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Lack Of Exercise May Mean Smaller Brain Size

If you want to keep your brain from shrinking as you age, your best bet may be to keep your body physically fit. New research from Boston University School of Medicine found that poor physical fitness in midlife was linked to smaller brain size (a sign of accelerated brain aging) 20 years later. Researchers used treadmill tests to assess the physical fitness of 1,583 people whose average age was 40. All were participants in the long-running Framingham (MA) Heart Study, and none had heart disease when they took their first treadmill test. They were re-evaluated with treadmill tests two decades later and also underwent MRI scans of their brains. Results showed that the poorer the participants performed on their original treadmill tests, the more volume their brains had lost over the 20 years. The researchers also reported that the higher an individual’s blood pressure and heart rate rose during the first treadmill test - changes that could mean lack of fitness - the smaller their brains were likely to be on the MRI scans 20 years later. The study doesn’t prove that poor physical fitness caused the brain shrinkage observed, but does suggest an association.

Scared of Dying Young?

If a longer life is something you aspire to, four simple habits can make a difference in your longevity. Find out what they are, and make them part of your routine.

If living a long life is important to you, you may want to adopt some of the habits that supercentenarians have in common. Most supercentenarians - people who live to be 110 or older - share four lifestyle characteristics that may help explain their longevity. Throughout their lives, they remain:

  1. Physically active. Even as you get older, daily physical activity should be a priority. Modify your routine to incorporate small steps, such as daily walks, parking in the back of the lot, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking up hobbies that involve exercise, such as gardening, playing tennis or hiking.
  2. Positive. Maintaining an optimistic outlook is important to managing stress and preventing related health issues such as heart disease. You can easily train yourself to start looking at the glass as half full. Begin with some simple self-reflection and meditation, and use humor for coping with negative thoughts.
  3. Social. A network of family and close friends is vital to optimum health. You can enjoy the benefits of a well developed social life by spending time with people who make you happy, joining community groups or clubs, volunteering, and participating in support groups.
  4. Spiritual. Regardless of your religious affiliation (if any), feeling a connection with nature, a higher being or purpose cultivates spirituality, and is an important part of graceful aging.

Worried About Age Spots?

Brown spots on your skin happen with age and sun exposure. There are ways to diminish their appearance – and times when the spots may signal a more serious problem. Learn more.

If you are noticing brown spots on your skin - up to an inch in diameter - you may have solar lentigos. These "age spots" are the result of years of sun exposure. Typically, they appear on the chest, face, or the back of the hands - areas of the skin that have been most exposed to the sun throughout your lifetime. The best ways to prevent age spots are to avoid too much sun exposure, and use sunscreen regularly (SPF 15 or higher). However, this won't help get rid of age spots you may already have. 

To reduce the appearance of age spots over time, see your physician or dermatologist. He or she can recommend a prescription or over-the-counter skin cream containing alpha-hydroxy or retinoic acid. If you use these, be diligent about applying sunscreen, since these creams can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun's rays. Laser treatment is also an option; while this approach is more costly, it does offer immediate results. 
Even if your age spots are not a concern, it is advisable to see a dermatologist about them. Occasionally, what appear to be age spots are identified as precancerous lesions that should be removed for medical rather than cosmetic reasons.

 

Drinking Soda May Accelerate Aging

We know that habitually sipping sugary sodas can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but new research suggests that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks daily may have a negative effect on telomeres, the repeating DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age. Investigators from the University of California, San Francisco looked at telomeres in the white blood cells of stored DNA from 5,309 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2002. They calculated that the telomere shortening observed among individuals who consumed one 20-ounce soda daily was comparable to the effect of smoking. Over time, these changes were associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. In addition to the link between short telomeres and decreased human lifespan, the length of telomeres within white blood cells has been associated with development of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer. Study leader Elissa Epel, Ph.D., noted that the association between drinking sugar-sweetened soda and telomere shortening "held regardless of age, race, income and education level."

My take? These new findings don't surprise me. Earlier research has shown that drinking a single sugar-containing soda per day is linked to weight gain. A daily soda habit also increases a woman's risk of developing diabetes by 83 percent compared to women who have less than one sweetened drink per month. Sodas of any kind don't belong in a healthy, well-balanced diet. Opt instead for filtered water, tea or sparkling water mixed with natural fruit juice.

Is 5 Minutes of Running The Key To Living Longer?

Want to lower your risk of premature death significantly? Go from being a couch potato to being a runner – even a (very) short distance one. A study in Dallas found that people who engaged in little to no strenuous exercise, when compared to those who ran daily for as little as five to 10 minutes, had a 30 percent higher risk of dying. When the cause of death was heart disease, the number went up to 45 percent.

While running can be hard on the joints, knees and kidneys, it is an efficient high-intensity form of exercise that quickly increases fitness and may be a good option for those with little time to exercise. An added bonus is that it can also act as an anti-depressant. While I prefer swimming or biking, many people do enjoy running. To minimize the risk of injury, try the following:

  • Limit running on concrete and instead opt for running tracks or cinder or dirt paths.
  • Always wear well-made running shoes designed to minimize shock to the joints; replace the shoes when their cushioning begins to fail.
  • If you develop pain in any joints, cut back or stop running until you determine the reason for the pain.

Surprising News About Your Eyes

The more educated you are, the greater the odds that you’re nearsighted. German researchers came to this interesting conclusion after checking the eyes of 4,685 men and women ages 33 to 74. They found nearsightedness (myopia) among 60.3 percent of those who graduated from the 13-year German secondary school system compared with 41.6 percent of those who spent only 10 years in school, 27.2 percent of those who graduated after nine years, and 26.9 of those who didn’t graduate. They also reported that the percentage of nearsighted people was higher among university grads in general than among graduates of vocational schools or those who had no professional training. The investigators concluded that the effect of education on nearsightedness was much greater than that predicted by genetics, and hypothesized that environmental factors play a much bigger role in myopia than previously thought. They reported that the strong association between nearsightedness and education remained even after they adjusted for age, gender and variation in DNA sequences associated with myopia.

Want To Age Gracefully?
It's not about the lines on the face - it's about the wisdom behind them. Don’t lament the passing of the years, celebrate all you have achieved, learned and earned, for your benefit and the benefit of others. Begin today - start your 14-day free trial of Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging now, and save 30% when you join!

Sources:
Alireza Mirshahi et al, “Myopia and Level of Education.” Ophthalmology, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ophtha.2014.04.017

Less Sleep, Faster Brain Aging

This troubling finding comes from a Singapore-based study showing that losing sleep with advancing age elicits changes in a region of the brain that is a marker for faster cognitive decline. The 66 Chinese seniors who participated had MRIs to measure their brain volume in conjunction with an evaluation of their cognitive function every two years. They also reported how many hours they typically slept. The researchers, from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore, reported that study participants who slept fewer hours showed evidence of brain ventricle enlargement and declines in cognitive performance. This study was the first to look at the effect of sleep on brain ventricle enlargement, a known sign of cognitive decline. The investigators cited research elsewhere as showing that seven hours of sleep is associated with the best cognitive test scores in more than 150,000 adults, but noted that it is not yet known whether seven hours is optimum for overall physiology and long term brain health.

My take? This study adds a serious risk to the list of dangers posed by sleep deprivation throughout life. We know that lack of sleep increases the risk of accidents caused by fatigue and that not getting enough sleep is a risk factor for weight gain, perhaps by disrupting production of the appetite regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin. Sleep deprivation can also disrupt the body's regulation of blood sugar, which can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. And laboratory studies suggest that not getting adequate rest may also elevate levels of stress hormones, boost blood pressure, and increase inflammation - all changes that may lead or contribute to health concerns later in life. If you’re not getting enough sleep, the sooner you establish new habits, the better for the long-term health of your mind and body. Here are my recommendations for getting optimal sleep.

Want To Age Gracefully?
It's not about the lines on the face - it's about the wisdom behind them. Don’t lament the passing of the years, celebrate all you have achieved, learned and earned, for your benefit and the benefit of others. Begin today - start your 14-day free trial of Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging now, and save 30% when you join!

Sources:
June C. Lo et al, “Sleep Duration and Age-Related Changes in Brain Structure and Cognitive Performance.” SLEEP, 2014; DOI: 10.5665/sleep.3832

Having Baby “Late” in Life May Signal Longevity

Here’s some good news for women who have had babies after the age of 33: odds are they’ll live longer than women whose last child was born before they reached 30. The age at last childbirth can indicate the rate of biological aging, according to a study of families with members who lived exceptionally long lives. “The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly, and therefore so is the rest of her body,” researcher Thomas Perls, M.D., M.P.H. explained in a press release. The genetic variants that allow women to have babies naturally after age 33 might also be responsible for exceptionally long life spans, the study suggested. The findings came from an analysis of data from the Long Life Family Study (LLFS)—a biopsychosocial and genetic study of 551 families with multiple members who attained exceptionally old ages. The researchers determined the ages at which 462 women had their last child, and correlated that age with their longevity. They found that women who had their last child after the age of 33 years had twice the odds of living to 95 years or older compared with women who had their last child by age 29. Earlier data from this study showed that women who gave birth naturally after age 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had their last child earlier in life.

Sources:
Thomas T. Perls et al, “Extended maternal age at birth of last child and women's longevity in the Long Life Family Study.” Menopause, The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, June 23, 2014

Can Tai Chi Slow Aging?

A new study from Taiwan suggests that the ancient system of movement known as tai chi can slow the aging process. Researchers conducted a yearlong study comparing the effects of the practice to those of brisk walking or to no exercise at all among a group of volunteers under the age of 25. Study co-author Shinn-Zong Lin explained that his team used young volunteers because “they have better cell-renewing abilities than the old population, and we also wanted to avoid having chronic diseases and medications as interfering factors." The researchers compared CD34+ cells in the three groups of volunteers and found that those in the tai chi group had counts “significantly higher” than the brisk-walking group. These cells are important “cluster markers” for blood stem cells that are involved in cell self-renewal, differentiation and proliferation changes that amount to rejuvenating and "anti-aging" effects, the researchers said. They also noted that tai chi has been confirmed to benefit patients with mild to moderate Parkinson's disease and fibromyalgia, and cited tai chi’s possible advantages for pain reduction, fall prevention, balance improvement, aerobic capacity, blood pressure, quality of life and stress reduction.

My take? Tai chi is a practical and enjoyable form of mental and physical stimulation and is beneficial for overall health. Like yoga, tai chi is an effective method of stress reduction and relaxation, and it promotes flexibility, balance, and improved body awareness. It is pleasant to watch and perform, and may be particularly helpful for the elderly, as it reduces risk of injury from falls. While it certainly has potential to improve longevity, we’ll need more studies to determine if it can actually reverse the effects of aging.

Sources:
Shinn-Zong Lin et al, “Tai Chi Intervention Increases Progenitor CD34+ Cells in Young Adults. Cell Transplant. 23(4-5):613-620; 2014.

Good News for Short Guys

They may look up to their taller peers, but they live longer. A study in Hawaii found that the longevity gene, FOXO3, is more common in short men – those who are 5’2” or shorter – and that they lived the longest among the more than 8,000 American men of Japanese ancestry participating in the study. Researchers monitored the men’s health for nearly five decades and found that within the group, the taller the man, the shorter his lifespan. The gene in question results in a smaller body size, lower prevalence of cancer, lower blood insulin levels as well as longer life, the researchers reported. All the men in the study were born between 1900 and 1919 and 1,200 of them lived into their 90s and 100s; about 250 are still alive. The researchers noted that similar genes in mice, roundworms, flies and even yeast are also associated with longevity. They also reported that taller guys (and women) who don’t have the longevity gene can compensate for it with a healthy lifestyle.

Sources:
Bradley J. Wilcox et al “Shorter Men Live Longer: Association of Height with Longevity and FOXO3 Genotype in American Men of Japanese Ancestry,” PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094385