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Mature Focus: Jan. 15

Adding a few new friends and activities to your schedule can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life in the new year. [Adobestock photo]

New year, new friends

It’s often said that variety is the spice of life. When it comes to your friends and acquaintances, having a variety of people in your social circle may also help you live a healthier, more fulfilling life as you age. 

Last year, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Aging and Longevity Center found in a study that older adults who interact with a wide range of people every day were more physically active and had greater emotional well-being. “It’s difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop,” said Karen Fingerman, the center’s co-director.  “Socializing in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviors in ways that benefit health.” 

The start of a new year may be an optimal time to “spice up” your social life with activities that bring new people into it. Following are a few suggestions from the center to help jumpstart that process in 2020.

Join a hobby group. Do you like to knit, paint, play bridge, or sing? Whatever your interests may be, there is likely a club or organization for others who share them. Area high schools, community colleges, community centers and senior centers may offer programs tailored to your hobbies. Websites like meetup.com also match people with local groups that fit their interests.

Try an exercise class. Fitness centers, local YMCAs, organizations like OASIS, and even area hospitals offer gentle exercise classes like yoga, stretching and water aerobics. If you’re open to starting conversations, you’ll find new friends among your fellow fitness enthusiasts.

Donate your time. Become a volunteer for a cause or organization that’s important to you. Offer to assist with a local politician’s re-election campaign during this election year. Help young children learn to read, or care for the dogs and cats at your local pet shelter.

Get a part-time job. Working even a few hours a week creates the opportunity to both earn money and make new social contacts. Either use your past experience to find a job in your previous field or simply find work you enjoy, whether it’s selling clothing in a local boutique or teaching a continuing education class.

The rise of “geroscience” 

Although average life expectancy worldwide has risen dramatically over the past century, people’s healthspans – defined as the number of years lived free from age-related disease or disability – have not increased accordingly.

An emerging field called geroscience seeks to address that issue. Its goal is a major paradigm shift: targeting the aging process itself, rather than the individual diseases associated with it, such as heart disease and cancer. 

In a recent issue of the journal Public Policy & Aging Report, gerontology experts wrote that by targeting aging in the 21st century, scientists can achieve the greatest possible impact on both lifespan and healthspan expectancies in the future.

“Instead of increasing life expectancies by only a few years from curing one disease, delaying aging could increase life expectancies by a few decades,” wrote Professor Matt Keberlein, Ph.D., of the University of Washington. “Those added years would be spent in relatively good health, because instead of only fixing one disease, all of the functional declines and diseases of aging would be targeted simultaneously.”

The journal’s authors highlighted existing studies as well as areas for further research. A primary example they cited is the TAME [Targeting Aging with Metformin] study currently underway, which is one of the first major research efforts aimed at slowing biological aging using an existing drug.

With the percentage of the world’s population over age 65 expected to double by 2050, extending the average healthspan by just a few years would result in an enormous reduction in the burdens of disease, they wrote.

Less is not more

A traditional view of aging holds that people should “slow down” as they get older. However, those over age 60 should exercise more intensely, not less, to reduce their risks of heart disease and stroke, according to findings from a recent study of over 1.1 million seniors in South Korea.

Moving more, rather than giving in to the urge to slow down, is especially important for older adults. [Adobestock photo]

Those participating in the study who did less moderate or vigorous physical activity as they got older had as much as a 27% increased risk of heart and blood vessel problems, while those who increased their levels of activity had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease of up to 11%.

This relationship held true even for those with disabilities and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

During health screenings held two years apart, the participants answered questions about their physical activity and lifestyle. At each screening, researchers calculated the amount of moderate exercise [30 minutes or more of activities like brisk walking, dancing or gardening] and vigorous exercise [20 minutes or more of running, fast cycling or other aerobic exercise] per week each participant did, and how it changed during the two years between the screenings.

They also collected data on heart disease and strokes among the group members, who were an average age of 67 with a fairly even distribution of women vs. men.

Over the two-year period plus an additional year of follow-up, the largest increase in cardiovascular risk occurred among people who had exercised more than five times a week at the first screening, then became inactive by the second.  By contrast, those who went from being inactive at the first screening to exercising three to four times per week significantly decreased their risk.

“The most important message from this research is that older adults should increase or maintain their exercise frequency to prevent cardiovascular disease … and this is also true for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions,” said study leader Kyuwoong Kim of Seoul National University. 

A good night’s sleep

For many women who have gone through menopause, the energy and well-being associated with restful sleep can feel like distant memories. Sleep problems are one of the most common complaints during and after menopause, affecting an estimated 40% to 60% of both perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. 

A new Canadian study of more than 6,000 women sought to demonstrate how age-related sleep problems may be specifically related to menopause status.  It compared sleep quality, sleep duration, and sleep disorders in women before, during and after the menopause transition.

The researchers confirmed that, compared with premenopausal and perimenopausal women, postmenopausal women required the most time to fall asleep, averaging more than 30 minutes nightly. They were also more likely to suffer from insomnia disorders and obstructive sleep apnea.

A recent study specifically linked sleep disorders in women to their stages of menopause. [Adobestock photo]

Chronic sleep problems not only impair a woman’s quality of life, but they also can lead to major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. Although many sleep disorders are also age-related, the direct relationship between menopause and sleep problems should make getting prompt and effective treatment for sleep problems a priority for postmenopausal women and their doctors, the authors said.

Study results were published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society [NAMS].

A dangerous combination

Anticoagulant medications, or blood thinners, are commonly used to prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation [AFib], a heart rhythm condition that occurs most frequently in older adults. However, many people taking blood thinners may not be aware of their potential interactions with many over-the-counter medicines and supplements, UCLA researchers have reported.

Apixaban is one of the most frequently prescribed medicines for AFib. The UCLA team surveyed nearly 800 patients who were taking apixaban between April and October of 2018 about their concurrent use of other drugs available over the counter. They were asked about how often they took aspirin, ibuprofen/naproxen, and acetaminophen, along with 13 common dietary supplements including various fish oils, ginger and herbal teas, and Chinese herbs.

They found that 98% of people taking apixaban also used one or more of these over-the-counter products. Of those, 33% took at least one such product that, in combination with the anticoagulant, could cause dangerous internal bleeding. In general, those surveyed also said they had no knowledge of any potential serious interactions.

Because such a large number of people lack knowledge about these interactions, there is an urgent need to educate both patients and healthcare providers about the dangers these combinations may pose, the researchers said, adding that more data is also needed on outcomes for people who combine apixaban and over-the-counter products.

On the calendar

St. Luke’s Hospital offers a Total Control Course on Mondays and Wednesdays, Jan. 27-March 11, from 1:30-2:45 p.m. at the Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, Building B. This course integrates specific core training exercises and educational discussions to help women improve pelvic health and wellness. Topics include nutrition selection, pharmaceuticals, behavioral modifications and lifestyle information. The course meets for seven weeks. The total fee for all twice-weekly sessions is $99. Register online at stlukes-stl.com.

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St. Luke’s Hospital presents a special information session for diabetes patients, You Can Manage It – Prevent Diabetes from Controlling Your Life on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, Building A. This program’s goal is to empower people living with diabetes to take charge of their health by providing the information and resources needed for a successful self-management plan.  Attendance is free. Register online at stlukes-stl.com; call (314) 542-4848 with questions.

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BJC Missouri Baptist Medical Center sponsors a Today’s Grandparents class on Thursday, Jan. 30 from 6:30-9 p.m.  Building D, Ste. 400 of the hospital, 3023 N. Ballas Road. 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 both local and distant grandparenting. Discussion is encouraged; a tour of the OB division is included. The cost is $20 per person. Register each grandparent online at https://classes-events.bjc.org.

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St. Luke’s Hospital offers a Bone Builders Lecture on Thursday, Feb. 6 from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, Building A. A healthcare team including a physical therapist, a pharmacist and a registered dietitian will provide information about exercise, nutrition and medications related to treating osteoporosis and osteopenia. The presentation is free. Register online at stlukes-stl.com; call (314) 205-6100 with questions.

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Missouri Baptist Medical Center sponsors a seven-week program presented by St. Louis Oasis, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, beginning Thursday, Feb. 6 through Thursday, March 19 from 10-12:30 p.m. at Grand Glaize Library, 1010 Meramec Station Road in Ballwin. Developed by Stanford University’s Patient Education Center, this self-management course is for those with any chronic condition. Set healthy goals, make action plans, manage pain, embrace nutrition and exercise, and more. Attendance is free. Register online at https://classes-events.bjc.org.

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BJC Missouri Baptist Medical Center hosts a monthly caregiver support course, Supporting the Caregiver, on Tuesday, Feb. 11 from 1-2:30 p.m. at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, 12634 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur, in the East Conference Room. This presentation is for those caring for an older loved one, and provides personal and professional insights and answers from caring BJC employees. The course and presentation materials are free. Light refreshments will be served. Register online at https://classes-events.bjc.org.

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Missouri Baptist Medical Center sponsors Pump It Up to Beat Cardiovascular Disease on Tuesday, Feb. 18 from 10 a.m.-noon at Chesterfield City Hall, 690 Chesterfield Parkway West. Are you living with some form of cardiovascular disease? Do you want to learn how to incorporate exercise and activity into managing it? Whether you’re thinking about starting an exercise regimen or have an established routine, this course is for you. This free course, taught by a physical therapist, is presented by Oasis. Register online at https://classes-events.bjc.org.

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