Health and Fitness Information for Mature Adults 

October 6, 2008

Table of Contents

  • Lifestyle Factors and Telomerase (Enzyme study)
  • Let's Get Classical (Hypertension findings)
  • Mediterranean Diet Benefits (Nutrition)
  • Muscle-Wasting in Later Years (Research from the University of Florida)

Lifestyle Factors and Telomerase

The last issue of Experience!
discussed the science of telomeres, including the relationship between telomeres and the aging process. To review,
please click here. Telomeres are parts of chromosomes that affect longevity and are involved in the maintenance of cells in the immune system. Shortening of telomeres may indicate an increased risk for disease.

Telomerase is an enzyme that repairs and lengthens telomeres. New research suggests that lifestyle improvements such as performing more physical exercise and following a healthier diet can increase the body's levels of telomerase.

The study, which was published in the journal Lancet Oncology, involved 30 male subjects with low-risk prostate cancer. The men made fundamental lifestyle changes, which included:
  • Adopting a diet high in fruits and vegetables, legumes, soy products, and whole-grain foods;
  • Undertaking stress management activities, such as meditation, for one hour per day; and
  • Performing moderate physical activity, such as walking for 30 minutes per day.
After three months, the results were analyzed. Not surprisingly, the participants enjoyed health gains including weight loss and reduced blood pressure. They also had serum levels of telomerase that were 29 percent higher than when the study began. In addition, changes were detected in approximately 500 genes. Whereas the activity of disease-preventing genes increased, the activity of disease-promoting genes (including certain genes linked to breast cancer and prostate cancer) was suppressed.

Let's Get Classical

It's no substitute for blood pressure medication,
but listening to classical music by Mozart could be a useful supplement to one's comprehensive program for controlling hypertension. Not a classical music fan? Then consider a relaxation tape featuring nature sounds.

As reported by HealthDay, researchers at the College of Nursing in Seattle University (Washington) asked 41 retirement community residents to listen regularly to a 12-minute Mozart sonata or to a same-length recording of ocean waves accompanied by a man's voice providing instructions for breathing and relaxation exercises. The plan called for participants to take part in their listening activity three times per week for four months.

The average pre-intervention systolic blood pressure in the Mozart group was 141 mm/Hg. After the intervention, it was 134.

The average pre-intervention systolic blood pressure in the relaxation-tape group also was 141 mm/Hg. After the intervention, it was 132.

While researchers stressed that neither of the two interventions should be contemplated as a replacement for medication, both approaches showed promise as elements of an overall care plan for managing high blood pressure.

Mediterranean Diet Benefits

Most of us know that we can discourage cardiovascular disease
by embracing a Mediterranean diet, meaning one that is generous in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and fish and includes temperate servings of red wine -- but is low in red meat, dairy products, and other forms of alcohol. Now there is new evidence that such a diet might also reduce the risk for other health conditions.

A study published in the online version of the British Medical Journal examined data from 12 previous investigations that had involved approximately 1.6 million adults whose long-term nutritional habits were followed, in some cases for periods lasting as long as 18 years.

Compared to people whose nutritional patterns did not resemble the Mediterranean model, those who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were:
  • Nine percent less likely to have died from heart disease;
  • Thirteen percent less likely to have Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease; and
  • Six percent less likely to have cancer.    

Muscle-Wasting in Later Years

Following is a news release
provided by the University of Florida Health Science Center:

Chemical concoctions can smooth over wrinkles and hide those pesky grays, but what about the signs of aging that aren't so easy to fix, such as losing muscle mass? Cutting calories early could help, say University of Florida researchers who studied the phenomenon in rats.

A restricted-calorie diet, when started in early adulthood, seems to stymie a mitochondrial mishap that may contribute to muscle loss in aging adults, the researchers reported recently in the journal PLoS One.

In rats, the scientists found pockets of excess iron in muscle cell mitochondria, the tiny power plants found in every cell. The excess iron affects the chemistry inside the mitochondria, sparking the formation of harmful free radicals that can lead a mitochondrion straight to the emergency exit, said Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, Ph.D., a UF professor of aging in the UF College of Medicine and the Institute on Aging. Leeuwenburgh was the senior author of the study and of a related report published online this month in Aging Cell that details the damage done by excess iron in mitochondria.

"We become less efficient at an old age and we need to understand why this is," Leeuwenburgh said. "One thing, maybe, is the accumulation of redox-active metals in cells. If the mitochondria become unhappy or are ready to kick the bucket, they have proteins in the inner and outer membranes that they can open up and commit suicide. They're tricky beasts."

The suicidal mitochondria can damage the rest of the muscle cell, leading to cell death and perhaps to muscle wasting, a big problem for adults as they reach their mid-70s, Leeuwenburgh added.

"Muscle is critical for your overall well-being," Leeuwenburgh said. "As you walk, muscle functions partly as a pump to keep your blood going. Muscle is an incredible source of reserves."

The researchers found increasing amounts of iron in the muscle cells of aging rats fed a typical unrestricted diet. The older the rats got, the more iron accumulated in the mitochondria and the more damage was done to its RNA and DNA. Rats of the same ages that were kept on a calorie-restricted diet -- about 60 percent of the food typically ingested -- seemed to maintain more normal iron levels in mitochondria, the researchers reported.

"The novel thing here is that iron is accumulating in places it does not normally accumulate," said Mitch Knutson, Ph.D., a UF assistant professor of food science and human nutrition and a study co-author. "Such iron accumulation in muscle was quite unexpected. This may be of concern because more people are genetically predisposed to developing iron overload than we originally thought."

The problem occurs when metals such as iron accumulate in the mitochondria and react with oxygen. Iron can change the chemical structure of oxygen, triggering its metamorphosis into a free radical, an unstable atom that can upset the delicate balance inside the mitochondria. The result? Leeuwenburgh describes it sort of like internal rust.

"Not all free radicals are harmful," Leeuwenburgh said. "To just use antioxidants to neutralize all free radicals is a huge misconception because some radicals are helpful. You just need to try and target very specific free radicals that form in specific parts of the body."

Researchers don't know exactly what causes iron to accumulate in mitochondria in aging animals, but a breakdown in how iron is transported through cells could be one reason why, Leeuwenburgh said. Understanding how caloric restriction limits the problem in rats could help researchers better understand how to combat it, he added.

Russell T. Hepple, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology and medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada, said the findings are another step forward in linking iron to muscle cell death, but there are more questions researchers must answer.

"They've shown that apoptosis (cell death) goes up in aging muscle but where does that happen?" Hepple asked. "There are more than muscle cells in muscle. (For example) in older adults there are inflammatory cells."

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