February 16, 2007
Table of Contents
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Everybody's talking about it -- from the Los Angeles Times to the Boston Globe to CNN and many other news outlets. "It" is an Athens, Greece, and Harvard School of Public Health study indicating that working people who took 30-minute midday naps, three times per week, were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease compared to workers who never napped.
Researchers investigating the siesta habits of more than 23,000 Greeks (mostly men) found the greatest protective effects in those who regularly took after-lunch naps lasting for a minimum of 30 minutes per nap. However, those who only sometimes napped enjoyed a 12 percent decrease in cardiovascular mortality risk.
The mechanism by which cat naps may improve heart health are not well understood, although stress relief is believed to have a role. During sleep, one's heart rate slows down, blood pressure is reduced, and the immune system has a chance to restore itself.
Looking for a U.S.-based job that permits afternoon napping? Good luck! Still, there are some American employers that recognize the benefits of siestas. For example, one Connecticut metals company encourages the practice among its workers, citing increased job safety.
But even if most careers don't allow for workplace napping, individuals can still exert some control over the total amount of sleep they get. Obtaining sufficient and satisfying night-time sleep will also improve one's overall health, including heart function.
Medical experts caution that cat naps should be used along with -- not in place of -- proven preventive measures such as weight management, smoking cessation, and regular physical exercise.
Does Exercise Cause Knee Arthritis?
The short answer is no. Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston sought an answer to this question in order to resolve two conflicting schools of thought on the subject.
According to one theory, the repetitive motions inherent in physical exercise may cause wear and tear to the knee joint (especially in overweight persons), thereby contributing to the development of osteoarthritis of the knee. The opposing theory holds that regularly performing weight-bearing exercise -- such as walking -- causes the knee cartilage to grow thicker and stronger, thus actually helping to prevent knee osteoarthritis.
In an offshoot of the famous Framingham heart study, more than 1,200 older adults (many of whom were overweight) described their knee symptoms to interviewers, completed a questionnaire on their physical activity habits, and underwent knee X-rays. The process was repeated nine years later.
Walking was the most popular form of physical activity reported by the participants. Scientists concluded that it neither increased nor reduced the risk for developing knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, overweight exercisers were at no higher risk than slim exercisers for developing the disease.
In summary, older persons at risk for osteoarthritis need not avoid sensible exercise for fear of developing the condition. This is terrific news, considering the many health benefits to be gained from engaging in regular physical activity.
A Troubling Trend
According to research published in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, our elderly population is growing fatter and maintaining less lean muscle mass. Those are the latest findings of the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study, which analyzes the effects of body composition on disability, illness, and death in older adults.
This phase of the Health ABC Study evaluated nearly 1,800 healthy seniors born from 1918 to 1927. The subjects were seen to add fat and to lose lean body weight every year up to the age of 80. Perhaps even more disturbing, researchers observed that, at the same age, those who were born later had much higher body fat percentages compared to those who were born earlier.
In a report on the study by Reuters Health, scientists warned of the dangerous consequences of elders continuing to carry more and more body fat, along with less and less lean muscle mass. If unchecked, the trend is expected to result in higher rates of disability and serious illnesses including heart disease and diabetes.
Loneliness Associated with Dementia
Psychiatric researchers have long linked social isolation (for example: living alone, lacking friends, sharing few activities with other people) to the development of dementia. However, according to a new study published by the Archives of General Psychiatry, the absence or rarity of social interactions may not be the only decisive factor. A sense of dissatisfaction with existing social interactions may also increase an individual's risk for developing dementia.
A four-year study of 823 elderly subjects found that having frequent social interactions did not always prevent aged individuals from harboring feelings of loneliness. Persons reporting high levels of perceived loneliness ran more than twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's-like dementia compared to those reporting low levels of perceived loneliness.
Mobility Limitations and Exercise
Following is an edited abstract from "Motives for and Barriers to Physical Activity Among Older Adults with Mobility Limitations" by Minna Rasinaho and colleagues, Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 15(1), 90:
The purpose of this study was to investigate what older adults with severe, moderate, or no mobility limitation consider motives for and barriers to engaging in physical exercise.
Six hundred forty five community-dwelling adults, ages 75 to 81, completed a questionnaire about their motives for and barriers to physical exercise and answered interview questions on mobility limitation.
Those with severely limited mobility more often reported poor health, fear, negative experiences, lack of company, and an unsuitable environment as barriers to exercise than did those without mobility limitation. They also identified disease management as a motive for exercise, whereas those with no or moderate mobility limitation emphasized health promotion and positive experiences related to exercise.
Information about differences in motives for and barriers to exercise among people with and without mobility limitation helps tailor support systems that promote engagement in physical activity among older adults.
Swinging a Racket or a Club
The American journalist and humorist Franklin Pierce Adams (1881-1960) offered this sporting formula for plotting one's position on the time line:
"Years ago we discovered the exact point, the dead center of middle age. It occurs when you are too young to take up golf and too old to rush the net."
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