Showing posts with label longevity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label longevity. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can Low Income Mean Low Health?

It has been said that money does not bring happiness, “but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery,” quipped writer-comedian Spike Mulligan. Recent research shows he may be right:
  • One recent study showed that rates of child maltreatment worsened as the recent Great Recession deepened and wallets deflated.
  • Researchers say that the less income your family had when you were growing up, the more likely you are to have health problems as an adult.
A 2013 research study, performed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), showed an apparent connection between the length of the human cell’s telomeres (the protective cap-like protein complexes at the end of our chromosomes) and the socioeconomic condition of children and teens – that being raised in a lower socioeconomic state can result in shorter telomeres as adults, which, in turn, can eventually increase susceptibility to colds and other illnesses in middle-aged adults.

You can read more about telomeres and their effect on health and longevity here. The short story is this; telomere length is a “biomarker” of aging. That is, they shorten as we get older. And as they shorten, they lose their ability to function well.

Having shorter telomeres is connected to the early onset of many illnesses, including heart disease and cancer in older adults. As this 2013 study shows, the shortening of your telomeres also increases your susceptibility to acute infectious disease in young to midlife adults.

In other words, the common cold is more common to those who grew up in a lower socioeconomic state.

In the study, researchers measured the telomere lengths of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55.

To gauge childhood and current socioeconomic status, the participants were asked to report whether they currently owned their home and whether their parents owned the family home when they were between the ages of 1 and 18.

The participants were then exposed to a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. They were then quarantined for five days to see if they actually developed an upper respiratory infection.  Some did, and some didn’t.

The results showed that those participants who reported growing up with a lower socioeconomic status — indicated by fewer years that their parents were homeowners — had shorter-than-average telomere length, and were more likely to get sick.

  • Telomere length decreased by 5 percent for each year the participants' parents did not own a home.
  • Parental homeownership in both early childhood and adolescence were both associated with adult telomere length.
  • Participants with lower childhood socioeconomic status were more likely to become infected by the cold virus. Specifically, for each year their parents did not own a home during their childhood years up to age 18, the participants' odds of developing a cold increased by 9 percent.
The collective results of the study provide a compelling case to suggests a biological connection between our childhood experiences and our adult health.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to Keep Active as a Senior Citizen

Aging happens. But too often, aging is accelerated by reduced activity.  Staying active is essential to healthy aging, and living a happy, independent life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Encouraging older adults to become and stay active has developed into an important public health priority. While the physical and emotional benefits of exercise are increasingly well-known, only 40 percent of older adults are engaged in regular leisure time physical activity.”

Being active – physically and socially – boosts energy, improves mood, stimulates memory, and improves your ability to handle stress.  According to research, staying active allows you to stay independent longer –  without physical activity, the decline of your strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance will diminish your independence and vitality, while increasing the likelihood of a disabling injury.

In this 2014 study, researchers found that a carefully structured, moderate physical activity program for seniors can reduce risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance. Following through with the activity for an average of 2.6 years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent!

Six easy ways to become an active, healthier senior citizen

With proof that regular activity can make big differences in longevity and lifestyle for the elderly, how do you get started? How do you go about it safely?

First, always get your physician's approval before launching into any activity that involves physical movement or exercise regimen/activity. With the thumbs-up, try one of the following ways to get moving and get healthier – and happier – as you age.
1 – Do SOMETHING, even a little!
If the task of starting to be active is overwhelming, don’t sweat it. A 2015 research report, using data from more than a half million adults, concluded that any exercise is better than no exercise if your goal is to boost longevity. Those who did just 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking) were rewarded with a substantial boost in health and longevity. 
The researchers also learned that even if you exercise just a fraction of this, you are still likely to have a 20% lower mortality risk than those who do no exercise at all.
2 – Discover the power of the stroll
Even if all you do is walk, you’re still doing a lot of good. Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People,” studied societies with the highest rates of centenarians (100-year-olds). He found that the citizens with the world’s greatest longevity and health are in Sardinia, Italy. They consume a mostly plant-based diet – heavy on legumes – and they average about 6-10 miles of walking daily.

If you have trouble picturing yourself walking more than a few minutes, try using audio books; a good book to listen to while you walk is an effective way to enjoy a long stroll, allowing your imagination to turn your focus away from the step-by-step rigor.
3 – Team up for fun and accountability
Find others with shared interests to exercise with, whether that means going to a fitness center, taking yoga classes, walking, cycling, etc.; by exercising with others, you double your activity gain – stimulating not just your body but your mind through the social interaction. 

Plus, accountability is a powerful motivator. Working out with others creates commitment.  It can be easy to ditch a morning walk when it’s brisk and you’d rather snooze longer. But if your jogging partner is meeting you at your door in 10 minutes…
4 – Give yourself a goal
If you are generally motivated by having a target, then having an activity goal is likely to help you get going in an activity too.  For example:
  • For walking, jogging, or biking, get a GPS watch (uses satellites to track your position on earth), which allows you to track how many miles you exercise. This allows you to set a weekly mileage goal and easily track your progress.
  • Aim for a competition related to your activity.  Maybe a 5k “race” or trying out for the Senior Olympics, where you compete with other seniors in a variety of sports. Here’s the Senior Olympics directory – find your state's competitions and to learn how to compete.
5 – Get classy!
Joining a class is an ideal way for most of us to try out an activity that we are not familiar with.  In most communities, you will have no problem finding classes and groups specifically for seniors, such as yoga, bowling, golf, tennis, weight lifting, ballroom dancing, square dancing, and more.
Check out Silver Sneakers – a nationwide program with Medicare-eligible memberships to more than 13,000 participating fitness centers nationwide. Its fitness program helps older adults take greater control of their health by encouraging physical activity.  It includes fitness classes, social gatherings, and seminars on healthy living.
6 – Think FUN!
If the thought of lifting weights or walking is not your cup of tea, then think outside the “exercise” box. Even if you never set foot in a gym, you can become physically active in one of many fun ways. Consider swimming, canoeing, fishing, dancing, badminton, croquet – any activity that elevates your heart rate is going to benefit your health and longevity, especially compared to staring at the TV.

Get moving today

Whatever you pick as your favorite way to get active, you’ll be improving the quality and length of your life.  For more guidance and ideas, check out Fun Activities for Seniors, Healthy Aging Research NetworkStay Fit in Your Senior Years, and, if you have mobility challenges, Sit and Be Fit TV.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What the Heck Is Astragalus Root Anyway?

Astragalus (pronounced like this) is a plant that grows wild in Asia. Its dried roots are considered medicinal in several parts of Asia, where it's liquid extract form is used in clinics and hospitals, often injected directly into the body. In the US, you can find Astragalus root in health food stores usually as a tablet, capsule, or as a liquid extract. But what the heck is it? Is it safe to take, and are there real benefits?

Health Benefits of Astragalus Root

The natural properties of Astragalus root allow it to be classed as an adaptogenic herb – one that protects your body from mental, emotional, or physical stress. It is also known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Claims of Astragalus health benefits include the following:
  • Immune system protection and support
  • Preventing upper respiratory infections
  • Diabetes treatment
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Liver protection
  • Healing skin wounds
  • Antidiarrheal support
Though not a health benefit per se, the gummy sap of the Astragalus plant is sometimes used as a thickener in ice cream, and even as a denture adhesive.

But Does Astragalus Research Support Health Claims?

There is a surprisingly large number of astragalus studies although, not surprisingly, most of the research in in Asian countries where the herb is more widely known and used.  These Asian studies (see footnotes here and here) generally support the health claims related to astragalus as an antioxidant and as a means of improving heart health and lowering cholesterol.

Research on astragalus in the U.S. also supports the use of astragalus to undergird the immune system after its been stressed by chemotherapy or radiation. In one study, Astragalus supplementation not only accelerated cancer patient recovery but also increased their longevity.

But some of the most compelling recent studies on astragalus – including one in Spain and one in the U.S. – show strong evidence that astragalus can have a positive effect on our telomeres – the part of our DNA strands that effect our longevity.  Scientists believe that the shortening of the telomeres equates to shortening of life.  Thus, some theorize that, if we can prevent or slow the telomeres from shortening, we can dramatically increase longevity and health. 

In the 2011 Spanish cancer research, reported in Aging Cell, scientists identified a compound in Astragalus that also activates telomerase, not only increasing the health span of adult mice, but significantly increased average telomere length, which resulted in improvements in glucose tolerance, osteoporosis symptoms, and skin fitness.

Any Astragalus Risks or Astragalus Side Effects?

Astragalus is generally considered safe for adults with no serious side effects. That said, there are some situations in which astragalus should not be taken.
  • For some people, astragalus may have a mild diuretic effect – a useful thing if you are trying to get rid of excess fluid, but a potential risk if you are already dehydrated.
  • Because Astragalus may stimulate the immune system, there could be undesirable side effects for those with autoimmune diseases.
  • Some health practitioners advise against using any adaptogenic herb regularly for long time periods, but rather switching every month or so to a different adaptogen. Here's a list of adaptogenic herbs you could choose to rotate through.
  • Use caution if you have allergies to legumes; those who do often have allergies to astragalus as well.
  • Don't use astragalus if you are using immune system suppressant drugs or lithium.
To be safe, it's best to consult with your doctor before taking any medication or herb.  

Expand your Knowledge

Now that you have a conversational understanding of astragalus and its potential benefits, you can expand your wherewithal on several other complementary health practices, health foods, and herbal buzzwords by checking out our other "what the heck" articles, such as What the Heck Are Free Radicals Anyway?, What the Heck are Antioxidants Anyway?, What the Heck Are Bioflavonoids Anyway?, What the Heck are Superfoods anyway?and What the Heck is Detoxing Anyway?

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer