IT’S A NO BRAINER

choco

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.

 

 

 

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A LEG TO STAND ON

cropped-helen-leg-up-w-sky1.jpgBy the time you read this, they’ll be wheeling me into surgery for “total arthroplasty;” a knee replacement, or as my husband fondly describes it: “Basically, they’re gonna saw your leg in half and then hammer it back together with plastic/metal parts.” Sounds about right. 15 years ago, two sets of doctors in two different states told me that I needed double knee replacements. So, I quit running, took up swimming and learned to navigate differently, like taking stairs sideways and employing ample use of the lob in my tennis game. Anything to avoid the scalpel!

 As a result, I had more years on these knees than the medical profession deemed possible. They have jumped out of airplanes, ridden motorcycles, run thousands of miles, danced the Twist, tapped the Time Step, moonwalked, rocked babies, hiked the Grand Canyon, planted gardens and planked. They even marched me out to centerfield at 26 major league ball stadiums to sing the anthem. However, they are tired and who can blame them?

 Now don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely terrified of all things medical. If there’s even a hypodermic needle on a TV show, I look away. So, I will not be waltzing into the hospital with a big smile on my face. Nope. Thanks to my stubbornness, I will now be limping in on crutches. The pain is so severe that I figure anything the doctor does has to be better than this. And aren’t I lucky? Imagine if I were this crippled back in the 50’s? I wouldn’t even have the option of replacing my knee!

 I have dreaded this day for 15 years but now embrace it. I no longer can count on my knees to hold me up. Yesterday, as I hobbled into the gym, the left one gave out as it does suddenly and lurched me straight into a much older man walking with his wife. Terrified of falling, I gripped his upper body for dear life. He froze. Finally, I steadied myself and let go. He just stared at me without saying a word. “I’m so sorry,” I sputtered. “You’ll have to forgive me, this is how I meet men!” “Oh,” he smiled as if suddenly understanding, “Next time, I’ll be ready for you!” By then, of course, I do hope to have at least one, good leg to stand on. 🙂

 

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!

 

SURPRISE!!!

Broken Chair

Last week, one of my tennis partners and I found ourselves in a heart to heart talk about aging. Her husband recently had a stroke and can’t speak. She is his fulltime caregiver. “There are so many years behind me,” she said sadly, “and so much fewer ahead.”  So true.

 A few days later, a friend confided, “Aging is hard. I never knew it would be this hard. Sometimes I wonder if I have the strength for it.” She just got out of the hospital after what she thought was a routine bronchitis, which she’d had before. This time, she couldn’t shake it alone.

 Another emailed after taking a cruise to say that he had, “really wanted to hike through Europe” but feared his legs might not hold him up. Instead, he “saw it mostly through my cabin window.” Still another told me that she is, “terrified of falling.   I’ve put night-lights every six feet in my house. If I fall again, I’m dead. That’s it.” She recently had a hip replaced and the recovery took almost a year.

 I could chalk my friends off as being ‘alarmists’ or ‘overly pessimistic,’ but they echo my own sentiments. I, too, have set myself a daily routine to maximize safety and minimize stress. I swim, but only so far, so as not to overtax my shoulders. I walk, but avoid hills, so as not to overstress my knees. I eat healthy, nap, meditate, do mild yoga, read enlightening books and practice music daily to keep my synapses sharp.

 However, all of this moderation only carries one so far. There is no accounting for the surprises that life can throw your way. This afternoon, I made a salad and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine. As I sat down on the chair, the seat underneath me gave way. Not only did I jolt my joints but my lovely salad spread itself all over the pavement.

 Apparently, there’s good reason for all of us to take extra precautions. Right now, the accidental death rate is up 12% in the US. Why? Falls among the elderly and drug overdoses. Shakespeare, describing impending death in Hamlet said this: “And by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” For now, I’ve decided to appreciate those ‘shocks.’ It means that I’m still here to tell you about them.  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

MIRROR, MIRROR!

mirror mirror

While Christmas shopping, I stopped into Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up a larger oven mitt for my husband. Lately, he’s been cooking up a storm and mine is much too small for his hands. While there, I noticed a woman my age staring at herself in the above mirror. Now I don’t know about you but the last thing I want for Christmas is a $200 mirror that lights up AND magnifies my face up to 5 times its’ size!

 But apparently this woman did. Her husband, however, was not such an easy sell. He was astounded by the price tag and kept staring hard into the mirror, as if trying to figure out just what the heck she saw in that thing. Maybe it was like the magic mirror in Snow White and was telling her that she was the, ‘fairest of all,’ but somehow I didn’t think so.

 At one point, he even raised his voice and said, “Jesus, Lorraine. No one should have to spend that kind of money just to look at their own face. You already know what it looks like by now. Besides, it’s beautiful to me. That’s all that matters.” I was impressed by the way he finessed his way out of that one, cuz moments later, they both left happy.

 As soon as they did, I hustled over and stared hard into that mirror. Fortunately, I wasn’t wearing my glasses, for even without the lights on, it was a startling sight. My face was about the size of a cantaloupe, my pores looked like the surface of the moon after multiple Apollo landings and my nose clearly resembled the big dipper. Yikes!!

 This afternoon my husband came home from the ophthalmologist who just prescribed him, ‘blue light blocking’ glasses to wear when driving at night. Apparently, removing this band from the visible spectrum enables us to see better in the dark and also protects our eyes. Gosh, if they can do that, surely they can make those, ‘rose colored’ glasses for real, right? Until then, I shall muddle along happily seeing through my ‘glass darkly,’ without spending one, single, solitary cent.   

 

 

DANCING IN THE DARK?

hiking w: Herb

An older friend of mine recently asked me to hike with him. He said it would be easy on my knees and I’d love the view so I said, ‘Sure.’ He arrived with his walking stick, water bottle and a grand sense of confidence. As I looked up at the trail he had chosen for us, I remarked, “Gosh! This looks pretty steep!” “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It’s really easy. I’ve done this hike many, many times.”

 What he had forgotten was that he had not done this particular hike in more than 15 years. For less than 5 minutes later, after slipping on gravel and struggling to get our footholds, we both had to turn around. It was hard for him to give up and I could see the disappointment in his face. In his mind, this exact hike had once been truly easy for him.

 Funny how we remember things, isn’t it? Science says that our memories are often faint and altered recollections of what actually transpired. They have now discovered that each time we recall one, it actually takes on a slightly, different tenor. A recent article in Science Digest says, “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.” We have 86 billion neurons in our brains to keep them humming and yet? Apparently that’s not enough to keep our memories both exact and intact.

 Not long ago I said to my husband: “Remember when we used to go dancing?” His reply? “Honey, we only danced when we were dating, not once we got married. I think you’re confused.” I was dumbfounded. Apparently, dancing with him was SO memorable that 37 years has not extinguished my memory of it. Then again, his memory may not be accurate and maybe we’ve been dancing all along.

 

 

REALITY CHECK

 

ssa

This is where I found myself last week, registering for Medicare. Yes, that program for OLD people; the one my grandmother was on for as long as I can remember. The whole process felt like a dream that someone—anyone–else should be doing but me. And yet? Here is where I find myself: almost 65. It’s not that I don’t own the years. I just can’t quite come to grips with the fact that now they own me.

 If you look at the statistics—and I do—they are sobering: 63% of folks over 65 are in need of long-term care. The probability of my becoming disabled or cognitively impaired is 68%. Finally there is this: 69% of us will develop disabilities before we die and 35% of us will enter a nursing home! ‘Not me,’ I can hear you saying. Well, I’m saying it, too, but talk is cheap.

 It’s hard enough to face one’s own mortality without having to sign on the dotted line about it. I also have to, “Choose a plan from A to N.” What that really means is: do I pick the Pollyanna plan which says that I’m healthy, will live forever and nothing bad will ever happen to me? Or, do I pick the plan that has me covered if I break every bone in my body, contract cancer and have only 6 weeks to live?

 In times like these, I often refer to the wisdom of noted neurologist and philosopher, Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” It is a book that I read in my youth and one which speaks to me still.       

 “The pessimist observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. The optimist removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it carefully away. He reflects with pride and joy on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What does it matter to him that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.”

 Ah, clearly I should face this new reality with the spirit of possibility and carry on.   N’est-ce-pas?