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Mature Focus: News and Notes

Tai chi for chronic conditions

tai chiTai chi, an ancient Chinese exercise, has been found to improve the physical capacity of older adults suffering from four long-term conditions, the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported.

In a review of 21 studies involving nearly 1,600 people (average age mid-50s-early 70s), researchers looked at the effect of tai chi on people with breast cancer, heart failure, osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). An analysis of the data revealed that tai chi was linked to improvements in physical capacity, muscle strength and quality of life. It was associated also with an improvement in symptoms of pain and stiffness among people with osteoarthritis and decreased breathlessness among those with COPD.

On average, patients in the relevant studies spent 12 weeks in tai chi programs, participating in hour-long sessions two or three times a week.

Tai chi consists of slow, gentle, flowing movements designed to increase muscles strength and improve balance and posture.


Hopping for hip health

Older men can increase the strength of their hip bones and reduce their risk of fracture after a fall simply by hopping for two minutes a day, according to study results reported last month.

Researchers at Loughborough University in the U.K. led what they dubbed the Hip Hop Study, measuring the effects of daily hopping exercises among men older than 65. After a year, participants experienced significant improvements in bone density in the legs on which they hopped.

“In percentage terms, the improvements we saw in these healthy men after just one year of hopping compare favorably to bone gains induced by osteoporosis drugs in women with fragile hips,” said Dr. Ken Poole, a rheumatologist at University of Cambridge who performed bone mapping analysis for the study. “However, we don’t know yet if men and women with osteoporosis would get the same benefits, or even whether the exercises would be safe for them to do, which are important research questions.”

Men who participated in the study were volunteers who were screened and gradually built up to doing the exercises.


Vitamin D and the brain

Adequate levels of vitamin D most commonly are associated with bone health, but the vitamin also may play a role in the brain health of older adults.

A study published last month in JAMA Neurology found that people in their 60s-90s with low levels of “the sunshine vitamin” experienced more rapid cognitive decline than those with adequate vitamin D levels.

“There were some people in the study who had low vitamin D who didn’t decline at all and some people with adequate vitamin D who declined quickly, but on average, people with low vitamin D declined two to three times as fast as those with adequate vitamin D,” said researcher Joshua Miller, a professor of nutritional sciences at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences who conducted the study from 2002-2010 with researchers at the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of California-Davis.

Alzheimer’s Disease Center Director Charles DeCarli said even though the link between low vitamin D and cognitive decline was expected, the results were surprising.

“What was unexpected was how profoundly and rapidly (low vitamin D) impacts cognition,” DeCarli said.

Miller noted that taking too much vitamin D can be dangerous but said the study’s findings were strong enough to suggest that people older than 60 should ask their doctors about taking vitamin D supplements.

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