Posts Tagged ‘Longevity’

Longevity – To What Avail?

June 7th, 2016 at 5:20 pm by timigustafson

A long life has always been considered a desirable objective for most people, and modern science, abundant food supply and hygienic living conditions are making it possible for ever greater parts of the population to achieve this goal.

Over the past 200 years the average life expectancy has doubled, and some experts say that human longevity has not even reached its peak yet. They are not talking about the distant future. In fact, the first person to live to a 150 may already have been born.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the once leading causes of illness and death – mostly through infectious and parasitic diseases – have all been dramatically reduced with vaccinations, dietary improvements, better health education, and overall higher standards of living.

Obviously, conditions still vary widely from country to country, but generally people now live much longer than ever, worldwide. In some places, those reaching 85 and older already make up the fastest growing part of the populace. Globally, their numbers will quadruple by mid-century. The number of centenarians is projected to increase 10-fold over the same time period.

Being able to extend life, of course, is a great success, especially when it comes with a reasonably high quality of life. But simply adding years of sickness, frailty and decline is not a very appealing prospect. Unfortunately, the progress we are making in terms of keeping people around longer is not always matched by advances in personal health and fitness – both physically and mentally.

Today’s seniors, especially in the developed world, could not only be the longest living but also the healthiest generation, based on the level of healthcare and health education available to them.

But sadly, the facts don’t bear this out. Dying prematurely from infectious diseases may be a thing of the past, but those threats have been replaced by a host of diet and lifestyle-related chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Most of these are treatable and could be prevented altogether. But according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only a miniscule percentage of the population pays enough attention and adheres to behaviors that can reduce the risk of developing these ailments.

And yet, the steps to take are simple and widely accepted as effective, proactive health measures. They include a healthful diet, regular exercise, persistent weight management, stress reduction, sufficient sleep, and avoidance of smoking, alcohol- and drug abuse. To follow any (or preferably all) of these, it is never too soon or too late.

Adding years to life may be a worthwhile pursuit for its own sake, but without adding life to years by maintaining good health, it will likely be a sadly diminished outcome.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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Men Must Learn to Cope with Longer Lives

March 28th, 2016 at 8:10 pm by timigustafson

Men used to have shorter life spans than women, according to statistics that seemed unchanging for many decades. But lately the gap started to close, and at least part of the male population is now making headways in terms of healthy aging and longevity.

Causes for higher mortality rates among men were traditionally seen in health problems like heart disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, and greater accident proneness, all mostly related to diet and lifestyle habits.

Many of these outcomes are related to behaviors that are encouraged or accepted more in men than in women, according to government research, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating highly caloric foods, and also engaging in risky activities like gun use, extreme sports, and working in hazardous jobs.

Smoking in particular is still seen as a leading contributor to early deaths. On the other hand, reduction in tobacco use is being credited as one of the most important factors in the improvement of public health and life expectancy, especially among middle-aged and older former smokers.

However, the benefits of positive lifestyle changes are not equally distributed. Almost only educated and well-off males are seeing their odds turning in their favor. High earners in non-hazardous occupations who live in safe and clean environments, can afford to eat well and have easy access to healthcare can expect to live significantly longer than their less fortunate counterparts, recent surveys report.

Surprisingly, it is older women – even if they live reasonably long lives – who nowadays suffer from more diseases and disabilities than other demographics. One reason may be that aging females, especially if they live alone, have on average fewer economic resources available to them. Therefore they may not be as able to accommodate their declines in functioning when they occur, says Dr. Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study on age-related health issues.

Unfortunately, debilitating illnesses tend to build on each other, she says. That, of course, applies to both sexes. It becomes harder to perform daily routines like dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, driving, etc, which all worsen outcomes in many ways.

The fact is that we cannot simply judge the health status of older generations in terms of added years of life expectancy, but that we should look more closely at the quality of their day-to-day lives.

While expanding lifetimes can certainly be seen as part of healthy aging, how this extra time can be filled and enjoyed may be the more compelling issue.

For aging Baby Boomers, this may become the greatest challenge they have to face yet, namely how to make their unprecedented longevity sustainable, both for themselves and for society at large.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Lessons in Positive Thinking

May 9th, 2015 at 3:13 pm by timigustafson

For most of my career as a dietitian and health counselor I have paid much attention to the deficiencies in my clients’ diet and lifestyle choices and how these could be changed for the better. Over the years, however, I began focusing more on what went right in their lives and how their strengths could be utilized in order to overcome their weaknesses. You may say I applied (unknowingly) what is now known as “positive psychology.”

When I say, “what went right in their lives,” I do not necessarily mean whether they were successful at their work, were financially secure, or had stable marriages and relationships – although these may be important aspects as well – but rather, on a more intimate level, whether they had a sense of self-esteem, fulfillment, gratitude, purpose, and looked optimistically to the future.

This is in fact what practitioners of positive psychology are also most interested in. Their goal is to overcome existing negative thinking styles, mainly by fostering positive ones. They try to achieve this by having their clients recall pleasant past experiences, build on advantageous traits and characteristics, cultivate supportive relationships, and so forth. The desired end result is what proponents call “living the good life,” which, again, is not simply to be equated with material wealth.

The “good life” is happy, engaged, and meaningful. To realize it, one must mobilize inherent strengths, thereby increasing positive emotions while decreasing negative ones, according to Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of several best-selling self-help books who is widely credited as one of the founders and early developers of positive psychology as its own academic branch.

Traditional psychology has almost always been concerned with mental and emotional disorders and malfunctions and ways to treat them, he explains. By contrast, positive psychology adds an important emphasis on the human potential for building and maintaining highly functional and constructive lives.

A number of distinct theories have entered this relatively new field lately. Some focus on basic emotions like joy and happiness, others on the human capacity to create purpose and meaning. The ability to blissfully immerse oneself in one’s work, to flourish while encountering challenges, or to stay resilient in the face of adversity – these are all elements that can contribute to a person’s well-being and are worthy of further exploration.

And the positive effects are not limited to the mind but benefit the body as well. Plenty of research has already shown that a positive attitude can be enormously advantageous for good health, and even longevity. One study from the Netherlands found that heart disease patients who maintained a generally optimistic outlook were able to slow down the progress of their illness and extend their life expectancy by several years.

Of course, the reason why some people continue to thrive while others quickly succumb in similar situations is still a mystery. However, clearly distinguishable ways of thinking seem to make at least some difference that can determine outcomes.

And no doubt, in my own work as a health counselor, I have also reaped the benefits from seeing the glass more often as half-full than half-empty. And because optimism tends to be contagious, there lies some healing power for my clients in that, too.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Look Back Once in a While – With Gratitude

April 9th, 2015 at 1:35 pm by timigustafson

All therapy is about change. Whether someone seeks professional advice or follows a self-help program, the underlying assumption is always that something is wrong and needs fixing. In my line of work, as a health counselor, it’s usually about diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, etc. that could be improved upon.

But when I find myself coaching clients how to overcome their shortcomings, I often wonder why there is so little attention being paid to what is right and works well in their lives already. Shouldn’t we all be encouraged to draw more often from our strengths rather than constantly be reminded of our weaknesses? Isn’t there anything that’s good enough to learn from and build on? Why not look back on occasion and appreciate what we have already accomplished and what we have been successful at?

Questions like these, of course, go to the heart of what has become known as the power of positive thinking, or positive psychology, and its potential influence on health outcomes, both physical and mental. The very idea that looking at life with a greater sense of optimism, appreciation, and gratitude could enhance a person’s well-being in multiple ways has become increasingly accepted among health experts, and was widely popularized by the work of psychologists like Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of CaliforniaDavis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami who both have done extensive research on the subject.

In their combined research, they found that evoking feelings of gratitude can help people develop other positive emotions that, in turn, can be instrumental in their dealings with issues like weight control, stress management, or relational problems.

Another leader in the field of positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, successfully pioneered many psychological intervention methods to treat patients with clinical depression.

In tests conducted by Emmons and McCullough, participants who were asked to focus on their daily misgivings and irritations fared much worse in terms of overall well-being than their counterparts who directed their attention mostly on pleasant experiences. The differences were not just of emotional nature but extended demonstratively to physical symptoms and conditions as well.

Cultivating a grateful and appreciative attitude can be advantageous in almost any situation. People with a positive disposition tend to cope more efficiently and constructively with life’s daily challenges. It’s like they are getting a boost from a source deep within that gives them greater strength and resilience.

Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take good care of their physical health and wellbeing, says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” (William Morrow, 2014). They are motivated to maintain a health lifestyle and get regular medical check-ups because they value themselves, she says.

The fact is that it doesn’t really take great efforts to reach the point where a positive outlook becomes natural. Simply ask yourself a few questions by the end of your day, suggests Lindsay Holmes who writes for Huffington Post’s “GPS for the Soul” – e.g. What did I learn today? How do I feel about what happened or did not happen? What can I do better tomorrow? Where am I in my pursuit of my goals? Be encouraged about your advances, and forgiving with your setbacks. Making this a habit will not only foster a generally more optimistic perspective but also lead to greater success and fulfillment in the long run.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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What Determines Longevity Remains a Mystery

November 19th, 2014 at 3:04 pm by timigustafson

More people than ever live past 100 years of age. So-called “supercentenarians,” those who reach 110 and beyond, are rising in numbers all over the world, 75 individuals to date and counting.

What are the causes of such extreme longevity and what is different about these ancient folks that lets them outlast normal mortals by decades? A new study tried to find answers by investigating the genetic traits of a small group of participants between the ages of 110 and 116.

By sequencing the genomes of 16 women and one man, all of whom were living in the United States at the time of the study, the researchers hoped to find genetic commonalities that could help explain their extraordinary life spans. Unfortunately, their findings were inconclusive.

“Our hope was that we would find a longevity gene,” said Dr. Stuart Kim, a professor of biology and genetics at Stanford University and lead author of the study report to Reuters. “We were pretty disappointed.”

Regardless of his study’s meager outcome, Dr. Kim remains optimistic that more research will eventually be able to identify genetic causes as the driving force behind longevity.

“This marks the beginning of the search for key genes for extreme longevity,” he said. “These supercentenarians have a different clock where they are staying really highly functional for a long time. We wanted to know what they had. It’s pretty clearly genetic.”

The reason why it is hard to pinpoint specific genetic characteristics that may be responsible for greater life expectancy is that the genetic effects are likely very complex and involve mechanisms in the body that are not yet fully understood, he said.

While experts have long debated whether nature or nurture is ultimately the decisive factor in how well we age, whether some of us are born to last longer or whether diet and lifestyle play a role, it is clear for Dr. Kim that genetic make-up outdoes anything we can add in terms of healthy living. Among the participants in his study he found no especially health-promoting eating or exercise habits. About half of them were even long-time smokers.

Also, there is no evidence that the achievements of modern medicine are extending the maximum life span today’s humans can hope for in comparison to their ancestors, according to Dr. Leonard Hayflick, a professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco and author of the gerontology classic, titled “How and Why We Age” (Ballantine Books 1994).

What advances in medical science have produced, however, is a greater possibility to delay the effects of illnesses commonly associated with old age.

Both social changes like greater hygiene, reduced rates of smoking, better diet, and other personal health and lifestyle choices, as well as medical intervention have increased for many more people the number of years they enjoy in good health and vigor and decreased the time spent in illness and decline. This phenomenon is known as “compression” because it compresses age-related susceptibility to diseases into a shorter period. It is that growing vulnerability and lessening strength to fend off illnesses that make us become more frail and eventually succumb.

And here is where nurturing can help us to fare better. By adhering to a healthy diet, controlling weight, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and so forth, we are indeed able to fortify our natural defenses and, as Dr. Kim suspects, slow down the clock.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Extreme Longevity – Progress or Worrisome Prospect?

May 10th, 2014 at 7:45 am by timigustafson

Alexander Imich is officially the oldest man alive. A few weeks ago he turned 111, still living independently in his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is not the currently longest-living human, though. 66 women surpass him, including the eldest, Misao Okawa, a 116-year-old lady from Japan, as recently reported by the New York Times. But despite of the noteworthiness of these examples, extreme longevity is no longer a rare exception but is becoming a growing trend.

According to the most recent data collected by the Census Bureau, over 53,000 people are now 100 years and older in the United States alone.

The “oldest old” – those who are 90 and beyond – are the fastest expanding segment of the U.S. population. Today there are nearly two million nonagenarians. That number will likely increase to 10 to 12 million by mid-century, a prospect that raises multiple concerns in terms of healthcare and retirement issues.

A study titled “90+,” conducted by the University of California, Irvine and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), has followed this demographic since 2003. As reported by 60 Minutes, the news magazine on CBS, it is the largest study on the subject of old age to date, and includes clinical, pathological, and genetic research, involving more than 1,600 participants.

While the study is still ongoing, it has already produced some surprising results. For example, putting on a little extra weight late in life does not as much harm as previously thought and may even have some benefits. Eating right is still important, but adding more nutrients, e.g. by taking vitamin supplements, seems to have no noticeable effects. On the other hand, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee can indeed promote healthy aging and increase longevity, the researchers found.

Mental health, however, is less assured, no matter what action is taken. Over 40 percent of nonagenarians suffer from dementia, and about half of those are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The causes are not fully understood yet, but experts say that lack of physical activity may be a contributing factor. Naturally, most 90-year-olds do not or are not able to exercise rigorously.

What we learn from the longest living among us is that they generally make healthy diet and lifestyle choices, but they don’t obsess over them. Education, access to healthcare, and standard of living are clearly important components, but so are good marriages, friendships, and an active social life. Purpose and meaningful work also play a role. Communities, neighborhoods, and even climatic and geographic differences seem to contribute to longevity. In other words, it is not one thing or set of rules people who age well live by – but usually a whole package that fulfills their needs and lets them thrive over long periods of time.

We are witnessing an extraordinary growth of aging populations throughout the world, and the current trends will likely accelerate in the future. How we handle the challenges that come with longer life expectancy, demographic changes, age-related disease, and many others, depends on how well we understand the natural aging process and meet its demands. Extending the human life span further and further, just because our medical and pharmaceutical advances enable us to do so, may not be the best way to go – it may not even be the right way.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Love Can Preserve Health and Add Years to Life

May 3rd, 2014 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson

Love may not be all you need, but a loving relationship offers countless benefits and can even be a lifesaver. Loving someone and being loved in return does not only make us happier, it also motivates us to take better care of our health, reduces our stress, and can extend our lifespan, according to studies on the effects of marriage and other long-term relations on people’s wellbeing.

One such study found that marriage can improve a patient’s survival chances after heart surgery. Another concluded that married men seek medical help sooner when they experience symptoms of heart problems than their single counterparts.

Married people in general are more likely to have regular medical check-ups and other preventive healthcare measures, and when they get sick, they are better looked after than if they were on their own. That lowers their risk of dying from a catastrophic event like a heart attack or stroke, according to Dr. Clare Atzema, a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Canada, and lead author of one of the studies.

But it doesn’t have to come to such extremes before the benefits of being loved and cared for kick in. Studies have shown that people who are in stable relationships tend to engage less in risky behavior and are less prone to violence than those who are unattached. Similar effects are seen with regards to smoking and alcohol and drug use.

Especially young males seem to benefit from feeling valued, which can help avoid accidents and other calamites caused by recklessness, says Dr. Michael Murphy, a professor of demography at the London School of Economics, England, and author of one study on the subject.

None of this means that love makes us more virtuous or benevolent, but it does say something about the changes we undergo when connecting with another human being. The desire to get close to someone can bring out the best in us. We want to please, and so we are willing to do whatever it takes to make ourselves attractive to our love interest. If our feelings are returned, we benefit in multiple ways, not only emotionally but physically as well.

Scientists have found that people in strong relationships manage stressful events much more successfully than others who are alone or whose attachments are dysfunctional.

The effects of being in a relationship can cut both ways, the researchers of one study say. Especially in young marriages, both spouses have to figure out how to cope with the inevitable adversities life throws at them. If there is mutual support and care, it will make their bond stronger; if not, they will likely be torn apart. Only time can tell which path they will take.

Love, of course, also renders us extremely vulnerable. Breakup, divorce and widowhood are among the most devastating experiences we can go through. A broken heart can destroy our zest for life and even lead to our own demise. Loneliness and social isolation, especially at an advanced age, are known to contribute to depression and mental decline.

The ways we express love and form relationships have changed many times and will continue to do so. What remains is our need for love as a life-giving force that makes us whole and keeps us well. And that, nobody can do without.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Eat Less, Live Longer?

April 2nd, 2014 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

Finding ways to extend the human lifespan by observing certain diet and lifestyle regimens has been a centuries-old quest. Indeed, our average life expectancy has dramatically increased over time, at least in the wealthier parts of the world, due to improvements in hygiene, health care, and food supply. Yet science has still not been able to provide definite answers to what we can do to live longer.

Studies on longevity in connection with diet and lifestyle have been undertaken as early as the 16th century, most notably by one Luigi Cornaro, a Venetian who was known for his hard partying until his health failed him before he reached 50. In his autobiographical book, “Discourses on a Sober and Temperate Life,” which is still in print today, he claims that a radical change from unrestricted indulgence to Spartan simplicity not only restored his health but also added many more years to his life. He died at 98 – an exceptionally old age at his time.

A more systematic approach to studying the effects of diet on longevity was taken in the 1930s when scientists noticed that lab mice put on a calorie-restricted diet lived up to 40 percent longer than their abundantly fed counterparts. But still nobody knew the exact causes of the dramatic lifespan increases, let alone whether the findings were applicable to humans.

Two relatively recent studies tested independently from each other the impact of calorie restriction on health and mortality in rhesus monkeys. Both came up with opposite results.

In 2009, a study report issued by researchers from the University of Wisconsin claimed that a calorie-restricted diet regimen did actually favor longevity in the monkeys. But three years later, scientists at the National Institute of Aging laboratory in Baltimore who conducted similar studies found no evidence that providing their monkeys with less food made any difference in terms of lifespan, as they documented in their own report.

A subsequent dispute between the two research teams over their differing study results continues today.

Regardless of what animal tests are (or are not) able to show, it remains unclear how the outcomes can be made useful for humans.

To understand the effects of calorie restriction, one has to be careful to distinguish between undernutrition, in which all the essential nutrients the body needs to function properly and stay healthy are provided – albeit by using fewer calories, and malnutrition, where at least some nutrients are missing, potentially resulting in harmful deficiencies over time. The latter is certainly not recommended and is not likely to have any health benefits, including for longevity.

In the light of what we know about the health effects of diet to date, we can say with reasonable certainty that moderate calorie restriction in support of weight control is healthy and in any case preferable to excessive weight gain, one of the largest health threats looming today. To what extent that implicates life expectancy remains to be seen. More important to realize, however, is the fact that health-promoting diet and lifestyle choices contribute to the quality of life at any age and become even more significant as we grow older.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Outlook on Life May Influence Longevity, Study Finds

January 22nd, 2014 at 2:07 pm by timigustafson

That staying physically and mentally fit is important for healthy aging is old news. But how our attitudes can also influence how long we live is not as well understood. Now, a new study from England concluded that being happy, enjoying life, or at least having a sense of contentment may play a much larger role in the way we age than previously thought.

For the study, researchers from the University College London monitored physical and mental functions and also the emotional states of 3,200 male and female participants, all over the age of 60.

Those who reported having fun, doing things that gave them pleasure, maintaining an active social life, etc. were found to develop fewer impairments and showed slower declines compared to those who were less upbeat.

In fact, differences in attitude seemed to produce remarkable results. People with a lower sense of well-being were three times as likely to end up with health problems as they got older than those whose outlook remained positive.

Not surprisingly, those suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and depression tended to enjoy life the least, which obviously did not help improve their condition either.

The study also found that the happier people were not necessarily younger, richer, or even free from illness. The influence of their state of mind on their aging process persisted independent of these other factors, although financial security did apparently play a role, but only to a certain extent, according to Dr. Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care in the Faculty of Population Health Sciences, and British Heart Foundation professor for psychology in London, England, and author of the study.

These latest findings confirm those of another study he published in 2011. Back then, researchers found that participants who considered themselves the happiest could reduce their mortality risk by an astounding 35 percent compared to their least happy counterparts.

Five years into the study, the differences in terms of health status and mortality rates already showed. The happier people were overall healthier and aged better, even when taking other factors into account like gender, education, marital status, and financial situation.

What was methodically different in these two studies compared to others on the subject is that the researchers asked participants to rate their happiness level several times on one particular day, instead of having them answer general questions about their usual state of mind. By focusing on concrete situations and events and by observing specific responses, the researchers say they were able to discern attitudinal differences much better than they would have been by conducting surveys on a wider range of issues and relying on recollections of participants over longer periods of time.

While it remains undetermined whether positive emotions play a key role for longevity or are just one factor among others, there seem to be clear indications that how people feel about their lives at any given moment can have a significant impact.

Of course, what constitutes happiness is not easily defined. Some may say that people who seem outwardly grumpy or melancholic may not necessarily be devoid of pleasure or satisfaction. It could be just a matter of individual personality or how they behave socially. How emotions are expressed can also depend on cultural particularities.

One study from Austria found that more than momentarily occurring feelings, a deeper and lasting sense of contentment and gratitude that comes with growing maturity may produce the greatest benefits, including in terms of health and longevity.

The least we can take away from these findings is that people should take their moods more seriously, said Dr. Laura Kubzansky, a professor for social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University.

“I think people sort of undervalue emotional life anyway. This highlights the idea that if you are going through a period where you’re constantly distressed, it’s probably worth paying attention to how you feel – it matters for both psychological and physical health,” she said.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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For Healthy Aging, Just Keep Moving

January 8th, 2014 at 2:50 pm by timigustafson

The healthier and more physically fit you are, the better your chances will be to live a long and active life. While that may be true to a large extent, researchers now say that you don’t need to be a senior athlete to reap benefits from your physical condition. It may be enough to do just a little bit every day to keep you going. The rest is just icing on the cake, but it won’t make a decisive difference in how well you age.

A recent study from Sweden found that a generally active lifestyle, even without regular exercise sessions, can promote heart health and longevity. So-called “background activity,” the usual wear and tear your body undergoes as you navigate your day, has all too often been disregarded or underestimated in clinical studies on the importance of physical exercise in older people, the researchers said.

Whether someone exercises rigorously for half an hour or runs errands all day doesn’t make that much of a difference. What matters more is that there are no long periods of time sitting near motionlessly while watching television, reading, or doing work on the computer. A lifestyle that is excessively sedentary for whatever reason is the real culprit when people age badly, not only in physical but also in mental terms.

The difference in likelihood of dying from a heart attack or stroke between the most and the least active participants in the study was roughly 30 percent, which is substantial.

“These are fascinating findings,” said Dr. David Dunstan, head of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the study. “But [they are] not really surprising since other studies have looked at […] the detrimental relationship between excessive sitting and mortality outcomes,” he said to Reuters in response to the study’s publication.

What makes sitting so detrimental is that it prevents the muscles from contracting and causes decrease in blood flow, which reduces the efficiency of many body functions, including nutrient absorption, he added.

Even moderate exercise such as walking up the stairs, cleaning house, or carrying grocery bags across the parking lot can help strengthen muscles, including the most important of all, the heart muscle. For this reason, healthcare providers should encourage especially their older patients and those suffering from heart health problems not only to exercise regularly but also to sit less and move around whenever they have the chance.

Heart health is not the only concern scientists have when contemplating potential damages from lack of exercise. Prolonged sitting itself increases the risk of all causes of mortality, independent from activities like running or visits to the gym, another study found. Researchers from Harvard University concluded that sitting for several hours daily can contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes and certain forms of cancer, especially colon cancer in men.

People, like office workers, who have little choice but spending much of their time sitting should at least take regular breaks to walk around the building or office park to stretch their legs. Retired folks who have more control over their schedules should not sit at home reading or watching television but get out in the fresh air as often and as much as possible.

The good news is that increasing one’s activity level can be done at any stage in life. Numerous studies have confirmed that staying both physically and mentally engaged not only can extend life expectancy but also improve the quality of people’s later years. At any rate, it’s an investment worth making.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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