Topic: Wellness

Why Is the Mediterranean Diet So Heart-Healthy?

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Among other beneficial foods, the "Mediterranean diet" features virgin olive oil, which researchers believe may support heart health by repressing genes that promote inflammation. Scientists at the University of Cordoba, Spain, recently studied a small group of patients with metabolic syndrome — which increases one’s risks for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes — and published their findings in BMC Genomics (11:253), a journal of BioMed Central.

Specifically, the researchers sought to learn more about how a diet abundant in "phenol compounds" (found in olive oil, especially the extra-virgin types) influenced the workings of genes. While acknowledging that other lifestyle factors may also contribute to the lower risk for cardiovascular disease in the Mediterranean region, the study’s authors wrote: "These results provide at least a partial molecular basis for reduced risk of cardiovascular disease observed in Mediterranean countries, where virgin olive oil represents a main source of dietary fat." To view this research article, click here.


Cardiac Patients Help Out Lucky Shelter Dogs

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Cardiac Friends is an outstanding program under way in Waukesha, Wisconsin, that enlists heart patients as volunteers to take dogs, who are housed at a local shelter, on regular walks healthful for both the human and canine participants. As reported by HealthDay News, the program is a partnership between the county’s Humane Animal Welfare Society and ProHealth Care (PHC), involving medically approved cardiac patients of PHC’s Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

These dog walkers have undergone procedures such as angioplasty, stent implantation and open heart surgery. Regular exercise with their canine companions lowers their risk for another cardiac event, helps control cholesterol levels, reduces blood pressure, helps counter depression and provides an opportunity to be needed and to make a difference.

From a shelter dog’s point of view, getting out of the kennel often to enjoy some physical recreation with a friendly, attentive visitor helps the animal stay mentally and physically fit while waiting for his or her new "forever home."

At this time, all of the patient-volunteers in the Cardiac Friends program (now approximately one year old) are men in their seventies. They visit the shelter three times per week, for an hour or longer, to get outdoors with their canine buddies, play fetch and walk along an enticing foot-path through an adjacent meadow.

Shelter coordinator Sara Falk told HealthDay News that the Cardiac Friends volunteers are among her favorites thanks to their reliability and since "… they are taking longer walks than a lot of the other walkers because they have fitness in mind."


If You — Or Your Fitness Clients — Have a Dog

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Dog ownership is widely acclaimed for older adults who live where dogs are allowed, and who have the desire as well as the mental, physical and financial means to care properly for a canine pet. A dog can provide unconditional love and constant, loyal companionship. The responsibilities of feeding, brushing and otherwise tending to a pet can add meaning to life — and occasions for regular physical activity. Walking one’s dog literally opens the door to fresh air, nature and pleasant social interactions. The American Senior Fitness Association has often published articles in Experience! about the potential emotional and health benefits of adopting a dog.

With that in mind, today we want to pass along a critical pet safety guideline for dog lovers. Senior fitness professionals, you may wish to share this information with clients who have beloved canine pets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a consumer alert stating that bones — small bones, large bones, all bones, any bones — are unsafe for dogs. For a PDF handout of these facts that you can copy and distribute to your senior health-fitness clients, click here.

As much as we might want to "spoil" our dog by giving him or her a tasty bone to chew on, doing so is dangerous and can cause serious injury or death. Below are ten reasons, recently published by the FDA, why it’s a bad practice to give your dog a bone of any size:

  • Bones can break teeth and require costly veterinary dentistry;
  • Bones can cause bloody mouth and tongue damage;
  • Bones can get caught around a dog’s lower jaw — a painful and traumatic experience for the animal;
  • Bones can get stuck in a dog’s esophagus, which may cause gagging and necessitate veterinary attention;
  • Bones can stick in a dog’s windpipe, interfering with breathing and demanding immediate emergency veterinary care;
  • Bones can get hung up in a dog’s stomach, often requiring surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy;
  • Bones can lodge in a dog’s intestines, causing a blockage that requires surgery;
  • Sharp (chewed up) bone fragments in a dog’s intestines can cause dreadful pain and the need for veterinary services;
  • Severe rectal bleeding from hard-to-pass pieces or splinters of bone is an urgent situation calling for veterinary intervention;
  • Peritonitis — a serious, hard-to-treat infection that can kill a dog — occurs when bone fragments puncture a dog’s stomach or intestines, and requires emergency veterinary care.
  • Following are some related FDA tips for keeping your dog sound:

  • Ask your veterinarian to suggest alternatives to bones (there are products made of materials that are safe and satisfying for dogs to chew);
  • Supervise your dog when he or she is using a chew toy, especially one that is new to your pet;
  • Dispose of bones from your own meals carefully so that your dog cannot get into them;
  • When walking your dog, be alert to the possibility of bones and other hazards lying on the ground, and lead your dog away from such objects;
  • If your dog simply isn’t acting like him or herself, always call your veterinarian at once.
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    Alcohol, Aging and Cancer

    Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Senior health-fitness professionals should have a basic understanding of the role telomeres play in the aging process. Telomeres are repeated sequences of DNA that are present at the ends of chromosomes and serve to protect them from damage. With aging, telomeres shorten, rendering them more vulnerable to injury and death. Therefore, telomere length can be viewed as one marker of the rate of biological aging. Telomeres are involved in the maintenance of cells in the immune system. Thus, the shortening of telomeres may indicate an increased risk for disease.

    SFA has reported on the topic of telomeres in previous Experience! articles. For important background information, click on Work Out to Stay Biologically Younger: The Science of Telomeres and Lifestyle Factors and Telomerase: Enzyme Study.

    Now comes new research, recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), suggesting that excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk for cancer in older adults due to telomere shortening. Scientists at the University of Milan analyzed the DNA of 59 individuals who abused alcohol (with 22 percent drinking four or more alcoholic beverages a day) and 197 people with variable alcohol consumption habits. The researchers wanted to learn whether or not heavy drinking shortens telomeres. The two groups were similar regarding other variables that might affect telomere length, for example:

  • Age,
  • Diet,
  • Physical exercise levels,
  • Job-related stress, and
  • Environmental exposures.
  • The results showed that telomere length was dramatically shortened in persons who used heavy amounts of alcohol. Indeed, their telomere length was almost half that of non-abusers.

    Lead researcher Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, said, "Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases of aging. In particular, heavy alcohol drinking has been associated with cancer at multiple sites."

    "The decrease we found in telomere length is very sharp," she said, "and we were surprised to find such a strong effect at the cellular level."

    To see the AACR news release on this study, click here.


    Walking and Stroke Risk

    Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    A nearly 12-year follow-up study of 39,315 women (average age 54) has found that women who walked two or more hours per week had a significantly lower risk for stroke than non-walkers. Those who usually walked at a brisk pace also had a significantly lower risk than women who didn’t walk. The study’s results were recently published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).

    Compared to women who did not walk:

  • Women who walked two or more hours per week had a 30 percent lower risk for any type of stroke.
  • Women who walked two or more hours per week had a 57 percent lower risk for hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke.
  • Women who usually walked more than two hours per week had a 21 percent lower risk for ischemic (clot-related) stroke.
  • Compared to women who did not walk, those who usually walked at a brisk pace had a:

  • 37 percent lower risk for any type of stroke.
  • 68 percent lower risk for hemorrhagic stroke.
  • 25 percent lower risk for ischemic stroke.
  • In the study, walking pace was categorized as:

  • Casual — about 2 mph,
  • Normal — 2 to 2.9 mph,
  • Brisk — 3 to 3.9 mph, and
  • Very brisk — 4 mph.
  • Lead researcher Jacob Sattelmair of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston offered this practical advice for pacing oneself: "If you cannot talk, slow down a bit. If you can sing, walk a bit faster."

    Forms of physical activity other than walking were also addressed by the study. The women who were most active in their leisure time activities were 17 percent less likely to have any type of stroke compared to the least active women. Sattelmair said, "Though the exact relationship among different types of physical activity and different stroke subtypes remains unclear, the results of this specific study indicate that walking, in particular, is associated with lower risk of stroke."

    It is still unclear how walking, specifically, affects stroke risk in men. For substantial health benefits, the AHA recommends that all adults perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or a combination.

    To see the AHA news release on this study, click here.


    Let’s Get Outdoors!

    Monday, May 17th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    At the Colchester Campus of the UK’s University of Essex, research conducted by Dr. Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty has shown that a small amount of daily "green exercise" — for example, taking a stroll through a pleasant park or garden — will improve people’s mood, self-esteem and mental health. In fact, they found that just five minutes of such nature-based physical activity produced the greatest positive effect.

    Prior work by the two researchers had already reinforced connections among nature, exercise in green environments and health benefits. In the new study, all natural environments were seen to be beneficial, including urban green spaces. Natural settings that included the presence of water generated especially desirable results.

    To read the University of Essex news release about this study, click on


    Sharing Caring

    Monday, April 19th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online) has verified what many in the elder care field have always "known": Persons with memory loss feel emotions related to their sad or happy experiences and retain those feelings even after their memory of the actual event has faded.

    When researchers at the University of Iowa showed sad and happy movie clips to patients with memory loss, they found that although the patients could not recall what they had watched, they did continue to feel the emotions prompted by the clips.

    In a news release, lead author Justin Feinstein said, "… both emotions [sad and happy] lasted well beyond [the subject's] memory of the films." He continued, "A simple visit or phone call from family members might have a lingering positive influence on a patient’s happiness even though the patient may quickly forget the visit or phone call. On the other hand, routine neglect from staff at nursing homes may leave the patient feeling sad, frustrated, and lonely even though the patient can’t remember why."

    "Intuitively, I’ve always known this due to my experience as the activity director of an adult day-care center with an Alzheimer’s unit and from my work as a nursing home exercise provider," said SFA president Janie Clark, MA, who was not involved in the study. "But it is very good to see it confirmed through research."

    Feinstein wrote, "Here is clear evidence showing that the reasons for treating Alzheimer’s patients with respect and dignity go beyond simple human morals."

    Clark added, "Even when elders have lost much long- and short-term memory, they still know when they’re receiving kindness and loving attention."


    Walking Away Menopause’s Downside

    Monday, April 19th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Canadian researchers placed sedentary, moderately obese women who were recently post-menopausal or soon approaching menopause on a 16-week walking program. Their results, published in the journal Menopause and reported by Reuters Health, suggest that walking at a comfortable pace for 45 minutes per day, three days per week, can ameliorate some of the cares associated with menopause. Researchers noted that the 45-minute total can be accumulated by taking shorter walks during the course of a day.

    Both groups of women (pre- and post-menopausal) lost weight after 16 weeks. The pre-menopausal group lost more pounds and more fat mass, while the post-menopausal group enjoyed a greater reduction in waist size and benefited from an increase in lean mass.

    Both groups also improved in ratings of well-being. The pre-menopausal group made greater strides in vitality, social functioning, and overall physical activity. The post-menopausal group excelled in terms of general health, emotional/mental health, everyday physical functioning, and the reduction of bodily pain.


    More on Walking

    Monday, April 19th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    With the weather growing more moderate, it’s an especially good time to start a regular program of walking. The Arthritis Foundation points out several physical benefits one can gain from walking, for example:

  • Weight control;
  • Lowered risk of stroke;
  • Reduced blood pressure; and
  • Decreased pressure on one’s joints.
  • But that’s not all. Below are a number of mental benefits that the Arthritis Foundation wants us to know we stand to gain from walking:

  • Slowed mental decline — In a large study of women ages 65-plus, those walking 2.5 miles per day had a 17 percent decline in memory over time, compared to a 25 percent decline in those walking less than 0.5 mile per week.
  • Lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease — In a study of men ages 71 to 93, those walking more than one-fourth mile per day had half the incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those walking less.
  • Better sleep — In a study of women ages 50 to 75, those taking one-hour daily walks were more likely to relieve insomnia than those not walking.
  • Improved mood state — In a study of depressed patients, walking for 30 minutes per day was found to be more effective than antidepressant medications.
  • An opportunity for soothing meditation — Arthritis Today magazine cites race-walking medalist Carolyn Kortge’s testimonial to the value of daily outdoor walking in managing her arthritis. It helps change her focus from the pain to a meditative frame of mind.
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    At Hand: An Important Predictor

    Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    A simple tool that is used routinely by many older adult fitness professionals may hold more significance than was previously realized by the health and fitness community. That device, a staple at senior wellness fairs, is the hand dynamometer, which measures grip strength.

    In addition to functional fitness implications, it now appears that diminishing grip strength may also indicate an increased risk for impending mortality. Researchers have found that decreased handgrip strength in the very elderly is associated with a higher risk for death.

    A new study published online by the Canadian Medical Association Journal identifies waning handgrip strength as an important indicator of increased risk for death in octogenarians, as well as in persons beyond their eighties. The subjects of the study were 555 elderly men and women residing in the Netherlands. Their handgrip strength was recorded at age 85, and then again at age 89. Three important findings emerged:

  • Low handgrip strength at ages 85 and 89 was connected with an increased risk for death from all causes;
  • So was a significant decline in handgrip strength over time; and
  • With aging, the association between grip strength and the risk for death increases.
  • Does muscle strength directly affect mortality risk, or are other important variables more closely involved? Scientists don’t yet know the answer to that question. Researcher Dr. Carolina Ling and her colleagues at the Leiden University Medical Center say that the link between muscular strength and the risk for death is not well understood. Additional research should be undertaken.

    Even so, the study’s authors concluded that assessing handgrip strength can help health-care professionals target elderly patients who are at risk. Steps to preserve muscular strength can then be employed in order to improve those individuals’ probability for survival.