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Harvard Health Letter: June 2014

Articles in this issue:

Easy exercises for healthy knees

Even a small amount of exercise throughout the day will make a difference in knee health. Just a few repetitions here and there will give the knee joint more stability, which decreases stress at the joint from any weight-bearing activities. That can also help lessen the progression of arthritis in the joint. It’s helpful to fit in a few repetitions while watching TV or talking on the phone. Exercises that can help improve knee health include heel raises, standing side leg lifts, standing knee lifts, seated hamstring curls, and seated knee extensions.

Ask the doctor: Is chelation therapy an effective way to stave off heart disease?

There is growing evidence that deposits of various metals may damage the tissues of the heart. Chelation therapy, which pulls metals out of the blood and tissues, may be beneficial to treat plaque buildup in the arteries.

4 Fast mood boosters

Getting the blues can happen to anyone, but there are things one can do to chase away a funk. Exercise improves circulation and nerve function and helps to regulate mood. Meditating also improves mood. It produces brain changes that promote positive emotions and decrease negative emotions such as fear and anger. Spending time with others is another mood booster, because focusing on others can relieve a preoccupation with self-defeating thoughts. Other activities that help lift mood include hobbies and volunteering.

Is summer heat putting you at risk?

High temperatures put older adults at risk for heat-related illness, because the body can no longer handle heat and dehydration the way it used to. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include general weakness with dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and feeling faint. To avoid heat exhaustion, people should stay out of the heat, make sure there’s an air conditioner that works at home, stay hydrated by drinking two to three quarts of liquid per day, go outside only in the morning or late afternoon, and wear loose, light-colored clothing.

Quick fixes for aching elbows

Many older adults may not consider elbow health important. But elbow pain can keep a person from getting dressed, cooking dinner, and anything else that requires the use of the arm. Common causes of elbow pain are tendinitis, fractures from falling onto an outstretched arm, arthritis, sprains, and bursitis—inflammation of the fluid-filled joint cushions called bursae. Quick fixes for elbow pain include rest, heat therapy, stretching, and wearing a brace. Strengthening the muscles that surround the elbow can help prevent injury.

Restaurant meals: How to make them healthier

Eating in restaurants can ruin the healthiest diets. But one can enjoy a meal on the town by following a few guidelines. Suggestions include reducing portion sizes by splitting an entrée with a dinner partner, asking for food to be steamed or broiled without added butter, requesting that the chef go easy on added salt, asking for sauces on the side, and planning what to order ahead of time by looking at a restaurant’s menu online or visiting the restaurant in advance to check out the offerings. Read More »

Best ways to battle irritable bowel syndrome

Cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation are tough to handle at any time. But if a combination of these symptoms lasts for at least three months, it may be a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Flare-ups are often triggered by food, caffeine, stress, carbonated drinks, artificial sugars, or infectious diarrhea. The more IBS episodes a person has, the more sensitive the gut becomes to triggers. Strategies to treat IBS include dietary changes, taking probiotics, and taking enteric-coated peppermint capsules.

Are cholesterol lowering statins for everyone?

New guidelines for statins use continue to be controversial. For otherwise healthy adults, the guidelines take the focus off LDL or “bad” cholesterol as a marker for statin use and place the focus on the risk for developing heart disease or stroke. Statins are now advised for otherwise healthy adults with a 7.5% risk for heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. However, people ages 64 and older meet the criteria based on age alone. And it’s not known if a statin would help prevent heart attack in an otherwise healthy older adult with normal cholesterol.

Caregiver health needs more attention, say researchers

Many physicians overlook caregiver burden, the toll that caregiving takes on a person. It can manifest as a physical ailment, mental illness, social isolation, financial problem, or a combination of those.

Are you getting all of your prescriptions filled?

Nearly a third of patients fail to fill first-time prescriptions. This is most common when it comes to expensive drugs and preventive therapies for conditions such as heart disease and depression.

When dementia screenings are appropriate

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says there is not enough evidence to support routine screening for dementia or mild cognitive impairment among people ages 65 and older if they have no symptoms.

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