Saturday, April 21, 2012

What a drag it is getting old

I had a high school teacher who once came into class flustered, clearly having a tough day, and sighed, "What a drag it is getting old." She then credited the Rolling Stones for their opening line of their song Mother's Littler Helper. Being my father's child, I knew the Rolling Stones, but I only knew their most famous songs. To this day whenever I stumble across this one on the radio I think of that teacher and that line. To be honest, I don't have a clue what the rest of the song is about.

Getting old sucks. Point blank. I'm not even old and I already have developed a rock solid, and possibly irrational, aversion to the thought of getting old. I know what my bad habits are doing to me now, and I know what my genes could have in store for me down the road: heart disease, colon cancer, and Alzheimer's. The first two I can fight, so I guess I'll just deal if those happen. Alzheimer's is the problem. The word alone irks me. The thought of the symptoms form a nice little ball of anxiety in the middle of my belly. I can hardly watch some of the scenes in Grey's Anatomy lately of Chief Weber struggling with his wife's Alzheimer's. It just hits far to close to home and it hurts.

My grandfather died fairly recently from Alzheimer's, among his many other physical ailments. It was devastating. If you have seen this disease, you'll understand how terrible, terrifying, and life altering it is for everyone close to the victim. My grandmother has now started with symptoms and it breaks my heart. Consequently, anytime I stumble upon information regarding progress in research about this disease, I gobble it right up. In one of my daily newsletters from the AAPA this week (American Academy of PAs) the top article was one about physical activity and Alzheimer's:

Daily Physical Activity May Help Reduce Alzheimer's Risk.

The CBS Evening News (4/18, story 6, 0:20, Pelley) reported, "It appears that daily physical activity may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease." After monitoring some "700 elderly people," researchers found that "the least active were nearly two and a half times as likely to develop Alzheimer's as the most active."
        USA Today (4/19, Lloyd) explains, "A higher level of physical activity -- not just exercising -- is linked to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease even in people over 80," according to a study published online April 18 in the journal Neurology. "Protective activities include washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, gardening -- even playing cards. People who scored in the bottom 10% of physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's."
        "Plenty of research has suggested that people who make a habit of exercising are less likely to get Alzheimer's, though scientists aren't sure how to explain the link," the Los Angeles Times (4/19, Kaplan) "Booster Shots" blog notes. "Other activities that have been correlated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer's include engaging one's brain in mentally stimulating activities, spending time in social groups and eating a healthful diet, according to the National Institute on Aging."
        Focusing on the study's methodology, MedPage Today (4/19, Phend) points out, "Highly active older adults in the 90th percentile on actigraphy were 2.3 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease during a mean 3.5 years of follow-up than their inactive peers in the 10th percentile." Specifically, "the analysis included up to 10 days of 24-hour actigraphy monitoring for 716 individuals without baseline dementia participating in the observational Rush Memory and Aging Project." Notably, "after adjustment for age, sex, and education, total daily physical activity was associated with incident Alzheimer's, with a hazard ratio of 0.477 (95% CI 0.273 to 0.832)."
        "Just how exercise may reduce risk of developing Alzheimer's is not known, but in general, what is good for the heart is believed to also be good for the brain," WebMD (4/19, Mann) reports.

For those of you who don't love science, studies, or statistics. This synopsis basically is saying that there is a correlation between increased activity of any kind, physical and mental, and lower risk of developing Alzheimer's. This does NOT mean that high activity levels prevent Alzheimer's; it means that there may be a relationship between increased activity and decreased Alzheimer's risk. As the last statement of the synopsis reiterates - this disease is not well understood, and in my opinion it probably won't be understood for quite sometime. The take home message for me is really you get out what you put in. Yes, the human body is mysterious and there will always be things to learn about it. However, on its simplest level, its pretty much just like anything else, if you take good care of it, it will take good care of you. This is true of almost any pathology (fancy word for disease). The trick is starting those healthy habits from a young age and sticking with them for a lifetime.

 Healthy habits aren't any more difficult to have than bad habits... they are habits regardless of how you look at it. And a habit is just that, its something you do routinely without thought. Whether its eating Eggo waffles for breakfast, or eggs with a glass of milk instead, washing your hands after using the bathroom, brushing your teeth before you go to bed, and saying "God bless you" after a sneeze.  Your routines become your habits, and habits set the tone for lifestyle and health. 

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