Healthy Aging

Here’s something unexpected: Sunbathers live longer

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You’ve probably been told all your life that spending lots of time in the sun can be bad for you. Surprisingly (and just in time for summer), a new study has reported health benefits — including an extended life span — from sun exposure. But before you shut off the computer and head for the beach, you should know that this study also comes with some important caveats.

The many ways volunteering is good for your heart

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

If you’ve ever volunteered for a school, community center, or other nonprofit organization, you’ve probably felt the emotional reward that comes with helping others. But volunteering has other benefits, too. Multiple studies have confirmed that volunteering is, quite literally, good for your heart — and for the rest of your body. We’ve described the positive effects of volunteering on your health, plus listed some organizations that can help you get started.

Opioid crisis: The difference between sympathy and empathy

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

When a patient calls a new doctor begging for a refill on their pain medication, what should the doctor do? Denying medication to someone in significant pain seems unethical — but denying it to someone who’s suspected to be reselling it is a whole different story. Doctors now have systems in place to help them make the right call. But even these systems can’t replace the most critical piece of the puzzle — empathy.

Avoid this common hazard of being in the hospital

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A hospital stay can be confusing and disorienting for anyone — but especially for older people, who are prone to episodes of delirium when in the hospital. Several hospital-based programs exist to help identify people at risk for delirium and prevent episodes before they happen. We’ve discussed one such successful program, plus listed tips to help you or your loved one avoid delirium during a hospital stay.

Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

You probably know that it’s important to stay physically active as you get older. But it’s just as important to “exercise” your brain. Taking a class is a particularly good way to do this, as learning new skills in a group setting helps keep multiple cognitive skills sharp. We’ve listed tips to help you get started, plus a few resources to help you locate a class near you.

Starting an osteoporosis drug? Here’s what you need to know

Maneet Kaur, MD
Maneet Kaur, MD, Contributor

In its early stages, osteoporosis has no symptoms but causes millions of bone fractures every year, often resulting in loss of function and, disability and even death from the complications of the fracture. There are effective medications to prevent osteoporosis, but they can have serious (though rare) side effects. It’s best to talk discuss with your doctor to understand all your options and make an informed decision on how to best protect your bones.

A twist on the genetic link between Alzheimer’s and heart disease

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Although the two conditions seem unrelated, Alzheimer’s and heart disease actually share a genetic link. People who have a certain gene variant have both a somewhat elevated heart disease risk and a significantly elevated Alzheimer’s risk. Fortunately, a recent study has suggested that when people know they have this variant, they’re more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices that benefit their heart — and what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Medical alert systems: In vogue, and for some, invaluable

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Medical alert devices can be a lifesaver — literally — if you suffer a fall. But not all medical devices are created equal. Here, we’ve listed the most common types and described the pros and cons of each, as well as the important things to consider when deciding which type to purchase.

Can a heartburn drug cause cognitive problems?

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Many older adults take PPIs to treat heartburn, GERD, or stomach ulcers. Recently, a new study identified a link between chronic PPI use and an increased risk for dementia. If you take a PPI, check in with your doctor — you may be able to take it only when you have symptoms, not continuously (and this kind of usage was not associated with a dramatically increased dementia risk in the study).

My fall last fall: Reaction time and getting older

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Being able to react to a fall — throwing out a hand, grabbing a railing — often makes the fall less serious. But our reaction times slow as we age, making this kind of quick adjustment much harder as we get older. We’ve examined some of the biological reasons why falling becomes more serious as we age and some ways to make falling less likely — including the possibility of improving slowed reaction times.