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Mature Focus: Jan. 15

New friends and activities can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life in the new year.

New year, new friends

It’s often said that variety is the spice of life. When it comes to your friends and acquaintances, having a variety of people in your social circle may also help you live a healthier, more fulfilling life as you age. 

Last year, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Aging and Longevity Center found in a study that older adults who interact with a wide range of people every day were more physically active and had greater emotional well-being. “It’s difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop,” said Karen Fingerman, the center’s co-director.  “Socializing in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviors in ways that benefit health.” 

The start of a new year may be an optimal time to “spice up” your social life with activities that bring new people into it. Following are a few suggestions from the center to help jumpstart that process in 2020.

Join a hobby group. Do you like to knit, paint, play bridge, or sing? Whatever your interests may be, there is likely a club or organization for others who share them. Area high schools, community colleges, community centers and senior centers may offer programs tailored to your hobbies. Websites like meetup.com also match people with local groups that fit their interests.

Try an exercise class. Fitness centers, local YMCAs, organizations like OASIS, and even area hospitals offer gentle exercise classes like yoga, stretching and water aerobics. If you’re open to starting conversations, you’ll find new friends among your fellow fitness enthusiasts.

Donate your time. Become a volunteer for a cause or organization that’s important to you. Offer to assist with a local politician’s re-election campaign during this election year. Help young children learn to read, or care for the dogs and cats at your local pet shelter.

Get a part-time job. Working even a few hours a week creates the opportunity to both earn money and make new social contacts. Either use your past experience to find a job in your previous field or simply find work you enjoy, whether it’s selling clothing in a local boutique or teaching a continuing education class.

The rise of “geroscience” 

Although average life expectancy worldwide has risen dramatically over the past century, people’s healthspans – defined as the number of years lived free from age-related disease or disability – have not increased accordingly.

An emerging field called geroscience seeks to address that issue. Its goal is a major paradigm shift: targeting the aging process itself, rather than the individual diseases associated with it, such as heart disease and cancer. 

In a recent issue of the journal Public Policy & Aging Report, gerontology experts wrote that by targeting aging in the 21st century, scientists can achieve the greatest possible impact on both lifespan and healthspan expectancies in the future.

“Instead of increasing life expectancies by only a few years from curing one disease, delaying aging could increase life expectancies by a few decades,” wrote Professor Matt Keberlein, Ph.D., of the University of Washington. “Those added years would be spent in relatively good health, because instead of only fixing one disease, all of the functional declines and diseases of aging would be targeted simultaneously.”

The journal’s authors highlighted existing studies as well as areas for further research. A primary example they cited is the TAME [Targeting Aging with Metformin] study currently underway, which is one of the first major research efforts aimed at slowing biological aging using an existing drug.

With the percentage of the world’s population over age 65 expected to double by 2050, extending the average healthspan by just a few years would result in an enormous reduction in the burdens of disease, they wrote.

Less is not more

Moving more, rather than giving in to the urge to slow down, is especially important for older adults. [Adobestock photo]

A traditional view of aging holds that people should “slow down” as they get older. However, those over age 60 should exercise more intensely, not less, to reduce their risks of heart disease and stroke, according to findings from a recent study of over 1.1 million seniors in South Korea.

Those participating in the study who did less moderate or vigorous physical activity as they got older had as much as a 27% increased risk of heart and blood vessel problems, while those who increased their levels of activity had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease of up to 11%.

This relationship held true even for those with disabilities and chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

During health screenings held two years apart, the participants answered questions about their physical activity and lifestyle. At each screening, researchers calculated the amount of moderate exercise [30 minutes or more of activities like brisk walking, dancing or gardening] and vigorous exercise [20 minutes or more of running, fast cycling or other aerobic exercise] per week each participant did, and how it changed during the two years between the screenings.

They also collected data on heart disease and strokes among the group members, who were an average age of 67 with a fairly even distribution of women vs. men.

Over the two-year period plus an additional year of follow-up, the largest increase in cardiovascular risk occurred among people who had exercised more than five times a week at the first screening, then became inactive by the second.  By contrast, those who went from being inactive at the first screening to exercising three to four times per week significantly decreased their risk.

“The most important message from this research is that older adults should increase or maintain their exercise frequency to prevent cardiovascular disease … and this is also true for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions,” said study leader Kyuwoong Kim of Seoul National University. 

A good night’s sleep

For many women who have gone through menopause, the energy and well-being associated with restful sleep can feel like distant memories. Sleep problems are one of the most common complaints during and after menopause, affecting an estimated 40% to 60% of both perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. 

A new Canadian study of more than 6,000 women sought to demonstrate how age-related sleep problems may be specifically related to menopause status.  It compared sleep quality, sleep duration, and sleep disorders in women before, during and after the menopause transition.

A recent study specifically linked sleep disorders in women to their stages of menopause. [Adobestock photo]

The researchers confirmed that, compared with premenopausal and perimenopausal women, postmenopausal women required the most time to fall asleep, averaging more than 30 minutes nightly. They were also more likely to suffer from insomnia disorders and obstructive sleep apnea.

Chronic sleep problems not only impair a woman’s quality of life, but they also can lead to major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. Although many sleep disorders are also age-related, the direct relationship between menopause and sleep problems should make getting prompt and effective treatment for sleep problems a priority for postmenopausal women and their doctors, the authors said.

Study results were published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society [NAMS].

On the calendar

The St. Louis Alzheimer’s Association, along with Progress West and Barnes-Jewish St. Peters hospitals, presents Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body on two dates in January: Saturday, Jan. 18 from 10-11:30 a.m. at Kathryn Linneman Branch Library, 2323 Elm St. in St. Charles; and Thursday, Jan. 23 from 6:30-8 p.m. at Corporate Parkway Branch Library, 1200 Corporate Parkway in Wentzville. Learn about research in the areas of diet and nutrition, exercise, cognitive activity and social engagement, and use hands-on tools to help you incorporate these tips into a plan for healthy aging. To register, call (636) 928-9355 or visit bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events.

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BJC sponsors a Freezing of Gait Bootcamp for those with Parkinson disease on Mondays, Jan. 23 to Feb. 27, from 10 a.m.-noon at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, Medical Office Building 1 [Suite 117]. Participants will learn and practice strategies for overcoming a freezing episode in this free six-week program. Advance registration is preferred. Visit bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or call (636) 928-9355 to register.

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Bone density screenings for women are offered on Tuesday, Jan. 28 from 3-5 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. These screenings, a $125 value, are free of charge. Register by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or calling (636) 928-9355.

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St. Louis Oasis sponsors a free program, Fighting Fatigue, on Monday, Feb. 3 from 10 a.m.-noon at Spencer Road Branch Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters. Learn about the causes of fatigue, its impact on function and how to fight it. Registration is preferred by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or calling (636) 928-9355.

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Showcase on Seniors presents a free presentation, Life Transitions and Coping, on Wednesday, Feb. 5 from 1:30-3 p.m. at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre, 1 St. Peters Centre Blvd. Showcase on Seniors is a unique membership program which provides education and networking opportunities for people age 60 and over. Meetings held monthly focus on various topics of interest to seniors. The annual fee is $5. To register for membership, call (636) 916-9650.

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A meeting of the Greater St. Louis Multiple Myeloma Support Group is on Wednesday, Feb. 5 from 10 a.m.-noon at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, Suite 117, Medical Office Building 1. This group is for interested patients, caregivers, family members and friends. No physician order is required. To register, call (636) 928-9355. 

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The St. Louis Alzheimer’s Association presents a free program, Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia, on Monday, Feb. 24 6:30–8 p.m. at the Spencer Road Branch Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters. Registration is preferred. Visit bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or call (636) 928-9355.

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