zombies with a sneer.

Listen to the little children in your life! They may not have all the “facts”, as we adults understand them. Regardless, they manage to decode our strange world and generate workable rules of behaviour. When we really hear what they say, they astonish with their wisdom and practical advice.

The everyday struggle with everyday problems

When I agreed to mind Elsie after school on Wednesdays, I had no idea what lay ahead.

Like you, I have problems—life isn’t easy, is it? Like you, I struggle with everyday challenges such as career changes, emergency first aid, work-life balance, and zombies coming up the toilet. Even at my advanced age, such problems never go away.

Enter my life coach: Elsie aged five

Imagine my surprise when Elsie seemed to have all the answers! From the age of five, she could offer sound advice for virtually any problem. Obviously I had more experience of life. But when it came to strategy, Elsie was my guru. She was a thinker, a lateral blue skies analytical creative left-and-right-brain thinker who didn’t even know there was a square outside of which one ought to think. (Still is.)

She became my life coach. I jotted down all her tips as poems, for easier recall. After about three years I stopped, because she had already delivered a comprehensive manual for a healthy happy life. When you know how to act cool and how to vote, when you understand market forces and the principles of law and order, like Elsie you will have nothing left to learn.

One example of an Elsie strategy

Advanced self-defence

If a zombie comes up the toilet
you can whisk off and fight it,
because you know the steps.

Put some Barbie dolls in a row
because zombies hate Barbie dolls.
They’re afraid they’ll chomp them.

You can also shine a light at zombies.
It injects them
and they die.

See what I mean? How can you go wrong with advice like that?

All my problems are sorted now

Since then, I have internalised most of Elsie’s strategies. As a result, I have become quite competent at thinking, sleeping, remembering, breathing, and having a wee rest. Now that my life is perfect, I plan to share this manual with a wider human audience. (Elsie’s Book of Strategies will be published in late 2018.)

Elsie has fixed my life. But you also have a little child in your family or your circle of friends. In a crisis, make that child your first port of call. They love to help, you know…

Photo by RomitaGirl67 CC BY 2.0

Doctor, security patch, flight plan: analyse my dream

cartoon of woman flying, the key to security
My dream, your interpretation

OK, nothing so boring as someone else’s dream, ay? I’ll be brief. Here it is:

I’m looking at some HTML5 markup. I’ve been told I need to insert a password to fix a security breach, but where, how?

My ex-GP, retired after 4o years of doctoring me and others, steps up. She knows what to do. “I’ll show you,” she says.

And she spins in two quick dance moves, fast as skating, then soars in a flight, 7 metres or so, lands, does it again. “See?”

“I can do that,” I think.

Clues to help you in your analysis

  1. For years I did all my own HTML and CSS (no big deal)
  2. Recently I shucked off a stressful, thankless responsibility
  3. I had flying dreams for years, then stopped (in my 50s? why?)
  4. I have an unresolved security issue on my computer

Your turn: tell me what you think it means!

Just for fun, OK? Nobody has to be “right”. But trust me, I am extreeeemly interested to know what you think.

A gym class for older exercisers

Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force
Mature people stretch after physical training. Photo U.S. Air Force

My personal trainer (oh that sounds pretentious) is soon to start a class for the over-60s. I must admit I have hassled her over this, with pep talks about growing the business, extending her client base, and the splendid loyalty of older people once we find a regular activity that suits our needs. Truth is, the strength classes that I had enjoyed had been cancelled, and I was longing for an appropriate class. I can’t wait.

While attending normal Crossfit classes, I began to analyse just how my needs differed from the other patrons. I’d guess the majority are in their 20s–40s, with one or two 50+. But I didn’t spot anyone else in their 70s at the time.

My friends over 60 were also unwitting case studies. My dance group friends all have their own programmes, because they are active, kinetic people. I see them swimming or aqua-jogging, or out walking, or off to Pilates or yoga or another dance event. I’ve been thinking about their needs and likes, as well as my own.

What I notice about older people exercising

  1. A wide range of abilities: they vary far more than do those of younger people.
  2. We need to work on balance to prevent falls. Tai Chi (for me), yoga for my friends.
  3. Stretching is crucial — and potentially painful— for people with arthritis.
  4. Getting up from sitting is a timed test of fitness for older people and a big problem with low soft chairs.
  5. My friend Jan runs an exercise group and every week they practice getting up from lying on the floor: this is a potential life-saver when old people fall. (The Feldenkrais corkscrew method is a cunning trick, but everyone is different.)
  6. It’s probably better to use hand weights than bars.
  7. It’s not essential to keep increasing weights. Lowering weights slowly can have even greater impact with older people (AUT research).
  8. Some (I) get dizzy from low blood pressure: so please, no exercises that require tipping the head or sudden head movements, no fast spurts of running, skipping, and OMG no burpees!
  9. Some (I) get dizzy from low oxygen intake: that’s different, and better breathing helps. I hope this will reduce as I get fitter 🙂
  10. Stress incontinence is common: so beware of making us skip and jump.
  11. Some older people need the option of doing exercises sitting down.
  12. Music: not loud (we hate that) — take it easy but no golden oldies from the 1940s please.
  13. KISS: keep instructions super-simple. None of that 2 x 200 @ 50%, 1 x 200 @ 75% 3 x 400 @ 90% business. Our short-term memory may be short but we have other qualities.
  14. I want to be pushed but not hurried!

Recent research on the impact of exercise on older brains and bodies

We older people get VERRRRRRY worried about Alzheimers and other cognitive decline so any research about how exercise reduces that risk is really encouraging. HIIT is all the rage at present, but of course we need a variety of forms. Bernard Levine’s programme sort of fits with what I aim to do. He sounds very sensible.

Do you like to exercise in a class?

Most older gym members seem to exercise independently, or with a group of friends, rather than attend classes. But I’m assuming, rightly or wrongly, that at least some people over 60 would would like to include an appropriate weekly class or two at the gym in their personal exercise regime.

Gym classes are not the whole picture. (I also love to dance and walk and swim, and sometimes I even embark on a feeble jog nowadays.) But a great gym class is a natty combination of supervision, structure, and socialising. Am I alone in this view?

Those dreaded new year resolutions

Victory in Ivory: Ancient Greek female costume
Victory in Ivory: Ancient Greek female costume

When it comes to resolutions, I run a mile from heavy commands with an or-else clause built in. Even so, I can’t help noticing that here we are again at the start of a brand new year. Every commentator and blogger and TV channel (etc etc) is summarising the past year and making forecasts. You can’t escape the sense that this, like every new year, is a moment for serious reflection.

So (like you, maybe) I’m thinking, what will next year be like for me? How will it compare with last year? What do I want to do, yearn to do, intend to do? Not to be, but to do? Instinctively I keep the objectives specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound — something between save-the-world and a tiny (30-second) habit.

Be yourself: good choice

Happily I have now shucked off a job that ate my brain in 2017: maybe it improved my character, but I’m reverting to my old (ha!) self again. I’m looking forward to doing more of the things that bring me joy.

  • I think idly, I’ll have another adventure… probably going to the Mature Moves conference in Tasmania in September…
  • I know I’ll be writing a book: no decision required, it’ll happen. I’m ready!
  • Some home maintenance jobs loom up and as usual, I’ll do them sooner or later.
  • Everyone’s life needs a bit of a tweak now and then. When the time comes, I suppose I’ll just do it: I wouldn’t say that requires a resolution.

If my resolutions seem sloppy to you, at least they are not intimidating—I hope. There’s nothing more depressing than the list of a super-achiever.

So basically, I’ll just enjoy the life I’ve got. It’s a funny little life, but I love it.

Image: Victory in ivory, an image from Ancient Greek female costume, public domain.

Life expectancy and the bonus years

Child in full tantrum
By all means have a tantrum when you discover how long you are going to live

bootcamp2015-small 2


(First published in 2015 in another blog, Boot Camp FOR The Bonus Years.) In which the bonus years are defined, rejected, resented, and grudgingly accepted.

The bonus years are the years we will live beyond our subconscious life expectancy. Here’s what I mean.

Average life expectancy

 First, a quote from Statistics New Zealand.

We can never know precisely how long we’ll live, but statistics show:

  • New Zealanders are living progressively longer
  • women live longer than men
  • death rates continue to decline at all ages
  • life expectancy increases further for each additional year we live.

In other words, the older you are now, the older you can expect to be when you die.

What the heck? Yes, that’s the story. A 3-year-old New Zealand girl can expect to live until 83 years — but the average 75-year-old New Zealand woman has a life expectancy of 89.2–90.

So there you have it: I can expect to live to around 90 years. Or can I? Not necessarily. After all, some New Zealand 75-year-old women will die at 90, others will die before 80 and some will live to 100. But how about me?

Individual life expectancy

The average prediction of 90 years of life is enough to do my head in, but I could have got used to that. However, I am not the average person in my cohort. Nor is anyone. I am me, you are you, we are us, and they are them, and none of us is average. So an average life expectancy figure is meaningless for individuals.

If like me you have been lucky enough to dodge cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis and reach 75 in excellent health, you are pretty sure to outlive your grandparents, who lived in more difficult times. On top of that, if like me you happen to be female, live in New Zealand, have good nutrition and exercise habits, and inherit a happiness gene or two, you may be handed a decade of bonus years on a plate. Whether you like it or not, you are likely to grow very old.

Today I used four online calculators that claim to estimate my personal life expectancy.

  • University of Pennsylvania researchers give me 94 years (with a 5% chance of dying before 79 or after 108).
  • The Canadian Public Health calculator says I’ll live to 97.8 years old.
  • AMP (an insurance company) asks 33 questions and offers me 98 years.
  • XrX (a health and fitness company) predicts that I will live to 115.9 years old.

Extreme old age is increasingly thrust upon us, whether we like it or not. I’m guessing 98 is a reasonable estimate, given my personal lifestyle and health history. That’s not LOL but OMG.

So I’d better get used to it. But it’s not easy.

Subconscious life expectancy

We also have an instinctive, subjective, subtle, intensely personal, not always rational expectation that we will live to a particular age. This expectation may be conscious or may lurk unacknowledged in our subconscious. It’s built on assumptions and life experience and a patchy understanding of statistics.

Your subconscious life expectancy may exert considerable power. I didn’t even know I had one until it was blown to smithereens by the data.

All my grandparents died in their mid-eighties, and deep inside I supposed I would do the same. Then I realised that my instinctive life expectancy of 84 was seriously inaccurate. (Yes yes, obviously I could become fatally ill or disabled tomorrow, but we’re looking at the odds.)

Arithmetic is not my strong suit, but I can calculate the difference between 84 and 98. Out of the blue I have been granted 14 bonus years.

Grown-ups may throw tantrums when granted bonus years

Discovering that I was likely to live long past my imaginary due-date was like a smack in the face. I launched into the longest loudest tantrum in the southern hemisphere.

My hissy fit lasted 24 hours.  Then I started to think about the implications.

Then I thought, Okaaaaay. If I’m truly stuck with these extra years, better make them good ones.

I noticed other implications of these bonus years. I’ve still got enough time to do almost anything I want. Hell’s bells, I could become a brain surgeon!

The first 75 years just kind of happened to me. Now it’s time to pay attention. Suddenly, preparing for old age is an issue. That’s why I decided to undertake a personal boot camp.

Feel the fury and let it go

I suspect this rage-against-the-bonus-years is not uncommon.  I know two other people who became homicidal or clinically depressed when told they would live longer than expected. But in each case the news was a timely alarm, because after our tantrums we’ve all decided to make our next 10–20 years the best they can possibly be.

And getting over the tantrum is a Good Thing, according to research by Dr Becca R. Levy of Yale University and colleagues, published in 2002. They studied attitudes to ageing in 660 adults in Ohio age 50–90 over 22 years.  Those who developed positive attitudes about getting older lived more than seven years longer than those who had negative attitudes. And these were not just extra years but healthier years.

“Self-perceptions of aging had a greater impact on survival,” the researchers say, “than did gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness and functional health.” In fact, positive attitudes had a greater effect than lowered blood pressure or cholesterol (which increase life span by an estimated four years) or exercise, weight loss, or non-smoking status (which add one to three years).

Wow. So let’s just suck it up and stay positive.