Learning and Staying in Shape Key to Longer Lifespan, Study Finds

People who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every extra kilogramme of weight they carry, research suggests.

A major study of the genes that underpin longevity has also found that education leads to a longer life, with almost a year added for each year spent studying beyond school.

Other key findings are that people who give up smoking, study for longer and are open to new experiences might expect to live longer.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh analysed genetic information from more than 600,000 people alongside records of their parents’ lifespan.

Because people share half of their genetic information with each of their parents, the team were able to calculate the impact of various genes on life expectancy.

Lifestyle choices are influenced to a certain extent by our DNA – genes, for example, have been linked to increased alcohol consumption and addiction. The researchers were therefore able to work out which have the greatest influence on lifespan.

Their method was designed to rule out the chances that any observed associations could be caused by a separate, linked factor. This enabled them to pinpoint exactly which lifestyle factors cause people to live longer, or shorter, lives.

They found that cigarette smoking and traits associated with lung cancer had the greatest impact on shortening lifespan.

For example, smoking a packet of cigarettes per day over a lifetime knocks an average of seven years off life expectancy, they calculated. But smokers who give up can eventually expect to live as long as somebody who has never smoked.

Body fat and other factors linked to diabetes also have a negative influence on life expectancy.

The study also identified two new DNA differences that affect lifespan. The first – in a gene that affects blood cholesterol levels – reduces lifespan by around eight months. The second – in a gene linked to the immune system – adds around half a year to life expectancy.

The research, published in Nature Communications, was funded by the Medical Research Council.

Data was drawn from 25 separate population studies from Europe, Australia and North America, including the UK Biobank – a major study into the role of genetics and lifestyle in health and disease.

Professor Jim Wilson, of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “The power of big data and genetics allow us to compare the effect of different behaviours and diseases in terms of months and years of life lost or gained, and to distinguish between mere association and causal effect.”

Dr Peter Joshi, Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “Our study has estimated the causal effect of lifestyle choices. We found that, on average, smoking a pack a day reduces lifespan by seven years, whilst losing one kilogram of weight will increase your lifespan by two months.”

Source: EurekAlert!

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Dance Your Way to a Healthier Aging Brain

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . .

Dance classes may beat traditional exercise when it comes to improving older adults’ balance — and it might enhance brain areas related to memory and learning along the way.

That’s the finding of a small study that compared dance lessons against standard exercise — including brisk walking — among 52 healthy seniors.

Over a year and a half, older adults who took weekly dance classes showed gains in their balancing ability. There were no such improvements in the traditional exercise group.

Researchers also found hints that all those mambos and cha-chas had extra brain benefits.

Seniors in both groups showed growth in the hippocampus — a brain structure that’s involved in memory and learning. But the dancers showed changes in more areas of the hippocampus.

Patrick Muller, one of the researchers on the study, suggested an explanation: The “multimodal” nature of dance — its physical and mental components — might be behind the extra brain boost.

Seniors in the dance group had to continually learn and “imprint” new steps, explained Muller, a Ph.D. candidate at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany.

Along with that mental challenge, he said, dance also involves coordinating movement with music — which itself affects the brain. Plus, there’s the fun, Muller noted.

David Marquez is an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said it’s hard to know what to make of the brain findings, since the study group was so small.

Marquez, who was not involved in the research, is studying the effects of Latin dance classes on older Hispanic adults’ well-being.

He agreed that dance can offer things that simpler repetitive activity may not.

“With dance, you’re having to think about each step,” Marquez said. “There are motor, cognitive and social components. And there’s the music.”

But, he added, both exercise groups in this study showed changes in the hippocampus, on average. And that’s in line with past research, Marquez noted: Studies have found that regular aerobic exercise, like walking, may boost the volume of brain areas involved in memory, planning and other vital functions.

“So the message is, get moving,” Marquez said.

Ultimately, he added, the “best” form of exercise for any one person is the one that can be maintained.

“If you don’t enjoy the activity, you won’t do it,” Marquez said. “So find something you enjoy and do it regularly.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, included healthy volunteers who were typically in their late 60s.

Half were randomly assigned to take dance classes over 18 months. The rest attended a traditional exercise program that included walking, stationary bikes, strength-training and stretching.

The dance group met twice a week for the first six months, then weekly. To keep participants on their toes, the dance styles changed every couple of weeks and ranged from Latin to line dancing to jazz.

Just 14 seniors from the dance group and 12 from the traditional fitness group stayed with the program for the full 18 months.

In the end, the study found, only the dancers showed clear improvements on balance tests. And while both groups had increases in their hippocampal volume, the dance group tended to show changes in more subregions of the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is critical, according to Muller, because it is affected in dementia — including Alzheimer’s disease — and it can also shrink with age.

The big question, though, is whether dance can make any difference in the odds of seniors’ mental decline.

“Further research is needed to clarify whether this intervention truly has the potential to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Muller said.

According to Marquez, it would be interesting to do the same study with older adults who already have some cognitive impairment, and see if there are similar brain changes.

For now, Muller said, the findings suggest dance might have some advantages over simpler repetitive physical activity.

But he agreed that exercise in general — plus a healthy lifestyle overall — “can help the brain stay young.”

Source: HealthDay

Risk of Drug Side Effects Rises as You Age

Ginger Skinner wrote . . . . . . .

Whether it’s an over-the-counter pain reliever or a prescription statin to lower cholesterol, medication has a troubling downside: the risk of side effects.

Side effects are the expected (and usually unwanted) reactions you hear rattled off in TV drug ads: constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, upset stomach, and more. Though some are not serious and are likely to subside over time, some may be especially problematic for older adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are twice as likely as other adults to suffer an adverse drug event serious enough to require a trip to the emergency room, and seven times more likely than younger adults to be hospitalized as a result.

One possible reason is that “as you age, you’re facing more conditions and taking more drugs to treat them,” says Michael Steinman, M.D., a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. According to a March 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine, 88 percent of adults age 62 to 85 take at least one prescription drug regularly.

“And the more medications you take, the greater the likelihood of multiple, often compounded effects,” Steinman adds.

At the same time, other age-related factors can play a role in how medication affects you. Here, we explain what to know about side effects and the steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Increased Potency for Older Adults

As you age, your body often gains more fat and holds less water than it once did—all of which can cause drugs to become more concentrated. And medication can linger longer in your system, which can further increase the risk and severity of side effects.

“The key organs that are responsible for breaking down medications, mainly the liver and the kidneys, begin to function more slowly,” explains Michael Hochman, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “As a result, medications don’t get excreted as quickly.” (Conversely, he adds, medication might not be effectively absorbed into the bloodstream, which could reduce a drug’s effectiveness.)

The problem of a drug sticking around longer in your system is particularly concerning with certain kinds. All sedative drugs used to treat insomnia, for example, such as prescription zolpidem (Ambien and generic) and eszopiclone (Lunesta and generic) and the over-the-counter sleep drug diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy, Nytol, Sominex, and generic), are particularly risky. That’s because older adults are likely to be more sensitive to their sedating effects, which can increase the risk for falls and other accidents.

If you have other health concerns, such as persistent dizziness, weakness, poor balance due to arthritis, ear and eye problems, cognitive decline, or other chronic conditions, side effects from some medication can exacerbate them.

Some blood-pressure-lowering drugs, for example, tend to lower blood pressure much more significantly in older people than in younger people, which can increase the risk of dizziness, weakness, and falls.

In a study of almost 5,000 older adults published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, Yale School of Medicine researchers found that seniors taking blood pressure medication had a 30 to 40 percent higher risk of having a serious injury from a fall than those who weren’t taking the drugs.

Leading Culprits

Sometimes drugs that pose the most serious side effects may also have major benefits. Doctors often refer to these as “high ­benefit, high ­risk” medications.

At the top of the list of drugs that require regular monitoring to minimize the risks, according to the CDC, are blood thinners to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven, and generic); diabetes drugs such as insulin; drugs used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, including antiarrhythmic agents such as digoxin; and seizure medicines like phenytoin (Dilantin and generic) and carbamazepine (Tegretol and generic).

Opioid painkillers are also more likely than other drugs to cause potentially dangerous side effects for seniors, especially when taken long term or at higher doses. Oxycodone (OxyContin and generic), oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Percocet and generic), and hydro­codone combined with acetaminophen (Vicodin and generic) and other opioid pain medicine, for example, commonly cause constipation, nausea, and drowsiness or a “fuzzy-headed” feeling. The CDC notes that even when taken as directed, opioids can lead to physical dependence, drug overdose, and possibly death.

Talk About Side Effects With Your Doctor

In a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports telephone survey of 1,063 U.S. adults, we found that those 65 and older who regularly take prescription medicine were also less likely to discuss the potential for side effects with their doctor. Barely half of seniors said they discussed such safety concerns; two-thirds of younger adults did.

People may be embarrassed at having a certain problem or may not recognize it as a side effect. “They may think they’re experiencing a symptom of their condition, or that it’s just due to old age,” Steinman adds.

If you notice a physical or mental change that’s bothersome, bring it up with your doctor. “Even if the drug is working, talk to your doctor about trying a lower dose or a different medication, to see if you can minimize the risk of side effects,” Hochman explains.

And ask about nondrug options, such as exercise to lower blood cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, bladder training for an overactive bladder, or cognitive therapy for insomnia or depression, for example. “Nonpharmacologic therapies can be very effective and without side effect,” he says.

Even if you don’t notice side effects, ask for a review of all your prescription and over-the-counter meds, vitamins, and supplements at every doctor’s visit to make sure they’re not interacting in dangerous ways. Your doctor might also recommend stopping a drug that’s no longer needed, reducing the number of meds you take.

And Take These Safety Steps

Keep a list. Include every drug and supplement you take, the dosages, when you take them, the shape and color of your meds, the name of the prescribing physician, and whether you should take them with food or drink. Note your pharmacy’s phone number, any allergies you have, and emergency contact info.

Understand side effects and warnings. Research shows that many people often misinterpret drug labels.

Skip alcohol. Mixing it with certain drugs can worsen dizziness or lightheadedness, or increase or decrease a med’s potency.

Don’t stop a drug on your own. Doing so can lead to withdrawal symptoms and worsen the condition the drug was intended to treat. Unless you develop wheezing, blisters, swelling, or any severe or life-threatening effects such as difficulty breathing, call your doctor before stopping.

Source: Consumer Reports


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Problems with Senses — Hearing, Vision, Smell, Touch, and Taste — May Predict Older Adults’ Overall Health and Ability to Function

The five senses are hearing, vision, smell, touch, and taste. When these senses begin to dim or are lost as we age, we face challenges dealing with everyday life. Losing one’s senses can also cause serious health problems.

Researchers have mainly focused on what happens after people lose one or two of their senses. However, we know that losing more than two senses occurs frequently for older adults. Until now, no studies have examined how losing multiple senses affects older adults. To learn more, a team of researchers from the University of Chicago designed a study to focus on just that. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers conducted home interviews among 3,005 older adults between the ages of 57 and 85. They checked participants’ abilities to hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. They also assessed the participants’ mobility, health behaviors, chronic diseases, cognitive function (the ability to think and make decisions), and BMI (body-mass index, a measure for obesity that compares your height to your weight).. Five years later, the researchers reassessed the participants who were still living to measure:

  • Mobility (measured with a timed 10-foot long walk)
  • Degree of difficulty performing eight key daily activities, including bathing, feeding and shopping for themselves; doing light housekeeping; and managing their own finances
  • Physical activity, measured with a fitness tracking device used for research purposes
  • Mental health status
  • Overall health

The researchers reported that the more sensory losses older adults experienced, the worse they performed on the mobility test. Participants with greater sensory problems were more likely to have trouble performing two or more daily activities.

Women, older participants, smokers, and people with more chronic illnesses had higher levels of disability than other participants.

After five years, the participants who had more sensory disabilities at the beginning of the study walked more slowly than participants who had fewer sensory problems. Participants who were obese and had high blood pressure and more chronic illnesses walked much slower than other participants. Women, minorities, and people with less education also walked much slower than other participants.

People with more sensory losses at the beginning of the study also had:

  • Difficulty performing their daily activities
  • Difficulty staying physically active
  • Difficulty staying sharp mentally
  • Overall worse health
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Increased risk for dying

The researchers concluded that older adults with multiple sensory losses should be closely monitored because they are at higher risk for poor health. They also suggested that monitoring at-risk older adults sooner could help prevent problems such as cognitive impairment.

Source: The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging

Seniors with Type 2 Diabetes May Have Increased Risk for Fracture

Though seniors with type 2 diabetes (T2D) tend to have normal or higher bone density than their peers, researchers have found that they are more likely to succumb to fractures than seniors without T2D. In a new study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, researchers from Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research found older adults with type 2 diabetes had deficits in cortical bone–the dense outer surface of bone that forms a protective layer around the internal cavity– compared to non-diabetics. The findings suggest that the microarchitecture of cortical bone may be altered in seniors with T2D and thereby place them at increased risk of fracture.

Participants in this study included over 1,000 member of the Framingham Study who were examined over a period of 3 years. High resolution scanning allowed researchers to determine that many older adults with diabetes had weakness specific to cortical bone microarchitecture that cannot be measured by standard bone density testing.

Osteoporotic fractures are a significant public health problem that can lead to disability, decreased quality of life, and even death – not to mention significant health care costs. Risk of fracture is even greater in adults with T2D, including a 40 – 50% increased risk of hip fracture – the most serious of osteoporotic fractures.

“Fracture in older adults with type 2 diabetes is a highly important public health problem and will only increase with the aging of the population and growing epidemic of diabetes. Our findings identify skeletal deficits that may contribute to excess fracture risk in older adults with diabetes and may ultimately lead to new approaches to improve prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Elizabeth Samelson, lead author of the study.

Researchers hope that novel studies such as this will help to revolutionize the area of bone health, especially for older adults. It is important to follow screening guidelines for bone density testing, but better understanding of all the factors that affect bone strength and the tendency to fracture is needed.

Source: EurekAlert