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An recent study from University of Saskatchewan researchers found that stretching exercises were better than brisk walking for lowering high-normal blood pressure or moderately elevated blood pressure. However, walking was more effective than stretching for reducing waist size.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 male and female adults (average age 61 years) with high normal or moderate hypertension (130/85–159/99 mm Hg) to either 8 weeks of whole body stretching exercises or brisk walking (on outdoor trails or a treadmill) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. The stretching exercise routine included 21 exercises for the shoulders, chest, legs, arms, hips, and back. Each stretch was done twice and held for a 30-second duration with 15 seconds of rest between stretches.

Other studies have also found stretching exercises effective in reducing blood pressure. A possible reason is that when muscles are stretched, blood vessels are also stretched, and this may lead to structural changes in blood vessels. By reducing arterial stiffness, there is improved blood flow, and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The researchers suggested adding stretching exercises to an aerobic exercise program or brisk walking for additional health benefits. By the way, stretching exercises are similar to yoga, which also lowers blood pressure.

From Medical Xpress: Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure, study finds

A new University of Saskatchewan study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.  ...continue reading "Stretching Exercises Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure"

There is strong evidence for a link between the foods a person eats, the microbes that live in the person's gut (gut microbiome), and the person's health, according to a large international study. Yes, it's all related.

The researchers were able to find clear patterns of the types of foods eaten and the microbes in the gut. They found that the presence of 15 specific bacteria are consistently associated with good health ("good microbes") and some other bacteria ("bad microbes") are associated with poor metabolic health (including inflammation, blood sugar control).

Study researcher Tim Spector (of King's College London) said: "When you eat, you're not just nourishing your body, you're feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut."

They found that a diverse diet rich in minimally processed plant-based foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, dietary fiber) and fish supports and feeds "good" gut microbes associated with health, with favorable blood sugar levels (glucose control), lower levels of inflammation, improved metabolism, and thus lower risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions (e.g. type 2 diabetes).

On the other hand, persons that ate more highly processed foods, added sugars (desserts!), low fiber foods, artificial sweeteners, foods with additives were more likely to have "bad" microbes linked to poor health, inflammation, unfavorable blood sugar levels, and obesity.

They were able to see that specific foods clearly had an effect on specific bacteria, for example eating tomatoes with an increase in beneficial species of Roseburia. Eating a variety of plant based foods was also associated with an increase in diversity of bacteria (this is considered good), and also with the presence of beneficial keystone bacteria such as  Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.

VERY IMPORTANT: The beneficial bacteria the researchers list are NOT in probiotic supplements. Instead, you must eat a variety of foods that feed beneficial bacteria (e.g. eating a Mediterranean style diet). In fact, some of the microbes the researchers found have not yet been named. Foods also contain bacteria, and these are ingested. For example, an apple contains about 100 million bacteria!

From Science Daily: Link between gut microbes, diet and illnesses revealed

Diets rich in healthy and plant-based foods encourages the presence of gut microbes that are linked to a lower risk of common illnesses including heart disease, research has found.  ...continue reading "Your Diet, Your Gut Microbes, And Your Health"

Many people wonder whether eating organic foods has health benefits. Yes - studies have found some benefits, such as lower pesticide residue levels in the body in children and adults, and that eating organic foods is linked to a lower risk of cancer. A recent study conducted in France found that one benefit of eating organic foods may be a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

University of Paris researchers found that the more a person ate organic foods, especially plant-based organic foods, the lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For each 5% increase in the proportion of organic foods in the diet, the risk of type 2 diabetes decreased by 3%. Those eating the highest amount of organic foods had a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, when compared to those eating the least.

They point out that their findings are similar to a recent US study which found that persons reporting purchasing organic foods had a 20% lower prevalence of diabetes (when compared to people not purchasing organic foods). Animal studies find that exposure to several types of pesticides can increase the risk of diabetes. Some types of pesticides, such as pyrethroids, organophosphates, and organochlorides are endocrine disruptors and can result in metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

A nice discussion of the study, from Beyond Pesticides: Food For Thought: Eating Organic Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

The study. From the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA): Prospective association between organic food consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: findings from the NutriNet-Santé cohort study

As women age, they may try all sorts of things to reduce or prevent facial wrinkles. A recent study from the University of California researchers suggests that eating 1/2 cup (85 g) mangoes four times a week may reduce facial wrinkles in older fair-skinned women. Unexpectedly however, 1.5 cups (250 g) four times a week for 16 weeks had the opposite effect - it increased facial wrinkles!

Why would it have that effect? The researchers thought that probably the carotenoids, flavonoids, and antioxidants in the Ataulfo mangoes had the beneficial skin effect in the 1/2 cup group. [Note: Other fruits also contain these.] But that perhaps the high levels of sugar in the 1.5 cup mango group had a negative effect on the skin ("increased sugar intake may have led to glycation of collagen fibers, thereby disrupting the collagen structure" of the skin).

However, cardiovascular measures were better in the higher mango intake group, such as lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Keep in mind though, that only 36 postmenopausal women (between the ages of 50 and 70) participated - so all the results can only be considered "preliminary".

Bottom line: Eat a variety of fruits - they are healthy for you! Research suggests that fruit, in general, is good for the skin. But perhaps eat mangoes in moderation.

From Futurity: Can eating mangoes reduce women's facial wrinkles?

Mangoes, like other orange fruits and vegetables, are rich in beta-carotene and provide antioxidants that may delay cell damage. A new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis, finds eating Ataulfo mangoes, also known as honey or Champagne mangoes, may have another benefit—reducing facial wrinkles in older women with fairer skin. The study was published in the journal Nutrients.

Postmenopausal women who ate a half cup of Ataulfo mangoes four times a week saw a 23 percent decrease in deep wrinkles after two months and a 20 percent decrease after four months.  ...continue reading "Eating Some Mangoes May Help With Facial Wrinkles"

What a change from a few decades ago when marijuana use was totally illegal, frowned upon, and viewed as a "gateway drug"! A recent study found that about 15% of older adults reported using cannabis in the past 3 years. Most adults (78%) reported they used it only it to treat medical problems such as pain or arthritis (73%), sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.

University of California researchers conducted anonymous surveys of 568 older adults aged 65 years and older at a geriatrics clinic in California. They found that adults using cannabis for the first time after the age of 60  were more likely to apply it topically as a lotion, and not by smoking it or ingesting it as edibles. Three fourths said the products helped them.

A minority used it for recreational purposes by smoking or eating edibles. About half (53%) of cannabis users reported using cannabis regularly on a daily or weekly basis. The researchers pointed out that other surveys at geriatric clinics also showed increased cannabis use in recent years.

From Science Daily: Older adults using cannabis to treat common health conditions

With growing interest in its potential health benefits and new legislation favoring legalization in more states, cannabis use is becoming more common among older adults.  ...continue reading "More Older Adults Are Using Cannabis Products For Medical Problems"

Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills. ...continue reading "Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain"

A recent study found that eating higher levels of foods with flavonoids (e.g. berries, apples, and tea) may lower the risk of later development of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related dementias.

Since currently there are no effective drugs that prevent or actual medical treatments for dementia, it is great that what a person eats (the dietary pattern) long-term may be protective. Something we can do to lower our risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias!

Tufts University researchers followed 2801 persons (50 years and older) for 20 years and found that those with the lowest intake of flavonoid rich foods (especially 3 flavonoid classes: flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavonoid polymers) had a 20 to 40% higher chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, when compared to those eating the most flavonoid rich foods. [Note: The lowest intake group averaged  about 1 1/2 apples, but no berries or tea per month.]

Flavonoids are naturally occurring bioactive pigments, of which there are 7 types, that are found in plant-based foods. Some good sources of different types of flavonoids include berries & red wine (anthocyanin rich), onions & apples, pears (flavonol rich), citrus fruits and juices, teas, dark chocolate, parsley, celery,and soy products.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables appears to be best for health benefits. There is no one super-food. Other studies also find that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables (thus flavonoid rich), may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Why are flavonoid containing foods protective, specifically "neuroprotective"? Studies suggest that they do the following: antioxidant effects, protect neurons from neurotoxins and combat neuroinflammation, and favorable changes in brain blood flow,

Excerpts from Science Daily: More berries, apples and tea may have protective benefits against Alzheimer's

Older adults who consumed small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea, were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias over 20 years compared with people whose intake was higher, according to a new study led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University.  ...continue reading "Eating More Fruits and Berries Lowers Risk of Dementia"

Could our risk of getting Alzheimer's disease be lowered by something as simple as getting flu and pneumonia vaccines? Two large observational studies suggest just that.

The studies, which were presented at this year's Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC), found that: getting a flu vaccine (with more than one flu shot over the years even better), getting the flu vaccines at a younger age, and additionally getting the pneumonia vaccine between the ages of 65 and 75 years were all associated with a lowered risk of Alzheimer's disease. It's as if they somehow were brain protective.

Excerpts from Medscape: Flu, Pneumonia Vaccination Tied to Lower Dementia Risk

Vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia may help protect against Alzheimer's disease (AD), two large observational studies suggest.

In a cohort study of more than 9000 older adults, receiving a single influenza vaccination was associated with a 17% lower prevalence of AD compared with not receiving the vaccine. In addition, for those who were vaccinated more than once over the years, there was an additional 13% reduction in AD incidence.  ...continue reading "Flu and Pneumonia Vaccinations Linked To a Lower Alzheimer’s Disease Risk"

What you eat is all important for health. A recent study found that eating higher amounts of protein, whether animal or plant protein,  were associated with lower rates of death (from any cause). Eating a diet high in plant protein appeared to be especially beneficial, and was associated with both a lower risk of death (all cause mortality) and deaths from cardiovascular disease. Higher protein intakes, whether animal, plant or combined, were not associated with rates of death from cancer.

The research, which was an analysis of 32 studies, found there was a dose-response association between intake of plant protein and risk of death (from any cause) - the more plant protein in the diet, the lower the risk of death.

What foods are high in plant protein? Legumes (beans,lentils, peas ), whole grains, and nuts. Bottom line: Eat more protein, especially plant protein, for your health. [And this means real foods, not supplements!]

From Science Daily: Diets high in protein, particularly plant protein, linked to lower risk of death

Diets high in protein, particularly plant protein, are associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, finds an analysis of the latest evidence published by The BMJ today.  ...continue reading "Diets High In Protein Are Beneficial For Health"

It is great to find a good news study these days, and this one is especially good news for chocolate lovers. Researchers reviewed 6 large studies from the last few decades and found that chocolate consumption more than once a week is associated with a reduced risk of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Coronary artery disease is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, and is caused by plaque buildup (cholesterol deposits) on the wall of the arteries.

The researchers think that chocolate could be "cardioprotective" (heart-protecting) because of the nutrients in chocolate, all of which have been found to have beneficial health effects in other studies. These are flavanols, polyphenols,  methylxanthines, and stearic acid. In this study they did not address the issue of types of chocolate (dark, milk) or whether eating chocolate more frequently (e.g. daily) is even better.

In recent years, other studies of chocoalte have found not only cardiovascular benefits, but that it also reduces inflammation, and that there are dose-dependent (the more chocolate, the better) improvements in cognition, attention, and memory.

From Science Daily: Chocolate is good for the heart

Eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). ...continue reading "Chocolate Appears to Be Good For the Heart"