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Keys to Living Healthier

by Loretta Baxter, R.N., Administrator

One of the important keys to living longer and feeling healthy is exercise and better yet walking according to Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana.  It benefits your brain, heart, skin, mood and metabolism.  Even as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking can help.  That is what it takes to burn off the calories of one chocolate chip cookie.  Once you can do 10 minutes, put it to 15 minutes then 20.  Just start slow but start. *  At St. Monica’s, the Life Engagement team has walking partners that go out when the weather is nice, just check the schedule or ask Shannon Perez, Life Engagement Coordinator when the next walking session will occur.   Another way to exercise is to join our exercise groups that are daily at 9:30 in the lower level Atrium.  Our exercise facilitators are certified in teaching exercise to seniors and are very passionate about helping all of us move more, with greater flexibility, less pain and greater stability.  Another key benefit is that exercise reduces the incidents of falls, which is a wonderful benefit. *(“Live Longer!  50 Proven Ways to add Years to Your Life.” AARP Bulletin. March 2017. Vol. 58.

Doctoring drawing heart.

Heart Health: Living to 100

I have often pondered how it is that some individuals die of heart attacks in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, while others seem to escape any heart issues even into their late 80’s and 90’s.  Why is this?

Keeping blood total cholesterol levels low cannot be emphasized enough.  Dr. William Castelli, a former lead researcher of the Framingham Heart Study has stated that, “in 40 years, we have never found a heart attack in anyone with a cholesterol below 150”.

Given this simple fact, just what are all the cholesterol and lipid numbers we are supposed to watch?  Here they are for you:

Total cholesterol:  under 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol:  under 100 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol:  more than 50 mg/dL
Triglycerides:  under 150 mg/dL
Total cholesterol /HDL Ratio:  less than 3.5

(Based on the Effectiveness-Based Guidelines for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women—2011 Update Circulation 2011: 123:1243-1262)

The next step you can take is to make an appointment with your primary care physician for a physical and blood work.  You can even track all this information now conveniently in a mobile/computer App through HealthVault, developed by Microsoft and accessed at www.healthvault.com

Once you get your numbers, how do you know what your risk factors are for heart disease?     A tool used by many is the American Heart Association (AHA) My Life Check.  It helps you to understand what your current level of cardiovascular health is and to assess your individual health needs, but more importantly, it helps you commit to improve your health and quality of life and move closer to your goals.  Click on  http://mylifecheck.heart.org

Every year after my physician office visit, I log in and insert my new cholesterol values, blood pressure, and blood sugar and see what my new “heart score” is.  The goal is to get to 10.  Last year I was an 8.7 and I have been trying hard to watch my diet so that I can lower my LDL cholesterol and get closer to that 10 score.

It is not so much what your score is, but rather what your efforts are to improve your health and keep you moving in a positive direction.  October 1st is when I find out how I’ve done in moving closer to my goals.  Where are you moving toward your goals?

by Loretta Baxter

Senior couple reacting to great news.

Living to 100 Successfully

Are you prepared to live to 100 years? When I ask people if they are going to live to 100, they often retort, “Why would I want to do that”? But what if you do…Many individuals I talk to at St. Monica’s are themselves amazed that they have lived this long. Our great grandparents only lived until their mid-50 or 60’s. Our grandparents lived until their 70’s and 80’s, and we are finding our parents are still alive. Dr. Eric Plasker in his book, “The 100 year Lifestyle” states “that children born today will outstrip us in longevity due to the advances in healthcare”.

As a nurse who started out my career in pediatric nursing, I was stunned to hear of a news report of a baby born with Potter’s syndrome (without kidneys) who would be able to live due to new medical advances.

How do we know if we will or might live to 100? One indication is that we could take a look at our parents and other relatives. Another way is to take a lifestyle questionnaire developed by Thomas Perls, M.D., MPH. Check out the longevity calculator at http://www.livingto100.com/calculator. The 20 minute questionnaire asks questions related to 1) how you deal with stress; 2) lifestyle questions such as smoking and caffeine usage; 3) diet and exercise; and 4) a basic health history.

My results indicated that I might live to 98, which rings some truth in that my paternal grandmother lived to be 98 years of age and my father and mother are still alive at 82 and 89. What was more helpful is that the survey pointed to areas that I need to work on in order to live a healthy life and more importantly, a higher quality of life. What are your areas to work on so that you can enjoy your life feeling healthy and vibrant?

by Loretta Baxter

Doctor holding up a drawing of a human brain.

Living to 100: Keeping your Brain

Why is it that some individuals have a great memory no matter what their age and others struggle to remember even routine items?

First, we need to start with understanding our brain’s composition.   Dr. Majid Fotuhi in his book “Boost Your Brain” refers to our brains as “CogniCity, or a collection of neighborhoods (different lobes) connected by a complex series of highways, boulevards, and small roads.”

By the time we reach our 20’s our brains are fully developed and it starts decaying in our mid-50’s.  What really happens, as shown on MRIs, is that the cortex begins to thin and the white matter fiber bundles that are the connections between the lobes (carrying messages back and forth) begin to wither, primarily due to reduced blood flow.

The hippocampus (a small region in the brain) is the driver of our memory.  It processes all new information and decides what to keep and what to discard.  It begins to shrink after the age of 50 and continues to shrink at a rate of 0.5 percent a year.  This is the age when we start complaining of those “senior moments”.

The good news–and the bad news–is that we can control all of this based on our lifestyle choices.    The factors that raise the most havoc on your brain are:  alcohol abuse, traumatic brain injury, excess stress, sleep disorders, vitamin B12 deficiency, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Working on our positive lifestyle practices is what makes the difference.  What we want to do is build the synapses, highways between the neighborhoods (links between the lobes), the blood vessels nurturing the brain, and the neurons within the brain.

Majid Fotuhi, M.D, Ph.D, in his book, “Boost your Brain” describes 4 methods to promote brain functioning and prevent decay. These methods include exercise, diet, mindfulness meditation and cognitive stimulation.

Exercise:  It is theorized that exercise promotes cardiovascular health, helping the heart pump more efficiently to all parts of the body, the brain included.  Although walking is better than not walking, the key is high-intensity interval exercise.  The recommendation is 30 minutes of vigorous exercise such as fast walking or preferably jogging following by 15 minutes of resistance training through weight lifting on most days of the week.

Diet:  In one study, led by Columbia University neurology professor Nikolaos Scarmeas, those who followed a Mediterranean diet showed only a 28 percent risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.  The Mediterranean diet is low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, omega-3 oils, vegetables, nuts and fruits.  This includes high antioxidant foods such as blueberries, apples, red grapes, spinach, beets, and tomatoes.  Dr. Fotuhi recommends Vitamin B12, D and E supplements as well.  Ask your primary care physician for his or her recommendation.

Mindfulness Meditation: This is a general term that refers to the practice of deliberate techniques aimed at inducing a state of relaxation.  Depending on the technique it can involve breathing exercises, directing your thoughts in a certain way, or repeating a mantra.  All the techniques have one goal: to train your mind so that you can bring yourself to a state of consciousness that benefits you in some way whether it is a state of increased relaxation, heightened awareness, enhanced concentration, or even an “enlightened” state of being.  Many counselors will advise that most people need training in order to accomplish this whether it is a yoga class at your local YMCA, or through a structured class offered at a Technical School, or through a Retreat Center such as the Siena Center in Racine, WI.

Cognitive Stimulation:  This includes continuing to stretch our brain throughout life and not just when we are in school.  Although I always thought that just being in the “work” world would continue to stretch our brains, Dr. Majid Fotuhi recommends that all of us need to focus on this goal by daily stretching our brains through memorization.  This can be done as easily as trying to memorize the phone numbers we use often.  This can also be done by learning to play an instrument or learning a language.  The computer program Luminosity is just such a formal program.  At St. Monica’s, we utilize a program called Dakim that seniors can access daily to continue to exercise their minds.

The bottom line is that dementia is not inevitable.  YES, we can control our memory capability throughout life, and we can make a difference through diet, exercise, meditation and cognitive stimulation.  We can keep our brains!

by  Loretta Baxter