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Mature Focus: Feb. 7

By: Lisa Russell


Better heart health for ‘couch potatoes’

About 25 percent of American adults are sedentary, spending many hours each day sitting in a chair at work and then heading home to hit the couch every evening. A sedentary lifestyle leads to greater risk of heart failure in middle age and beyond, as it eventually causes the heart muscle to shrink and its vessels to stiffen.  But if inactive middle-aged women and men get up and get moving with an aerobic workout routine, they can reduce or even reverse that risk, a new study shows.

The negative effects of a sedentary lifestlyle on heart health can be overcome by older adults, a new study shows.

Scientists randomly assigned a group of more than 50 sedentary people between the ages of 45 and 64 either to an aerobic training program, which involved doing high- and moderate-intensity exercise at least four days a week, or to a yoga, balance and strength training program three days a week. The participants exercised consistently for two years. The researchers conducted tests to assess heart function both before and after the study period.

They found that the participants who did regular aerobic exercise showed significant improvements in how their bodies used oxygen, and also had less cardiac stiffness, two key indicators of a healthier heart. Cardiac stiffness and oxygen usage remained unchanged among those who did the yoga, balance and strength training program.

“We found what we believe to be the optimal dose of the right kind of exercise, which is four to five times a week, and the ‘sweet spot’ in time [late middle age] when the heart risk from a lifetime of sedentary behavior can be improved,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Benjamin Levine, a cardiologist and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Although making a two-year commitment to an aerobic exercise program may be a challenge for many, Levine said he recommends making regular exercise of any type a priority. The optimal weekly program, he added, would include at least one hour of an exercise such as tennis, cycling, running or brisk walking; one aerobic session that includes interval training; two or three days of moderate-intensity exercise; and at least one strength training session. “That’s my prescription for life,” he said. The study was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

No accurate test of aging 

Whether it’s by taking a simple online quiz or spending hundreds of dollars on chromosome or blood testing, many people passing through midlife into their senior years are attempting to find out whether they are aging faster or slower than their actual ages would suggest. Unfortunately, though, a recent analysis of these tests shows that those tests may not provide accurate information.

Commercially available tests that claim to measure the rate of physical aging may not provide reliable results, a recent analysis found.

A head-to-head comparison of different measures of aging in the body, including blood and chromosome tests like those being sold commercially, has found that they significantly disagree on the aging speed of the person being tested. This comparison was based on a lifetime study of about 1,000 Dunedin, New Zealand residents who have been studied extensively from birth to age 38. Working with data from that study, researchers from Duke University found contradictory results among biological measures used to predict the participants’ rate of aging from age 26 to 38.

For comparisons, the researchers looked at physical markers of aging collected from the Dunedin study group, including balance, grip, motor coordination, physical limitations, cognitive function and decline, self-reported health and facial aging as judged by others. The research team also examined genetic tests of the participants to see changes in the patterns of DNA over time.

“People age at different rates, and geriatric medicine needs a way to measure that,” said lead author Daniel Belsky, an assistant professor of population health sciences at Duke. “But when measuring all sorts of different aspects of a person’s physiology, from genes to blood markers to balance and grip strength, you see a lot of disagreement. Based on these results, I’d say it’s premature to market aging tests to the public.”

An analysis of physiological measures, including blood markers and tests of heart and lung function, found a somewhat stronger correlation with actual aging rates; however, none of the measures they studied performed well enough to accurately predict aging rate, the researchers concluded. Belsky said the search will continue for accurate tests of aging. As scientists focus on finding new treatments to slow the aging process, “we’d like to know in less than 30 years whether the treatment works,” he added. The study findings were published last November in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Facelift workout

The anti-aging benefits of exercise also apply above the neck, according to new research conducted at Northwestern University. Researchers found that women who did a 30-minute facial exercise program, either daily or every other day, looked an average of three years younger after completing 20 weeks of exercises. The study, published in JAMA Dermatology, was the first scientific effort to test the effects of facial exercise on appearance.

A regular regimen of facial exercises may help older women look a few years younger.

As the face ages, loss of skin elasticity occurs along with thinning of the fat pads between the skin and facial muscles, causing it to lose its youthful fullness and begin to droop. “But if muscle underneath becomes bigger, the skin has more stuffing underneath it and the firmer muscle appears to make the shape of the face more full,” said senior study author Emily Poon, an assistant research professor in dermatology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The participants, all women between the ages of 40 and 65, received training to do 32 different exercises, which they performed for 30 minutes per day for the first eight weeks.  For the remaining 12 weeks, they did the same exercises every other day for 30 minutes per session. Their ages were estimated by an independent group of raters both before and after the study period.

The raters determined that participants’ upper cheek and lower cheek fullness, in particular, significantly was enhanced as a result of the exercises. In addition, the raters’ estimated average patient age decreased by nearly three years over the course of the study, dropping from 50.8 years to 48.1 years. Participants also reported being highly satisfied with the results.

“Now there is evidence that facial exercises may improve facial appearance and reduce some visible signs of aging,” said lead author Dr. Murad Alam, vice chair and professor of dermatology at Feinberg. “Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way for looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or anti-aging treatments they may be seeking.”

On the calendar

A Today’s Grandparents class is offered from 6:30-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, 3023 N. Ballas Road, in Suite 400 of Building D. This two-hour class serves as an update for grandparents-to-be, and focuses on current trends in infant care as well as tips on local and distant grandparenting. Discussion time and a tour of the hospital’s OB division are included. Cost is $20 per person; registration is required for each grandparent attending. Register online at https://classes-events.bjc.org/wlp2/. For more information, call (314) 996-5433.

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An AARP Smart Driver Course is from 9 a.m.-1 p.m on Wednesday, Feb. 14. at the St. Luke’s Hospital North Medical Building, 232 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. The course covers safe driving strategies, information about the effects of medications on driving, how to prevent driver distractions, proper use of new technologies and more. The cost is $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. To register, call (314) 780-8465.

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Join an orthopedic physician for Knee Replacement: Is It Right for Me?, a discussion about minimally invasive knee replacement surgery and other treatment options for arthritic knees. The free session is from 6-7 p.m on Wednesday, Feb. 21. at St. Luke’s Hospital, 232 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield, in the third floor conference room on the main level.  Register online at stlukes-stl.com.

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