Yes, ten years. That’s the difference in brain aging in people who do light or no exercise and people who do moderate to intense exercise. Science Daily reports on a study, conducted by researchers from the University of Miami, Florida, that asked 876 people how long and how often they exercised during the two weeks prior to that date. An average of seven years later, each person was given tests of memory and thinking skills and a brain MRI, and five years after that they took the memory and thinking tests again. First, some numbers. About 90 percent of the participants reported light exercise (walking or yoga) or no exercise. The remaining 10 percent reported moderate to high intensity exercise (running, aerobics, or calisthenics). When the researchers looked at people who had no signs of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study, they found that those reporting low activity levels showed a greater decline over five years compared to those with high activity levels on tests of how fast they could perform simple tasks and how many words they could remember from a list. Yes, the difference was equal to 10 years of aging.
In healthy women at least, there appears to be a link between leg strength and brain activity. A news release from King’s College in London reports that researchers at the school have found that leg strength was a better predictor of brain health than any other lifestyle factor looked at in a recent study, which involved 324 healthy female twins, aged 43 to 73. The researchers measured thinking, learning and memory at both the beginning and end of the study. Generally, the twin who had more leg power at the start of the study sustained their cognition better and had fewer brain changes associated with aging measured after ten years.
Gretchen Reynolds, health columnist for the New York Times, has found some more evidence that exercise can slow the aging process. Aging is a process, right? Reynolds directs us to research conducted at the University of Mississippi and University of California, San Francisco, correlated the length of telomeres with amounts of exercise. Telomeres, Reynolds reminds us, are caps on the ends of DNA strands whose length is generally a good indicator health of a cell, and, not coincidentally, the age of a person. It works like this: the shorter the telomere (they naturally shorten with age) the older the person, and the less healthy the cell. OK, the researchers looked at data for about 6,500 people ranging in age from 20 to 84 about frequency of exercise, based on answers to questions about weight training, moderate exercise like walking, more vigorous exercise like running, or having walked or ridden a bike to work or school. Then they looked at telomere length, measured in blood samples. Ready, the envelope please…..The researchers found that the risk of having short telomeres declined as people reported doing more types of exercise. Specifically, the Times reports, people who reported two types of exercise were 24 percent less likely to have short telomeres; three types of exercise were 29 percent less likely; and those who had participated in all four types of activities were 59 percent less likely to have very short telomeres. Wait, there’s more: The Times reports that the associations were strongest among people between the ages of 40 and 65, suggesting that middle age may be a key time to begin or maintain an exercise program if you wish to keep telomeres from shrinking.
We all know that an apple a day may keep the doctor away, but now we know that apple peels may prevent older people from losing muscle mass. Researchers at the University of Iowa, mindful a protein that causes muscle loss as we age, have found two natural compounds that reduce the activity of that troublesome protein. A U of Iowa news release reports that ursolic acid, found in apple peels, and tomatidine, which comes from green tomatoes, both do the trick. Ursolic acid is also found in cranberries, basil, oregano, and peppermint. When elderly mice with age-related muscle weakness and atrophy were fed diets lacking or containing either 0.27 percent ursolic acid, or 0.05 percent tomatidine for two months, both compounds increased muscle mass by 10 percent, and more importantly, increased muscle quality, or strength, by 30 percent, essentially restoring muscle mass and strength to young adult levels. Next up: studies with humans, not mice. The UI study was done in collaboration with Emmyon, Inc., a UI-based biotechnology company that is now working to translate ursolic acid and tomatidine into foods, supplements, and pharmaceuticals that can help preserve or recover strength and muscle mass as people grow older.
The rich are different. So, according to the New York Times, are the athletic: they are younger than their chronological age. Times health columnist Gretchen Reynolds reports on research that attempted to determine the “fitness age” of people competing in the Senior Olympics, a biennial event for athletes over 50. The researchers asked all of this year’s Senior Olympic qualifiers to use a fitness age online calculator devised by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim who had taken note of epidemiological data showing that people with above-average cardiovascular fitness generally had longer life spans than people with lower aerobic fitness. The study yielded 4,200 responses. Ready? The envelope please….the researchers found that while the athletes’ average chronological age was 68, their average fitness age was 43.
The study was first done with yeast, then with mice. A University of Southern California news release reports, researchers at the school showed that cycles of a four-day low-calorie diet that mimics fasting (FMD) cuts visceral belly fat and elevates the number of stem cells in several organs of old mice — including the brain, where it boosts neural regeneration and improves learning and memory. The researchers found that an FMD, which started at middle age, extended life span, reduced the incidence of cancer, boosted the immune system, reduced inflammatory diseases, slowed bone mineral density loss and improved the cognitive abilities of older mice. Now the USC team is testing the diet, which slashes caloric intake down to 34 to 54 percent of normal, on people, and the findings are encouraging. Three cycles of a similar diet given to 19 subjects once a month for five days decreased risk factors and biomarkers for aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer with no major adverse side effects. USC’s Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and study leader, believes that for most normal people, the FMD can be done every three to six months. His group is testing its effect in a randomized clinical trial, which will be completed soon, with more than 70 subjects.
First, the news: after interviewing 1,656 married Americans ages 57 to 85, sociologists at Louisiana State University, Florida State University and Baylor University have determined that for many married couples, sex gets better. Did someone ask “When”? That’s the tricky part. As Jan Hoffman reports in the New York Times, the uptick–no not an unheaval- was found in couples who had been together for at least 50 years. Yes, five decades. And as the researchers put it: “an individual married for 50 years will have somewhat less sex than an individual married for 65 years.” The Times quotes Samuel Stroope, the lead author and an assistant professor of sociology at L.S.U. say this: “Sexual frequency doesn’t return to two to three times a month, but it moves in that direction.” Could be worse news.
OK, maybe its not eternal youth, but it’s definitely prolonged youth. Gretchen Reynolds reports in the New York Times on research conducted at King’s College in London that compared the vitality of serious recreational cyclists to that of people the same age who are much less active. The recruits for the research project were 85 men and 41 women between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly and had what’s described as “a high degree of fitness.” Reynolds reports that each volunteer was given an array of physical and cognitive tests to determine endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes. They also took a so-called Timed Up and Go test, requiring them to stand up from a chair without using his or her arms, walk about 10 feet, returns and sits. Ready? The envelope please….Reynolds tells us that “on almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.” Wait, there’s more: Their Up and Go results were “well within the norm reported for healthy young adults.”
Ready, and the top five stories of 2014 are:
Yes, it gets better, meaning life gets better, or happiness gets greater, generally, once we pass the age of 54, at least for people living in high-income English speaking countries like the United States. How do we know? Because happiness researchers at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs say so, after analyzing data collected by the Gallup World Poll and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. A Woodrow Wilson School news story reports that the researchers looked at three measures of well-being: evaluative well-being, which focuses on evaluations of how satisfied people are with their lives; hedonic well-being, which is related to feelings or moods such as happiness, sadness and anger; and eudemonic well-being, which relates to judgments about the meaning and purpose of life. The researchers also looked at respondents’ ratings of physical health and pain. OK, here’s what they found: “A well-known “U-shaped curve” that bottoms out between the ages of 45 and 54 in high-income, English speaking countries. These countries include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. This curve indicates that, in these countries, middle-age residents report the lowest levels of life satisfaction, which eventually bounces back up after age 54.” Wait, there’s more: “When looking at hedonic well-being — emotions and moods — across populations, the researchers find that older populations in high-income, English-speaking countries experience less stress, worry and anger than those who are middle-aged.” Again, it gets better.