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Great news for individuals with lower back pain. Which is a lot of us. A recent study found that the simple act of walking helps  with prevention of low back pain episodes!

In the study, persons who had recently recovered from an episode of lower back pain were randomly assigned either to 1) an individualized and progressive walking intervention, along with 6 sessions with a physical therapist over a 6 month period (to discuss the walking) or to 2) a no treatment control group. Afterwards, the walking group took an a median of 208 days until their next activity-limiting episode of lower back pain, while the control (no walking) group took a median of 112 days.

In other words, walking regularly resulted in going twice as long until the next occurrence of low back pain compared to non-walkers. They also had fewer occurrences of activity limiting low back pain episodes. Note that these were individuals (43 to 66 years) who had a history of low back pain episodes

How much did they walk? The walkers kept a walking diary, with the median 80 minutes of walking in week 1, which increased to 130 minutes by week 12. They walked a median of 3 times in week one, which increased to 4 times in week 12.

From Science Daily: Walking brings huge benefits for low back pain

Adults with a history of low back pain went nearly twice as long without a recurrence of their back pain if they walked regularly, a world-first study has found. ...continue reading "Walking Helps Prevent Low Back Pain Episodes"

For good health, eating a variety of foods is best. But some foods, such as olive oil, seem to be especially beneficial. A recent study found that high olive oil consumption lowers the risk of developing dementia, perhaps due to its anti-inflammatory properties and improving vascular health.

The large long-term study found that high olive oil consumption significantly decreased rates of developing and dying with dementia. Consuming at least half a tablespoon (7 grams) of olive oil was associated with a 28% lower risk for dementia-related death. And it didn't matter what the rest of the diet was.

Even replacing one teaspoon of margarine or mayonnaise with olive oil was beneficial - about 8 to 14% lower chances of dying with dementia. By the way, both margarine and mayonnaise are ultra-processed foods (look at the ingredients!).

Other benefits of olive oil: it lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, is anti-inflammatory, and helps preserve cognitive health as a person ages (it's neuroprotective).

Research finds that for health benefits, best is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Extra virgin olive oil is anti-inflammatory and contains oleocanthal, which has anticancer effects. Health benefits are both if eaten as is (e.g., dunk bread, in salad dressings) or cooked (e.g. roast vegetables, in sauces, cooking foods).

From Medical Xpress: Study suggests daily consumption of olive oil reduces chances of developing dementia

A team of nutritionists and medical researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found evidence that daily consumption of olive oil may reduce the chances of developing dementia. ...continue reading "Daily Olive Oil Consumption Lowers Risk of Developing Dementia"

Brains age as a person ages. Brains shrink a little over time, and thinking may not be a good as it was years ago. So you absolutely want to delay brain aging and cognitive decline. A recent study found that specific foods and nutrients promote healthy brain aging (delayed brain aging).

The Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln and Univ. of Illinois researchers looked at a group of 100 healthy individuals (aged 65 to 75 years) and found that they fell into 2 groups: one group with accelerated brain aging and another group with delayed or slower than expected brain aging. They took blood tests and looked for specific nutritional biomarkers, they took MRI scans of the brain, gave questionnaires, and gave cognitive tests.

They found that certain nutrients, food groups, and foods are associated with healthier brains (delayed brain aging). One should eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, as well as dairy and choline rich foods (e.g., eggs). The beneficial combination of nutrients fall into 3 main groups, with especially good sources given:

1) Fatty acids (vaccenic, gondoic, alpha linolenic, elcosapentaenoic, eicosadienoic and lignoceric acids - found in different foods) a) Fish and shellfish, flaxseed, hemp seed, olive oil, soya oil, canola oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, and walnuts. b) Peanuts, macadamia nuts, and certain seed oils. c) Dairy products, such as milk, butter, and yogurt.

2) Carotenoids - Spinach, kale, corn, bell peppers (red, green, or yellow), tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, cantaloupe, broccoli, and carrots.

3) Vitamins (especially vitamin E and choline) Vitamin E - Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, but also significant amounts come from green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals. Choline - Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, as well as cruciferous vegetables and certain beans.

By the way, this study was part of an emerging field called Nutritional Cognitive Neuroscience. Other studies also find that choline and elements of a Mediterranean style diet appear to be best for healthy brain aging.

From Science Daily: Food for thought: Study links key nutrients with slower brain aging

Scientists have long been studying the brain with a goal of aiding healthier aging. While much is known about risk factors for accelerated brain aging, less has been uncovered to identify ways to prevent cognitive decline. ...continue reading "Foods That Promote Healthy Brain Aging"

Human brains are getting larger each decade. That's the conclusion of researchers conducting the large Framingham Heart study which has now gone on for 75 years.

Between 1999 and 2019 the researchers conducted MRIs on participants born from the 1930s to the 1970s, with participants having an average age of 57. They found that each decade the brain volume steadily increased, with the brains of people born in the 1970s having 6.6% more volume than those born in the 1930s. Brain surface area increased about 15% in that time.

Brain structures such as white matter, gray matter, and hippocampus (a brain region involved in learning and memory) also increased in size over time. This increase in brain volume clearly shows that environmental factors (e.g., nutrition, education, social), and not just genetic factors, influence brain size.

The researchers thought that a larger brain volume, which signifies brain health,  might be protective against Alzheimer's disease. And that this could explain why the percentage of people (the incidence) of Alzheimer's disease and dementia has gone down over time.

From Medical Xpress: Human brains are getting larger: That may be good news for dementia risk

A new study by researchers at UC Davis Health found human brains are getting larger. Study participants born in the 1970s had 6.6% larger brain volumes and almost 15% larger brain surface area than those born in the 1930s. ...continue reading "Human Brains Are Getting Larger Over Time"

After reports that life expectancy for Americans was down in 2021, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) just released a report that in 2022 the life expectancy has once again increased.

The key finding in the report was that life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2022 was 77.5 years. This is an increase of 1.1 years from 2021. It increased for both males and females in 2022, but there is still a life expectancy gap between them. For males, life expectancy increased 1.3 years from 2021 to 74.8 in 2022. For females, life expectancy increased 0.9 year to 80.2 in 2022.

Heart disease and cancer remain the top 2 causes in 2022 (same as in 2021), while deaths from COVID-19 dropped from #3 in 2021 to #4. "Unintentional injuries" (e.g., accidents, drug overdose, homicide) is now #3 (it was #4 in 2021).

Excerpts from the CDC NCHS Data Brief No. 492, March 2024: Mortality in the United States, 2022 (pdf version) and the CDC page: Mortality in the United States, 2022

Key findings - Data from the National Vital Statistics System
  • Life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2022 was 77.5 years, an increase of 1.1 years from 2021.

...continue reading "Life Expectancy For US Population Increased in 2022"

Women have been outliving men for more than a hundred years. But a recent study found that this gap in life expectancy has been widening for more than a decade. This gap is now 5.8 years. Life expectancy (combined for both men and women) was 78.8 years in 2019 (pre-Covid 19), but was 76.1 years in 2021.

Why is this gap widening? The main reasons for men's life expectancy decreasing are Covid-19 and opioid overdoses. Other reasons are suicide, accidents (unintentional injuries), heart disease, and alcoholic liver disease.

On the other hand, the gap may be shrinking since the development of Covid vaccines and better treatments, as well as widely available overdose treatments (Naloxone).

From Science Daily: US men die 6 years before women, as life expectancy gap widens

We've known for more than a century that women outlive men. But new research led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that, at least in the United States, the gap has been widening for more than a decade. The trend is being driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic, among other factors. ...continue reading "Life Expectancy Gap Between Men and Women Is Widening"

The studies finding health harms from ultra-processed foods keep coming. Ultra-processed foods are food products manufactured with all sorts of ingredients (additives) not normally found in our kitchens. Examples of such ingredients are: emulsifiers, carrageenan, mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate, cellulose, colors, titanium dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dextrose, whey protein, nitrates, flavors (artificial and natural), colors, etc.

A large review of studies (none of which were affiliated with companies producing ultra-processed foods) found that eating ultra-processed foods are linked to over 30 health harms. Some of the health harms had especially strong associations: early death, death from heart disease (cardiovascular disease), type 2 diabetes, adverse sleep outcomes, wheezing, and obesity. In general, the more ultra-processed foods one ate, the higher the risk for harms.

Bottom line: Read ingredient lists, and try to avoid ultra-processed foods. Even foods such as cereals can have one that is ultra-processed (a formulation of ingredients that result from industrial processes) next to one that only has natural real ingredients without any additives.

From Medical Xpress: Consistent evidence links ultra-processed food to over 30 damaging health outcomes

Consistent evidence shows that higher exposure to ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of 32 damaging health outcomes including cancer, major heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and early death. ...continue reading "Over 30 Health Harms Associated With Ultra-Processed Foods"

Another recent study found numerous health benefits in persons following an intermittent fasting-like diet for 3 months. It resulted in changes in blood and liver markers indicating a lower risk for several diseases (e.g., diabetes), and it reduced biological age 2.5 years.

Researchers found that following a diet that mimics fasting 5 days, then a normal diet 25 days for 3 monthly cycles improve a number of cardiometabolic risk factors such as reduced insulin resistance and other pre-diabetes markers. It also decreased abdominal fat and liver fat, and improved immune system functioning.

What did they eat during the 5 fasting-like days? They ate plant-based, low-calorie, and low-protein foods such as vegetable-based soups, energy bars, energy drinks, chip snacks, chamomile tea, and a supplement providing high levels of minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. The foods were prepackaged and provided by an outside company to ensure the diet was followed.

But more importantly, the participants didn't really fast the 5 days - they just really cut back on calories, and ate plant-based foods. In other words, this type of diet is much easier to follow than a total fast, especially for several months. After the 5 days, the participants resumed eating their normal diet for the next 25 days.

From Medical Xpress: Fasting-like diet lowers risk factors for disease, reduces biological age in humans: Study

Cycles of a diet that mimics fasting can reduce signs of immune system aging, as well as insulin resistance and liver fat in humans, resulting in a lower biological age, according to a new USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology-led study. ...continue reading "A Five Day Fasting-Mimicking Diet Has Health Benefits"

Tai Chi Credit:Wikipedia

It turns out that doing the series of slow moving movements called Tai Chi reduces blood pressure more than vigorous aerobic exercise. This traditional Chinese exercise also has other benefits: it improves flexibility and balance, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function.

A recent study found that doing the slow gentle movements and postures of Tai Chi (often called meditation in motion) for one year resulted in greater blood pressure reductions than aerobic exercises in persons with prehypertension. Half of a group of 349 adult volunteers were randomly assigned to Tai Chi for one hour 4 times per week for a year, while persons in the other group were randomly assigned to do aerobic exercises (including climbing stairs, jogging, brisk walking, and cycling) with the same frequency.

After one year, persons in both groups had lower blood pressure than at the start of the study, but in the Tai Chi group it was about 7.01 mmHg lower compared to 4.61 mmHg lower in the aerobic exercise group.

Prehypertension is blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal (between 120/80 and 139/89 mmHg), but not yet hypertension. In the study, the researchers also found that fewer persons from the Tai Chi group progressed to hypertension. A win-win.

The researchers of this study concluded that Tai Chi is a safe, moderate-intensity, mind-body exercise, which is suitable for persons of all ages and physical conditions. By the way, other studies also found that doing Tai Chi reduces blood pressure - as early as 12 weeks.

From NPR: Tai chi reduces blood pressure better than aerobic exercise, study finds

Tai chi, a traditional, slow-moving form of Chinese martial art, is known to increase flexibility and improve balance. Now, new research suggests it's better than more vigorous aerobic exercises for lowering blood pressure in people with prehypertension. ...continue reading "Study Found Tai Chi Reduces Blood Pressure Better Than Aerobic Exercises"

There has been medical debate over whether taking a daily multivitamin supplement has any benefits. Well, a third large study says YES - taking a daily multivitamin slows age-related memory loss and cognitive aging in older adults (60 years and older).

The researchers estimate that a daily multivitamin slowed cognitive aging the equivalent of 2 years when compared to persons not taking a multivitamin.

From Science Daily: Third major study finds evidence that daily multivitamin supplements improve memory and slow cognitive aging in older adults

By 2060, according to the Alzheimer's Association, nearly one in four Americans will be in an age bracket at elevated risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease unless interventions can help preserve cognitive function before deficits begin. ...continue reading "Study Finds Multivitamins May Slow Memory Loss In Older Adults"