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PUMPING IRONY: What, Me Worry?

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– Pumping Irony –

Recent research suggests that guys my age and older need to ramp up our anxiety about the pandemic even though we’ve long been told that a carefree approach to life is what keeps us healthy.

I like to think of myself as a generally carefree kind of guy, but the results of a new study have me worrying that I’m not worrying enough about dying from COVID-19.

A team of researchers at Georgia State University surveyed more than 300 people during the early days of the pandemic and found that the old guys among the group were much less concerned than other study participants about taking evasive action. The results left lead study author Sarah Barber, PhD, wondering whether mountains of research extolling the healthy benefits of a devil-may-care attitude may be irrelevant when geezers are confronted with a highly contagious and deadly virus.

“In normal circumstances, not worrying as much is a good thing,” Barber admits in a statement released by the university. “Everyday life is probably happier if we worry less. However, where COVID-19 is concerned, we expected that lower amounts of worry would translate into fewer protective COVID-19 behavior changes.”

Researchers asked participants to describe their various levels of anxiety about contracting and dying from the virus, worrying that family members would fall victim to it, as well as stressing about lifestyle changes, overwhelmed hospitals, a collapsed economy, and empty store shelves. Most reported at least a moderate concern about the potential effects of the pandemic, and the majority had already shifted their behavior: Eighty percent of those surveyed said they were washing their hands more frequently, eschewing physical contact, and sheltering in place; 60 percent reported they no longer socialized with friends.

Older men, however, expressed less anxiety about the virus and were less likely to don a mask in public, avoid touching their face, or hoard groceries. Barber doesn’t necessarily chalk this up to a stress-free approach to life, though. The survey took place less than three weeks after public-health officials declared the pandemic. “We all hope that a more accurate perception of risk has evolved over the last two months,” she says.

There’s a pretty thin line, I suppose, between burdening yourself with worry and simply taking reasonable precautions. It became pretty clear to this geezer early on that COVID-19 was no ordinary flu, so I had no complaints when the first shelter-in-place orders arrived. My Lovely Wife and I gladly accepted regular visits from our grandson, but we canceled all our summer travel plans and pretty much confined ourselves to quarters. I wasn’t an early adopter of the facemask, but I wear one now whenever I’m forced by necessity to enter a store.

And, while I’m hardly sanguine about the worldwide havoc the pandemic has produced, I can’t honestly say that I’ve lost any sleep over its devastation. Family and friends have so far managed to escape its clutches; the tragedies so prevalent behind the daily headlines have not yet become personal. All I can do is try to meet each moment as it arrives, completely open to what it brings. After all, it’s not the conditions we encounter that cause suffering; it’s our response to them. Thich Nhat Hanh, writing in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, probably says it best: “Perfect health is just an idea. Learn to live in peace with whatever ailments you have.”

Barber acknowledges that guys my age tend to be pretty good at coping with uncertainty, partly because we’ve navigated amid rocky shoals plenty of times before. There’s nary a soul among the Medicare set who isn’t dealing with some sort of stubborn ailment, a fact which may help to explain the general tranquility they reported in her study. We are certainly vulnerable to COVID-19; we should take precautions. But there is very little in this life that we can control, and I find nothing quite so futile as worrying today about what may occur tomorrow.


Craig Cox
is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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Health & Fitness

7 Immune-Boosting Foods – Experience Life

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Looking to build your immune system? Start by eating immunity-boosting foods like turmeric, sauerkraut, and medicinal mushrooms.

Healthy, balanced immune function is your best defense against any illness. One of the keys to bolstering your immune system? Nutrition.

“Diet is all-important,” says preventive-medicine specialist David Katz, MD. “You’re building white blood cells, enzymes, and antibodies every day, and the food you eat is literally the source of your construction materials.”

A single meal can alter how immune cells respond to provocation, and the effects accumulate over hours, days, and weeks, he explains. “You can do a complete 180 and optimize a badly broken immune system in as little as weeks by improving your diet, so it’s a very immediate return on investment.”

Foods that dampen the immune system include highly processed or fried foods, those high in added sugar, and nonorganic foods grown with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in Roundup, a common herbicide that has been linked to cancer.

On the flip side, foods rich in polyphenols — beneficial plant compounds found in many vegetables, fruits, and legumes — support immune function. Integrative practitioner Robert Rountree, MD notes that the Mediterranean diet (plenty of colorful vegetables, nuts, and olive oil; moderate amounts of protein; and a little red wine with dinner) provides a good general template for immune-supportive eating.

Some immune system–balancing superstars to focus on:

  1. Green tea is rich in polyphenols, including potent antioxidants called catechins that have antimicrobial properties and may help protect against influenza. It also contains quercetin, a flavonoid that Rountree calls a “time-honored immune-supportive agent.”
  2. Berries are a potent source of immune-supporting flavonoids. “When you eat berries, most of these pigment molecules go to the colon, where bacteria break them down into smaller molecules that escape and circulate in the body, exerting antiviral effects,” says David Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, an exercise immunologist at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University.
  3. Turmeric gets its deep orange-yellow from curcumin, a compound that helps balance the immune system. It has a modulating effect on T cells, B cells, macrophages, and other immune cells, and can also enhance antibody response.
  4. Garlic contains sulfuric compounds with a range of antimicrobial effects, such as inhibiting the biofilm formation of bacteria. It also has natural antiviral properties and can help reduce hypertension, one of the leading risk factors for COVID-19. (For more on garlic, see “Garlic”.)
  5. Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, kiwi, and lemon deliver abundant ­vitamin C — one of the most important nutrients for the immune system, aiding in the formation of white blood cells. (For more on this essential ­nutrient, visit “What You Need to Know About Vitamin C”.)
  6. Sauerkraut and other fermented foods contain lactic-acid bacteria, which produce compounds in the gut that spur the immune system into action. And cabbage itself is another excellent source of vitamin C.
  7. Medicinal mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, an immunomodulator that activates macrophages, natural killer cells, dendritic cells, and neutrophils. “Mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, and maitake have been shown to prime immune cells in published studies,” says Rountree. He recommends both eating shiitake mushrooms and taking a mushroom extract to support the immune system.

This originally appeared as “Eat Well” in “6 Ways to Boost Your Immune System” in the January/February 2021 issue of Experience Life.


Mo Perry
is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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