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Latest Posts

Why Pumping Iron Is Great For Brain Cells

In my last post I told you that I would reveal the one thing you can do to have a significant, positive and lasting effect on your brain health as you get older. See if you can spot it in the following list:

a) Learn to dance Gangnam style
b) Join a choir
c) Catch a wave
d) Pump some iron

Ok, that was a trick question. All of these answers are somewhat correct, but I was looking for the “most” correct answer (flashbacks to undergrad, anyone?): Pump some iron.

I realize I sound like a broken record – I’ve already written about how aerobic exercise can promote healthy aging here and here, and I’ve even already written about resistance training, or lifting weights, here.

So why am I at it again? Because it’s important!

I’m fresh out of the 2012 Aging and Society Conference, where researchers came together to discuss what works and what doesn’t when it comes to healthy aging. It turns out everyone pretty much agrees that exercise is hands down the most effective intervention to keep your brain cells happy into old(er) age. All sorts of different types of exercise, ranging from simply walking to attending resistance training classes, are associated with different types of improvements in cognition, memory, and even brain size.

Of course, there are different levels of effort involved with different types of exercise, or even when talking about a single form of exercise. When my friend Jess asks me to go for a walk, she means a power walk: it usually involves going up hills, sweating like a pig (even though pigs, ironically, don’t sweat much), and barely having enough breath for girl talk (though somehow we always seem to find it). When my friend Al and I go for a walk, what he means is a “mosey”: we stop to look at the view, pet the dog, chit chat with strangers, and have more than enough breath for lengthy discussions about life, work, and the possibility of alien lifeforms. When it comes to brain health, whether you’re walking or pumping iron, a little sweating and effort can go a long way. For example, resistance training has been proven to be most effective when the load, or how much weight you are working with, increases over time. So kick the intensity up a notch: there will still be plenty of time for chit chat around a post-exercise, antioxidant-rich mug of matcha (my new obsession – stay tuned).

Now that the obvious has been (re)stated, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the idea that perhaps lifestyle interventions such as exercise could be prescribed by your doctor. We know that exercise can improve cognition in aging but also conditions like depression. Should physicians prescribe lifestyle changes? Or are diet, exercise, and other lifestyle activities choices we should make ourselves? How would you feel if your doctor prescribed you exercise instead of pills? Would you be more motivated to exercise if the prescription came from your doctor instead of from your friendly Internet science blogger? Your thoughts in the comments!

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Dr. Julie Robillard is a neuroscientist, neuroethicist and science writer. You can find her blog at scientificchick.com.

Obama’s Going Grey, But Do Presidents Age Faster Than The Rest Of Us?

It’s more than just a few flecks. President Barack Obama, who turned 50 in August, is definitely going gray. He’s said the color change runs in his family and has mentioned a grandfather who turned gray at 29.

But others see it as a sign that the presidency is taking a toll on Obama, as it has other on presidents. Dr. Michael Roizen, of RealAge.com fame, says presidents age twice as fast as normal when they’re in office. The main cause, he says, is “unrequited stress—they don’t have enough friends to mitigate the stress,” which brings to mind the line commonly attributed to Harry Truman: if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.

Accelerated presidential aging? Not so.

The only problem with this notion of accelerated presidential aging is that it just ain’t so, according to S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at theUniversity ofIllinois at Chicago and a longevity expert. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Researchers Compile Surprising List Of Most Risky Drugs For Older Americans

Some medications are well known for being risky, especially for older people. Certain antihistamines, barbiturates, muscle relaxants—take too much of them, or take them with certain other medications, and you can wind up in serious trouble (and possibly in the back of ambulance).

But researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Emory University reported in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine that those high-risk medications are not the ones that most commonly put older Americans (ages 65 and older) in the hospital.

Warfarin is #1

Instead, they found that warfarin is the most common culprit. Warfarin (the brand-name version is called Coumadin) reduces the blood’s tendency to clot. Many older people take it to lower their risk of getting a stroke.

After warfarin, different Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Inspiring Story About A Man Making Changes To Transform His Life

It isn’t easy to get rid of a harmful habit like drinking too much, or to make healthy changes like losing weight and exercising more. Media stories about people who run marathons a year after surgery to bypass cholesterol-clogged arteries or who climb Mt. McKinley after being diagnosed with diabetes are interesting, but they don’t resonate with me. Mostly it’s because they often leave out the hard work needed to change and the backtracking that invariably accompanies it.

I ran across a truly inspiring story the other day in the American Journal of Health Promotion—one that shows how most of us ultimately manage to make changes that improve our lives. The journal’s founder and editor, Michael P. O’Donnell, wrote a moving essay about his father, Kevin O’Donnell. Once an overweight workaholic who smoked and drank heavily, ate mostly meat and potatoes, and didn’t exercise—and who eventually needed a double bypass—Kevin O’Donnell gradually made changes to improve his health. Now, at age 85, he has the cardiovascular system of a 65 year old and is working on a house-building project in North Korea.

How did Kevin O’Donnell engineer such a remarkable transformation? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

More Women Die Of Heart Attack Than Men Do

Several studies have shown that women have a higher mortality rate than men if they have a heart attack. A study published in the American Heart Journal helps to explain why. The researchers looked at data from 2,542 women who had a heart attack. Compared to men, the women were older, less likely to be white, and less likely to smoke. They also had more serious health conditions than the men. They had diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

We’ve known for a long time that women are about 10 years older than men at the time of their first heart attack. The authors believe that the reason women are more likely to die is because of these other conditions that are present. Women in the study were also more likely to receive a blood transfusion and experience gastrointestinal bleeding, strokes, and vascular complications which lead to death.

They didn’t find any gender difference when they controlled for these other conditions. The number of diseased vessels were the same as was the severity of stenosis.

So what does this tell women? The guidelines for longevity and good health haven’t changed: Don’t smoke, control high blood pressure, and make sure your weight is healthy to prevent diabetes and other vascular problems. Stay active. Heart attacks can be prevented by good lifestyle choices.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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