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How Diet Affects Healthy Aging

Eating well can set the stage for healthy agingEating well in your 50s and 60s can set the stage for healthy aging. Researchers from France, the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at health and diet data from more than 10,000 mid-life women participating in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study, none of whom had any major chronic diseases when they joined the study. All the women filled out two diet questionnaires in 1984 and 1986. The researchers defined “healthy” aging as survival to 70 years or older with no major chronic diseases or major impairments in cognitive or physical function or mental health. Assessing the diet questionnaires and the women’s health at age 70 or older, the researchers found that only 1,171 (11 percent) qualified as healthy agers. The team found that these women’s diets were closest to the Mediterranean-style diet. The “healthy agers” were also less likely to be obese or smoke than the other women in the study. They also exercised more in midlife and fewer of them had diagnosis of high blood pressure or high cholesterol compared to the women who were not deemed healthy agers.

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Cécilia Samieri et al, “The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging: An Observational Study," Annals of Internal Medicine, doi:10.7326/0003-4819-159-9-201311050-00004


Tai Chi - Upward and Downward Movement (Video)

Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates the Upward and Downward movement. After entering the Meditative State, you begin this tai chi movement by lifting your arms from your belly outward and up. When your arms reach shoulder height, bring them toward your body and lower them. Then repeat, imagining you are spinning a ball of energy with your arms in a steady, fluid motion.

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Eating Chocolate May Keep You Slim and Sharpen Your Mind

Eating a moderate amount of chocolate is associated with lower body fat and less abdominal fatWe know that flavonols - the antioxidants in chocolate - have anti-inflammatory effects that can help prevent heart disease. Now Spanish researchers have discovered that eating a moderate amount of chocolate is associated with lower body fat and less abdominal fat, no matter how much (or little) you exercise and regardless of the rest of your diet. The investigators from the University of Granada looked at nearly 1,500 European adolescents (between ages 12 and 17) and found that the more chocolate they ate (without overindulging), the lower their body mass index and waist circumference. Meanwhile, a team of British and Australian researchers found that the more flavonols a cocoa drink contained, the faster their study subjects could perform on a timed mental test requiring them to count down by threes and sevens. The researchers described their findings as the first evidence of acute cognitive improvements following consumption of cocoa flavonols by healthy adults. Earlier studies have shown that consumption of flavonols can help relax blood vessels and increase blood flow in the brain.

Magdalena Cuenca-Garcia  “Association between chocolate consumption and fatness in European adolescents,” published online October 21, 2013

Crystal F. Haskell et al. “Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort”, Journal of Psychopharmacology  doi: 10.1177/0269881109106923


Early Learning Boosts Brain Resilience

Childhood music lessons pay off much later in life by speeding brain responses to speech soundsDid you take music lessons in your youth? Can you speak a second language? New research suggests that being bilingual can stave off dementia for more than four years, and that childhood music lessons pay off much later in life by speeding brain responses to speech sounds. Scottish and Indian researchers reviewed the case histories of 684 seniors with dementia. Of this group, 391 spoke more than one language. The investigators found that that being bilingual delayed the progression of dementia, even in study subjects who were illiterate, a finding that demonstrated for the first time that education levels alone don’t explain the delay. However, the study found no additional advantage to knowing three or more languages. Researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois found that taking music lessons for four to 14 years early in life paid off later by making possible recognition of a speech sound a millisecond faster than seniors who had no musical training. A millisecond may not seem like a big deal, but it is significant in terms of brain function. For the Northwestern study 44 healthy adults, ages 55-76, listened to a synthesized speech syllable (“da”) while researchers clocked electrical activity in the auditory brainstem, the brain region that processes sound. Childhood music lessons were related to faster brain responses, even in study participants who hadn’t played music in nearly 40 years, the researchers found.

My take? Mental exercise is vital to keeping sharp as we age. In general, the more education you have, the less likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s disease or to experience age-related cognitive decline; if you do experience them, they will appear later in life than in less educated people. Both of these new studies demonstrate again that using the brain is protective against age-related mental decline. The more learning you have had, the more connections you have in your brain, even if that learning took place during music lessons early in life or if you managed to master two languages, even without formal education or the ability to read.

Suvarna Alladi, et al, “Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status.” Neurology, 10.1212/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4; published ahead of print November 6, 2013

Nina Kraus et al, “Older adults benefit from music training early in life: biological evidence for long-term training-driven plasticity,” Journal of Neuroscience, doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2560-13.2013


How Many Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Do You Take Daily? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the dangers of taking too many supplements on a daily basis: Can You Overdose on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements? Check out the article and let us know how many supplements you take on a daily basis.


Mindfulness to Head Off High Blood Pressure

30 percent of Americans have pre-hypertensionAbout 30 percent of Americans have pre-hypertension - their blood pressure is higher than normal, but not high enough to require drug treatment. This condition can progress to high blood pressure, but new research now suggests that mindfulness-based stress reduction can help lower pre-hypertensive blood pressure levels, and prevent or delay the need for drugs. Researchers at Ohio’s Kent State University recruited 56 adults with pre-hypertension and assigned them to two groups. The first group underwent a program in mindfulness-based stress reduction training. Those in the other “control” group were given lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity. The researchers reported that after eight training sessions in mindfulness-based stress reduction, participants’ blood pressure dropped significantly. The top number (systolic blood pressure) declined an average of nearly five millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) while diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped 2 mm Hg. Both measurements also declined in the control group but by only 1 mm Hg in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The researchers noted that while the positive reductions seen in the mindfulness group were “modest” they were “potentially large enough to lead to reductions in the risk of heart attack or stroke”. Additional studies will be needed to see if the effects are long-lasting.

Joel W. Hughes et al, “Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Prehypertension”, Psychosomatic Medicine DOI: 10.1097/%u200BPSY.0b013e3182a3e4e5


Tai Chi - Meditative Movement (Video)

Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates the Meditative Movement and how to enter the meditative state. This is often the first tai chi movement a practitioner will make before transitioning into other movements or postures. Learn how to enter the meditative state for practicing tai chi and continue on with other tai chi movements.

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Would a Soda Tax Reduce Obesity?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas sold in his cityNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas sold in his city was nixed by a judge (a court challenge is in the works), but now researchers from Britain’s Oxford University and the University of Reading have come up with a plan they think can help stem the obesity epidemic in the U.K.: a 20 percent tax on sugar sweetened drinks. In an editorial published in the journal BMJ the researchers estimated that the tax would reduce sales of these drinks significantly and cut the obesity rate by 1.3 percent. That would mean 180,000 fewer obese adults in the U.K., which has the dubious distinction of being the fattest country in Europe. The researchers said the biggest impact would be on soft drink junkies under age 30. Meanwhile, the Mexican Congress has approved new taxes on sweet drinks and junk food that will amount to one peso (about 8 cents) per liter on soft drinks and an 8 percent sales tax on high-calorie foods, including potato chips, sweets and cereal, the New York Times reported. The lawmakers noted the new taxes (to be signed into law in January 2014) were needed to help combat Mexico’s rising rates of obesity and diabetes, as well as to increase revenue. Reportedly, the British researchers weren’t optimistic that a tax on sugar sweetened drinks would be approved by Parliament - last year, a proposal to tax the meat pie, a British pub classic, was tabled.

Mike Rayner et al, “Overall and income specific effect on prevalence of overweight and obesity of 20% sugar sweetened drink tax in UK: econometric and comparative risk assessment modelling study,” BMJ doi: