Is Physical Frailty Inevitable as we Age

November 16, 2011 by  
Filed under health

body-well
Last week I had a discussion with two of my middle-aged co-worker friends. The topic was how do we keep ourselves fit into our later years and is physical frailty inevitable when we get into our 80″s and 90’s. The two men I was having this discussion with are in their early 50’s . Both men are the father’s of new born babies this past year (I plan to write another blog post about this subject as well) and want to be around to see their babies grow up as adults. Health is a popular topic with both of these men.

Whenever I get to this topic with these two friends I usually end up bringing up my mother ( see The Green Buddha video ) and the subject of the first oomph short documentary subject Jack Kirk ( see Jack Kirk video ) as role models of positive aging.
jeanne-look
I know my mother and Jack Kirk are exceptional people in exceptional shape for their age, but they do provide realistic role models for all of us in our middle age?

Yesterday I came across the results of an interesting study published last month in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine (I have reported information in this very respected journal in previous blog posts)

In the current findings, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recruited 40 competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers. They ranged in age from 40 to 81, with five men and five women representing each of four age groups: 40 to 49, 50 to 59, 60 to 69, and 70-plus. All were enviably fit, training four or five times a week and competing frequently. Several had won their age groups in recent races.

They completed questionnaires detailing their health and weekly physical activities. Then the researchers measured their muscle mass, leg strength and body composition, determining how much of their body and, more specifically, their muscle tissue was composed of fat. Other studies have found that as people age, they not only lose muscle, but the tissue that remains can become infiltrated with fat, degrading its quality and reducing its strength.
jack-jog
There was little evidence of deterioration in the older athletes’ musculature, however. The athletes in their 70s and 80s had almost as much thigh muscle mass as the athletes in their 40s, with minor if any fat infiltration. The athletes also remained strong. There was, as scientists noted, a drop-off in leg muscle strength around age 60 in both men and women. They weren’t as strong as the 50-year-olds, but the differential was not huge, and little additional decline followed. The 70- and 80-year-old athletes were about as strong as those in their 60s.

“We think these are very encouraging results,” said Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon and founder of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who oversaw the study. “They suggest strongly that people don’t have to lose muscle mass and function as they grow older. The changes that we’ve assumed were due to aging and therefore were unstoppable seem actually to be caused by inactivity. And that can be changed.”

In multiple earlier studies, people over 50 have been found to possess far fewer muscle motor units than young adults. But that wasn’t true for the sexagenarian runners, whose leg muscles teemed with almost as many motor units as a separate group of active 25-year-olds. Running, the scientists wrote, seemed able to “mitigate the loss of motor units with aging well into the seventh decade of life.”

Of course, the volunteers in both Dr. Wright’s and the Canadian study were, for the most part, lifelong athletes. Whether similar benefits are attainable by people who take up exercise when they are middle-aged or older “isn’t yet clear,” Dr. Wright says, “although there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t get similar results no matter when you start.”
man-arm
Until recently, the evidence was disheartening. A large number of studies in the past few years showed that after age 40, people typically lose 8 percent or more of their muscle mass each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. Less muscle mass generally means less strength, mobility and among the elderly, independence. It also has been linked with premature mortality. But a growing body of newer science suggests that such decline may not be certain. Exercise, the thinking goes, and you might be able to rewrite the future for your muscles.

Perhaps the role models of my own mother and of Jack Kirk are not that exceptional after all. And perhaps injecting a little oomph into our own lives we can be exceptional too.

It’s Never too Late to Have oomph

February 2, 2011 by  
Filed under health

oomph-pic
I just watched “The Green Buddha” video again for the first time in few months, and am still struck with how my 81 year old mother, Jeanne Dowell, still skis, hikes and travels with great agility and flair. My friends still ask how she is able to stay that active. I always say it’s probably do to her genes, but also the fact that she has kept active all her life. There are scientific studies that back this up.

In a newly published book, “Treat Me, Not My Age”(Viking), Dr. Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at the NewYork Presbyterian Healthcare System, discusses two major influences (among others) on how well older people are able to function.

The first, called physiologic reserve, refers to excess capacity in organs and biological systems. We’re given this reserve at birth, and it tends to decrease over time. In an interview, Dr. Lachs said that as cells deteriorate or die with advancing age, that excess is lost at different rates in different systems.

The effects can sneak up on a person, he said, because even when most of the excess capacity is gone, we may experience little or no decline in function. A secret of successful aging is to slow down the loss of physiologic reserve.

“You can lose up to 90 percent of the kidney function you had as a child and never experience any symptoms whatsoever related to kidney function failure,” Dr. Lachs said. Likewise, we are born with billions of brain cells we’ll never use, and many if not most of them can be lost or diseased before a person experiences undeniable cognitive deficits.

Muscle strength also declines with age, even in the absence of a muscular disease. Most people (bodybuilders excluded) achieve peak muscle strength between 20 and 30, with variations depending on the muscle group. After that, strength slowly declines, eventually resulting in telling symptoms of muscle weakness, like falling, and difficulty with essential daily tasks, like getting up from a chair or in and out of the tub.

Most otherwise healthy people do not become incapacitated by lost muscle strength until they are 80 or 90. But thanks to advances in medicine and overall living conditions, many more people are reaching those ages, Dr. Lachs writes: “Today millions of people have survived long enough to keep a date with immobility.”

The good news is that the age of immobility can be modified. As life expectancy rises and more people live to celebrate their 100th birthday, postponing the time when physical independence can no longer be maintained is a goal worth striving for.
bike-man
Gerontologists have shown that the rate of decline “can be tweaked to your advantage by a variety of interventions, and it often doesn’t matter whether you’re 50 or 90 when you start tweaking,” Dr. Lachs said. “You just need to get started. The embers of disability begin smoldering long before you’re handed a walker.”

Lifestyle choices made in midlife can have a major impact on your functional ability late in life, he emphasized. If you begin a daily walking program at age 45, he said, you could delay immobility to 90 and beyond. If you become a couch potato at 45 and remain so, immobility can encroach as early as 60.
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“It’s not like we’re prescribing chemotherapy, it’s walking,” Dr. Lachs said. “Even the smallest interventions can produce substantial benefits” and “significantly delay your date with disability.”

“It’s never too late for a course correction,” he said.

I certainly agree to Dr. Lachs. I have my own mother to observe as a living example. My mother no longer runs at 81, but she does walk a lot and keeps her active yoga practice. The whole idea here is to keep moving no matter how young or old you are.

Taking Early Retirement May Also Retire Your Memory

October 19, 2010 by  
Filed under health

health-brain
I am very proud of my mother for many reasons. Last year she started a new clothing and accessories business called “Green Buddha” (Check out the video called “The Green Buddha.”) with my sister. I have noticed it has given her a new boost of “oomph!” now that she has turned 80. A recent study suggests people like my mother have another reason why not to retire.

The two economists call their paper “Mental Retirement,” and their argument has intrigued behavioral researchers. Data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggest that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

The implication, the economists and others say, is that there really seems to be something to the “use it or lose it” notion. If people want to preserve their memories and reasoning abilities, they may have to keep active.
“It’s incredibly interesting and exciting,” said Laura L. Carstensen, director of the Center on Longevity at Stanford University. “It suggests that work actually provides an important component of the environment that keeps people functioning optimally.”
work-dudes

While not everyone is convinced by the new analysis, published recently in The Journal of Economic Perspectives, a number of leading researchers say the study is, at least, a tantalizing bit of evidence for a hypothesis that is widely believed but surprisingly difficult to demonstrate.

Researchers repeatedly find that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive tests than people who are still working. But, they note, that could be because people whose memories and thinking skills are declining may be more likely to retire than people whose cognitive skills remain sharp.

And research has failed to support the premise that mastering things like memory exercises, crossword puzzles and games like Sudoku carry over into real life, improving overall functioning.
“If you do crossword puzzles, you get better at crossword puzzles,” said Lisa Berkman, director of the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard. “If you do Sudoku, you get better at Sudoku. You get better at one narrow task. But you don’t get better at cognitive behavior in life.”

The study was possible, explains one of its authors, Robert Willis, a professor of economics at the University of Michigan, because the National Institute on Aging began a large study in the United States nearly 20 years ago. Called the Health and Retirement Study, it surveys more than 22,000 Americans over age 50 every two years, and administers memory tests.

That led European countries to start their own surveys, using similar questions so the data would be comparable among countries. Now, Dr. Willis said, Japan and South Korea have begun administering the survey to their populations. China is planning to start doing a survey next year. And India and several countries in Latin America are starting preliminary work on their own surveys.

“This is a new approach that is only possible because of the development of comparable data sets around the world.” Dr. Willis said. The memory test looks at how well people can recall a list of 10 nouns immediately and 10 minutes after they heard them. A perfect score is 20, meaning all 10 were recalled each time. Those tests were chosen for the surveys because memory generally declines with age, and this decline is associated with diminished ability to think and reason.

People in the United States did best, with an average score of 11. Those in Denmark and England were close behind, with scores just above 10. In Italy, the average score was around 7, in France it was 8, and in Spain it was a little more than 6.
Examining the data from the various countries, Dr. Willis and his colleague Susann Rohwedder, associate director of the RAND Center for the Study of Aging in Santa Monica, Calif., noticed that there are large differences in the ages at which people retire.

work-retire
In the United States, England and Denmark, where people retire later, 65 to 70 percent of men were still working when they were in their early 60s. In France and Italy, the figure is 10 to 20 percent, and in Spain it is 38 percent.
Economic incentives produce the large differences in retirement age, Dr. Rohwedder and Dr. Willis report. Countries with earlier retirement ages have tax policies, pension, disability and other measures that encourage people to leave the work force at younger ages.

The researchers find a straight-line relationship between the percentage of people in a country who are working at age 60 to 64 and their performance on memory tests. The longer people in a country keep working, the better, as a group, they do on the tests when they are in their early 60s.

The study cannot point to what aspect of work might help people retain their memories. Nor does it reveal whether different kinds of work might be associated with different effects on memory tests. And, as Dr. Berkman notes, it has nothing to say about the consequences of staying in a physically demanding job that might lead to disabilities. “There has to be an out for people who face physical disabilities if they continue,” she said.
And of course not all work is mentally stimulating. But, Dr. Willis said, work has other aspects that might be operating.

“There is evidence that social skills and personality skills — getting up in the morning, dealing with people, knowing the value of being prompt and trustworthy — are also important,” he said. “They go hand in hand with the work environment.”
But Hugh Hendrie, an emeritus psychology professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, is not convinced by the paper’s conclusions.

“It’s a nice approach, a very good study,” he said. But, he said, there are many differences among countries besides retirement ages. The correlations do not prove causation. They also, he added, do not prove that there is a clinical significance to the changes in scores on memory tests.

your-brain
All true, said Richard Suzman, associate director for behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging. Nonetheless, he said, “it’s a strong finding; it’s a big effect.”

If work does help maintain cognitive functioning, it will be important to find out what aspect of work is doing that, Dr. Suzman said. “Is it the social engagement and interaction or the cognitive component of work, or is it the aerobic component of work?” he asked. “Or is it the absence of what happens when you retire, which could be increased TV watching?”

“It’s quite convincing, but it’s not the complete story,” Dr. Suzman said. “This is an opening shot. But it’s got to be followed up.”

Acting Your Age with oomph!

July 20, 2010 by  
Filed under inspiration

old-sky
I just read in the New York Times an article called “Turn 70, Act Your Grandchild’s Age,” which plays into the notion that some of us expect 70 year olds to act like you should be 20 not 70. This article makes me think of the work we do here at oomphTV. I hope we don’t give the false impression that you must act like a 20 year old to have oomph!

Accepting your age and your limitations, while still doing what you want (and being realistic about what you can do) is part of the message of oomphTV. And a big part of having oomph! is simply enjoying and celebrating life, no matter what you can and can’t do. After all, life is short and let’s simply enjoy what we can while we are here.

Recently Ringo Starr celebrated his 70th birthday by playing at the Radio City Music Hall and saying his new hero is BB King, who still jams in his 80s. They will be followed by Bob Dylan (“May you stay forever young”) and Paul Simon (“How terribly strange to be 70”) who still both perform and write music.
ringo-starr
Dr. Butler, a psychiatrist, died, at age 83, a few days before Ringo’s big bash. No one, his colleagues said, had done more to improve the image of aging in America. His work established that the old did not inevitably become senile, and that they could be productive, intellectually engaged, and active, sexually and otherwise. His life provided a good example: He worked until three days before his death from acute leukemia.

But as much as Dr. Butler would have cheered an aging Beatle onstage, his colleagues said he would have also cautioned against embracing the opposite stereotype, the idea that “aging successfully,” in his phrase, means that you have to be banging on drums in front of thousands or still be acting like you did at 22 or 42.

“The stories that we hear tend to pull us toward the extreme,” said Anne Basting, the director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. “It’s either the stories of young-onset Alzheimer’s, or it’s the sky-diving grandmas. We don’t hear enough about the huge middle, which is the vast majority of folks.”
betty-white
In the film and television business, the business I’m in, Clint Eastwood is still directing films at 80 and Betty White is now starring in a new sitcom at 88 (I worked with her on “Ugly Betty” and she was amazing) The pressure for 70 and 80 year olds is not to face mortality, but to kick up those slightly arthritic heels ever higher.

In the eighth decade, said Dr. Basting, is “now seen as an active time of life: you’re just past retirement, that’s your time to explore and play mentally.” But while many will be healthy, others will not. “There will be an increase in frailty and disability because people are living longer,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies aging. For some people, an increased risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s “is going to be the price they pay for extended longevity,” he said.

The risk, gerontologists say, is that in celebrating the remarkable stories, we make those not playing Radio City, and certainly those suffering the diseases that often accompany old age, feel inadequate.

Thomas R. Cole, director of the McGovern Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and the author of a cultural history of aging, said “We’re going to make it look like if you’re sick, it’s your own fault. If you’re not having orgasms or running marathons, there’s something wrong with you.
elderly-sign
Here at oomphTV we don’t want to just portray “aging extremes,” but also inspirational people that fall somewhere in the middle. If we simply profiled extremes we would run into the possibility of alienating everyday people.

We did produce a story on Jack Kirk – The Dipsea Demon, the 94 year old runner. He could be considered one of those extremes. However, we also profiled Alice and Richard Matzkin. Both Alice and Richard Matzkin express themselves through their art, one by painting and the other by sculpting. They are not running any foot race, but clearly they have oomph!
alice-richard
In addition, we are currently in post-production on “The Green Buddha”, a wonderful story about my sister, Dana Dowell Windatt, and my own mother, Jeanne Dowell, that have started a new apparel business, based on gratitude. My mother has just turned 80 and was the original inspiration behind oomphtv.com She is not running a marathon or doing trapeze, but she is still doing what she wants to do at 80 years of age.

We are looking for different kinds of stories about people over 40 and sometimes way over 40 that have oomph! However, we do want to include stories of people that do have limitations. If you know of any, please write to us.

I hope we have found the right balance. Please feel free to write us and let us know what your thoughts are. We want to continue to inspire and inform, but not alienate our audience.

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