6 Common Myths About Aging

10/25/2011

from the Aging and Memory Health Center

Think you know the facts about growing older? Think again.

1. Myth: Dementia is an inevitable part of aging.

Fact: “Dementia should be seen as a modifiable health condition and, if it occurs, should be followed as a medical condition, not a normal part of aging,” said Patricia Harris, MD, a geriatrician and associate professor at Georgetown University Medical Center. In other words, if you or your loved one becomes forgetful, it could be related to medication, nutrition or modifiable medical issues, she said. Don’t assume Alzheimer’s.

Just consider that when doctors examined the brain of a 115-year-old woman who, when she died, was the world’s oldest woman, they found essentially normal brain tissue, with no evidence of Alzheimer’s or other dementia-causing conditions. Testing in the years before she died showed no loss in brain function.

Not only is dementia not inevitable with age, but you actually have some control over whether or not you develop it.

“We’re only now starting to understand the linkages between health in your 40s, 50s and 60s and cognitive function later in life,” said Richard Powers, MD, who chairs the medical advisory board of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. Studies find that many of the same risk factors that contribute to heart disease—high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity—may also contribute to Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

For instance, studies on the brains of elderly people with and without dementia find significant blood vessel damage in those with hypertension. Such damage shrinks the amount of healthy brain tissue you have in reserve, reducing the amount available if a disease like Alzheimer’s hits, Dr. Powers says. That’s important, he says, because we’re starting to understand that the more brain function you have to begin with, the more you can afford to lose before your core functions are affected.

One way to dodge the dementia bullet? Exercise your body and your brain. Physical activity plays a role in reducing the risk of diseases that cause Alzheimer’s. It also builds up that brain reserve. One study found just six months of regular physical activity increased brain volume in 59 healthy but couch-potato individuals ages 60 to 79. Other research finds people who exercised twice a week over an average of 21 years slashed their risk of Alzheimer’s in half.

Then there’s intellectual exercise. “I encourage regular intellectual stimulation,” says Dr. Powers. It doesn’t matter what kind, just that you break out of your comfort zone. Even writing letters twice a week instead of sending e-mail can have brain-strengthening benefits, he said. That’s because such novel activities stimulate more regions of the brain, increasing blood flow and helping to not only build brain connections, but improve the health of existing tissue.

2. Myth: If you didn’t exercise in your 20s, 30s and 40s, it’s too late to start in your 50s, 60s or 70s.

Fact: It’s never too late! In an oft-cited study, 50 men and women with an average age of 87 worked out with weights for 10 weeks and increased their muscle strength 113 percent. Even more important, they also increased their walking speed, a marker of overall physical health in the elderly.

3. Myth: Sex ends when you age.

Fact: A survey of 3,005 people ages 57 to 85 found the chance of being sexually active depended as much if not more on their health and their partner’s health than on their age. Women who rated their health as “very good” or “excellent” were 79 percent more likely to be sexually active than women who rated their health as “poor” or “fair.” And while fewer people ages 75 to 85 had sex than those 57 to 74, more than half (54 percent) of those who were sexually active had intercourse two or three times a month. Just remember: Sexually transmitted diseases do not discriminate based on age. If you’re not in a monogamous relationship, you or your partner should use a condom.

4. Myth: Getting older is depressing so expect to be depressed.

Fact: Again, says Dr. Harris, no way! “Depression is highly treatable. If older people could just admit to it and get help, they could probably live a much more active and healthy life.” That’s because studies find that older people who are depressed are more likely to develop memory and learning problems, while other research links depression to an increased risk of death from numerous age-related diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, stroke and pneumonia.

5. Myth: Women fear aging.

Fact: Not so! A survey conducted on behalf of the National Women’s Health Resource Center found that women tend to have a positive outlook on aging and to be inspired by others who also have positive attitudes and who stay active as they grow older. Women surveyed were most likely to view aging as “an adventure and opportunity” and less likely to view it as depressing or a struggle.

6. Myth: The pain and disability caused by arthritis is inevitable as you get older.

Fact: While arthritis is more common as you age, thanks to the impact of time on the cushiony cartilage that prevents joints and bone from rubbing against one another, age itself doesn’t cause arthritis. There are steps you can take in your youth to prevent it, such as losing weight, wearing comfortable, supportive shoes (as opposed to three-inch spikes), and taking it easy with joint-debilitating exercise like running and basketball. One study found women who exercised at least once every two weeks for at least 20 minutes were much less likely to develop arthritis of the knee (the most common location for the disease) than women who exercised less.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Aging Well: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/midlife-and-beyond/aging-well

Alzheimer’s Disease: www.healthywomen.org/condition/alzheimers-disease

Aging and Memory Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/aging-and-memory

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.


3 Shortcuts to Exercise Success

10/04/2011

from the Healthy Living area

Are you losing interest in physical activity because you’re not seeing quick results from your efforts?

While there are no magic pills for becoming more fit (and staying that way), some exercises are more effective in less time than others. Check out these three ideas for burning more calories and strengthening muscles faster:

  1. Switch back and forth: It’s called interval training, and it boosts your results by stepping up the intensity or duration of your activity, on and off, throughout your workout. Interval training works like this: Instead of walking for 10 minutes at your usual pace, start by walking at your normal exercise pace for the first two minutes, then increase your speed for the next two minutes, followed by two minutes of your usual pace, and so on. Adapt this system for any length walk. The interval time may vary as well. Your body goes into “active recovery” during the lower speed segments, so you can continue exercising with less risk of injury, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Yet you gain quicker benefits from the higher intensity intervals.
  2. Squat: Pear-shape alert!You’ll strengthen more muscles at one time by doing squats. This exercise works the major muscles in your lower body—the gluteals, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. When asked to list the most effective exercises, the majority of 17,000 ACE-certified fitness professionals put squats at number one. Make sure your form is correct: with feet at shoulder-width and back straight, bend your knees as you lower your bottom. Don’t let your knees move out over your ankles. If you are doing squats with weights on a barbell (which increases intensity), be sure to have a spotter or trainer check your form.
  3. Rev your engine: All activities are not created equal. For a 135-pound woman, 30 minutes of brisk walking burns 130 calories. In that same 30 minutes, you can lose 258 calories with freestyle swimming or 322 calories by running at a 6 mph pace. Include higher calorie-burning exercises in your activities to boost speedy results.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/condition/stress

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

© 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll-free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.