Leave the Cannoli

Many of us are familiar with the line from The Godfather, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Research from JAMA Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association (AMA), says we should think about leaving the cannoli as well.

The investigation found that the number of adults in the USA over the age of 65 with poor diet quality increased 10% from 2001-2018; the percentage rose from 51% to 61%–both of which are alarming. The percentage in the same demographic whose diet was considered “ideal” in the study was 0.4%–that’s just 4 in 1000! This may help to explain why so many adults are living with diet-related diseases.

What is to blame? Older adults are eating more processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and foods with high salt content. Intake of healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains has gone down. This is a trend nearly 20 years in the making, but the AMA hopes that by raising awareness it will be possible to reverse the trend.

The issue transcends older adults. Healthier foods are often more expensive and less readily available than processed foods and junk food. Restaurant food can vary widely from more healthy items to those that are downright artery-clogging. As adults age and are less able to prepare food for themselves–or less willing to do so–the choices become less and less healthful. Throughout many age groups this has contributed to the obesity epidemic in our country.

Older adults are living longer than in past generations. The question is whether those added years will be quality years or ones filled with poor health. A big part of the answer has to do with our diet. Improved eating habits can lead to better health outcomes and quality of life. The choice is ours.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…Or Not

A recent article on CNN.com reports on a new large study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows a connection between slower walking speeds (or gait) and development of dementia. The research seems to show that a decrease in the speed at which older adults walk year to year may be an early indicator of cognitive decline and dementia. The study looked at the pace of walking as well as the ability of participants to answer certain cognitive/memory questions, then drew conclusions about their relationship.

Although it was a large study (17,000 subjects), more research should follow. As I read the article, I wondered about a chicken and egg question. Did walking speed decrease because of lower cognition, or did cognition somehow decrease because of slower walking? If the second is the case, then it would make sense that we should regularly monitor people to see if they are literally slowing down; if so, they should be put on a program to increase the velocity of their gait. The research does show that when both factors (slower walking and cognitive decline) are present, there is a much greater chance of dementia–as opposed to mild cognitive impairment, which is a “normal” part of the aging process.

The study seems to indicate that the connection may exist in the right hippocampus–the area of the brain associated with memory. Believe it or not, the size of the right hippocampus can actually be increased with regular aerobic exercise (the kind that elevates heart and breating rates). It is not as if we simply have to accept the fact that once we slow down we are on a slippery slope to dementia; keeping up the pace of our exercise can have a positive impact. Even stretching exercises were shown to make a difference.

More research will surely be forthcoming. This study will certainly become an important tool in assessing the risks of dementia. It also provides another reason why it is so important for older adults to remain active and engage in regular exercise. It is not just about our physical health, but about our mental well-being too!

10,000 Steps a Day? For You (Such a Deal) 30% Off!

treadmill

Most of us have probably heard the guideline that we should be taking at least 10,000 steps a day to help maintain health and fitness. Where does that number come from? According to a recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com, it was a number picked by a Japanese company in the 1960s seeking to sell pedometers.

The article discusses the results of study published this month in Jama Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association. The research indicates that the number may more realistically be around 7,000 steps to get the same health benefits; namely, people who achieved that goal (7,000) were 50-70% less likely to die in the next 10 years! Of course, 10,000 does not have a negative effect. The smaller number, however, may seem less daunting to some people; on the other hand, maybe it is a better idea to have people aim for 10,000 and only hit 7,000.

The most recent guidelines are that we should exercise (or be physically active) for a minimum of 150 minutes per week; the range goes up to 300 minutes per week, and can be a combination of different kinds of exercise and levels of intensity. Someone who is running 8-10 minute miles can get by with the lower number (150) as opposed to someone who is walking at a pace of a 20 minute mile (perhaps 300 is better). Of course, there are many factors that at play here; this new research adds to our understanding of how much walking can figure into these numbers. Previously, there were not any solid studies; this new research suggests 7-13 thousand steps/day is the optimal range.

For those who fret about hitting their step goal each day, this may be some welcome news. As always, consult with medical and fitness professionals to find what is best for you.

In the meantime, remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with 7,000 steps!