May 1, 2006
Table of Contents
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Exercise and Alzheimer's Disease: Big News
Following is a condensed report on "Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia Among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older" by Eric B. Larson, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues, Annals of Internal Medicine, 144(2), 73:
A study published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine provides good news, offers hope, and suggests a key weapon for use in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. The weapon is physical exercise, and a growing body of research points to it as effective at helping to preserve optimal brain function.
The investigation involved 1,740 persons ages 65 and older in the Seattle, Washington, area. All had normal mental function at the beginning of the experiment. Researchers tracked the participants for an average of 6.2 years, evaluating them every two years to determine if they had developed dementia.
Over the six-year course of the study, 158 participants developed dementia (of which 107 cases were Alzheimer's disease). The incidence rate was significantly lower for those who exercised regularly. These results suggest that regular exercise is associated with a delay in the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, further supporting the value of exercise for older persons.
Researchers found the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease (as well as other forms of dementia) lower for healthy older adults who performed physical activity three or more times per week. Their risk declined by 30-40 percent.
How and why exercise might help to prevent dementia is not well understood. Perhaps, researchers speculate, exercise lowers levels of amyloid in the brain. Amyloid is an abnormal starch-like protein that forms hard deposits in the brain during Alzheimer's disease.
Although it has yet to be determined which, if any, specific forms of exercise afford the most protection, even mild forms like walking -- when performed regularly -- appear beneficial. Clearly, remaining physically active is a worthwhile measure for older adults to take.
Carbs, Fats, and Body Weight
Could following a low-fat diet that is high in carbohydrates such as grains, fruits, and vegetables actually promote weight gain? To find out, scientists assessed the changes in body weight of approximately 49,000 post-menopausal women (50-79 years of age) over a lengthy time period. In a report published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, they concluded that the diet does not cause weight gain and may somewhat lessen this population's tendency to gain weight over time. The study did not explore the important roles that calorie reduction and physical exercise also have in effecting weight loss.
Life Expectancy Data
The Credit Suisse First Boston "Longevity Index," compiled for pension and insurance interests, shows that the expected average lifetime for men is increasing at a faster rate than that for women.
Over the past 22 years, life expectancy for women has risen 1.7 years, for men 3.7 years. In the past 10 years, women's rate of gains averaged a little under 1 percent per year, men's averaged 2 percent. Presently, the average life expectancy in women is 82.6 years, in men 78.1 years.
Protect Your Stomach
A recent report in the Journal of Rheumatology warned that, of the 36 million daily users of pain pills, 25 percent overuse their medication. Pain pills are often taken by persons with arthritis, neck and back problems, headache, and other chronically painful conditions.
The study revealed that more than half of its participants did not know that overusing their pain pills could lead to serious gastrointestinal side effects (for example, hemorrhaging). Thus, they often disregarded the recommended doses.
What exactly is angina? The Good Health Fact Book, published by Reader's Digest, offers a simple explanation:
Angina pectoris usually stems from coronary heart disease, which is a blockage or narrowing of the coronary arteries resulting in a reduced blood supply to the heart. Angina is characterized by discomfort in the chest, classically experienced during periods of stress or physical exercise. Feelings of pain, tightness, and/or pressure occur because the heart is not receiving sufficient oxygen.
Angina differs from "heart attack," or myocardial infarction, in that: (1) an episode of angina involves a temporary blood flow shortage (whereas heart attack involves the complete cutoff of blood supply) to a part of the heart, and (2) angina does not produce permanent damage (whereas heart attack nearly always does). Many persons with angina never have a heart attack.
A number of prescription drugs are available to offset the symptoms of angina -- the most well known being nitroglycerine and other forms of nitrate, which act to dilate (enlarge) blood vessels. Such medications promptly relieve angina pain and can help persons with the condition to lead a more active life.
Regarding the underlying coronary heart disease, most experts once thought it irreversible. But that's not considered such a given anymore. Research conducted in recent years suggests that certain lifestyle interventions, combined with appropriate drug therapy, may to some degree reverse coronary heart disease (and, in turn, angina). The most effective approaches entail using prescribed medication in conjunction with: (1) adopting a diet that reduces both body weight and serum cholesterol levels, (2) performing regular physician-approved physical exercise, (3) controlling blood pressure, (4) quitting smoking, and (5) reducing personal stress.
Overcoming Barriers to Exercise
Following is the abstract from "Comparison of Exercise Attitudes and Behaviors of Urban Older Adults With AARP's National Sample Results" by Maureen M. Bylina and colleagues, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 14(1), 41:
This study assessed perceptions about exercise among a convenience sample of low-income, urban, older adult patients at a publicly operated ambulatory primary-care clinic, and results were then compared with the findings of a national study. Although it was expected that the predominantly minority and economically disadvantaged participants in this study would trail significantly behind their White counterparts in their perceptions and behavior regarding exercise, findings demonstrated otherwise. Specifically, when physicians encourage moderate exercise, when patients believe that they can overcome barriers to exercise, and when the environment supports moderate exercise through the availability of community exercise classes, inequities in health behaviors can be reduced. Interventions designed to increase exercise for this population should be developed with an understanding of the many barriers that they will have to overcome, a focus on building confidence, and communicating the many benefits of this behavior.
Colorful and Delicious
Fresh fruit makes a nutritious side dish, dessert, or snack. Combining two or more fruits (whatever happens to be in season) will create a dish that's especially attractive and appetizing. Here's one combination that is always well received: Cut a cantaloupe in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill the cavity with a heaping mixture of fresh sliced strawberries and whole blueberries. Other good cantaloupe fillings include: fresh blackberries or raspberries; apple, banana or pineapple chunks; and halved red or green seedless grapes.
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