| Issue Date: January 24, 2010
Getting older and better
Here's the latest news to help reduce age-related ailments during your golden years.
By Peggy J. Noonan
Dropping just 5% of your body weight also drops your risk of arthritis.
Getting older doesn't doom us to poor health. Today, scientists are working on better diagnostic tools and improved treatments to help us avoid or reduce age-related diseases. Researchers are discovering new ways to help us enjoy our golden years in good health.
Find out the latest with our senior health news tips:
Alzheimer's: Activity helps
Experts estimate that 35.6 million people live with Alzheimer's disease and dementia today, and that number is predicted to double every 20 years. Research shows lifestyle changes can help. Alzheimer's risk was lower in people who coupled physical activity with a Mediterranean-type diet high in fruits, vegetables and fish, and low in red meat and poultry. People who reported "some physical activity" dropped their dementia risk by a range of 29% to 41%; those reporting "much physical activity" had 37% to 50% lower risk.
Exercise for the brain helps, too. A study showed that doing at least one "cognitive activity" every day -- reading, writing, working crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, or participating in group discussions -- helped delay dementia and memory loss in 101 seniors in their 70s and 80s. Each additional daily cognitive activity delayed dementia by more than two months.
Arthritis: Good dental health may ease pain
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a chronic disease that causes inflammation, pain, stiffness, redness, swelling and warmth around affected joints. Roughly 1.3 million Americans -- 70% of them are women -- have RA. What causes it? We don't know yet, but we do know that although it can be treated, this chronic disease can't be cured.
Exposing skin to sunlight can help the body make vitamin D.
Still, there are new ways to help people with RA. One study of 40 people with severe RA who also had gum disease showed that when dental problems were treated, RA problems also improved, resulting in less arthritic pain, fewer swollen joints and reduced morning stiffness.
There's also new hope for the estimated 27 million Americans who have osteoarthritis, or OA, a painful and debilitating condition that causes loss of cartilage in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips and spine. People who lost as little as 5% of their body weight reduced their risk of developing OA in the knees, a six-year study of 1,480 men and women age 45 and older found. For a 200-pound person, 5% is only 10 pounds; for a 150-pound person, it's just 7.5 pounds.
Osteoporosis: Vitamin D is key
Experts estimate that 10 million Americans -- 8 million women and 2 million men -- already have osteoporosis, and nearly 34 million have low bone mass that puts them at risk of bone loss. New research from Johns Hopkins demonstrates that vitamin D, a supplement recommended by doctors to prevent and treat osteoporosis, delivers an extra benefit: A study of 1,010 men showed that adequate levels of vitamin D not only helps prevent and treat osteoporosis but also may help prevent heart disease. Both men and women can increase their vitamin D levels by eating fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and vitamin D-fortified dairy products, taking vitamin D supplements, and briefly exposing skin to sunlight strong enough to enable the body to make vitamin D. A blood test to check your vitamin D level should show that yours is more than 30 nanograms per milliliter.
Cholesterol: A cancer link
Need another reason to reduce your cholesterol? How about cutting your risk of cancer? Doctors already recommend keeping your HDL (good) cholesterol high for cardiovascular health. Now, new research links high levels of HDL cholesterol to a 14% lower risk of cancer in men over age 50, and risk of the deadliest type of prostate cancer was 59% lower in men over 55 whose total cholesterol was less than 200 mg/dL.
Heart disease: Skip the salt
The American Heart Association reports that in 2010, heart disease and stroke will cost the United States about $503.2 billion, nearly 6% more than in 2009. Many cases could have been prevented with simple lifestyle changes. One review of 13 studies and 170,000 participants from around the world showed a direct link between high salt consumption and risk of heart disease and stroke. Reducing daily salt intake by 5 grams -- a little less than 1 teaspoon -- would slash stroke risk by 23% and cut cardiovascular disease risk by 17%. Cutting back on sugar would help, too, another study found.
Vitamin C might hold the key to maintaining healthy skin.
Aging skin: Vitamin C promotes healing
Marketing claims for vitamin C have long promised skin improvements, and now there's scientific support. Researchers found a mechanism by which vitamin C could promote skin healing and protect against free-radical damage, which has been linked to premature aging. They say this discovery suggests that vitamin C could help maintain healthy skin and lead to new products that take advantage of vitamin C's ability to mop up free radicals and undo the DNA damage they cause. For now, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, and apply moisturizers to help skin look and feel better.
Hair by Mary Curran; makeup by Tina Turnbow/Artists by Timothy Priano; styling by Mindy Saad/Celestine
Cover clothing: sweater by Jean Paul Gaultier; inside clothing: top by Giorgio Armani, jeans by Seven for all Mankind, shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti
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A note to caregivers From Dr. Oz
Let me offer some battle-tested advice from caregivers who have been on my show.
If you're caring for elderly parents, the first step is to realize that ensuring your own health is the best way to maintain theirs. If you're sick or unable to function, you won't be able to look after the people who depend on you for support. After all, the heart pumps blood to itself before it dutifully shares it with the rest of the body.
Second, you need to realize that just as you give love to so many people, you also must be willing to accept that same love. That means asking for help or time off on occasion and giving others the opportunity to take care of you. It will make them feel better and give you a break. Start by making a list of three chores, then delegating one of them.
Third, there are some areas where your relatives may not need you as much as you think. Research has shown that by allowing the elderly to do things for themselves in some circumstances, such as walking up stairs, you will actually help them feel healthier and live longer.
Finally, take advantage of the many resources available to caregivers. Check out hhs.gov/aging for information, and see if your state or locality has a department of aging for services closer to home.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is the host of "The Dr. Oz Show."
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For Glenn Close, wellness is the 'real thing'
We often hear about amazing physical feats by actors -- how Hilary Swank trained relentlessly in the ring for her Oscar-winning role in "Million Dollar Baby" or that Taylor Lautner added 30 pounds of muscle to transform into a hunky beast for "New Moon." But the lesser-known reality of acting is that the vocation can be incredibly demanding on the body, even if you aren't playing an athlete or an Adonis.
She makes time to take brisk walks and to stretch.
And Glenn Close -- once nominated for an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony all in the same year -- discovered this during that amazing "triple threat" year in 1984 when she was doing the Tom Stoppard play, "The Real Thing," on Broadway.
"The play required that I sprint under the stage to go from one entrance to another, and it was very mentally challenging, too, because Stoppard's work is so intellectually compelling," Close tells USA WEEKEND. "With eight performances a week, I was overstressed and exhausted. I called my dad, who is a physician, and he told me that I needed to exercise. I was like, 'Dad, where am I going to find the energy to exercise when I have no energy to begin with!?' "
But she took his advice and hit the gym three days a week, spending a half-hour on a stationary bike and lifting free weights. She found that her energy levels immediately rose, better enabling her to meet the play's demands.
Today, with her Emmy Award-winning role in the FX hit "Damages," Close, 62, remains committed to wellness with regular exercise and proper nutrition. Even when she's busy, she makes time for brisk walks and stretching at home. She whips up apples, bananas, almonds, flaxseed and yogurt in the blender for an energy boost.
Mental health is also a priority for Close, who has co-launched Bringchange2mind.org to raise awareness about mental illnesses. (Her sister, Jessie, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.) In addition, Close advocates "exercising" the brain by doing puzzles or reading. "Anything you can do that makes your brain more alert should make it feel better."
-- Dennis McCafferty
Cover and cover story photographs of Glenn Close by Blake Little for USA WEEKEND