May 25, 2016

Looks Like I'm Doing Three Things Right

I subscribe to several health newsletters, but finding something useful for me is hit or miss.

Every now and then I strike gold. That was the case last week when I received the June 2016 issue of the Cleveland Clinic's Men's Health Advisor. It included three articles I liked, especially because they recommended things I was already doing. Here's a brief recap of each. 

Brisk Exercise May Slow Cognitive Declines 
Older adults who engage in moderate-to-intense exercise may help delay age-related declines in thinking and memory, according to a study published online March 23 in Neurology. Researchers reviewed data on 876 people with no signs of cognitive problems who were questioned about their exercise habits and underwent multiple neuro-psychological evaluations.

Ninety percent of the study participants engaged in light exercise (walking or yoga) or no exercise. The remaining 10% reported moderate-to-high-intensity exercise such as running, aerobics, or calisthenics. 

When the study participants were re-tested five years later, those who reported low physical activity levels scored significantly lower than their more active counterparts on tests that measured word recall and speed of task completion. The difference in cognition was equal to about ten years of normal aging.

The take-away message: engaging in moderate-to-high-intensity exercise may help slow cognitive-related decline. The newsletter recommends working with your physician and/or exercise professional to develop an exercise plan tailored to your overall health status and capabilities. 

Mindfulness Therapies May Help Ease Low-Back Pain
People with chronic low-back pain may benefit from using mind-based therapy, according to research published in the March 22-29 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). The study included 342 people aged 20-70 who had low-back pain for an average of about seven years.

All participants received usual medical care for eight weeks; 116 also underwent mindfulness-based stress reduction in a program of meditation and yoga; and 113 received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a specialized cognitive training to change pain-related thoughts and behaviors.

After 26 weeks, the participants who received the additional therapies (either mindfulness training or CBT) reported greater improvements in back pain and general functioning than participants who received only the “usual” care.

The take-away message: adding mindfulness-based meditation or CBT may augment the therapeutic effects of conventional treatments for chronic low-back pain.

Pitfalls Of Multiple Medications
The newsletter had a full-page report on something I've frequently written about: the adverse drug interactions that can occur when your medicine cabinet is packed with an assortment of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbal supplements. 

In a study published April 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers conducted interviews and inspected the medications of 2,351 people aged 62-65 in 2005-2006. Then in 2010-2011, researchers repeated the same process with 2,308 people. 

After the five-year interval between those interview sessions, the concurrent use of at least five prescription medications had risen at least 5%, and the use of dietary supplements had increased by about 12%.

Researchers also noted that about 15% of older adults in 2010-2011 were taking drug combinations that had the potential to create major problems. 

In general, older adults are more susceptible to adverse drug interactions, simply because they're more likely to take multiple medications. Kidney function also declines with age. People with normal renal function are more likely to “clear out” those drugs that might cause a problem.

If you suspect that any of your medications are causing a problem, notify your doctor immediately. She’ll want to know exactly what your symptoms are, and how long after beginning the suspected drug those symptoms began to appear.

One obvious way to minimize your risk of adverse drug events is to simplify your medication regimen. Keep an updated list of all the drugs and supplements you take, and review it periodically with all your doctors to make sure you still need the medications, and to identify any potential interactions.

Try to use only one pharmacy for all your prescriptions and develop a relationship with your pharmacist, who could offer counseling about potential interactions.

My addendum: Most of us elderly people end up taking more and more pills as we age. But there is an emerging contrarian view among some doctors and scientists that asks whether seniors without signs of heart problems need to continue taking some of the standard meds, like those for blood pressure and cholesterol. A contrarian view often sounds good to me. This particular one also accords with the "less is more" mantra that appeals to me these days.

I recently wrote a five-part series of posts on why I have ended up takings only a few prescribed meds and over-the-counter vitamins and supplements. Click here for the fifth and final post in the series and you can work your  way back to the earlier parts of the series. 

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