A Prescription of Activities Shown to Improve Health and Well-being

Gyms, walking groups, gardening, cooking clubs and volunteering have all been shown to work in improving the health and well-being reported by a group of people with long-term conditions.

Key to the success was a ‘Link Worker’ who helped participants select their activity and supported them throughout the programme.

The in-depth study by academics at Newcastle University shows how social prescribing of non-medical activities helps people with long term health conditions and is published today in BMJ Open.

Dr Suzanne Moffatt, Reader in Social Gerontology said: “The findings demonstrate that social prescribing, such as offering someone with heart disease the opportunity to take part in a gardening club, does work.

“People who took part in the study said social prescribing made them more active, it helped them lose weight and they felt less anxious and isolated, as a result they felt better.

“This is the first time that these kind of non-medical interventions have been fully analysed for physical health problems and the results are very encouraging.

“What the study also highlighted was the importance of a specific individual, a Link Worker, to help people with issues such as welfare benefits, debt, housing – so they were helping with the whole life and lifestyle which was shown to improve the person’s health and well-being.”

Non-medical help

Ways to Wellness has provided social prescribing with the support of dedicated Link Workers since its launch in April 2015. The study is based on interviews with thirty people from the 2,400 people who have used the service since its start.

The participants reported how they had been deeply affected, physically, emotionally and socially by their health problems. They detailed physical effects including pain, sleep problems, side-effects of medication and significant problems functioning and many explained how this had led to depression and anxiety and how their problems had worsened as they got older.

In the interviews they explained how working with a Link Worker to find the right activity and to get support in dealing with financial problems had built self-confidence, self –reliance and independence.

Activities such as gardening, dance clubs and voluntary work helped them lose weight and increase fitness leading to people managing the pain and tiredness better. It also led to them feeling less socially isolated and impacted positively on self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

Ways to Wellness

Ways to Wellness covers the west of Newcastle, including 17 GP practices where 18 % of residents have long-term conditions and receive sickness and disability-related benefits.

People who have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), heart disease, epilepsy, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and any of these conditions with depression and/or anxiety are eligible for the scheme.

The Link Worker also helps patients to access other support, services and local activities.

Alex Hall, Senior Link Work with Ways to Wellness said: “The Ways to Wellness service works because it helps our clients take control of their lives, and gives them access to services they may not have been aware of. It’s amazing to see how small steps taken to empower someone can change their lives so drastically.”

Source: New Castle University


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Seniors’ Well-Being May Get a Boost From Green Spaces

Green spaces in cities benefit residents of all ages. Now, British researchers say, they may also boost older people’s mental well-being.

“We found that older participants experienced beneficial effects of green space whilst walking between busy built urban environments and urban green space environments,” said study author Chris Neale.

“Indeed, this work is the first to be published in a series of papers understanding the impact of green and urban spaces on brain activity in older adults,” said Neale, a research fellow at the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute in England.

The small study included eight people, 65 and older, who wore portable devices that recorded their brain activity as they walked in both busy and green urban locations. They were also interviewed before and after their outings.

The participants experienced changes in levels of excitement, engagement and even frustration as they moved between busy and green areas. They benefited from being in green spaces and preferred them because they were calming and quieter, according to the study.

“Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built up settings,” Neale said in a university news release.

The study can’t actually prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Still, “as the cost of looking after an aging population continues to rise, maintaining access to green space could be a relatively low cost option for improving mental well-being,” Neal suggested.

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Source: HealthDay

Want a Healthy Brain as You Age? Live a Healthy Life

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can protect the brain against several risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, Mayo Clinic research shows. Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and avoiding obesity, smoking and diabetes are among the steps that can help preserve brain health, according to the study, published in JAMA Neurology.

Neurologists believe two aspects make up Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Amyloid deposits: Toxic proteins that build up plaques on the brain.
  • Neurodegeneration: Loss of structure and function of neurons in the brain.

The Mayo research examined whether the risk factors and protective steps against each differ.

“This is a hot topic of investigation, because the more we learn about biomarkers, the more we will learn about risk and protective factors against Alzheimer’s disease,” says senior study co-author Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “The notion of exceptional brain aging is relevant here — why some people have lower degree of Alzheimer’s disease-causing brain changes even at advanced ages and higher genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study found that:

  • High cholesterol was the only predictor among the midlife risk factors — apart from demographics and the presence of apolipoprotein E gene — that raises the risk of amyloid deposits, the key factor underlying Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Midlife obesity, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as late-life cardiac and metabolic chronic conditions, were associated with greater Alzheimer’s disease-pattern neurodegeneration.
  • Intellectual enrichment did not significantly predict formation of amyloid deposits or neurodegeneration, suggesting that it is mainly protective against cognitive decline.

“It is important to note that fewer midlife risk factors and fewer chronic health conditions contribute to lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease dementia,” says first author Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic dementia researcher. “For healthier brain aging, managing one’s overall health over a lifetime is vital.”

The study looked at 942 people ages 70 to 89 enrolled in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. Researchers used brain scans that show amyloid formation and neurodegeneration, and investigated what factors protect individuals from both. They also looked at “exceptional agers” – people 85 and older with no significant evidence of Alzheimer’s disease on their brain scans.

“The research shows that exceptional aging without major signs of Alzheimer’s disease may be possible with a greater number of protective factors across the life span,” Dr. Vemuri says.

Future research should investigate independent and combined protective factors against amyloid and neurodegeneration, Dr. Vemuri says. Better prevention strategies could help delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, she says.

Source: Mayo Clinic

These 5 Life Skills Can Boost Your Odds of Well-Being

Emotional stability, determination, control, optimism and conscientiousness: all important “life skills” that can raise your prospects for a happy, healthy life.

That’s the finding from a new study of more than 8,000 people, aged 52 and older, in the United Kingdom. Researchers found a link between those five life skills and better health, fewer chronic diseases, less depression, less social isolation, and greater financial stability.

“No single attribute was more important than others. Rather, the effects depended on the accumulation of life skills,” study co-leader Andrew Steptoe, a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said in a university news release.

“There is research on individual factors — such as conscientiousness and optimism in adults — but the combination of these life skills has not been studied very much before,” Steptoe said.

Nearly one-quarter of people with the fewest of those five skills reported depressive symptoms, the study found. But just 3 percent of people with four or five of the life skills had symptoms of depression.

Almost half of those with the fewest skills said they had high levels of loneliness. Meanwhile, just 11 percent of those with four or five of the life skills said they had high levels of loneliness, the findings showed.

Slightly more than one-third of those with the least life skills said they had poor to fair health, compared with just 6 percent of people with four or five of the skills, according to the report.

“We were surprised by the range of processes — economic, social, psychological, biological, and health and disability related — that seem to be related to these life skills. Our research suggests that fostering and maintaining these skills in adult life may be relevant to health and well-being at older ages,” Steptoe concluded.

The researchers noted that their study wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published April 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: HealthDay