Anti-Aging

14119244_sI recently learned about a booming U.S. industry: brain gyms. They’re mostly online businesses that survey potential members to identify areas of cognitive function that they want to improve. Then, in a matter of seconds, software customizes computer games to help achieve those goals.

An obvious market for these e-ventures is baby boomers, the 77 million of us who want to delay not only the appearance of wrinkles on our face but also the fine lines we imagine to be emerging on our brains. Sure, I thought, as we age it’s great to find botanical products  like our Premiere’s Pain Spray that offer natural pain relief for sore muscles. Wouldn’t it be just as great to find a “natural pain spray” for our brains? Some elixir to keep our aging brains in Olympic athlete condition?

The allure was irresistible and I succumbed, quickly signing up with Lumosity.com, one of the new digital brain gyms. I spent a few minutes filling out their survey and immediately began playing games. It was fun and I’ll definitely go back to “exercise” several times a week. After all, one Stanford University researcher recently found that 12 weeks of Lumosity training significantly improved brain function in a group of study participants.

I keep wondering, though, what parts of my mind am I training inside the brain gym? To help our bodies stay fit we carefully choose specific sports and routines because they’re the ones most likely to meet our unique goals. Shouldn’t we be equally strategic in exercising the facets of our mind we value most?

Personally, I want to preserve whatever brain cells abandon puzzles in favor of deeper thought. If I’m going to stick with a brain gym, it better help me formulate complex ideas about life and how to enrich my piece of it. It needs to train me to understand myself and others, not just memorize sequences of
colored squares on a grid.

How about this: we all just read a good book.  My guess is that by page 27 we’ll feel our brain cells multiplying. The Pain Free Spray for our brains will have us all feeling fantastic!

English: Female Jogger on Coleman Avenue in Mo...

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In their excellent newsletter HEALTHbeat, Harvard Medical School recently reported that, “when it comes to shedding pounds, the key is cutting calories — and it doesn’t really matter whether those calories come mainly from steak, bread, or vegetables.”

Okay, but if you commit to doing regular, calorie-burning exercise can’t you enjoy more fattening food more of the time?

Research suggests that the exercise approach will work – at least for women – if they start out at a normal weight. But for those who are overweight to begin with, exercise won’t be enough. In other words, exercise can keep you thin but it’s not going to make you thin. For that, you’re going to have cut calories and increase exercise.

If you don’t believe it, here’s the research evidence…

The study’s focus… Many studies have shown that physical activity can promote weight loss among people who are overweight or obese, but far fewer have investigated whether it can prevent unhealthy weight gain in the first place. That IS the focus of a study by Harvard Medical School researchers.

The researchers analyzed data provided by 34,079 healthy women, average age 54, who were participating in the long-term Women’s Health Study. Between 1992 and 2007, the women reported their body weight and physical activities every three years. They also provided information on matters that could affect the link between physical activity and weight change, such as smoking, postmenopausal hormone use, alcohol intake, and diet.

Participants were divided into three groups based on their level of physical activity, with energy expended in each group expressed in metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per week. A MET is a unit used to estimate the energy expended during physical activity, relative to the energy expended while sitting quietly.

The results… Not surprisingly, moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, consumes more METs than lower-intensity activities such as yoga or stretching. In the study, women at the lowest activity level got less than 7.5 MET hours per week, the minimum recommended in federal guidelines (it’s the amount expended in walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week). The middle group got 7.5 to less than 21 MET hours per week; and the most active women got 21 MET hours or more per week, which requires at least 60 minutes per day of moderately intense physical activity — or 30 minutes per day of vigorous activity.

Over the course of the study, the women gained 5.7 pounds, on average. Those who exercised less tended to gain more: over any three-year period, women in the low and middle activity levels were more likely to gain 5 or more pounds than the most active women. When the researchers looked only at the 4,540 women who were normal weight (a body mass index of less than 25) at the study’s outset and who had managed to hold their weight in the normal range, they found that these weight-maintainers averaged 60 minutes of moderately intense activity per day.

What it means… Among normal-weight women, the likelihood of putting on weight decreased as physical activity level increased. Among women who were overweight or obese, there was no relationship between physical activity and weight gain.

Thus, for women who aren’t overweight or obese, exercise can keep off excess pounds, but it must add up to about seven hours per week of moderately intense activity such as brisk walking or casual bicycling — or 3.5 hours per week of vigorous activity such as jogging or aerobic dancing.

For women who are already overweight or obese, increased physical activity alone is not enough to prevent further weight gain. These women also need to reduce their calorie intake. But they should still get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days for the sake of the many health benefits, which include a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

Free coiled tape measure healthy living stock ...

Christmas cookies and cherry pie. Mashed potatoes, candied yams and homemade turkey stuffing! Surrounded by so much delicious holiday food, it’s terrifying to even think about getting on the  scale come January 2nd.

Or maybe not…

Contrary to popular belief, most Americans gain only one pound over the holidays. Sadly, though, research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that most of us never lose that pound. And so it goes, the slow but steady s-p-r-e-a-d of our waistline.

This holiday, take hope from some new and impressive scientific research. The respected journal Sciencerecently reported on an unusual study in which researchers asked volunteers to spend 90 seconds methodically imagining what it would be like to taste, chew and swallow 30 M&Ms, one after another. Then, when presented with a bowl of real M&Ms, the volunteers ate only about half as many candies as participants who’d been asked to imagine eating only three M&Ms (or none at all).

All this defies conventional scientific thought, which has long assumed that only real sensory input can produce the feeling of fullness (satiation). This study suggests that thought alone may trigger satiation—at least where eating is concerned. The results are likely to generate new investigations into overeating and ways to curb it.

PS… Subsequent testing found that methodical thinking about M&M eating did not suppress cheddar cheese consumption; but in-depth thoughts about eating cheese did. No kidding! So put on your thinking cap.

 

Person Drinking Coffee with Morning Paper

Coffee is Healthy to Drink

I don’t have many health vices. Coffee has always been at the top of the list and, so, I always tell myself it is healthy to treat yourself to some things. I mean, my morning coffee experience–complete with checking email in bed and skimming a trashy gossip magazine before getting ready–makes my day. And I relish the ritual, despite some guilt over the disputed healthiness of regular coffee drinking…

Well…no longer do I feel guilty! Now, research published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that women (exclusively) who sip more than one cup of coffee a day had a 22% to 25% lowered risk of stroke. Even more profound, the researchers found that women who drank no coffee actually had a slightly increased risk for stroke.

While this study lacked control for medication use in its subjects, it’s important to take the findings with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I admit that my morning ritual looks even better now, guilt-free and all. Cheers to that!