Healthy Aging

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Investing in fitness now pays health dividends later

What would you pay to keep from getting sick as you get older? How about a daily walk or other exercise? A new study suggests that’s exactly the right investment. In the study, people who were the most fit at midlife lived longer and spent less time being sick than middle-aged folks who weren’t fit. There are many benefits to staying physically active and exercising daily. One important effect of exercise that doesn’t get enough attention is that it improves fitness. Fitness is a measure of how well your heart, blood vessels, blood, and lungs work together to supply muscles with oxygen during sustained exercise. How do you improve your fitness? Increase the amount and the intensity of exercise over time. Don’t rush it. Improving fitness starts within weeks but will continue for months.

Julie Silver, M.D.

Chicken Soup for the Soul and Harvard Health serve up inspiration, information

A new series of books is bringing readers the kind of inspirational stories that have made Chicken Soup for the Soul books international bestsellers plus with trusted health advice from Harvard Medical School. The combination of stories providing hope, inspiration, and great person-to-person advice plus straight talk and life-changing medical information from Harvard doctors will help readers live healthier, more satisfying lives. Each book focuses on a single topic. The first four will be available beginning May 22, 2012. They are Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power! by top neurologist Dr. Marie Pasinski; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Back Pain! by leading physical medicine expert Dr. Julie Silver; Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress! by noted psychologist Dr. Jeff Brown; and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Hello to a Better Body! by respected internist Dr. Suzanne Koven.

Christine Junge

Can computer games keep your brain fit?

Computer games are being touted as a way to keep the body fit. Can they do the same for your brain? Most experts say “Not so fast.” As described in Improving Memory: Understanding age-related memory loss, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, people who play these games might get better at the tasks they practice while playing, but the games don’t seem to improve users’ overall brain skills, such as attention, memory, use of language, and ability to navigate. To stretch and exercise your brain, choose an activity you enjoy—reading, playing cards, or doing crossword puzzles are some good examples. If you’re feeling ambitious, try learning to speak a new language or play a musical instrument. Most of these activities come at a much lower cost than brain-training programs, and you’ll probably find them to be a lot more enjoyable, too.

Robert Shmerling, M.D.

Older women may need fewer bone tests

The bone-thinning condition known as osteoporosis can be a big problem for older people. That’s why older folks are urged to have their bones checked with a test that measures bone density. Exactly how often to have the test hasn’t yet been set. By following 5,000 older women for almost 17 years, researchers found that the timing of the next bone mineral test should depend on the result of the current one. People who get a normal result can wait 15 years, those with moderate osteopenia should have the test every five years, while those with severe osteopenia should have it every year.

Howard LeWine, M.D.

Living to 100 and beyond: the right genes plus a healthy lifestyle

A new study from the ongoing New England Centenarian Study suggests that protective genes may make a big contribution to helping people live to age 100 and beyond. Researchers analyzed and deciphered the entire genetic codes of a man and a woman who lived past the age of 114. The two so-called supercentenarians had about as many disease-promoting genes as individuals who did not live as long. But they also had about 50 possible longevity-associated gene variants, some of which were unexpected and had not been seen before. The researchers hypothesize that the genes linked with long life may somehow offset the disease-linked genes. This might then allow an extended lifespan. There’s no need to have your DNA sequenced to determine what genes you carry. It won’t change what you need to do now. Instead, simple, straightforward healthy habits like exercising every day and not smoking, can help you have the longest, healthiest life possible.

Annmarie Dadoly

Is it Alzheimer’s, or just a memory slip?

Everyone has moments of forgetfulness—misplaced keys, a forgotten errand, the name of that movie you want to recommend but can’t get off the tip of your tongue. A certain amount of forgetfulness seems to be a normal byproduct of aging. But how do you know is forgetfulness signals something more serious, like Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia? According to “A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease,” an updated Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, by exploring several questions you may be able to get a clearer sense of normal versus worrisome forgetfulness: Is my loved one worried about the memory loss? Is he or she getting lost in familiar territory? Are word-finding problems common? Is your loved one losing the ability to socialize, or interest in it?

Peter Wehrwein

Obama going gray: Do presidents age faster?

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. Dr. Michael Roizen, of RealAge.com fame, says presidents age twice as fast as normal when they’re in office. Not so, says new study of presidential longevity. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there’s no evidence that American presidents die sooner than other American men of their time. In fact, quite the opposite: most of them lived long lives and beat the longevity expectations for their time. Seven of the first eight presidents lived to a ripe old age, with average life spans of 81.5 years. These men probably had some inborn hardiness, as well as fortunate circumstances.

Peter Wehrwein

Medications most likely to put older Americans in the hospital

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) […]

Patrick J. Skerrett

Change: One man’s steady struggle to become healthier

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 often sugar-coat changes like these, making them seem easier than they really are. In a moving essay in the American Journal of Health Promotion, Michael P. O’Donnell (the journal’s editor) describes his dad’s efforts to become healthier for his sake and the sake of his family. There was no monumental struggle, no epiphany—just a regular guy doing his best each day to become healthier for his sake and for his family. It’s a truly inspiring story.

Julie Corliss

Try exercise to ease arthritis pain, stiffness

If you have arthritis, exercise can help keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. Swimming and other water-based exercise are especially good because they’re easy on the joints. Harvard Health editor Julie Corliss discusses ways in which exercise can help you cope with—and even improve the symptoms of—arthritis.