Category Archives: Aging

Bigger Brains (at least not Smaller)

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A study looking at 1,094 participants from the Framingham Heart Study shows that people who are more physically active in middle age tend to have larger brain volumes in later life.

The study participants were an average age of 40, with no signs of dementia or heart disease. They took a treadmill fitness test and underwent MRIs. Twenty years later, they underwent another treadmill test, along with MRI brain scans.

The estimates of brain volume were calculated based on measurements of oxygen used during treadmill tests, together with blood pressure and heart rate tests. Based on these estimates, people who were more active in their 40s tended to have larger brain volumes twenty years later.

Links to articles about the study and the study itself have been posted in Health > Physical Exercise:
People who exercise at middle age might have bigger brains later on
Exercise at middle age may keep brain bigger later in life
Better Fitness In Middle Age May Stop This Organ From Shrinking

Published research:
Midlife exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and fitness relate to brain volume 2 decades later

New Site for The Science of Aging

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Geroscience is a new site devoted to exploring and explaining the developing science around human aging and longevity. Features and news on the site will cover topics including (from Geroscience > About):

  • …interviews with experts, looks behind the scenes of everyday lab life, and the latest trends from longevity conferences;
  • …perspectives of leading researchers, entrepreneurs, and other experts … shar[ing] ideas about aging and longevity;
  • …the business of geoscience, including investment coverage, clinical trial data, and insight into the regulatory world.

Strong Brain will post about selected Geroscience news and feature articles under Aging, or under one of the Alzheimer’s categories. A link to the site has been added to Aging > Organizations.

Category: Aging, Announcements

Distilled: Tips for Healthy Aging

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Do a search for “tips for aging” or “tips for healthy aging” and you’ll get many hits of varying relevance. As you might expect, there is some overlap between the hits: some tips are presented on almost every page (but with variations), while others not so much. We performed the searches on a number of different search engines and found over twenty useful sites (listed here), and have distilled the results. Each Tip below is a cluster of tips found on the pages we visited.

One remark seen on most sites regarding almost everything: It’s never too late to start, whether it’s exercise (physical or mental) or diet, better sleep, or sociality, or any of the other Tips.

Here is a compact list of the Tips listed below. Click on any line to go directly to that Tip:

 
Tip#1. Exercise Your Body, Exercise Regularly, Amp Up Your Fitness, Keep Moving, Stand (And Sit) Up Straight, Stay Physically Active, Lead An Active Life.

We’ve all heard the saying: use it or lose it. If you want to remain vital and healthy well into your later years, exercise is a must. Moderate exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week, not only improves blood flow to your brain but is associated with a significantly reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A minimum of 45 minutes of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week, will keep your heart young while improving your figure, mood and brainpower.

Exercise helps control body weight, lower your blood pressure and strengthen your muscles, which helps you avoid injuries by making you less likely to fall. Living an active life will help you stay fit enough to maintain your independence to go where you want to and perform your own activities.

Regular exercise may prevent or even provide relief from many common chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, depression, and arthritis, to name a few. Hundreds of studies show that exercise combats the loss of stamina, muscle strength, balance and bone density that increases with age. Those who were more physically fit in midlife were less likely to develop chronic health conditions in old age, such as congestive heart failure or Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise, exercise, exercise! A sedentary lifestyle in older age is particularly dangerous as it puts you at higher risks for falls and more rapid health decline. Activities such as walking, swimming, biking, dancing or vigorous gardening can remain enjoyable in the later years and are easier on aging joints. For optimum fitness, combine strength training, endurance, flexibility and balance in your exercise regimen.

Also recommended on several sites: Stay Limber — Daily stretching is important … Your muscles tend to shorten and stiffen when you aren’t active, but stretching activities such as yoga will improve your flexibility — and Balancing Act — make sure to add balance activities to the daily routine. Good balance requires maintaining a center of gravity over the base of support. Tai chi, yoga, walking on challenging surfaces and water exercises all enhance overall balance.
 
Tip#2. Exercise Your Brain, Maintain Your Brain, Stimulate Your Brain, Exercise From the Neck Up, Keep Thinking, Challenge Your Mind, Be a problem solver, Learn Something New Every Day, Pursuing Education

Just as you would work out different parts of your body in different ways to keep fit, the key is to cross-train your brain. Start up a new interest or hobby. Take a course on something you’ve never studied before. Listen to a different type of music.

One in eight older adults (aged 65+) in the United States has Alzheimer’s disease, and some cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. Studies have shown that a lifestyle that includes cognitive stimulation through active learning slows cognitive decline.

The brain needs to be challenged to keep neurological pathways open. Learn a new language, read or even simply practice awareness of your surroundings: smells, sounds, visual input. The old adage “use it or you’ll lose it” has validity when it comes to your mind.

Keeping the brain active and fit is imperative to the health of older adults. Not only does it stave off memory-loss illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia, but it also fosters executive function.

Try word games and recall exercises. Brainteasers, puzzles or learning new skills can be fun and can exercise the mind. To grow new connections throughout our lives—- as children and as seniors—- we need to learn, unlearn and relearn. The more you challenge your brain, the better it performs. Better to learn varied things, and participate in group activities.
 
Tip#3. Eat Healthy Foods, Eat Right, Eat For The Long Haul, Diet: Fruits — Veggies — Fish, Eat A Mostly Mediterranean Diet

A nutritious, low-calorie diet with lots of fruits and veggies is essential. To best enhance overall health and reduce the risk of many diseases, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed and walnuts). Eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods.

Avoid sweet, salty, and highly processed foods. Keep in mind that each person has different dietary needs – follow your doctor’s suggestions regarding dietary restrictions. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Cook with olive oil instead of butter. Get no more than about 30 to 35 percent of your daily calories from fat, with about one-fifth of that from unsaturated fat (e.g., 1 percent milk, olive and canola oil); 15 percent from protein; and the remaining calories from carbohydrates — which can include fruits and veggies.

Avoid skipping meals. Keep your energy high. By the way, Mom was right: eating your fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated and taking vitamins help maintain a happy life.
Specific dietary points from several sites:

  • Fats: Out with the bad, in with the good –- Older adults with an increased genetic risk for dementia can reduce the risk by increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. These fatty acids, found in fish, nuts, olive oil and green leafy vegetables, can reduce brain inflammation, a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Decrease salt and increase your salsa -– High blood pressure, which can lead to strokes and a significant decline in cognitive function, often increases with age. As adults get older, the sense of taste also fades, leading to a desire for more salt on food to enhance flavor. Decreasing salt intake by putting down the shaker -– and increasing exercise habits by shaking to a salsa beat -– will enhance cardio and cognitive health.
  • Free radicals contribute to the onset of age-related diseases, and antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Everyone should take a combination of antioxidants through diet [such as] dark-colored vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, squash and spinach for carotenoids and blue and purple berries for flavonoids.
  • Superfoods are nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, ancient grains, healthy fats and lean proteins…These foods naturally contain high amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which all contribute to healthy aging. A few to focus on:
    • Carrots, squash and sweet potatoes are extremely beneficial for eye and skin health, thanks to high levels of beta-carotene, a type of vitamin A.
    • Any brightly colored fruits and vegetables will have an abundant amount of antioxidants, and these help prevent oxidation and cell damage. Examples: raspberries, kale and cabbage.
    • Carbohydrates like healthy grains, beans and potatoes help you produce serotonin, a calming and satiety hormone that helps fight stress and anxiety’s negative effects.

 
Tip#4. Stay Social, Social Activity, Stay Connected, Maintaining Strong Social Relationships, Be Socially Engaged, Cultivate Your Relationships, Keep Friends Close, Relationships Count Most, Make Community Connections, Volunteer to Help Others, Keep Children In Your Life.

Maintaining active connections with our family, friends, and community is critical to staying healthy, both mentally and physically. The relationships we have in our lives have a more important impact on aging well than the events we experience. It is important to maintain and cultivate our relationships with others, especially with younger generations. Keeping socially active has even been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

People who maintain broad social networks as they age have higher scores on intelligence tests and lower rates of dementia. Living alone is the strongest risk factor for loneliness. Common life changes in older adulthood, such as retirement, health issues, or the loss of a spouse, may lead to social isolation.

Older adults who engage in meaningful community activities like volunteer work report feeling healthier and less depressed.
Suggestions: Join a planning committee, volunteer, take a trip with friends, play cards at your local senior center, or join a book club Get involved with a social group so you get out of the house at least two days a week.

Nurture relationships with family and friends. Exercise with friends. Do something that stimulates your mind with friends or family. When you are socially active and surround yourself with people you enjoy, you may be less likely to feel lonely, unhappy, or unfulfilled, all of which can cause unwanted stress.

Children bring wonder, renewal and a sense of optimism to our lives. Whatever your age, you can be young at heart.
 
Tip#5. Watch Your Stress Levels, Reduce Stress, Take Care of Mental Health, Treat Depression, Count Your Blessings, Be Wise, Stay Spiritual or Optimistic, Remember the Spirit, Wherever You Are — Be There, Be in the Moment and Focus on the Process, Be Resilient and Engaged in Life — Keep Moving or It’s Over, Don’t Worry — Be Happy, Enjoy Yourself, Laugh.

What do you enjoy doing? How might things change as you age? How can you adapt? Avoid being too narrow in your interests and activities. Wisdom is the ability to approach experience with a broader, more tolerant, and practical perspective. It gives us an intuitive sense for decision making.

Levels of stress and worry hit a low point and well-being hits a high point by age 85. And humor is one of our best defenses! Middle age is time to get rid of emotional baggage that stresses you out.

Debilitating stress can have negative effects on our health later in life. Though, a little stress can be good for us. Striking the right balance for each individual is the key.

Long-term stress can damage brain cells and lead to depression. Stress may also cause memory loss, fatigue, and decreased ability to fight off and recover from infection.
Suggestions: We cannot entirely avoid stressful situations but we can learn better techniques to cope with stress. Take care of yourself when you are stressed by getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating nutritious foods. Talk to a loved one or counselor about your stress, and try some relaxation techniques, such as circular breathing, yoga, or meditation. Remember to always keep things in perspective – try to accept and adapt to the things you cannot control.

Attending religious services and having a generally sunny outlook on life have been linked to longer, healthier lives. Decreased stress levels, from spiritual activities such as meditation, may be partly responsible for the health benefit. A slew of studies also suggest that optimistic people live longer and are less likely to develop certain chronic conditions such as heart disease.

Religion — or spirituality — has a positive effect on physical health and does, in fact, help reduce suffering, whether it’s through meditation, prayer or learning to forgive.

Following your heart will keep you dynamic, creative and full of zest for living. Don’t let your chattering mind take you from any singular, not-to-be-repeated moment and experience the pure joy of life. Find pursuits such as listening to music, viewing art, writing or enjoying nature to keep your mind in here-and-now moments.

Laughter stimulates the immune system, protects us from disease and definitely makes the journey more fun.
 
Tip#6. Know What Hurts, “Sin” Less, Manage Alcohol Intake, Avoid Cigarettes, If You Smoke—Stop

To protect your brain you need to control blood sugar and lipid levels, treat high blood pressure, minimize risk of head injury, and avoid tobacco products and excess alcohol.

Don’t smoke. Limit drinking to no more than one drink a day for women, two for men. For middle-age women, having one alcoholic drink a day may improve health and pave the way to a long life, a new study shows.
 
Tip#7. Sleep, Get Enough Sleep, Get The Sleep Your Body Needs

Getting less than 6.5 hours at night puts you at risk for a host of physical and mental problems.

Humans can go longer without food than without sleep. Older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults – seven to nine hours per night – but often get much less. Lack of sleep can cause depression, irritability, increased fall risk, and memory problems.
Suggestions: Develop a regular schedule with a bedtime routine. Keep your bedroom dark and noise-free— avoid watching television or surfing the internet while in bed. Stay away from caffeine late in the day.

If you sleep less than six hours a night, you are at far greater risk of having a heart attack or experiencing a stroke. What’s more, your mind seems to deteriorate at a faster pace. On an emotional level, a lack of sleep makes you less peaceful and more prone to anger. Sicknesses related to viral infections are also more prevalent among people lacking proper rest

Chronic lack of sleep is one of the fastest ways to age the human body. Not getting enough sleep can also cause your body to release a stress hormone called cortisol. Adequate sleep can positively influence cognitive ability, mood, weight loss and skin rejuvenation.
 
Tip#8. Practice Prevention, An Ounce of Prevention, Lower The Risks, Get Regular Preventive Checkups, Make And Keep Appointments With Your Doctor, Control Blood Pressure, Avoid Diabetes

Preventive measures, such as getting a yearly flu shot and getting screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, are also important for growing old gracefully.
Keeping an eye on other disease indicators, such as high blood pressure and the early stages of diabetes, can also make a difference in terms of the degree of disability people experience later in life.

Many accidents, illnesses, and common geriatric health care conditions, such as falls, chronic illness, depression, and frailty, are preventable.
Suggestions: To prevent illness, get a yearly flu vaccine and wash your hands after using the restroom and before handling food. To prevent a fall, complete a home safety checklist, use assistive devices, wear appropriate footwear, get your vision checked, take vitamin D and calcium, and get some form of exercises into your routine.

See your doctor regularly. By having regular check-ups, you may be able to catch small problems before they become big problems. It is also important to have regular dental and eye exams.

Get checkups appropriate for your age group. Particularly if you have multiple chronic medical conditions, it’s important to have a primary care physician who can coordinate your care. Write down questions and concerns to take with you to your visit. Jot down any symptoms you are having. Keep up with immunizations, such as flu shots.

High blood pressure today sets you up for dementia later.

Uncontrolled diabetes can thin the brain’s cortex, increasing risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Again, diet and exercise are the best prevention.
 
Tip#9. Reduce Your Waist, Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

Being overweight or obese increases a person’s risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, arthritis, and breathing problems. To be at their best, adults need to avoid gaining excess weight, many need to lose weight, and some are underweight.

Unlike the excess fat in our cheeks, neck, arms and thighs, excessive abdominal fat behaves like a chemical factory, spewing out unhealthy products that cause all those diseases you don’t want to get, especially diabetes, cardiovascular disease and those “-itis” illnesses—bronchitis, arthritis, colitis and dermatitis. Staying lean (meaning having the right weight and waist size for your individual body type) is one of the top health words for longevity.
 
Tip#10. Be Safe, Practice Safety Habits, Keep Your Home Environment Safe, Drive Safely

Use common sense and be street smart. Do not put yourself in situations that may be dangerous. Just a few ways you can put safety first include:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear a helmet when participating in sports such as biking.
  • Use smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
  • Do not go for a run, walk, or jog alone at night. Most attacks happen to people who are alone. Reduce your risk by bringing a friend.
  • Use medications wisely. Follow directions and ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects and drug interactions.
  • Keep your home well lit. Remove items that could cause you to fall such as loose wires, cords, and area rugs.

Tack down loose electrical cords or throw rugs. Be sure your home is adequately lit. Check to see if smoke detectors are in working condition.

If some driving situations are hard, such as at night, at rush hour, or on highways, avoid these types of conditions. Keep distractions, such as the radio, to a minimum. Always wear your seatbelt in a car, whether or not you are driving.
 
Tip#11. Tip#11. Avoid Environmental Extremes, Avoid Over-exposure to the sun and extreme cold

Protect your skin when you are outdoors by using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that protects you against UVA and UVB rays. Try to avoid getting too much sun. Dress appropriately for the weather so that you do not get too hot or too cold.

Avoid overexposure to the sun and the cold.
 
Tip#12. Planning. Maintain Records, Make a Will, Complete Your Advance Directive, Start the Conversation

Keep personal and financial records in order to simplify budgeting and investing. Plan long-term housing and money needs (reduces stress).

Setting up a will or estate plan is a favor to your loved ones who must deal with courts and lawyers after your death. Setting up an Advance Directive is a favor to yourself to see that you get the kind of end-of-life care you want. It is also a favor to your loved ones who may have to deal with hospitals, doctors, and lawyers to see to it that you get the kind of end-of-life care you want in the event that you are unable to express your desires yourself.

Most states have laws giving you the right to participate in your own health care decisions, but you may not always be in a position to make a decision for yourself. You can outline your health preferences and appoint somebody to make a decision in your place when you are unable to by completing an Advance Directive.
Suggestions:

  • Take the time to understand all of the components of an Advance Directive.
  • Stop by your local care management office or resource center to learn more and fill one out.
  • Make copies of your Advance Directive, keep one at home and one in your car, and give copies to your health care agent, close relatives, primary care provider, and the hospital where you are likely to receive care in an emergency.
  • Some states and organizations allow you to upload your Advance Directive into an online database.

As many a song, novel, and movie has said: “None of us are going to get out of this world alive.” Begin to talk about end of life issues openly and honestly with your family and your doctor. Remember that accidents or unanticipated medical problems can bring these needs sooner into your life.

Category: Aging

New Links for Aging

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New links added today:

Aging

Scientists reverse aging in human cell lines and give theory of aging a new lease of life     Research has shown that, in human cell lines at least, the process of aging be delayed or even reversed.

Ageing rates vary widely, says study     A study of people born within a year of each other has uncovered a huge gulf in the speed at which their bodies age.

Higher Education May Increase Life Expectancy     New findings … suggest that getting a college degree could actually reduce the risk of early mortality.

Aging > Organizations

National Council on Aging     Top level menu includes:

  • Economic Security
  • Healthy Aging
  • Public Policy & Action
  • Resources

USF School of Aging Studies      Major research areas:

  • Aging and Health
  • Cognitive Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Mental Health and Disparities
  • Public Policy and Long-Term Care