Antioxidants May Help Maintain Muscle Function

March 2nd, 2010

At a recent meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, researchers described a new study that found diets rich in antioxidants to be potentially helpful for preserving the muscular strength of older adults. The scientists examined the long-term eating patterns of more than 2,000 persons in their seventies. In addition, they recorded the subjects’ handgrip strength at baseline, and then again after the passage of two years. (For more news about grip strength, see the following article.)

A significant positive association was found between muscle strength change and the consumption of vitamins C and E. This was true even for subjects who started out with low levels of strength. Researchers don’t think it is effective to take high-dose vitamin C and E supplements, which in some cases can be unhealthy. Instead, these findings point to the value of following a well-balanced diet that is high in nutritious fruits and vegetables.

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At Hand: An Important Predictor

March 2nd, 2010

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.

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Strength Training Breakthrough

March 2nd, 2010

Traditionally speaking, concentric — as opposed to eccentric — muscle contractions have been emphasized in senior physical fitness programs. Now comes a new training system pioneered at the University of Florida (UF) strength science lab that calls such conventional wisdom into question. Undoubtedly the UF NeGator regimen, which features intense eccentric muscle conditioning, will be of interest to Olympic contenders and other young athletes. However, the UF Health Newsnet report shown below also highlights a 53-year-old fitness participant’s successful NeGator experience, which may herald positive practical applications for older adult non-athletes. Senior exercisers should obtain medical approval specific to the type of training they wish to undertake. The UF Health Science Center is the most comprehensive academic health center in the Southeast US. Following is the facility’s news release on its time-saving NeGator strength training system:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Exercising one hour a week and getting the same results as traditional strength training might sound unreal, but University of Florida orthopedics researchers have developed a system that they say makes it possible. It’s based on a training principle that Winter Olympics gold medal winner Bode Miller has used in preparing for competition. Called NeGator, it uses eccentric — or negative — resistance training, which capitalizes on the fact that the human body can support and lower weights that are too heavy to lift.

“So there’s this puzzle of ‘how do I lower something I can’t lift?’” said Michael Mac Millan, M.D., chief of spine surgery at University of Florida College of Medicine and a member of the UF Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Institute. “Well, it turns out that you need a little help.”

NeGator is there to lend a hand. Through a system of motors, pulleys, cams and sensors it adds weight when a person is performing a lowering motion, and removes that weight when the person is lifting. As a result, the body starts seeing loads, resistance and forces that it doesn’t normally see, Mac Millan said. “It responds by growth and development so we really tap into an unutilized potential.”

The researchers, who work out of UF’s strength science lab, use medical levels of specificity to determine the maximum effective dose of strength training each individual can safely and effectively manage during a full body workout. “You want to go to complete muscular exhaustion in one set,” said fitness director Trevor Barone, M.S. “It’s one set, maximum effort.”

The team has distilled down to what a person needs to do to get the benefit of strength training while doing as few exercises as possible in as little time as possible as infrequently as possible. For each person, they figure out the exercise intensity from which the body can recover in a week. “So you only have to — and you only should — work out once a week in order to get the right stimulus and the right recovery,” Mac Millan said.

That’s just fine with Jean Michelson, 53, who used to exercise “on and off” with traditional resistance training before starting her training on the patented NeGator system with Barone. The NeGator team hopes more people like Michelson will come in to the strength science lab to experience what it is like to train with NeGator. The technology has been licensed by UF and the researchers.

Now Michelson, a dietitian, said she’s not so bored with the squats, pull downs, rows and presses. And after a few months of training, she’s now lifting twice the amount of weight she could when she began her training program. “I like it because I really feel like I’m much stronger when I’m done — I couldn’t squat when I started,” she said. “And it’s one day a week and I get good coaching.” She recovers from her workouts more quickly than in the past, and has an easier time with day to day activities such as getting in and out of a car, she said.

Increasingly researchers and clinicians recognize that strength training is important for people, especially as they age, to enhance quality of life and maintain physical independence. “If you don’t have adequate muscular support you’re going to be injured more, you’re going to do less, your mobility is going to be decreased,” Mac Millan said. He and colleagues spent more than two decades laying the scientific groundwork and developing the processes and systems by which NeGator works.

Published research from the team shows that so-called eccentric training may protect the hamstrings from injury, and that it is more effective than traditional resistance training at stimulating the body to produce growth hormone and testosterone. The lab has submitted medical research grant proposals to the National Institutes of Health, and is conducting rehabilitation studies on how overuse and sports injuries respond to training with NeGator. Users are already being monitored as part of a longitudinal study. UF’s rugby, lacrosse and Ultimate Frisbee teams rely on the NeGator team for help meeting their training needs in the limited workout time they have.

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Keeping an Open Mind

March 2nd, 2010

In his publication Democracy and Its Discontents, the American historian, professor, attorney and writer Daniel J. Boorstin (1914-2004) asserts:

"Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know."

– D.J. Boorstin

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Facts of Life

February 20th, 2010

The American Heart Association (AHA) wants everyone to take some potentially life-saving measures in connection with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), more commonly referred to as heart attack. One important preventive step is to have a checkup to determine one’s blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides levels, and undertake appropriate treatment as needed.

Another critical safeguard is recognizing the warning signs of an impending cardiac event. Typically, one or more of the following symptoms may be experienced in advance of a heart attack:

  • Constant or "comes-and-goes" chest pain or discomfort;
  • Upper body pain or discomfort involving one or both arms, the shoulders, back, neck, jaw or teeth;
  • Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting or discomfort that could be mistaken for heartburn;
  • Shallow breathing or shortness of breath;
  • Lightheadedness;
  • Unusual fatigue;
  • High anxiety (sometimes comparable to a panic attack);
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.

Women, especially, should be alert to possible warning signs, as their symptoms tend to be less predictable than men’s. The National Institutes of Health conducted a study called "Women’s Early Warning Symptoms of AMI" revealing that many did not experience chest pain or discomfort before or at any stage of their heart attack. Pre-attack symptoms included shortness of breath, fatigue, indigestion, anxiety and sleep disturbance. During-attack symptoms included shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness (particularly in the arms), cold sweat and dizziness. Women should seek prompt medical attention for signs of possible heart disease, even when chest pain is not present. For additional practical advice, visit the AHA’s web site http://www.goredforwomen.org.

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