October 2, 2006
Table of Contents
Get Out and About (Healthy aging research)
Keep Your Cool (Medical research)
Volunteer (Wellness research)
Dance! (Fitness research)
Smile (A thought for the day)
SFA Members can access the current issue of "Experience!" online at www.SeniorFitness.org/Experience.htm
Get Out and About
Following is an edited abstract from "Absence of Outdoor Activity and Mortality Risk in Older Adults Living at Home" by Kazuo Inoue, Teiji Shono, and Masatoshi Matsumoto, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 14(2), 203:
The primary objective of this study was to determine whether the absence of outdoor activities is associated with an increased risk of mortality among elderly people living at home.
In January 1995, the authors enrolled 863 household residents, 65 years old and older, who were able to fully understand and complete a baseline interview unassisted. All of the participants were Japanese. Participant demographics (sex, age, and living arrangements), functional capabilities, activities of daily living, and three dimensions of outdoor activities (initiative, transport, and frequency) were examined.
The "initiative" dimension explored factors such as whether participants left their homes voluntarily, if asked by someone else, or when they had company.
The "transport" dimension addressed whether participants drove a vehicle, used public transportation, walked only within their own neighborhoods, or needed help to get around.
The "frequency" dimension sought to determine whether participants left their homes once a week, less than that, even more rarely or -- in the most extreme cases -- whether they were essentially homebound.
Cohort mortality was assessed through December 1999. Of the 863 participants, 139 (16.1%) died within the study observation period. After adjusting for gender and age, three dimensions of functional impairment (vision, hearing, and speech), impairment in activities of daily living, and all three dimensions of outdoor activities were predictive of 5-year mortality. These three dimensions remained as explanatory variables for mortality at 5 years.
In conclusion, the assessment of outdoor-activity levels can help to identify elderly individuals with greater mortality risk. Put another way, the absence of outdoor activities predicts early mortality in elderly people. The authors hypothesize that maintaining outdoor-activity levels might help to protect against mortality, and they favor further research to focus on that hypothesis.
Keep Your Cool
New research published in the journal Thorax shows that hostility and anger may harm the lungs of aging men, according to the Pulse wire report.
Scientists at Harvard's School of Public Health recently analyzed data from a long-term, ongoing Veterans Administration study of 2,280 male subjects. Over a period of approximately eight years, the participants underwent an average of three pulmonary function examinations. The Cook-Medley Hostility Scale was utilized to rank their hostility and anger levels.
The results? Higher levels of anger and hostility were significantly associated with reduced lung function. This was true even after the participants' status regarding cigarette smoking and their education levels had been taken into account.
A recent Reuters Health report on research conducted at Johns Hopkins University (and published online by the Journal of Urban Health) reveals an important step we can take to preserve our mental and physical well-being as we grow older: volunteer to help others.
The researchers looked at a program called the Experience Corps in which retired older adults volunteered as tutors and mentors in their local elementary school systems. What they found was that these volunteers developed more energy with which to accomplish all of their day-to-day activities.
Many of the volunteers were older low-income African Americans, which is important because this segment of the population is at an elevated risk for low physical activity levels as well as medical problems including hypertension and diabetes. Overall, the volunteers became more physically active -- in fact, those who previously had been sedentary more than doubled their activity levels.
How the study worked: Of 113 participants (ages 60 and older), some were randomly entered into the Experience Corps program while the rest served as a control group. The volunteers worked for 15 hours a week helping school children in areas such as reading. Previous research had already confirmed that the Experience Corps program does improve young students' reading skills.
After several months had passed, members of the control group had actually become less active than they'd been at the start of the study. But the volunteers were burning off an average of 40 percent more calories per week, compared to their beginning levels. Indeed, they were getting more done in their everyday lives as well -- more yard work, more housekeeping tasks -- and were watching less television.
And that's not all. Lead researcher Dr. Erwin Tan noted that older volunteers also benefit from the social and mental stimulation afforded by their volunteer activities.
The Experience Corps, which is available in 14 U.S. cities, represents only one of many ways that seniors can stay active through volunteering. On a national scale, an organization called Senior Corps helps match interested seniors to a broad range of volunteer positions. Simply put, when older adults volunteer it's a win-win situation for everyone involved.
For more information, please go to www.experiencecorps.org and/or www.seniorcorps.org.
In his article "Tango Forever to Age Well," Science Daily author Eric Sabo explains the special benefits that can be gained by dancing the tango and describes a study on the subject led by Dr. Patricia McKinley of Canada's McGill University:
The researchers enlisted 30 male and female subjects (ages 62 to 89) who had experienced a fall during the preceding year. Half were placed on a mild activity program (walking two hours per week) for two and a half months. The rest took tango lessons totaling the same duration of time.
The project wasn't intended to disparage the benefits of walking, other forms of dance, or any other type of physical activity. As Dr. McKinley noted, all have their particular strengths. For example, this study's walkers performed better than its tango dancers at recalling directions and taking the correct route back from an unfamiliar place. Still, the tango activity proved to be exceptionally beneficial in many respects.
The pleasant social aspects of the tango lessons enthralled many participants. As recounted by Dr. McKinley to Eric Sabo, one man said learning the dance had changed his life; a lady wound up visiting Argentina (where the tango originated) to practice with masters of the dance; others enjoyed dressing glamorously for their lessons.
At the end of the project, tango dancers excelled over walkers on balance testing and at complex memory tasks (such as remembering items on a grocery list given over the telephone, without writing them down).
What is it about the tango that so empowered its participants in this study? Dr. McKinley noted that, unlike some dance forms, the tango is not repetitive but, instead, calls for frequent changes of step patterns. Sometimes these changes come so quickly that dancers use a move called the Ardono, in which they pivot on one foot, in order to execute their next moves successfully. In addition, all tango dancers need to become adept at both leading and following. Because of these features, the tango trains one to respond to information efficiently. It enhances one's ability to multi-task and to perform quick changes toward different directions. As a result, the tango can help us both to improve our balance and to stay sharp mentally -- while having some good romantic fun at the same time.
May all of our Experience! readers always agree with the happy-go-lucky gentleman quoted below:
"The other day a man asked me what I thought the best time of life. 'Why,' I answered without a thought, 'now.'"
-- David Grayson
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