ARE YOU YEARS YOUNG….OR OLD??

 

Lani

I met this lovely gal at Trader Joe’s this morning. She was such a knockout in all blue that I asked her to, “Stand right where you are because I MUST take your picture!” She had just finished her 2 ½ mile daily walk, was grabbing some groceries then headed off to one of her two part-time jobs. Her gait was lively, her smile quick and her enthusiasm for life, palpable. Lani is a force and I was inspired not just because of her person but her chronological age. Can you guess it?

One of the best things about aging is that we’ve had years to learn that not only can you not judge a book by its’ cover, you can’t count on the cover to even give you a book. We make a lot of assumptions about others that are wrong and it can affect both our health and psyche negatively. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Talking to Strangers,” gets at the heart of our prejudices and presuppositions about others. He writes, “When it comes to judgments about our own character and behavior, we are willing to entertain all manner of complexity but when it comes to making those same judgments about others, we are depressingly simplistic.”

Such is the case for Olympic athletes. One would assume that all three medalists would be equally ecstatic. It turns out that silver medalists are the most depressed ones on the podium. They have just missed the gold and their disappointment is much greater than the bronze winner who is thrilled to have medaled at all. Researchers have even shown higher rates of depression among silver medalists. It seems that most of us are victims of ‘counterfactual thinking.’ That is, instead of rejoicing in “what actually is,” we compare our objective achievements to what, “might have been.”

That, of course, is the toughest thing about aging: accepting what is and letting go of what was. Scientists know that what truly ages us is the eventual breakdown of our cells and their ability to repair themselves and divide. Recently researchers from the U of A have discovered that by altering the sleep patterns of cells they may be able to slow down the aging process. For now, though, that aging process is zipping by for most of us. The important thing is to shine in the moment—like Lani, who is 81 years young!!

 

IT’S A NO BRAINER

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Almost two-thirds of the 6 million American’s with Alzheimer’s are women. It was once thought that our longevity was the reason we developed Alzheimer’s more often than men. That belief is now being challenged by scientists who say that we are genetically more disposed to dementias because our brains have more “bridging regions.” Makes sense.  We’re connectors.  However, this puts us at greater risk for the widespread plaques and tangles of amyloid beta, which cause Alzheimer’s.

Brain difference is not the only thing increasing our risk. Hormone replacement therapy may also be adding a new set of dangers.  Several of my girlfriends swear by it.  However, there is growing evidence that it may contribute to dementia and increase our propensity for other female cancers.

What to do?

1. Eat LOTS of fruits and vegetables. According to a study in Sweden, those who eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily live longer than those who don’t.

2.  Lessen exposure to wireless radiation. Even the FCC suggests putting calls on speakerphone to increase the distance between your phone and your head.

3.  Avoid fried foods. A 24-year study at the University of Iowa shows that women, ages 50- to 65-years have a higher chance of dying from stroke and heart problems if they do.

4.  Eat more fish or take omega-3 fatty acid supplements, especially if your triglyceride levels are high or you suffer from depression or osteoporosis. During a 16-year study, involving more than 180,000 women, researchers found that those who ate fish at least three times a week or took supplements were 35 percent less likely to die of cognitive decline and heart problems.

5.  Don’t eat late at night. The body’s circadian rhythms are coordinated in the hypothalamus, which is the mother lode of stem cells that control how fast we age. According to UCLA researchers, eating late at night also disrupts the daily rhythm of the hippocampus – the brain’s memory center.

6.  Exercise daily! This keeps harmful immune cells out of your brain and diminishes the presence of inflammatory microglia in your hypothalamus. Your body knows— and it shows– if you don’t.

7.  Eat dark chocolate!!! Researchers at Loma Linda University say that consuming chocolate high in cacao (over 70%) causes an increase in the frequency of gamma waves. These reduce stress, improve mood, enhance neuroplasticity and improve cerebral blood flow.  My new motto?  “A square a day keeps dementia away.”  It’s a no brainer.

 

 

 

SHAKE IT UP!

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 Put down your Sudoku pencils! Science says that if we really want to stay sharp, we need to shake things up and think out of the box. In a recent study researchers concluded that standardized games are not particularly effective in improving brain performance. Experts now recommend that we use real-world activities instead. “Almost any silly suggestion can work,” says David Eagleman, neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Drive home via a different route or brush your teeth with your opposite hand.”

So, I’ve started using my left foot to drive around town. The tricky part is keeping my right leg out of the way. Now I just need more finesse when braking so the drivers around me don’t think I’m on crack. Yesterday, I faced a new challenge: As I waited for a car to back out of a parking space, some jerk in a Porsche suddenly zoomed out in front of me and took it! Oh boy was I mad. However, instead of cursing and flipping him off, I took a good, long look as he got out of his car and entered a nearby restaurant.

After parking, I headed straight for that restaurant. I didn’t care if he was with a bunch of businessmen or out on a date. He was going to hear from me. I whooshed past the maître’d and searched hard for the very, tall guy that I’d seen emerge from the Porsche. Bingo! He was alone at the bar, already halfway through a beer.

 “Hi!” I said with a big smile, sitting down next to him. “Are you aware of what just transpired between us outside?” He was genuinely confused.

 “You purposefully took the parking space that you saw me waiting for and even ran your stop sign to do it.”

 He looked down sheepishly and I had the sense that drinking on his lunch hour was common.

“Someone did that to me here last week,” he stammered.

 “That’s hardly an excuse,” I said. “Look, it seems like you’re having a rough time right now but if you start being nicer to the folks around you, things just might get better.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

 “Thank God,” I laughed. “For a minute there I thought I might have to beat you up!”

 He smiled.  Me, too.  See what happens when you shake things up?  Now, open your icebox and ask the dog what she’d like for dinner.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY TRIBE

GIRLS CLUB

Much ado is made of the importance of diet, exercise, sleep and lack of stress in order for us to age healthfully. What is less known is the impact that community has on us psychologically. According to research, our connections with others greatly impact both our physical and mental health.  “We are stronger when we come together,” Sebastian Junger writes in, “Tribe.” He warns, however, that in America, “we are rich enough as a society to not need each other much,” and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a 1979 study on civil violence from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the authors concluded that, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose which results in an improvement in their mental health.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022399979900515) This is one explanation for why both suicides and terrorist rampages decline during wartime and natural disasters.

The “Nun Study” begun in the 1980’s, found that social connections with others could actually overshadow physiological realities. An elder nun whose brain showed significant Alzheimer’s disease and plaque lesions exhibited almost no cognitive impairment during her lifetime. Yet, another nun with only minor pathology was highly dysfunctional. The difference? The first nun had a vast network of social connections while the second had none. (https://www.psychiatry.umn.edu/research/research-labs-and-programs/nun-study)

In the last 40 years, I have lived in seven states and 10 cities. Each time that I move, I begin connecting.  I visit the police station, post office, library, supermarket, attend churches, local events and join the gym.  I am always looking for trustworthy, simpatico comrades of both sexes. In hindsight, I was building my tribes without even realizing it! Above is a photo from my recent birthday party. While I’ve known three of these women for more than 50 years, the others I just met in the last two. However, I believe that every one of them would take me in or bail me out of jail if necessary and I would do the same for them.

So who is in your ‘tribe’? Who are, “The people around you that you would both help feed and defend,” asks Junger? Who has your best interest at heart and brings out your highest self? Your answer may not even include your own family. Without these social networks, Junger says that we are just, “dead inside.” So, whether you are 17 or 70, it is never too late to start building your own tribe. Remember, all friends were once total strangers.

 

A BICYCLE BUILT FOR YOU

A BICYCLE BUILT FOR YOUbike path

Hey kids: If you want to slow down your aging process, lengthen your telomeres! How do you do that? Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. As they become shorter, their structural integrity weakens, which causes cells to age and die younger. In recent studies, shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Recently, a significant link between irisin levels in the blood and telomere length has been discovered. Irisin is a hormone released from muscle cells after endurance exercise and it extends your telomere length! People who have higher irisin levels are “biologically younger” than those with lower levels of the hormone. Not only that, irisin reprograms the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it.

When irisin levels rise through aerobic exercise, the hormone switches on genes that convert white fat into “good” brown fat. This is beneficial because brown fat burns off more calories beyond just the energy used to do the actual aerobic exercise. This helps you maintain a healthy BMI, avoid obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes. In addition, irisin stimulates the growth of neurons and improves cognition!

So, how do you up your irisin? Eat plenty of citrus, berries, carrots, tomatoes, nuts and whole grains. Then, take a ride on your bike or a brisk walk. Irisin levels increase with regular aerobic exercise like biking or swimming, but not during short-term bursts of anaerobic muscle activity, like yoga. Exercise is already known to have wide-ranging benefits, from cardiovascular protection to weight loss. Now, there is a molecular link between keeping active and a healthy aging process.

Oh, and while you’re at it, toss a little choline into your diet. It reduces levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that acts as a neurotoxin and contributes to Alzheimer’s by forming amyloid plaques in your brain. It also causes inflammation and can lead to neuronal death. Eggs, liver, peanuts, meats and dairy foods will up your choline in no time!

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS . . .

NOW

Talk about basting a turkey. When the Kardashians started taking fat from their thighs and injecting it to plump up their lips and butts it sounded pretty disgusting. Lately, however, that fat has been making its’ way into arthritic joints with some pretty impressive, albeit momentary results. Given that I need double knee replacements, this idea appealed to me but only briefly. You see, the problem is that the injected fat not only won’t stay put but ultimately cannot regenerate cartilage. Thus, one is back to where one started.  

Isn’t that the conundrum of life? No matter where we go—there we are. Well, not quite. Stanford neurosurgeon, James Doty, says that we actually spend 80% of our time NOT in the present. We are either regretting something from the past or anticipating something in the future. In essence, we are not ‘here’ at all. We are, as Eckhart Tolle would say, ‘unconscious.’

In “The Power of Now,” Tolle warns that we must rid ourselves of our analytical, egotistical mind and embrace this moment now, with all of our being. “The more you are focused on time—the past or the future—the more you miss the NOW.” The acceptance of what is, he assures us, will bring inner peace and joy. Being ‘present,’ of course, means different things to different people. Even lunatics are convinced of their sanity.

In 1990, my grandmother, deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s, was certain that, “Teddy Roosevelt is president!” Currently, dementia claims the lives of 1 in 3 seniors. So, dear readers, since we are all at risk, let’s be watchful of each other! Mood changes are one of the first signs of mental instability in a loved one. Later, aspects of one’s personality often amplify; a bossy person becomes downright authoritarian or a shy person withdraws completely.

A few months ago, noted biologist, David Goodall, ended his life legally in Switzerland at the age of 104. He was of sound mind and in good health but could no longer do the things that brought him joy. While he lived very in the moment (even singing to the press the day before his death), his own ‘now’ had become dark and empty. Thus, while mine is still joyful, I shall focus on these words as I wish you a warm and very ‘present’ Thanksgiving. Trusting that you will let me know should my syntax start slipping.

 

INSIDE OUT

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Last week, the Inside Out art project came to my town. Their truck rolled up in front of the library and we, local residents let them take 4’ by 3’, black and white photos of us. These were then pasted on the walkways in front of the library. I was amazed at the diversity of faces. Our art statement didn’t last long as it rained the following day and all became a gray mush. It was a great reminder, though, of the brevity of our lives. That is why it is so important to shine while our light still flickers!

Recently, I spoke to a group on Alzheimer’s. Since all had been (or were), caregivers, I assumed they would ask questions about the disease and its’ progression. Instead, I faced a room full of people terrified that it might happen to them! In fact, one perfectly, healthy woman was actually taking an Alzheimer’s medication in hopes of preventing it before it started!

Considering that 1 million people will have dementia in some form by 2025, their concerns are valid. So, here’s what we know so far: there is NO cure or drug that can really help yet. No. Nothing–so don’t fall for those TV commercials. However, here are a few things we DO know that will give you the best prevention possible:

  1. Smoking increases your dementia risk 30-50%.
  2. Drinking one Coke a day ups your risk by 30%.
  3. Although few of my readers likely play football–watch for blows to the head—they cause inflammation to the nervous system and increase the tau proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.
  4. Keep your blood pressure low.
  5. Playing a musical instrument lowers your risk by 36%. Taking up the harmonica can’t hurt.
  6. Yeah get off your butt—stub out your butt—and no more ifs ands or buts. THIS is the MOST important one!  

 Here’s the mystery of life: the things we plan for rarely happen and the ones we don’t expect often smack us right between the eyes. Considering that 24% of boys born today and 35% of girls will eventually develop dementia, starting healthy behaviors now will have a more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Plus, if you wanna see your face plastered up real big, track down the Inside Out Project! Smiling increases longevity and makes you feel good inside and out!