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Senior sketching a drawingYou Don't Need Talent to Benefit from Art

July 2020

July is World Watercolor Month, a celebration to raise awareness of the importance of art and creativity in the world. Some of the benefits of art are obvious—it adds beauty to our surroundings and brings pleasure to those who participate in it—but there are numerous other benefits that are not as easily observed.

Studies have shown that people who participate in art can benefit in a variety of ways, including:

  • Enhanced brain function
  • Raised levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that contributes to a sense of well-being
  • Reduced depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic disease
  • Enhanced fine motor skills
  • Increased emotional balance and self-esteem
  • Reduced boredom

“We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few,” said Dr. Barbara Bagan, a board-certified art therapist.

Even those who feel they have never been artistic or talented can still experience the benefits of participating in art. “It’s the process, not the product,” according to Megan Carleton, an art therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Beneficial art is not limited to that which is made with paints and brushes. “Expressive arts, including visual arts, music, dance/movement, writing, and poetry, are empowering tools that can assist in the aging process,” Dr. Bagan said. And, one does not necessarily need to create art to enjoy the benefits. Observing expressive arts can have some of the same positive effects on the brain.

There are many ways to participate in art for little to no cost: Listen, sing along, or dance to music on the radio; visit an art gallery or museum online; paint with a children’s watercolor set; sculpt with modeling clay; sketch with pen, pencil or chalk; use colored pencils or crayons in an adult coloring book; write a short story or poem; create a collage or mosaic with colored paper or small tiles; reproduce your favorite painting using pieces of recycled household items.

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Men’s Health Month: Let’s Focus on Nutrition

June 2020

There is a saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. From a nutritional standpoint, there’s wisdom in that. A healthy diet is one way to fight and even reverse heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

The Senior Center’s Food for Life instructor Barbara Smith, who teaches classes on cooking and eating for optimal health, offered some advice on men’s health. She encourages a diet that is centered on limiting processed foods and animal products and adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. “These foods are rich in nutrients and antioxidants without containing saturated fat and cholesterol.”

Q: Why plant foods? What about “good fats” like salmon?
A: Plant foods can meet all your dietary needs for protein, fat and carbohydrates without adding saturated fat and cholesterol which are detrimental to heart health. Plus, plant foods are your source for fiber which helps to keep your digestive system running smoothly. Even “heart healthy” salmon contains high amounts of saturated fat, so your intake should be limited. Walnuts, Brussels sprouts and ground flax seeds are excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Q: What are some other benefits?
A: A plant-based diet has been clinically proven to reverse heart disease. Other benefits include lower blood pressure and decreased obesity, cancer and diabetes risk as well as decreased erectile dysfunction. New studies are showing that a plant-based diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

Q: How do dietary requirements change as we age?
A: As we age, our metabolism slows down, meaning our bodies require less calories. It is especially important to make sure that you are including nutrient-dense foods into your diet, especially those containing calcium and protein such as beans and greens. Consider taking a supplement to be sure you are getting enough vitamin D and B-12, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Q: What are some dietary needs unique to men over the age of 60?
A: Men should consider limiting salt, alcohol and saturated fat and boosting their intake of fiber and iron-rich foods such as beans and legumes (peas, lentils). Eating a variety of plant-based foods will meet all these requirements.

Q: Are there “good-for-men” foods?
A: Men who consume two or more servings of tomato sauce per week have 23 percent less risk of prostate cancer, compared to those having tomato sauce less than once per month, according to data from the Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts also offer protection.

Q: What are some simple ways to incorporate plant-based foods in the diet?
A: One of my favorite quick and easy meals to make is chili using a can of black beans and a jar of salsa. Pasta with marinara sauce is also another regular at our house. Some snack ideas include whole grain crackers with hummus or fresh fruit. If you are not eating at home, try to fill up half your plate with veggies. I also try to eat a green salad every day.

Q: What advice do you have for “meat and potatoes” men?
A: If you want to make changes to your diet, think about “adding in” instead of eliminating. Studies show a 5 percent death reduction for every serving of fruits and vegetables you add into your diet! Every step you take toward a healthier diet counts.

Barbara Smith is a certified Food for Life instructor and has a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the Center For Nutrition Studies through eCornell.

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