Some thoughts and ideas about staying healthy, fit and active after reaching 50.
“What if I told you there was something you can do right now that would have an immediate, positive benefit on your brain, including your mood and your focus?”, asks Dr Wendy Suzuki, a professor of neuroscience at New York University.
In a recent TED Talk, viewed by over 3.4 million people, Dr Suzuki explains that exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain. Exercise improves parts of the brain associated with memory and learning.
“Exercise is not going to cure Alzheimer’s or dementia, but it anatomically strengthens two of the key target brain areas of both of those diseases”, Dr Suzuki says.
Of note, three of the largest benefits are better mood, improved memory and enhanced attention.
A recent study by the US National Institute of Health shows that cognition is improved in older adults, even those with dementia.
“Encouraging evidence indicates that being more physically active is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults”, reports the NIH.
A Swedish study, published in the medical journal ‘Neurology’, showed that women who were in better cardiovascular health had an 88% lower risk of getting dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association promotes exercise as helping to reduce the risk of getting the disease and this is supported by the University of Southern California’s work that shows up to a third of Alzheimer’s cases are preventable through lifestyle changes, including exercise.
The good news is that we don’t have to begin exercising in our youth. Benefits and improvements can be measured and felt in those starting to exercise after fifty years of age. The clear message is “it’s never too late to start exercising for improved cognitive health”.
As always, if you’re new to exercise, a chat with your doctor before starting any exercise programme is always recommended.
A recent study published by University College London suggests that four out of five Britons have prematurely aged hearts caused by poor lifestyles.
In the worst cases, men and women in their mid-40s had hearts more typical of 60 year olds. This disparity puts them at much greater risk of heart attack, stroke and other diseases.
The study’s findings are based of 575,000 responses to the Heart Age Calculator on the NHS Choices Website. The calculator gives a heart age estimate based on height, weight, age, exercise levels, and how much someone smokes and drinks alcohol.
Heart disease is the nation’s biggest killer and claims 155,000 lives a year. But the University College London team believe that these deaths are preventable though lifestyle changes.
Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation was involved in the UCL study. He said: “We eat too much, do too little exercise and as a population we are more at risk of developing heart disease. Knowing your heart age is vital to taking control of your health.”
Have a look at the Heart Age Calculator on the NHS Choices website.
A recent study has shown that loss of balance is not just a problem for the oldest. Like strength, agility and muscle mass, balance tends to start declining in midlife.
“We think of it as an older person’s problem because we see the catastrophic consequences of older people falling and breaking a hip,” says Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the American Council on Exercise. But small changes that start earlier can affect everything from athletic performance to the ability to easily rise from a chair, he says.
The study, published in the ‘Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences’, found that these declines start with people in their 50s. The study involved 775 adults aged between 30 and 90 plus and tested them on balance, gait speed, aerobic endurance and the ability to repeatedly sit and stand.
All scores decreased from the younger participants to the older ones, but scores for balance and the ‘sit and stand’ test were the first to fall, starting with people in their 50s.
The average thirty or forty something could balance for around 60 seconds, but people in their 50s could only manage 45 seconds. The decline increased for people in their 60s with a balance time of around 40 seconds and, for people in their 70s, it was 27 seconds. For people over 80, it was 12 seconds.
“You should be thinking about balance before you have a fall,” says Professor Hall, one of the study’s authors.
Balance is not just a case of how well the vestibular system of the inner ear works. Declines in strength, flexibility, vision, touch and mental functioning can all affect balance, says Assistant Professor Peter Wayne, from Harvard Medical School.
“Balance is a very complicated process,” says Wayne. But the experts note that making improvements can be simple. Here are a few tips:
• Practice standing on one foot and challenge yourself to increase the time. You can do this waiting in a queue or while brushing your teeth. If that’s too challenging, begin by using the back of a chair or bathroom counter for support. As you progress, try raising your foot higher or holding it out to the side. For extra challenge, try standing on a cushion or closing your eyes.
• Try heel-to-toe walking, as if on a balance beam.
• Practice getting in and out of a chair without using your hands.
• Exercise while standing on a Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
If you have already fallen, are unsteady on your feet or have a medical condition affecting your balance, you should get advice from your GP before trying the above exercises. If you become suddenly unsteady or dizzy, you should seek medical advice.
Experts have found that women who have been overweight for at least a decade are more likely to become ill with cancer. Being obese for 10 years or more significantly raises the risk of womb cancer. Other cancers, such as bowel, kidney and pancreatic cancer are also more likely to occur.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) monitored 74,000 women over a 12 year period. They found that for every decade a woman spent overweight, the risk of breast cancer increased by five per cent and womb cancer by 17 per cent.
However, among the most overweight women, the increase for breast cancer was 8 per cent and for womb cancer 37 per cent.
Scientists knew the link existed between cancer and body composition, but the length of time a woman is overweight has now become significant risk factor.
The WHO report said: “Health teams should recognise the potential of obesity management in cancer prevention. Weight is important to manage, regardless of the age of the patient.”
A recent study suggests that that exercising four times a week could reverse the early stages of dementia. The Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina studied volunteers aged 55 to 89 over a 6 month period, having them exercise four times a week for 45 minutes.
The participants, all suffering with mild cognitive impairment, often the first stage of dementia, showed improvements in their planning ability, multi-tasking and daily activities. Blood flow to the brain increased and they had lower Tau protein levels. This protein attacks the brain and is thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
The study included a control group who only did gentle stretching exercises and experienced none of the benefits shown in the group which exercised.
It is the first time experts have found such strong evidence suggesting that exercise can be used to treat dementia.
Professor Laura Baker, of Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina will repeat the trial using 200 scientists and thousands of patients across America.
Dr James Pickett, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: This research suggests that it’s never too late to take up exercise when you can.”