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L.J. Rohan

L.J. Rohan

Gerontologist

Myth: Old People Should Just Get Used to Being Old

I find this one of the most confounding ideas of ageism I have ever come across. Authors Bruce E. Blaine and Kimberly J. McClure Brenchley, in their book, The Psychology of Diversity, note that unlike other minorities—racial, LGBT, women– older people acquire their membership as a senior citizen with no gradual induction into this particular group. We have no time to become accustomed to being older or to understand the ensuing bias younger people hold against seniors.  We are most often not prepared to handle the sudden ageism we experience. However, since younger people feel themselves to be eternally young and fearless, unaware and uncaring of what lies ahead for them, they see the struggle we seniors experience with abrupt stereotyping as a situation we just need to accept: we’re now old. Get over it!

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Sharing Our Wisdom with the Next Generation

Wise senior women of the world, I call on each of you to help your daughters, granddaughters, and even your great-granddaughters, to be healthier and happier, and to live longer and more vibrantly. Will they listen to our words of wisdom? Some will heed our advice — the ones who see clearly the effects of decades of lifestyle choices, good and bad, on our bodies, minds, and spirits.

More and more research emerges every month supporting this fact: The sooner we adopt healthier lifestyle choices the better our mid-life and senior years will be. All is not lost for us seniors, as the human body is the most miraculous healing machine on the planet. Every single positive change we make reaps benefits, no matter if we are thirty-two or eighty-two. However, the climb becomes steeper when chronic issues and limitations add rust and corrosion to the workings of the gears.

Our mission: to help our daughters and granddaughters retool their lifestyles to include life-affirming choices to free them from some of the challenges we live with as seniors because we didn’t know differently.

Gerontologists look at how circumstances and choices we made when we were young and bulletproof, come back at mid-life to express themselves in our joints, brains, and hearts.  Drawing from the latest science, we can encourage the younger women, and men, in our lives to consider choosing some, or all, of these six life-enhancing changes which will profoundly influence the course of their aging.

My Top Six Choices

Exercise

Exercise is THE game changer, maybe even the magic bullet against premature aging. Our bodies are made to move, and the more we do, the more vibrant we will be. We now know if we exercise at a moderate intensity—85% of our suggested heart rate (https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm) for one hour most days– mixing up our workouts with repetitive aerobics (biking, swimming, walking) and non-repetitive aerobics (tennis, Zumba, jazzercise, or other dance classes, badminton, basketball); adding in weight/resistance training and some stretching/yoga, we will be doing the single most important thing to keep our bodies strong and finely tuned. A mix of these exercises prevents dementia and Alzheimer’s by laying new track in our brains, which keeps our memory circuits strong and long (our telomeres). Routine exercise lifts our mood, helps us sleep soundly, and makes our skin glow.

Sleep

When we exercise regularly, our sleep improves, but not getting enough sleep can short-circuit the benefits we gain from all that exertion. Getting enough sleep has risen to the top of the list in the last few years, and will likely stay there as we continue to learn about the benefits and detriments of getting, or not getting, enough sleep. The bottom line? Sleep allows our bodies to rejuvenate. It restores and replenishes the energy in all our cells, repairs damage to our organs and systems we incur by living life and clears away toxins, especially memory and cognitive function-robbing plaque. We need seven to eight hours of good quality sleep. Making it a priority, not an afterthought, will be an age-defying decision.

Sugar

The Achilles’ heel for so many of us is sugar. I know I struggle with staying on the low-sugar wagon every single day. Sugar creates inflammation in our body, and inflammation is the source of all disease. A sugar-free life is an admirable goal, and for some, over time, achievable and maintainable. For many of us, eliminating sweets would be the same as a sentence in solitary confinement; please just shoot me. To be realistic, cutting out half the sugar in our diets is a great place to start. Give it a year. After a year, try to cut the amount by half, again. By the end of the first year, the craving for sugar will be less, and by the end of the second year, the addiction could well be broken. This choice might need the help of a health-care professional (doctor, therapist, RN). These professionals can help break this addiction.

Eating Whole Foods

Leaving behind processed foods—crackers, cookies, lunch meat, anything made with wheat flour in favor of whole, unprocessed foods—fresh vegetables, nuts, low-sugar fruits, small amounts of lean meat, healthy fats and legumes, gives the body the optimum fuel to function—physically and mentally. If possible, going one step further, and choosing organic will help even more. Again, this is a tall order, one that takes time, but by cutting out a few unhealthy things over time our body begins to function at a higher level and heal the damage of bad food choices. Like giving up sugar, take this slowly. Add and eliminate systematically and consistently over a year. The change in one year will be astounding.

Quiet Time/Contemplation

2020 was a year that “tried men’s souls,” the old adage goes, yet it did allow us to slow down and have more quiet time—sometimes bordering on too much. However, I sincerely hope we gained a new appreciation for less hectic schedules. Many of us began meditating, and that is a habit to continue. Adding meditation, in whatever form feels right, reconnects us to our inner selves; some say our higher selves. From this place we find greater peace, balance, and a sense of calm. When the world returns to full speed—as we know it will eventually– we need to keep our fingers on the reset button that meditation offers us each time we sit in quiet.

Meaningful Connection

Again, in this unprecedented year, we have all experienced a degree of isolation not known for many decades. What became clear for all of us is the importance of meaningful connections with others. When we are young it is easier to make those connections, and so this piece of aging vibrantly advice might go unheeded at the moment, but keep reminding your daughter to nurture her friendships now, to ensure she continues to have those strong bonds as she reaches her senior years. She will thank you then, for sure.

You, with your hard-earned knowledge and wisdom, will know the right time to broach each of these topics. Everyone is different and takes in information in her unique way. I offer these choices with my sincere and heartfelt hope that they will help our young, and even yet unborn, women live joyfully, more healthfully, and more vibrantly until they are well past one hundred!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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FOURTH QUARTER ARTICLE RECAP

December 21, 2020– ‘Twas the Year Our Pets Saved Us

The writers at Chewy have written this perfect poem about our pet’s role over the last year, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. *The writer has a Havenese puppy, like George.*

 2020 was not the year that any of us expected, or wanted.

BUT, having our furry friends by our side this year has helped us find happiness even when it seemed impossible.

December 14, 2020The Power of Forgiveness

YOU are the prime beneficiary when you forgive someone.

When you practice Forgiveness Therapy, you free up huge vats of energy that were previously being

utilized to keep those anger knots solidly in place. Forgiveness makes you feel lighter,

happier, and more at peace than you thought possible.

December 7, 2020With Age Comes Wisdom

Growing older and gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is never as important as being kind.

November 30, 2020Who Draws George and L.J.?

People ALWAYS ask me if I do the drawings for my page. My answer is a resounding, I wish!

But who is the person behind the drawings?

I collaborate with the wonderfully talented artist Alex Mikev.

Together we create a weekly cartoon about the journey of aging, and we have even been able to put together a collection in print.

November 23, 2020– Spread a Little Gratitude All Year Long

Showing gratitude in all areas of our lives helps us be happier and HEALTHIER. Now I’ll share another way that I have found to have a positive impact on my attitude of gratitude.

November 16, 2020Raising Your Gratitude Quotient

Do you want to feel better right now, and super-charge some powerful immune-boosting hormones this red-hot minute?

Finding things to appreciate and be grateful for will make these shifts a reality. Extensive research finds this all to be true, and today, I offer you some concrete ways to raise your spirits.

November 9, 2020– Aging Well in 12 Steps!

As a Gerontologist, I’m asked every day what I do to age more vibrantly.

In this blog, I lay out the 12 steps I try to follow on my vibrant aging journey.

November 2, 2020-Gut-Brain Connection

Inflammation in the colon from poor food choices allows “bad” bacteria to float off and take residence in other organs, causing them to be inflamed.

The brain isn’t equipped to deal with inflammation and results in aging of the brain and impaired brain health.

The good news: When we cut down or eliminate sugar and refined carbs, adhere to a suggested regime of vitamins, and make a few lifestyle changes; we can begin to rebuild our gut’s health.

October 26, 2020More Answers From Dr. Claudia Harsh

I am back with 6 more questions for Dr. Claudia Harsh:

-Can breast cancer be cured? What is the percentage of return if contracted before menopause? After menopause?

-Are there any symptoms to watch for?

-Does contracting breast cancer before menopause increase the risk of getting it again after menopause?

-Breast cancer rates are increasing. Why? Is that for pre-or post-menopause?

-Is post-menopausal breast cancer hereditary?

October 19, 2020– Today Start Some Emotional Self-Care

Positive thinking CAN change your life!

Our beliefs have 5 times more influence on our health than genetics.

This article outlines the benefits of Emotional Self Care, and the benefits of giving yourself hope for the future.

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‘Twas the Year Our Pets Saved Us

For this week’s blog I’m sharing an original poem from Chewy. I read it and knew I couldn’t have said it better myself. Enjoy!

‘Twas the Year Our Pets Saved Us

A Chewy Original Poem

‘Twas the year full of questions, COVID, and doubt. For months we wore masks, indoors and out. 
Social distancing made us feel safe, but alone. Even our weddings were remote or postponed. While our kids went to school in ways unfamiliar, our own days and nights felt strained and peculiar. We binge-watched TV – the good, bad, and terrible.  In short;  this past year was barely bearable.

Yet each time we felt at the end of our ropes – Lo and behold! – our pets raised our hopes.  They offered relief for our cares and our worry, relief that was feathered, or scaly, or furry, or swam ‘round and ‘round in a tank without sinking, or sat by a heat lamp, unmoving, unblinking.

Some of these critters are new family members. Some have been with us for days without number. Some were adopted as pandemic puppies. Some are ball pythons, or bunnies, or guppies. Honestly, though, species don’t matter – the point is that pets make everything better.

So yes, while we must also sadly attest that at times, this year, we were not at our best, acting crabby and sullen and often cantankerous, (Pets: You have the pandemic to thank for this!) again and again, for reasons inscrutable, we got back to booping those dogs snoots so boopable. We treated our cats to special cat treats. We taught new limericks to our old parakeets. We gave extra crickets to our cute bearded dragons. Even our fishes’ tails started waggin’.

We care for our pets – they need us, it’s true. But deep down we know that we need our pets, too. Their antics make us laugh when we’re tearful. They comfort the anxious, lonesome, and fearful. We need the sense that their presence provides us: The feeling that loved ones are always beside us.

2020 tested us in myriad ways. Weeks felt like months, and hours felt like days. A new year approaches. Who knows what’s in store? Who knows that fresh weirdness will barge through the door? But whatever may come, let’s all take a minute to celebrate our world and the animals in it. A world without pets would be a cold, dreary place, like the ocean’s dark floor, or the far depths of space. We have it in ourselves to shift our attitude and close our the year with a sense of gratitude.

So in that spirit, friends, let’s raise our voices, all: “Happiest of holidays – to creatures great and small!”

In a year of challenge and change, one thing that has never wavered is the mad love we have for ourpets – an they have for us. We hope this original poem makes you smile, knowing that whatever 2021 brings, our pets will always be by our side.

Source: https://be.chewy.com/twas-the-year-our-pets-saved-us-a-chewy-original-poem/

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MYTH: Fine Craftsmanship is Only for The Young

As I read an article about quilting artists in my Craft Magazine, I could feel my heartbeats speeding up, my hackles rising. I was appalled at how the author put her prejudice against older artists so blatantly on display. How could someone think that artistic expression, fine craftsmanship, and intricate needlework are limited to the young?

I have been a part of the creative arts world since I could barely walk. In all of that time, I have looked to older artists for insight, wisdom, and solutions to gnarly problems beyond my skill level. They are the true masters and mentors, and I thank the Heavens for them!

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The Power of Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart; forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.” 

Hannah More, English writer

At this moment, no matter what storms rage in our reality, each of us has the power to let go of old grievances that hold us back from a more vibrant life. The toughest things to consider are those hard little knots of anger lodged in our hearts that keep our desire for peace of mind just beyond actualization. Once we drag these gnarls of petrified resentment from the closet of old wounds and expose them to the air, we create more space in our hearts for happiness and catapult our chances for living a more joy-filled life straight into today.

Try this forgiveness therapy: Each night as you lie down, drop into your heart and focus on the hardest knots—your feelings and images of those people who have committed a crime against you so heinous you almost believe that a hundred lifetimes reincarnated as a microbe on the belly of a snake would be too good a life for them. When you have these capital offenders clearly lined up in your mind, from the space of your heart say:

“I forgive_____________” (Mom, the teacher who turned you in for smoking, your ex, whomever.)

Then say:

“I forgive myself.”

Notice how you feel after doing this exercise. Sometime in the next few days, or perhaps weeks, new insights, new sensibilities will emerge. You begin experiencing the steps to forgiveness. You may come to understand that each of those people was doing the best they could manage at the time. You just got caught in their interior melodrama. To help you get to the place of forgiveness, ask yourself this question, “Do I, or anyone else, ever get up in the morning and say, ‘I am going to make a half-hearted effort today?’ ”

I don’t think so. Consciously, or unconsciously, we do the best we can every day with the mental, physical, and emotional faculties available to us right then. Absorbing this truth stopped me from judging myself and other people quite so much, and now I downshift into forgiveness far easier than I ever could before.

I don’t ask myself whether these people actually deserve to be forgiven. They probably aren’t even seeking forgiveness, because apparently, they are happy with the way their lives are right now. That’s not important. What IS important is what forgiving them does for me.  Forgiving someone, as Doc Childre and Dr. Rollin McCraty and their team at the HeartMath Institute have shown, frees up huge vats of energy previously being utilized to keep those anger knots solidly in place. Afterward, you feel lighter, happier, and more at peace than you thought possible. You are the prime beneficiary of this gift. The gift you bestow on those you forgive? Extra gravy.

The Power of Forgiveness

The one catch I must warn you about is the “yes-but,” conditional forgiving gambit. The classic one goes something like, “I forgive my ex-husband, but I never want to see him again.” That is not the real thing. At the time you forgave him, you thought you were done, yet each time you have to see him, or talk to him, or hear his name, your chest tightens. The knots of anger and resentment are still there. You may think it will take forever, but the more you touch that little knot and fully feel the hurt—forgiving them in the above nightly practice– the sooner the knot will finally, completely dissolve. At the moment of sincerely knowing that you have really forgiven your ex-husband, you will beam up to the next level: inner peace. Forgiveness does not mean that you forget or condone what he did to you, or that what he did reflects acceptable behavior in any realm of this universe. It means that you no longer actively feel the anger and the hurt you once did. You don’t let the anger control you; you simply release it from your heart, because to hold it there hurts you. Then you will walk in the slippers of a forgiver.

The last thing I want you to consider is forgiving yourself. You didn’t really think that was just a line in the above exercise, did you? “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete,” the saying goes. This part of the practice may prove a bit harder. At times, it is for me.

 Often I think about poor behavioral choices I made in the past or fixate on one of a myriad of other sins I think I committed. But, now I understand that we are all worthy and so most of the time I include myself as worthy of healing too. Sometimes this is difficult to do, but. I must work on making this practice routine.  By saying, “I forgive myself” at night after offering grace to all those other “sinners,” I include myself. Acknowledging that for any of the mistakes I have ever made, I made the best choice I could at that moment, given my state of being and working from the best information available, however limited or inaccurate. With 20-20 hindsight, we see how we could have acted differently, but we cannot change the past. Learn the lesson. Let it go and move on.

If forgiving yourself, or even thinking you deserve forgiveness, is a hard concept for you to embrace right now, don’t worry. Just keep adding yourself to the list every night, or whenever you allow a little forgiveness to caress your soul.  Each time you initiate this compassion you move farther away from the darkness of pain and closer to the light of happiness. Choose forgiveness and it will set you free–today, tomorrow, and forever.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Who Draws George and LJ?

So often I am asked if I do the drawings I share each week with my readers. My answer is a resounding, I wish! I have talent in other areas, but drawing wasn’t a skill I was encouraged to develop ever. As I defined my idea for my practice, I thought about including a visual element with my written offerings; however, I needed a trained artist to help me bring that aspect into focus.  

Several months before, Alex Mikev, then an art student at Parsons School of Design in New York, had completed a design project for me. As I looked through his portfolio, I was awed by his drawings. I knew immediately Alex could bring my vision into reality. Almost three years on, our successful collaboration continues.

It all started for Alex with a high school drawing class. Drawing gave him “more joy and purpose,” he says, “than anything else.” With passion and dedication, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from Ball University. His artistic style draws on the influence of the great masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He wants to “make things that are as jaw-dropping real as possible.” His beautiful, commissioned works reflect this intention.

Sanctuary of Opara

Alex applies the same desire for realism to our weekly illustrations, with the added consideration of “understanding the conceptual nature of how L.J. and George are relating to each other and to the setting. It’s important I understand the story L.J. wants to tell, and keep the continuity of the journey of L.J. and George Eliot in each drawing.” In his hands, my rough, stick-figure sketches, and scribbling of notes quickly evolve into a finished sketch. Over time, Alex says he has learned to intuit what I am trying to say, and so often he is right-on. Every once in a while we get out of sync, and his rough draft makes me laugh. In the end, even the misunderstood ideas end up as successful illustrations. A testament to Alex’s talent!

As I work with Alex, my first such collaboration with an illustrator, I understand just how hard creating a successful “cartoon” is. Alex makes it seem effortless, but readily admits, “Drawing cartoons is not as easy as people think. It is a process of abstraction to correctly summarize the message, because you have to distill a lot of information into a few lines.” I am grateful every week that Alex translates my ideas so perfectly into those few important lines.

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Aging Well in 12 Steps

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

To adapt Lao Tzu’s proverb to this case, the journey toward aging well starts with one step: choosing to make YOU a priority.

As a gerontologist, I am asked every day, “What do you do to age more vibrantly?” Some days it’s an easy answer because I am walkin’ the walk and talkin’ the talk. Other days, I want to pull my head inside my collar like a turtle because I have temporarily fallen, not only off the wagon but into the ditch beside it!  I heartily admit since the beginning of the pandemic, staying with the program is harder. Some days I just bag it and go to bed with a book and George beside me. But, I understand that these days especially, it’s important to treat myself with a gentle hand.

What is the very good news about getting sideways with what we know are good practices? Each morning we all start with a fresh page and a new opportunity to make better choices, to step back on the path toward aging vibrantly. That’s the perennial blessing, and I’m most grateful for it.

If this is the first of my blogs you are reading, please read these words several times:

  • The Journey Starts With a SINGLE Step
  • Don’t Beat Yourself Up About Getting It Perfect
  • Do Your Best and Give Yourself Lots of GOLD STARS For Each New Choice You Make and Adopt

Today, I want to talk about times when I’m firing on all cylinders and doing what I know to do to keep my body, mind, and spirit humming at their peaks. Please know for sure, I didn’t implement all these choices (listed below) into my routine at once, and I don’t recommend you try to either. Start SMALL. Pick one, two or, if you are very ready, three, practices to adopt now. Give it some time for those to become habit before adding any more. The journey is our lifetime, and we can only take one healthy aging step at a time.

aging well in 12 steps

My Top 12 Choices To Help Me Age More Vibrantly

For My Body:

The science tells us as we get older we sleep less deeply and often wake earlier than when we were younger. I am experiencing this in my own life in the last few, post-menopausal, years. To counter these changes, I now strive to turn out the lights by 11:15 pm. This has truly been one of the best choices I have made, ever.

  • I exercise almost every day for forty-five minutes to an hour, getting my heart rate up to 85% max.

Once a week I tap dance for an hour (This counts under My Mind, too!) and I pick from a buffet of exercise options on the other days:

  • Brisk walking (my #1 go-to)
  • Interval training
  • I ride my road bike
  • Riding the stationary bike (a great chance to catch up on my reading!)
  • Lifting free and stationary weights
  • Swimming
  • Zumba (virtually, lately)

I avoid sugar, flour, hard liquor, and all processed food while consistently reaching for organic whole foods.

Most days I do well at this one; some days, well, not so much. I have no trouble avoiding all processed foods and hard liquor, but I sometimes get squidgy around baked goods. The good news: each day I have a clean plate on which to fill with better choices.

This one I can honestly say is the easiest for me, as I have been taking handfuls of supplements since I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis at twenty-two, some thirty-nine years ago. Drinking the water has also become an ingrained habit. One thing I do notice: if I short myself on the water, I feel it the next day, so that keeps me honest.

For My Mind:

  • I meditate for fifteen minutes almost every morning.

Especially since the pandemic, meditation keeps me calmer, more balanced, and better able to deal with these very trying times. I might even take a lie-down and do a mini-meditation during particularly difficult days.

  • I get my news from the newspaper, only. I do not watch the news on TV, or have it in my Facebook feed, or anywhere else.

Research tells us how much more harmful negative images—either moving (TV) or still (social media) can trigger anxious feelings of fear, depression, and seeing the glass as bone dry. Limiting my news input to only the written word has kept me sane.

  • I practice being grateful every day for what happens in my life. Since I can control my thoughts, why not pick good ones?

Ten years ago, I bought a piano and started taking lessons. Acquiring new skills is so important at our age. Research shows the benefits for of learning to play a musical instrument are overwhelming. 

Spirit:

I take time some mornings and almost every night to write down not only things I am grateful for but also things I am appreciating at that moment. There is a subtle difference between these two experiences, and I feel both are worth noting in my special notebook. This practice also helps me let go of regrets and embrace forgiveness.

  •  I connect daily with one or more friends who love and support me and who fill me up.

Sometimes this is on the telephone and sometimes it’s over a socially distanced meal or walk. Staying connected to my uplifting pals is as important to me as breathing. I see this choice as vital to healthy aging.

A frustrated clothing and jewelry designer/maker, as well as a yellow-thumbed gardener and avid recipe-experimenter, I get cranky if I ignore my creative side for too many days. These spirit-nurturing hobbies add purpose to my life and keep me grounded and happy.

Nature feeds my spirit, and as many scientists, including Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, author of Forest Bathing have shown, Mother Earth replenishes us when we soak in her beauty, fragrances, sounds, and atmosphere. Nature is a spirit healer, like no other.

I know this is a long article, so I will close here by saying one more time:

Go Slowly! Begin by picking one or two choices from my list. Add them to your daily routine and enjoy the experience of a more Vibrant Life!

And, until next time…Be Vibrant!

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myth: Only 12% of all older adults are aging successfully

 “Only 12% of all older adults are aging successfully.” Dr. Bruce Blaine and Dr. Kimberly J. McClure Brenchley, Understanding The Psychology of Diversity (2007, 2017)

My blood pressure has gone up at least 10 points as I write this response to the misguided people who wrote this myth originally in 1986, (John Rowe and Robert Kahn), and those above who continue to perpetuate this myth. It makes me absolutely crazy when seemingly intelligent, educated people (the authors quoted above) buy into flawed research based on what we would now call the “Top Three-Percenters,” which is the only group whose members might qualify for aging successfully. The criteria was so narrow. I disagree with the choice of the word, “successful,” the virtually impossible, near-perfect health conditions Rowe and Kahn put forth, and the fact that books continue to be printed based on erroneous ideas.

Here is the truth as I see it: First, as I have said in my articles and videos, the word “successful” was the wrong word choice from the get-go, and using it sets up the perfect counter-belief for failing at aging (well), if Rowe and Kahn’s rigid criteria is not met. Secondly, almost all the researchers in the years following 1986 challenged this rigid criteria and found it wanting, to the extent that in the last ten years, no one ever qualifies aging in terms of success or failure. Imagine my surprise finding not only the term, but the accepted definition of the term, “successful aging” used in a book updated in 2017. And lastly, as a gerontologist on the ground, working with seniors, I can tell you that so many of us think we are aging well, despite some limitations. As we also now know, what you believe influences your biology more than any single factor (genetics coming in at 20%) and I’m not about to tell these vibrant seniors they are full of hooey!

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Today, Start Some Emotional Self-Care

Late this past summer, I engaged in some fun emotional self-care. I bought a beautiful red jacket on deep sale (yippee). I bought it as a testament to my belief I will be able to wear it this holiday season. Recently, I made summer fruit chutney with the last of the good nectarines; it is the bit of summer I put on top of cream cheese when I entertain friends in my home during the dark of winter. These are small, conscious acts, but important ones. They soothe my heart with the knowing that better times are coming. We will get through this, and at some point, out the other side. Even if the jacket doesn’t make its debut until Holiday 2021, it is there, giving me hope about the future.

I do little things like these as often as I can, especially after learning another state is on fire, infections are going up, or a local business has closed forever; right after I send money to the Red Cross, the local relief fund, and the food bank. Each act makes me feel more empowered, and with it I boost my immune system, reduce stress and help strengthen my armor against illness.

Dr. Bruce Lipton is the author of many books, but his groundbreaking work is entitled, The Biology of Belief. In this seminal work, Dr. Lipton, a cellular biologist, turned the healing community upside down when he put forth what many scientific studies have now proven: Our beliefs push every cell in our bodies toward healing or disease, accelerating aging or slowing it down. That’s pretty heady stuff. The scientists even gave it a new name, epigenetics. Even more astounding were the findings that our beliefs have five times more influence on our health than genetics.

Can positive thinking change your life? The answer is a definitive, YES! We are what we believe.

Here in this platform I have devoted many words to how detrimental high, sustained cortisol levels – from problems like stress and anxiety – are to our health and our rate of aging.

When we continually think negative thoughts—believing the worst is happening every minute of every day and that the world is coming to an end—in L.J. speak, when there’s NO water in the glass—we flood our systems with life-sucking cortisol. A bitter, but absolute, truth. We age and become wizen, inside and out. Look at the faces and more importantly, the body postures of stressed-out folks. They look and move older than they are.

But, all is not lost! How to see your glass half-full?

Now for the good news: by undertaking emotional self-care and consciously doing things that give us hope for a brighter future, we actually begin to shift our negative thoughts to sunnier ones. We know from bushel baskets of research that positive thinking helps prevent disease. They reduce our cortisol levels.

These optimistic feelings can be large or small. Start planning that dream vacation to the Grand Tetons or plant those herbs in a kitchen window box to yield delicious fresh herbs in February when the ground is bare. During World War II our grandparents and parents planted “Victory Gardens,” not only providing food for themselves, but also banking on the war ending and good times returning. I think right now, this red-hot minute, we need to create our own victory garden, be it with colorful brochures or a potted garden, then tend it with our consistent,  positive attention, saying to ourselves, “This is for my better future,” and watch it blossom into reality.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Quarterly Article Recap

July 6, 2020—Can You Really Give Up Sugar?

Sugar overdose upsets the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut. It can also cause chronic diseases related to inflammation like heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Ingesting too much sugar can lead to anxiety, dementia, and palpitations. And, it can make us fat. Adopting a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish is the key to keeping us vibrant.

July 13, 2020–Magic in the Music

Moving to jazz, classical, or instrumental –sorry, not rock and roll—enhances your ability to regain and strengthen your balance.

July 20, 2020–Powering Up Our Immune System

A reminder to bolstering our immune systems as our first choice of defense against disease, and that holds true for COVID-19, the Coronavirus. Consider increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as your oral supplements—Vitamins C and D, a good multivitamin, honey, garlic, probiotics, selenium, and zinc.

August 3, 2020—What New Skill Have You Learned?

We all know the thrill of accomplishing something new, and sheltering in-place gives us the perfect chance to learn a new skill. The resulting success does wonders for our immune systems.

August 10, 2020—Cerebral Small Vessel Disease

CSVD, as Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH says, “is a broad umbrella term that encompasses many different types of problems with the brain’s small blood vessels.” We can lower inflammation within the body, and slow down the onset of CSVD by consistently making healthy life choices.

August 17, 2020—George Eliot and I Are in Print!

After many months of hard work, and countless revisions, I am thrilled to announce the birth of our book, Live Vibrantly! With L.J. and Her Dog George Eliot. ❤️ Many people asked me how this book came about, so I’m sharing my story today on the blog.

August 24, 2020—Let Me Sleep on That

Adequate sleep each night enhances every facet of our health and aging process. It strengthens different types of memories, clears waste products from the brain, offers immune protection against infections, and may lower the possibility of weight gain, depression, and the development of Type 2 diabetes.

August 31, 2020—My Life-Changing Sleep Secret!

As we age, our circadian rhythms governing our sleep-wake cycle change, and so we can no longer stay up late and still function well the next day. Turning out the light before 11 o’clock may be the key to better sleep.

September 7, 2020—Get A Jump This Year on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder gives many of us the blues, come winter gray skies. Light boxes, exercise– especially in the morning– yoga, lowering sugar intake, and keeping up with friends and hobbies can help you stay vibrant until the sun shines again.

September 14, 2020—Explaining Gerontology

Gerontology blends the biological, social, and psychological sciences of aging with humanistic studies of relationships, spirituality, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors of older people.

September 21, 2020–How Can a Gerontologist Help Me?

My job as a gerontologist for both my readers and my clients is to pull together the best science from each discipline on a subject, and filter it through my understanding and expertise. Then I offer non-pharmaceutical, life-enhancing suggestions and solutions to change the course of our aging and lead fuller, more vibrant lives.

September 28, 2020—Third Quarter Recap

A quick summary of all the great articles of the past three months!

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How Can a Gerontologist Help Me?

My goals as a gerontologist are to empower, educate, and energize women using great information backed up by sound science. We deserve to be the masters of our health and our destiny. Obviously, we have merited that unique focus all along, but thank goodness society is finally catching up.  We now see women across the planet stepping up and taking their rightful places as full creators of their future. I want to help each one of them access the very best version of herself.                                                             

I knew from the beginning of my most recent return to school, that I wanted to concentrate on issues facing women as they age, for both my own journey and to help all my friends live long, healthy lives so that I would have playmates! But seriously, I saw a great need: For so long, few health and science studies focused on women, and only a scant amount had used women participants.  For example, older studies on testing hormones used men as the participants! (How bizarre is that thinking?) Researchers and doctors just took the results of studies on men and applied the same guidelines to women, because women and men are exactly alike.  😉

Eventually studies featured female participants, but only in the last twenty years or so. Still, nowhere could I find clear, concise information regarding women’s health and well-being as seen through a gerontological lens—a holistic lens—as gerontology is a holistic discipline. Holistic means that since all our parts are intimately connected, to fully understand ourselves as complicated human beings we must look at all the different aspects of a person—the psychological, physical, and social elements. Gerontologists are social scientists.

How are Gerontology and Geriatrics Different?

Geriatrics is the study of the diseases of the elderly and focuses solely on medical conditions. 

Do Only Seniors Need a Gerontologist?

It is most often that older people seek the assistance of a gerontologist, however, I know that the younger a person starts following the advice we offer, the more vibrant they will be throughout their lives. Yet, most folks believe a gerontologist only helps seniors. If we could only get the younger ones to be interested (or think they will ever need us!)

How Does a Gerontologist Help with Everyday Living?

My job as a gerontologist for both my readers and my clients is to pull together the best science from each discipline on a subject, and filter it through my understanding and expertise. Then I offer non-pharmaceutical, life-enhancing suggestions and solutions to change the course of our aging. I want my readers to lead lives filled with more vibrancy, and so hopefully, more fun, and with greater opportunities for heart connections and satisfaction on all levels.

I “walk the walk and talk the talk,” as we say, by road-testing my theories on myself first before I suggest them to you. If it doesn’t seem to work, out it goes. I pass along the success stories through my articles and videos and hope they will help women, as they have helped me, feel more energetic, look younger, think clearer and sharper, remember better, and wake up each day excited to have another day here on this planet to manifest my dreams. Even if we have limitations or challenges, we can always strive to be more vibrant.

Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS)

Earlier this year I became a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist, CAPS for short, to further help seniors stay in their homes by retrofitting those homes to accommodate their changing needs. My thirty years of being an ASID interior designer and owning my own interior design business give me decades of experience added to my gerontological knowledge, to find just the right, and beautiful, solution to every home’s challenges. Adding this important component to my erector set, I can help build a better model for our future selves to be as vibrant as possible throughout our lives.

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The Life-Changing Sleep Secret!

I was born a night owl, loving the quiet of the late evening hours, when all the chores are done, commitments completed, the house nicely buttoned up for the night, and I have time for myself. In my younger decades I could easily stay up until 12 midnight or 1 AM, and wake up at a reasonable hour, refreshed. In the last few years, a strange shift has occurred. Even if I got the needed number of hours of sleep, when I go to bed at midnight, or later, the next day I’m tired and lack my usual pep-a-de-do. I can no longer deny the change.

It began in my early fifties and has slowly, and truly, become my new reality. I fought it for years, but now at almost sixty-one I can no longer stay up late, night after night, and expect to fire on enough cylinders to get through my To-Do list, much less anything on my Want-To-Do list the next day.

Going to bed earlier changed my life. I never thought this would happen, but as a gerontologist, I know retiring earlier to feel more competent is a part of aging well; a fact I wanted to ignore.

life changing sleep secrets

While research tells us losing our protective armor of hormones at menopause can also play a part in sleep-related issues– from small to great on a sliding scale depending on the individual woman– that isn’t my issue. Drilling into the science, I find as we get older, we experience a shift in our various circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythms works as our body’s twenty-four-hour internal clock. Quietly, under the radar, they carry out key functions and processes. It is my circadian rhythm governing my sleep-wake cycle that downshifted when I wasn’t looking.

Much of the more conventional research ties an imbalance with sleep to our light/dark exposure, but I still wake up at virtually the same time I always did; it’s the time I turn off the light that makes the difference.

A few years ago, Dr. Julia Shekleton and her team at the Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, in their ground-breaking article in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, identified why this phenomenon occurs. They called it the Wake Maintenance Zone.

We know the experience of the Wake Maintaince Zone more commonly as “getting a second wind.” Dr. Shekleton tells us the onset of our second wind usually occurs right before our body switches to “getting ready for sleep” mode by secreting melatonin—the hormone released by our brain that makes us feel sleepy. Looking at the circadian 24-hour clock, our brain begins releasing melatonin around 9 PM to our body’s clock even if you are traveling through several time zones. Additionally, in many women, but not all, melatonin declines more sharply at mid-life, which causes many women (and men) to struggle with getting enough restful sleep.

When our second wind kicks in, we get a seemingly “burst” of energy for two or three hours more, making sleep virtually impossible. By the time this second wind winds down, we are out of sync with our natural circadian sleep/wake rhythm, and so lose precious restorative sleep time. As Dr. Shekleton found, the next day our cognitive function suffers, and we feel tired, even if we slept in to try and make up for getting to sleep later the night before. And, if our stress level is high, our cortisol levels will take an uptick at night, just as we want to float off to slumber land, and further sabotage our ability to get restful sleep.

From my perspective as a gerontologist, what I find is working for me, and is helping my clients, is to turn off the light while we are still in the first phases of melatonin secretion—somewhere before 11 PM.  Research tells us this is the magic hour of demarcation, after which our body begins other processes that seem to also feed a second wind. More research is needed, but I know going to bed earlier than my usual time, makes this night owl a much happier, more energetic, and definitely pleasanter person to be around. 

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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George Eliot And I Are in Print!

After many months of hard work, and countless revisions, I am thrilled to announce the birth of our book, Live Vibrantly! With L.J. and Her Dog George Eliot. Many people asked me how this book came about. Here’s my story.

While finishing my return to graduate school– after a thirty-year hiatus– I began thinking about how my new business as a gerontologist would manifest. A friend, and artist, and one of my staunchest supporters and cheerleaders, Ann McIntyre, put forth a novel idea. She suggested adding a visual element to my practice. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out how that should look.

After graduation, my husband and I went on vacation to one of our favorite spots, the mid-coast of Maine. There, relaxing and recharging, I could finally stop and take time to just think. As I walked the beach each day, I asked myself, how could I incorporate a visual something into a world of words? Trusting the answer would come at the perfect time, I waited. One afternoon, while stretched out on a blanket, a vision popped into my head. I love clever cartoons; several live under the glass on my desk. I sometimes send particularly funny ones to my friends. Cartoons, cartoons…then my Aha! Moment. I would include funny, but gentle, comments on aging to compliment my Facebook and website blog posts and other offerings, and share them on all my social media platforms.  Adding my precious Havanese puppy, George Eliot, as my sidekick, completed the vision.

The more I thought about this intriguing idea, the more I liked it. Everyone I mentioned it to agreed. Now, how to fill in the details? Since my drawing skills end with stick figures, I needed help to transfer my ideas onto paper. Having worked with a talented young artist, Alex Mikev, on a previous project, I knew he was my man for the job. He said yes, and soon we solidified how George and I would look. We were ready to go!

The finished illustrations you see each week, begin by me drawing a rough sketch and thinking up the dialog. I then give that to Alex to work his artistic magic to bring my idea into frame. I find my inspiration all around me—from things I have personally experienced as I am getting older, things my friends say, quotes I read, comments from my readers, and the endless antics of life with George Eliot. I decided to select some of my favorite drawings I have posted since George and I debuted on the World Wide Web in January 2018–the day I hung out my sign and opened my door as a gerontologist.

 I hope you enjoy my humorous perspectives on aging as much as I enjoy creating them!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Cerebral Small Vessel Disease. Might You Have It?

Cerebral small vessel disease. You may know it by one of a handful of terms: white matter disease, small vessel ischemic disease, lacunar infarcts, white matter hyperintensities, or Leukoaraiosis. Cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) encompasses a group of changes and developments (abnormalities) in the small blood vessels of the brain. Today I want to talk about the signs of cerebral small vessel disease and some promising life choices we can make to keep our brains healthy.

Recent reporting by Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH,* and research done by Dr. Vincent Mok for the Journal of Stroke both note seeing white matter changes, (historically, and still today, called “white matter changes”) when viewing brain tissue on an MRI. Dr. Mok writes, “Lacunar infarcts (small strokes), white matter hyperintensities (these are seen during an MRI), and cerebral microbleeds [meaning bleeding in the brain from a very small blood vessel] are considered various manifestations of cerebral small vessel disease. These lesions are associated with a plethora of disabilities (e.g., stroke, cognitive impairment, depression, gait disturbances, urinary symptoms).”

cerebral small vessel disease

What Causes Cerebral Small Vessel Disease?

What causes CSVD to develop? That source of all disease: chronically high inflammation. After existing in our bodies for years, and accelerating the development of sticky plaque in our blood vessels and heart, inflammation leads to deposits of plaque, like tiny time bombs, in our brains. The damage accumulates and the small vessels in our brains become blocked – just like in a major artery. These blocks deprive our brain of nourishing blood to keep it humming in perfect tune. Blockages may allow the small vessels to leak blood into our brain tissue, resulting in a brain hemorrhage. Other conditions can also produce white matter changes, but CSVD tops the list of probable causes.

What are the Key Symptoms of CSVD?

We classify CSVD into three levels:

  1. no noticeable symptoms;
  2. moderate symptoms; or
  3. severe symptoms.

Many older adults with CVSD have no noticeable symptoms. Those we notice in folks with moderate to severe CSVD include:

  • Cognitive Impairment: When tested, those seniors with CVSD scored worse on the M-MSE, a standard exam given to test cognitive function. Vascular cognitive impairment is the term you might hear in relation to cognitive impairment and cerebral small vessel disease.
  • Walking or Balance Issues. Research shows a direct link between increased problems with overall mobility – including standing still and keeping our balance, and a disturbance in our walking and carriage when white matter lesions exist in our brains. Those of us with moderate to severe CVSD experience a noticeable downshift in our walking and balancing abilities.
  • Stroke Risk Increase. A study analyzing many studies found a 50% increase in the risk of having a stroke when white matter hyperintensities were present in the brain.
Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: People Like Their Bodies Less When They Get Old

This is a great myth to bust, especially since our youth-obsessed culture and every media outlet would lead us to believe that seniors despite their ages, only loved their bodies when they were young. However, the results of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index poll, gives us a more accurate view of reality.

After interviewing 85,145 American adults, pollsters reveal that our perceptions of our bodies actually peaks when we reach our seventh decade, clearly telling us we like what we see in the mirror when we reach our seventies and eighties.

I feel much better knowing the truth, don’t you?

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Have You Learned a New Skill or Hobby?

In looking at the glass more than half-full (as is my nature), today I want to highlight why learning a new skill is a great way to live more vibrantly this red-hot minute. During these months of sheltering in place, I have experienced, and continue to experience, the complete scale of emotions– from feeling hopeless, angry, frustrated, and claiming few accomplishments for the day beyond the basics, to feeling good and full of energy. For me, reading the newspapers instead of watching or listening to the daily news has really helped. I know what is happening in the big picture, and reports from doctors and scientists keep me informed of the progress in controlling the virus/finding a vaccine. I also subscribe to several newsletters and email lists focusing on good news. These definitely lift my mood. I check in by phone with friends and loved ones around the globe, and I spend time being quiet and holding thoughts of peace, health, prosperity, and abundance for every living thing on the planet. All these things are helping. One thing I have added to the list that’s a game changer: the benefits of learning a new skill.

learn a new skill

We all know the thrill of accomplishing something new—learning to make delicious pie crust, mastering a new piece on the piano, getting a flowering plant to actually stay green and flower—anything you previously didn’t know how to do. (A very long list in my case!) Psychologists and researchers long ago proved how learning a new skill boosts our self-esteem and our mental health. Learning a new skill (jump rope, anyone?) also increases our memory and enhances our physical health. The biggest payoff? Learning a new skill strengthens our immune system.

Think of the excitement and great feeling you get from pulling out that perfect peach pie from the oven and having the family rave when you serve it for dessert. Success does wonders for our immune system. A cascade of healing happy hormones—dopamine (released when we feel we have accomplished a long-sought goal), serotonin (released when we feel seen and acknowledged), and oxytocin (released when we feel a sense of well-being and love.)

These major hormones and a cast of others boost our immune system by lowering our cortisol levels, a key hormone causing inflammation, which is the driver of all disease. Our production of antibodies goes up and our cells put on their extra-strong armor to help keep us healthy.

What is one thing I am proud of learning to do these last few months? I learned how to grout tile so that I could replace all the popped tiles in my bathroom. The tiles I selected twenty years ago (and never again) were small, one-inch square glass tiles. Over time, as my ninety-eight year old house has shifted, the tiles have on occasion popped out of the grout.

Well, pre-lockdown, I would have called my handyman to reaffix them. With that not an option, and the little pile growing, I decided I could do it myself. I watched YouTube videos, bought all the necessary tools, and went at it. Cotton swabs became my new best friends. When I was done, my biggest fear was that the tiles wouldn’t stay in their original holes, even though the product was a tile adhesive and grout mixture. But, it worked! I took a shower after waiting the prescribed twenty-four hours, and those tiles never budged. Dozens of showers later, they are still holding fast. My husband was impressed. What an accomplishment. Next, maybe I’ll learn how to repair the cracks and divots in my interior wood trim….

Ask yourself, what new skills can I learn during lockdown? Or, what new skill have you learned during sheltering that you are most proud of? Please tell me your story. We are all winners and deserve the cheers and support of our community. I can’t wait to read them!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: All Older (OLD) People Are the Same

mythbuster older people

When questioned, many younger people have very limited views of older people. Pioneer researcher, Dr. Mary Lee Hummert found this to be true when comparing the views of younger and older people. Further research expanding on Dr. Hummert’s findings show that younger people think seniors are all pretty much the same. This is especially true for older seniors, who get distilled into having the same few traits. From the multitude of facets making up the personality, disposition, and physical attributes of any person, younger people condense this host of identifying characteristics into a few simplified traits which all older people share. Of course, the older adults in the studies cited many more nuanced aspects, and a far more complex view of themselves and folks older than themselves.

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Can You Really Give Up Sugar?

As we nested at home these last few months, and will continue to stick around the house for at least a while longer, I had a fresh look at my processed sugar consumption (white sugar, molasses, maple syrup, etc.) and helped clients answer the question, “Can you really give up sugar?”

Like many of us, it seems the longer I have stayed at home, the more inclined I become to add a little sweet treat to help me deal with being on an extended staycation. Not long ago, I reached a point where I was buying several extra-large brown butter chocolate chip cookies every few days. This was a very bad sign that I had fallen (again) down the white hole. Because sugar creates inflammation in our bodies, and because definitive research showing that along with inflammation, sugar brings on brain fog, I can only claim my brain was so foggy I couldn’t make good, healthy decisions regarding the chocolate chip cookies. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. 😉

can you really give up sugar

For our short science lesson today let’s look at what sugar does to your body:

Inflammation

Years of consuming too much sugar cause the delicate mix of bacteria in our gut (remember the gut is our second brain) to become so imbalanced we lose all the protective qualities of the good bacteria that once lived there. For more on this, check out my article on the Gut-Brain Connection.  All that sugar we consume results in inflammation that zooms straight to our brains. This action causes not only the aforementioned brain fog, but actually kills brain cells. Our brains shrink. No kidding.

High Blood Sugar

Dr. Vera Novak, M.D., Ph.D. of The Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute looked at how sugar affects the brain and found insulin resistance or “high blood sugar” (and often resulting diabetes) over time attacks the functional connectivity of the brain. Insulin resistance develops when the cells can’t process insulin properly and it backflows into the blood stream, creating high blood sugar, a term we are hearing more and more. We now know that insulin resistance is a major component contributing to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Vascular Disease

From insulin resistance we end up with vascular disease, which affects the small blood vessels in the brain, reduces blood flow, and causes vascular dementia. In dozens of studies, many scientists find the same results to be true. To repeat, there’s a strong connection between high sugar consumption and Alzheimer’s. High sugar intake also results in a variety of chronic diseases related to inflammation – heart disease, cancer, arthritis – as well as all forms of gastro-intestinal disease. Knowing that sugar can cause anxiety, sugar can cause palpitations, and sugar can make us fat, we might be ready to give up sugar and adopt a new eating plan.

Mediterranean Diet

Time for some Good News! Dr. Martha Clare Morris, director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, analyzed data from 923 people ages 58 to 98 who kept detailed food diaries about what they ate from 2004 to 2013. Dr. Morris found those who adopted the Mediterranean Diet* had a 50% drop in the development of Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia) compared to those eating a typical American diet of processed foods, high amounts of red meat, sugar, white flour, all fake sugar, diet sodas, and fried foods.

I am a front-row cheerleader for adopting the Mediterranean Diet, as years ago it became my way of eating. Not that I don’t occasionally cheat—those chocolate chip cookies sometimes beckon–  but I really try to stick to that diet a majority of the time. And, not only does that food taste good, I love knowing that I’m eating well. Here’s a plan that has worked for me, and others with whom I’ve shared it:

I start by cutting back my sugar consumption by 50%, this red-hot minute. I will do that for a week, then cut that by 50%, then 50% each week for a month, until I am getting my sweet fix from berries or other low-glycemic natural sugars—like eating an orange. This is how I think I can manage changing for the long-term. But, I know I will fail at some point, slip up and drop three handfuls of M&M’s into my mouth one afternoon because I am having a bad day. And, that will be O.K. One indiscretion will not delete all my efforts. It isn’t a zero-sum game. Thank God. When I have an M&M fall-out, that night I will add to my gratitude list that I am grateful I only needed three handfuls to make me feel better, instead of the entire bag. I am making progress.

Alternative Sweet Options

Giving up sugar doesn’t mean your life will be without sweets. Summer makes it easier for me to stick to this plan and move toward eliminating all processed sugar, including wine, except for special occasions, because of all the delicious fruits in season. I love the berries and I could live solely on watermelon and the luscious stone fruits. Well, yum! The berries are so low on the glycemic index – GI I can have them anytime.  I save the other fruits higher on the GI for a delicious dessert in place of a piece of Key Lime pie.

The bounty of vegetables also helps release us from our sugar addiction. Just watch the GI for those veggies that score over 50. What happens when we give up sugar and fill up on fresh, organic veggies, fish, lovely salads, and ripe fruit? Our gut flora rebalances in no time, our waistline trims, and our brain fires on all cylinders. Now, that’s a blue ribbon combination!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

*https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

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Second Quarter Blog Recap

April 6, 2020—Meditation Benefits Our Body and Our Brain

As we age, we lose our ability to handle stress as well as we did when we were young, and left untreated, chronic stress speeds up cognitive decline, and all the various degenerative aspects of aging. Meditation, however, can counter-balance many of the devastating effects of stress on our bodies and protect our brains from the debilitating combination of aging and unchecked stress overload.

April 13, 2020—How Pets Keep Seniors Healthy

Those who have pets are physically and mentally healthier, have more independence, and have stronger and broader social connections, all contributors to keeping us vibrant as we get older. Pets may even reduce some symptoms of dementia.

April 20, 2020—Why Multi-Tasking is Draining Your Brain and our Memory Banks

The truth is we were never able to do four things at once with the same level of attention as focusing on only one. Science tells us this harsh truth: multi-tasking is bad for your brain. Human brains are not wired that way; our brains work best when focusing on one thing at a time.

April 27, 2020—Shake Your Booty

Research shows that dancing is a promising candidate for countering the age-related decline in our physical and mental abilities. Aerobic exercise helps in both these areas, but dancing offers some unique benefits that will make you want to sign up for that tap class!

May 4, 2020Keep Moving With Vitamin K

Not getting enough vitamin K in our diet could be associated with mobility disability as we age. With the number of adults living to sixty-five and older projected to double by 2050, anything and everything we can do to keep our bodies movin’ and groovin’ should get our attention.

May 11, 2020One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy- Dingy…

No matter our age, we are inundated with unscrupulous boiler room calls, a serious, potential problem for our more senior members of society. Here are a few original tips to address this issue.

May 18, 2020—Aging in Place

Home…Going home…Being home. Those words envelop my soul, and bring a feeling of calm, of exhaling, of comfort, and warmth, and safety. Our greatest desire is to stay in our home until the angels call us home.

May 25, 2020Reversing the Dreaded Dowager’s Hump

Close to 65%, (and climbing) of older folks have some degree of the hump. Several studies of women, who develop DH four times as often as men, saw a decrease in the angle of spine curvature after thrice-weekly spine-strengthening and extension exercises.

June 1, 2020How Much Water Should I Drink? Part I

Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, need water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally. Drink up!

June 8, 2020How Much Water Should I Drink? Part II

A minimum of sixty-four (64) ounces of good quality, filtered water will cover your needs, adding in a few more glasses during and after exercise, and in very hot weather. This means only water. Other liquids—iced tea, juice, coffee, or vodka– don’t count toward your total daily intake.

June 15, 2020The Unseen Toll of Anxiety

Anxious times stemming from Covid-19 news overload are throwing many of us into continual high stress, which can damage our health. Daily meditation will really help during these challenging times.

June 22, 2020Please Explain Gerontology

Do you know what gerontology is? I get the request for this definition so often. Some people confuse it with geriatrics — a focus only on the medical conditions and diseases of the aged…

But, gerontology, the study of the process of aging, includes so much more than just our physical health!

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The Unseen Toll of Anxiety

Back in March, after a couple of weeks of watching the news every night, I could feel the effects of being bombarded with all those jarring and distressing images. Listening to the death toll rise in the generally high-strung tone reporters adopted while discussing Covid-19 was hurting me. I began experiencing my telltale signs of stress, and I had to stop. I switched to calmly reading my trusted sources and newspapers to find out what was happening.  I also rededicated myself to making sure I put quiet contemplation time into my day. I advised my clients, and friends who asked, to do the same. Lowering anxiety helps stave off Covid and many other diseases in both postmenopausal women, and older men.

Hormones Help Protect Against the Effects of Anxiety

Until we reach menopause, we have what I call “a protective armor of hormones” which pretty much shields us from most of life’s bullets, hence, when we are young, we think we are bullet-proof.  😉 To a great extent, that’s true, as our hormones, most prominently estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, keep our organs (especially our brains and hearts) protected and our metabolism humming. This is why we can work like crazy, go out at night and be ready for the workday after only twenty minutes of sleep. Then menopause hits, and all that changes. We start to feel the sins of youth.

raising your gratitude quotient anxiety
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

Actually, all those excesses, including the effects of stress, accumulate in our health bank and create a deficit, which kicks in once our protective armor is lost. We are now metaphorically naked and exposed to the elements. Stress and anxiety can have their way with us, and they do. Remember cortisol? It’s that good/bad chemical flowing throughout our bodies. In balanced amounts it gives us the energy we need to take on the world. When cortisol is out of balance and unable to shut off due to over-stimulation, it starts to break down our insides.

Have a look at my past articles on stress and cortisol for more:

Physical Impact of Anxiety

New research into the damage that cortisol-creating stress wreaks on our bodies at mid-life is compelling. Without our protective armor, women suffering from anxiety, and depression, are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis. Heart disease can take hold and literally break our hearts, which is why that disease is the NUMBER ONE killer of women in this country. (500,000 every year) Our other organs suffer as well– liver, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs, to name some top hot spots for damage. One of the biggest organs to suffer? The brain. Scientists found that anxiety accelerates the decline in our cognitive function, most notably our memory and our ability to retain new information. Women suffering from anxiety are often biologically older than their chronological age. Ouch, that’s bad news!

The Good News

As always, I like to end with the good news. In these times of high anxiety for all of us, help is readily available. First, if you are a TV news junkie, turn off the TV and reacquaint yourself with the written word.

Next, add a contemplation or meditation practice into your day. Let me share my ritual: I wake up, hop out of bed and go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, then sit in my designated chair in my bedroom. I set a timer app on my iPad for fifteen minutes. I close my eyes and with each inhale I repeat a short phrase: lately, it is “I am at peace.”  Pick a phrase that resonates with you. After the timer dings, and for another couple of minutes I do my Gratitude Meditation℠, expanding the list from five things I am grateful for, to as many as I can think of at that moment. Then I open my eyes and begin my day feeling calmer, more centered, and definitely more grateful for all that is going right in my life right now.

Extensive research on the benefits of meditation tells us it’s a powerful way to lower cortisol and take the edge off our stress in anxious times. Have a look at what I wrote: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/meditation-101/ and https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-7-30-the-goods-on-meditation/.

Sometimes, we don’t even know what is causing those anxious feelings, or as I often call it, feeling “really squirrelly,” but you just know it when you feel it. Right now, many of us are feeling it. Meditation will lower that anxiety and help reset your cortisol production. An added bonus: you will have more patience than you ever thought possible. Really. Give it a try.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: Learning a Language Is For the Young

While we know children pick up languages as easily as they pick up dirt from playing outside, the myth that seniors can’t learn a new language, seems a particularly pervasive one many people still believe. Older brains have more data to retrieve, and so sometimes sifting through the files can take a tiny bit longer. But, scientists and the research tell us seniors are just as capable of learning a new language as a person of any age.

In fact, because the years of multi-multi-tasking are behind us– raising children, working full time, taking care of the house, serving on the PTA, the list goes on– life is a little slower. As I have discussed before, we are generally happier now than in our young and middle years. All these changes create an opening in our cognitive function, which allows us to feed our brains fresh information, cue the French, Spanish, or Japanese language lessons. Also, our desire to master Arabic makes the learning this time around fun and exciting, verses when we were forced to memorize lists of irregular verbs to pass a test. This new mind-set makes a huge difference by firing up our brains to absorb all the beautiful words in the Italian language.

Bellissimo!

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Reversing the Dreaded Dowager’s Hump

Dowager’s Hump. You might know someone who has it. Your mother or grandmother may have suffered from it. You think you are developing one. Whatever your experience, direct or indirect, I am betting you have heard of this term and have seen women, and men, who walk hunched over and with difficulty; who struggle to get out of a chair, and who are unsteady on their feet. All indications of what scientists call age-related hyperkyphosis. Zooming to the end of the story, I have great news for how to counter and even reverse this syndrome!

Ninety percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.  Roger Sperry, Nobel Laureate 1981 in Physiology and Medicine

First, let’s look at the research on Dowager’s Hump (DH). A small amount of curvature in the thoracic or upper spine is normal because of the natural shape and curve of our vertebrates and discs which compose the structure of our spines. When our spines have a 40° or greater curve, we have DH. The degree of curvature can even be greater, with more serious consequences, and progress from 40° for women forty years old and beyond, to an average of a 43° angle in women just postmenopausal (fifty-five to sixty), to a whopping 53° angle by the time we reach seventy-six.

The most surprising news? Researchers found an unexpectedly high percentage (35%) of women twenty-to-sixty already had the beginnings of DH. Most interestingly, that stat is from 1993, well before our fingers, and our lives, became glued to a computer or cell phone. The number today? Closer to 65%, and climbing…

Many of us believe DH is caused by “vertebral compression fractures.” Well, dispel that myth! A mega-study encompassing all the major studies done on DH from 1955-2016, found fractures the culprit in just 30-40% of the cases. Another belief brought up short by this study? DH is a result of spinal osteoporosis. Again, not true. Nor, has research found a direct link between DH and calcium consumption, estrogen levels, or follicle-stimulating-hormone levels. What about degenerative disc disease? Folks with DH do have higher incidents of degenerative disc disease, but it doesn’t seem that this is what causes DH, but rather is a result of having DH. Adding to the argument, the majority of those studied who had DH and degenerative disc disease did not have previous vertebral fractures or osteoporosis, meaning if we do something about DH, we can possibly prevent degenerative disc disease, as well. That works in my book!

Let’s look at the result of DH on our bodies and our life expectancy for a moment. As our heads pitch forward, we experience a decline in our entire visual system. Then, our accurate reading of the world around us becomes compromised. Add in other age-related visual issues like cataracts and macular degeneration, and we become accidents waiting to happen. Our mobility suffers, as well. We have trouble rising from a chair. We experience a loss of balance –also tied to our visual perceptions being skewed. We walk slower, we need more support for standing and walking, and our speed at climbing stairs declines—all of which double the chances of us falling and breaking a bone. In fact, the data points to DH as one of the major factors contributing to falls among people over sixty.

Increased pain in the back in 29% of the women studied was caused by loss of height due to increasing Dowager’s Hump, and more than 50% of adults who have lost height report having back pain. Interesting. Pain in the shoulders and pelvis, shorter pectoral and hip flexors resulting in pain in these areas, was noted, as well. Grip and ankle strength diminishes. Our entire quality of life suffers. Last, the development of DH shortens our lives by increasing the development of pulmonary disease and other frontal organ issues, and, with the increase in falls, death from fall-related developments.

Those of us experiencing Dowager’s Hump have difficulty reaching and doing anything more than light housework, and we score lower on overall physical activities and movement. What the new science now tells us is that we can do something about this. Spine-strengthening exercises and postural training, specifically, extension and thoracic strengthening work with resistance, done regularly, can both stop the development of DH in its proverbial tracks, and even more encouraging, can reverse the severity of DH in almost all cases. Flexion exercises—bending forward and rounding forward more often, increases our susceptibility to DH by more than 68%.

My last piece of data for today:  several studies of women, who develop DH four times as often as men, found after thrice-weekly spine-strengthening, extension exercises, saw a decrease in the angle of spine curvature by 11%. To quote Wendy Katzman at the University of California San Francisco in the Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy, “Kyphosis and forward head posture were significantly reduced among the compliant exercise group compared with the noncompliant group.” The Mayo Clinic, from their study of postmenopausal women taking part in a back strengthening program, concluded, “Increasing the back extensor strength in healthy estrogen-deficient women helps decrease thoracic kyphosis.” The decrease in the angle of the spines of these women was, in their words, “significant.”

Below I have linked a short video demonstrating the most effective and easiest exercises to strengthen our backs and resign the Dowager’s Hump to its origin–the pages of a James Joyce novel. Here is to standing up straight and tall!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Seniors Can’t, or Are Too Old, to Change

I know we are all happy to learn that the science disputes this myth. Older people have not only the capacity, but so often, the desire to learn new things. Research shows seniors respond well to new stimulation.  We are open to change and embrace the opportunity to explore novel situations, ideas, and activities—all important considerations when looking at a person’s ability and/or desire to adapt to new situations and make informative choices. When exposed to new activities, the real truth is, an older person’s openness to new and novel experiences even increases!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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One Ringy-Dingy, Two Ringy-Dingy…

Frustrated and exasperated by scam callers? No matter our age, we are all inundated with unscrupulous boiler room calls. This is an especially serious problem for our more senior members of society. Today, I am addressing this growing, and possibly harmful issue with a few original tips I use that have reduced the number of calls I receive by more than ninety percent. Really. I may have a bit of an odd sense of humor, but I have decided that this is a game I want to win. I find it very rewarding when they hang up on me, since I know that after once or twice playing with them, they will never call me back. (So far, at least!)

scam callers

As the frequency of the calls increased, I searched the internet for solutions, and tried every one, including the most popular one recommended by so many sources—simply hanging up. While gaining momentary satisfaction as I slam the receiver to my landline into its cradle, that method failed to decrease the number of interruptions. Same for my cell phone, minus the slamming part—although once I did, and was grateful I didn’t crack the glass.

I caution about one thing: My suggestions do require actually talking to the scammers, and so it might not be the best option for everyone. But, if you or your loved one can handle the responses, it will definitely help. (No foul language required!) 

First, differentiate between legitimate items that need addressing and scams: Legitimate issues from legitimate companies will come in the form of a letter in the mail, giving you time to investigate the claims thoroughly so as to be sure it really is from the credit card company, or the car warranty department, etc. The one exception I can think of is when credit card companies call about checking for possible fraudulent charges, but in that case they tell you what charges they are checking. You don’t have to tell them anything. You only have to confirm or deny the charge—a very different kettle of fish from stinky scammers!

Let’s look at three of the current scams:

Your Car Warranty is about to Expire

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Barry” comes on the line and says your warranty is about to expire and he needs you to confirm the make and model of the car (or something similar).
  • Your answer: (This is the fun part) “My car is a 1973 Dodge Dart.” Or, pick a model more than twenty-five years old, maybe your first car, or one you particularly loved, somewhere around 25-30 years old or older, but after WW II. 😉
  • “Barry” will be incredulous, and say something to counter your answer. Just stick to your guns and tell him your car is a 1973 Dodge Dart. He will sputter for a moment, then hang up. Victory!
  • Another scam warranty company will probably call again soon. Tell them the same thing, or pick another oldie but goodie. After a very few times, you will be put on the No Dice list scammers all share (I believe) and that round of calls will (hopefully) stop.

Lower Interest on Your Credit Card or Other Scams about Your Credit Card

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Melissa” finally comes on and says you are eligible for lower interest payments on your credit card because you have consistently paid your credit card bills on time.
  • Your response: I don’t have a credit card, I only use cash.
  • “Melissa,” like “Barry” is incredulous and pushes you to say you have a credit card. She may even ask how you buy things online, or something like that. Stick to your guns again, and repeat, “I don’t have a credit card, I use only cash.”
  • “Melissa” sputters and as I/you continue to repeat the same answer, she finally gives up and hangs up.
  • Again, it will take a few times, but these calls will cease.

You Are Eligible for a Free Trip to Florida/Cruise to the Caribbean/Mars

This one has the most persistent scammers. It did take several times before they quit calling. I was tenacious, and you can be, too.

  • The phone rings; you say hello and wait the 5-10 seconds for them to know they have a live one on the line.
  • “Jessica” says you won a free trip to ___________. She just needs to confirm you have an income of more that $6400 (or some similarly low number).
  • You respond that you don’t have any income at all.
  • “Jessica” pushes, and maybe even asks if you get Social Security, or if anyone in your household makes more than $6400. Your answer: No and No.
  • “Jessica” says, (I love this part) “Well, unfortunately you are not eligible for any of our programs at this time.” Then hangs up.

While working on this a friend told me about a website and an app that can stop many of these scam callers after one ring. It’s called Nomorobo.com. However, you will miss the satisfaction for telling the scammer something that will make the never call you. I will wait just a bit to try this, until I have stopped a few more scams, just to be sure. (Plus it’s fun!)

 AGAIN REMEMBER!! No matter how sincere the person sounds on the phone, NEVER give scam callers any personal information!

There are a multitude of scams out there; these are just a few of the latest from scam callers. What is important for us to remember is: Feed them information that takes you out of the realm of possibility, like a very old car, no income, no credit cards, no bank account, you don’t pay any taxes—something that shuts them down from asking for any personal information.

Best of luck in reducing your phone ring-a-dinging!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Kick Mobility Issues with Vitamin K

I just finished reading the results of a new study on vitamin K and its role in decreasing disability and increasing our mobility as we get older, and I want to share these latest findings.

We gerontologists, and many researchers worldwide, consistently focus on what we call “novel” risk factors affecting vibrant aging. These include things which further limit our mobility as we get older and decrease our ability to do what we want to do in our lives.  With the number of adults living to sixty-five and older projected to double by 2050, anything and everything we can do to keep our bodies movin’ and groovin’ should get our attention.

Looking at the current stats, we find that 60% of men and 40% of women over sixty don’t get enough vitamin K in their diets. Because of this, we consider vitamin K a “shortfall nutrient” in older adults. Low levels of this important vitamin open us up to some rather unpleasant problems including worsening of some chronic diseases– cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis top the list. Physically, a slower gait speed and deteriorating physical performance was noted over the 4-5 years of follow up with the participants of the study. This led researchers to conclude that not enough vitamin K could be associated with mobility disability as we age. We already know vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting and maintaining healthy bones—another factor keeping us up and moving around. Some sobering news: alcoholics are at a much higher risk for vitamin K deficiency. Also at risk are those with digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis, which make fat absorption more difficult.

Of course there is good news and delicious ways to up our vitamin K! Please check with your health practitioner, DIFM, or RDN* before adding things into your diet as folks on blood thinners could have contraindications.

My bevy of experts recommend striving for 90-100 mcg per day for women, and 120 mcg for men. 

Here is my list. Remember, organic is always the way to go, if possible, to help limit our exposure to more harmful chemicals.

The Delicious List of Vitamin K-Packed Foods:

  • Kale (565 mcg per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Collard Greens (530 mcg per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Spinach (444 mcg per ½ cup, cooked, raw 146 mcg per cup)
  • Turnip Greens (425 per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Brussel Sprouts (150 mcg per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Broccoli (85 mcg per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Asparagus (72 mcg per ½ cup, cooked)
  • Romaine Lettuce (60 mcg per 1 cup, raw)
  • Sauerkraut (56 mcg per ½ cup)
  • Edamame (25 mcg per ½ cup, boiled)
  • Pickles (25 mcg per cucumber dill or kosher dill)
  • Pumpkin (20 mcg per ½ cup, canned)
  • Pine Nuts (15 mcg per ounce)
  • Blueberries– Ahhhhh, a fruit! (14 mcg per ½ cup)

A good quality multi-vitamin, one from the health food store, can also help with low levels of vitamin K. However, because eating the food in its whole state whether it’s fresh or frozen with its many other vitamins and minerals gives us extra help in staying healthy and mobile, I recommend starting your vitamin K regimen by adding some of the foods listed above into your daily meal plan. Here’s to rockin’ our way through our silver years!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

* DIFM: Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine/ RDN: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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MYTH: As people grow older, they become less happy.

Fifty-five percent of younger people believe this to be true about seniors. Interestingly, the facts are just the opposite: people fifty and younger fall into the highest brackets of unhappy folks, with those very ones making the judgments about older adults being the most unhappy! The twenty to thirty-four age bracket, consistently experiences the greatest levels of unhappiness.  Other negative feelings, such as anger, stress, and worry all show a pronounced improvement with age.

Why are older people, on average, happier and less stressed than younger people? It seems we seniors experience a sense of increased “wisdom” and greater emotional intelligence with age (at least through middle age).  Many studies support the findings that older people have an increased ability to self-regulate their emotions and view their situations more optimistically than younger people. Additionally, older folks recall fewer negative memories than younger adults. We don’t seem to continually run depressing scenarios in our heads. Instead, more often we find a balance, which allows us to appreciate the positive aspects of life rather than letting the negative ones enfold us.

More study is needed to understand this trend, but the signs point to a sizable uptick on the happiness meter after fifty. Now, that’s good news!

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Meditation Benefits Our Body and Our Brain

As we age, we lose our ability to handle stress as well as we did when we were young, and left untreated, chronic stress speeds up cognitive decline, and all the various degenerative aspects of aging. Meditation, however, can counter-balance many of the devastating effects of stress on our bodies and protect our brains from the debilitating combination of aging and unchecked stress overload. Meditation lowers cortisol levels, and as early as 1978, findings show meditators were physiologically 12 years younger that their chronological age. Now that’s good news!

Mindful meditation practices are not the cure-all for every ailment or condition, but the great news is: improvements seen in medical patients using meditation and other mind-body interventions are virtually equal to the results seen using conventional approaches in treating pain, stress, and other illnesses. This includes the use of psychotherapy, psychoactive medications, and behavior modification education.

Today, across the country, and around the world, medical schools, medical practitioners, and everyday people are using a menu of many types of meditation. These various kinds of meditation draw on different techniques originating from a variety of spiritual and non-spiritually- based traditions including: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and the Western belief systems of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. To help the concept and practice of meditation be more understandable to us in the West, teachers of meditation have adapted many of the Eastern spiritual practices and redrafted them into a beneficial, mindfulness practice.

Strong correlations from persuasive research find changes in both the physical condition of people actively meditating, and more importantly, the lasting effects of meditating on their levels of cognitive function. In addition to significantly lowering our cortisol levels—that devil of all chemicals that causes physical and mental decline, regular meditation can help in the following ways:

  • Create a state of calmness
  • Improve our response to stress
  • Reduce our heart rate
  • Improve our memory
  • Improve our processing speed of information
  • Help concentration
  • Increase our feelings of being empowered

Truly exciting are the studies suggesting, “That meditation may decelerate, arrest, or perhaps even reverse age-related brain degeneration.” Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported this finding as early as 2005. My favorite dynamic girl duo, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, along with recent research done at UCLA with scientists at the Centre for Research on Ageing Health and Wellbeing, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia found that meditation could drastically slow down age-related brain tissue decline, significantly decreasing brain-aging. The cross-sectional studies are few, but these new results are very encouraging!

Do I meditate every day? I wish I could say yes, but the truth is, no. I do think about it every day, and do work it in most days, unless my hair is completely on fire. On the days I do take time to sit quietly, I feel so much better, I approach life in second gear instead of fifth, and I “don’t sweat the small stuff” nearly as much. I have no good answer as to why I don’t meditate every day, except to say, I’m human, and I do my best. 😉

Until next time….Be vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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In Case You Missed Something ... My First Quarter 2020 Recap

Just in case you missed an article, here is a handy-dandy recap of all the great information I have shared with you so far this year. Pass it on!

 January 6, 2020–Is Your Cruisin’ Causing Your Bruisin’? 

Those of us in post-menopause bruise easier due the loss of our protective shield of hormones. My AIE: Arnica gel and Arnica homeopathic tablets, Ice, and Elevation work together to lessen the effects of those minor mishaps. 

 January 13, 2020 –Downsizing

As we get older, downsizing may ramp up the fear of losing control over our lives; possibly creating a downward spiral into feelings of despondency and depression. Exerting control over our lives lowers our cortisol levels and gives us a greater sense of well-being, hence, decluttering because we want to, way before we have to, isempowering.

 January 20, 2020—Who Will Care For Us Seniors?

A shortage of geriatric medical doctors, called Geriatricians, who specialize in the diseases of older folks may exist, but the good news is that 70% of seniors do not require specialized care. Trained nurse practitioners, PAs, and pharmacists, can become the foot soldiers for geriatricians. This extension of knowledge and care through different avenues will, I hope, serve all seniors, as these medical professionals add their expertise to that of the geriatric specialists, hopefully decreasing ageism prejudice.

January 27, 2020- Women and Heart Disease: The Facts May Surprise You, Part I

Unbeknownst to many people, heart disease is the number one killer of women each year.  Knowing all possible symptoms for women, which may differ from those that men experience, could save a life.

February 3, 2020-Women and Heart Disease: The Facts May Surprise You Part II

As well as focusing on healthy lifestyle habits to encourage early prevention of heart disease, women must be more proactive in protecting themselves. This includes being honest with their doctors about any heart health issues they may be experiencing, and insisting on having the proper tests to assess potential problems before they become serious.

February 10, 2020- Women and Heart Disease—The Good News!

The more healthy changes we make at any age, the better our hearts, and lives, will be. Dental care, proper diet and supplements, meditation, seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and regular exercise are critical to good heart health.

February 17, 2020-Susan Lucci’s Heart Attack Scare                                                                         Her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties.

February 24, 2020—Living with Intention                                                                                            We need to realize that life is both precious and finite. Our goals should be to live each day consciously choosing how we spend each minute, and to hold in our awareness that once that moment is gone, it’s gone forever.

March 2, 2020-Dancing May Be the Best Aerobic Exercise to Reduce Dementia

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long-term health of your brain and reverse telemetric aging.

March 9, 2020–Powering Up Our Immunity to Help Stave off COVID-19—the Coronavirus.  Bolstering our immune system to fighting fitness always ranks as our first choice of defense against disease, and that holds true for COVID-19, the Coronavirus. Consider increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as your oral supplements—Vitamins C and D, a good multivitamin, honey, garlic, probiotics, selenium, and zinc.

https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/powering-up-our-immune-system-to-stave-off-covid-19/

March 16, 2020-What Does Aging Look Like to You?

We all have conscious and unconscious beliefs and ideas about how an older person (no matter your age) looks and acts and in this post I explore some of those negative cultural beliefs and give my alternate, and positive, belief about aging.

https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-5-what-does-aging-look-like-to-you-1/

March 23, 2020-Electrolytes-Why We Need Them!

Electrolytes balance the body’s fluid levels. “Electrolyte imbalance,” which can be easily corrected in most of us, can become a serious issue in older adults. A diet low in nutrients or whole foods, too little exercise, and not drinking enough water can be major causes of electrolyte imbalance.

March 30, 2020–Your Quarterly Recap

See what you might have missed and share what you love with your friends!

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Electrolytes - We Need Them

What the devil is an electrolyte, and why do we need them? The main electrolytes in our body are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, phosphate, and sodium. These nutrients, or chemicals, conduct electricity when dissolved in a liquid, like water. Our body is 70% water, and electrolytes are important in so many of our internal functions, from regulating our heartbeat to allowing our muscles to contract so we can move. They also interact with each other and the cells in all our tissues and nerves. One of their key functions involves balancing the body’s fluid levels. You may have heard the term “electrolyte imbalance,” which in most of us can be easily corrected, but in older adults this imbalance can become a serious issue.

electrolyte balance

We get electrolytes from the food we eat and from drinking certain fluids. We lose some electrolytes most commonly through sweating—usually from exercise or from being in a hot climate for an extended period of time, bowel movements and urinating. We might also develop an electrolyte imbalance when we are ill, especially if we have a stomach issue causing diarrhea and/or vomiting.

For healthy, active children and adults, an electrolyte imbalance is easily remedied by drinking more water and adding in a few electrolyte-rich foods. If following the KETO diet, electrolyte imbalance can happen because of exaggerated water loss. If illness is the cause, adding a few glasses of the house-made electrolyte drink (see recipe below) will put you right in just a short time. Seniors, on the other hand, may have developed a more severe case of imbalance due to a poor diet low in nutrients or whole foods, researchers sometimes refer to as “the tea and toast diet,” too little exercise, and not drinking enough water. Some of the causes outside a senior’s control that can also cause electrolyte problems include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Some drugs: diuretics, ACE inhibitors, some antipsychotic drugs and anti-depressants
  • Cancer treatments
  • Intestinal or digestive issues (trouble absorbing nutrients from food)

Your doctor can easily include an electrolyte panel as part of a routine physical exam, as part of a range of tests, or it can be performed on its own. Check in with your doctor if you have any concerns.

As we get older our kidneys become less efficient, which can lead to frequent urination, and so we pee out the electrolytes we need. This inefficiency can also result in painful urination or incontinence. Many people try to avoid these occurrences by not drinking liquids, but that only makes the problem worse.

The most common electrolytes to go out of balance are potassium, calcium, and magnesium. A deficiency in these doesn’t show up right away but develops gradually. Some of the signs of low electrolytes? Here is a quick list to think about:

  • Are you feeling particularly fatigued?
  • Do you feel particularly anxious or are having trouble sleeping?
  • Do you have weakness or spasms in your muscles?
  • More headaches?
  • Having a change in bowel movements?
  • Do you feel abnormal sensations on your skin?

Any, or all, of these can be an indicator of a low electrolytes. A growing concern among older adults is also the over-use of laxatives and certain antacids. Constipation (from poor diet and lack of water) is a very common complaint, and many people self-treat this with laxatives, when adding whole high fiber and nutrient-dense foods and drinking enough water will go a long way toward correcting the problem.

To prevent electrolyte imbalance and always be well hydrated, strive to eat whole, unpackaged, unprocessed foods. Some of the best choices include dark leafy green veggies, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes or squash, bananas (in moderation due to their high sugar content) and avocados. Unprocessed hydrating foods also packed with electrolytes: celery, watermelon, cucumber, kiwi, bell peppers, citrus fruits, and pineapple. If you find yourself low in a particular electrolyte here is a short list of foods to add into your eating plan.

  • For chloride: low-sodium tomato juice (or fresh!), lettuce, olives
  • For calcium: collard greens, spinach, kale, sardines
  • For potassium: potatoes with skin, plain yogurt, the occasional banana
  • For Magnesium: halibut, pumpkin seeds, spinach

Lastly, drink water!  If you are drinking enough you should need to find the ladies room every three to four hours, which translates for most folks, into eight-ten 8 ounce glasses of clean, good quality water every day.

Here is a great low sugar, non-chemical recipe for an electrolyte replacement drink.

Yield 4 cups (946 ml), serving size 1 cup (237 ml)

  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) unsweetened coconut water
  • 2 cups (480 ml) cold, filtered water

All of us need to keep an eye on our electrolyte balance. Be especially mindful of our older loved ones to make sure they, too, are well hydrated and replacing those important nutrients we all need to stay vibrant!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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MYTH: Seniors Can’t Understand Things as Well as Young People

My first reaction when I read the research on this was, you are kidding, right? It turns out that, sadly, it’s true. There even exists a name for this way of communicating with older adults: elderspeak. The term elderspeak first appeared in the mid-1980s, and since then has entered the lexicon as yet another way to describe discrimination against older people. What is elderspeak? It is (most often) the unconscious practice of younger people to slow down and simplify their speech patterns and word choices when talking to older folks. Younger people also turn up the volume and take on a slightly, or even overt, patronizing tone. Lovely, no?

 The belief at the core of this myth is that somehow when we have some years of life and experience under our belts, and some gray hair, our brains suddenly lose the ability to understand complex sentences, or abstract concepts, or anything else beyond what we learned in fourth grade. The knowledge we acquired in graduate school, or all the technical training we received immediately evaporates and our brains turn to mush, just like the diet we should be on now. I wish I knew where this belief started, as the originator should be put in a pit with angry seniors.

How can we help dispel this myth? We need to reeducate the young, one at a time: Gently, but insistently, let the young person know we still have all our faculties, and that they may speak to you as they would to a contemporary. We must be the change we wish to see in the world.

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Powering Up Our Immune System to stave Off Illness

Building up our immune system to fighting fitness always ranks as our first choice of defense against disease, and that holds true for avoiding all pesky colds, flu and viruses. Tapping in a bevy of trusted sources, including Dr. Mark Hyman and the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, and Dr. Andrew Weil, I have done the homework and come up with a list of foods and supplements we might begin taking to help bolster our immune system against illness.

As always, check with your health care provider to be clear of contraindications. I have great respect for MDs, however, many doctors don’t know much about supplementation, as they are offered no classes on them in most medical schools.  This is where a DIFM: Dietitian in Integrative and Functional Medicine, or a RDN: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist come in handy, as they can help steer you into what you need and work with your existing medications. The website to find one of these professionals in your area is: https://integrativerd.org/

On the food front, upping our consumption of a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to ten servings—five of each, every day, and drinking eight to ten 8 oz. glasses of good quality filtered water will definitely help keep us well and smiling through this difficult time.

Here is the list of supplements you will want to consider to boost your immune system:

Vitamin C

At the top of the charts is an old favorite, vitamin C. Some of the latest stats show more than forty-three million adults from the ages of twenty to sixty are deficient in vitamin C. That number jumps up drastically for seniors. We get some vitamin C in our food, but now supplementation is a necessity. Taking 1000 milligrams, in 2 or 3 doses throughout the day, perhaps at mealtimes, will boost your immunity system. Don’t take it all at once, as it absorbs and is eliminated each time we visit the loo, and so spread out the doses. Try different types to see which you tolerate best. My personal favorite is a time-released vitamin C.

Zinc

Adding this mineral to your daily regime gives you an edge against illness, and it becomes an even bigger gun if you actually get sick. If a bug finds you, zinc lozenges should be a go-to. Each lozenge should be no more than 10 milligrams, and ideally use five per day, but cap your use of them at seven per day. These can be powerful at stopping the development of a virus if taken at the very first signs of illness.

Vitamin D

New research points to vitamin D as a frontline fighter against illness. The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) suggests 4,000 IU a day for people nine to ninety-nine. I take that much every day.

Selenium

Selenium is a key nutrient for immune function. This powerful antioxidant boosts the body’s defenses against bacteria, viruses, and even cancer cells. The IFM says, “It may particularly help to protect against certain strains of flu virus.” Here is the great news! Eating 2-3 large Brazil nuts a day gives us the selenium we need. Now that’s an easy and delicious prescription.

Honey

Preferably raw hone, added to hot tea, or even taken straight by the teaspoon is a potent anti-viral food. It is safe for all ages from one to a hundred, but not safe for babies under one year. I take a teaspoon, now, every day. Yum.

Garlic

This is another delicious anti-viral food. It has been called a poor man’s penicillin for its amazing antimicrobial properties. Garlic is the perfect example of an herb that bridges food and medicine. Find ways to add this yummy vegetable to dishes to benefit from its powerful healing properties.

The secret to activating the medicinal qualities of garlic is fresh garlic and to crush it first and the let it sit for a few minutes before cooking with it. The great news here is you can’t really overdo the garlic from a health stand-point, however, make sure everyone you love has some when you do, as that will solve the problem of the infamous garlic breath we all dread!

In addition to adding crushed garlic to many of the dishes I make, I also take garlic in pill form. Your DIFM or, a knowledgeable person at your local health food store, can guide you to a reputable brand. These will not give you garlic breath, if they do, try another brand.

Probiotics

The easiest, and again, delicious way to add this gut-healing and immune-building super food into your eating plan is to have one cup of unsweetened plain yogurt—I add two big handfuls of berries to mine many a morning– three or four days a week and you will be doing your entire body a world of good, not just your army of disease fighters. If you are lactose sensitive or intolerant, there are good quality capsules that deliver the same benefits. They are often found in the refrigerated section of the health food store. Ask. The most expensive isn’t always the best.    

To this list I add a great Multi-Vitamin with Minerals. Make sure it contains 15,000 IU of mixed carotenoids, including beta-carotene. These are key for boosting our respiratory system.

To insure you are getting a good quality supplements, the smart money is on buying ones from a health food store, versus say, the drug store or a big box store. Talk to the store manager or people who work there and ask questions. The popular one isn’t always the best one.

For some additional remedies to boost your immune system to help stave off illness or shorten its duration, have a look at Great Remedies for Winter Illnesses.

If you are already working with a nutritional expert, you are in great shape. For the rest of us, these recommendations will be a good start for super-charging all your disease-fighting systems and keeping you healthy and in the pink. 😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Living With Intention

I turned sixty last September, and with a packed autumn calendar, I didn’t have too much time to think about it. As I took some time last month to reflect and write down a few New Year’s resolutions, I began thinking more deeply about how it felt, and what it meant, to be sixty. For the first time in my life, I now acknowledge that more sand exists in the bottom of my hourglass, than in the top. I didn’t feel this way when I turned fifty—I just thought– I am at the half-way mark, equal amounts in the top and bottom!  Now, settling in with full force, this realization saddens me in some ways. How will I get to do all the things I want to do before I run out of time?  Assuming I am blessed with living a long life I need to make some firm decisions on how I want to spend the time I have left.

The decision to live with intention now tops my To-Do List every day. What does that mean for me? I see it as living deliberately, to borrow the concept from Henry David Thoreau. My goals are to live each day consciously choosing how I spend each minute, and to hold in my awareness that once that moment is gone, it’s gone forever. Forever. Not to sound morbid, but I want to be cognizant of time and enjoy every delicious thing life offers in every second of every day.

living with intention

How am I doing so far?  As of today, my success rate stands at about fifty percent for the week; some days hover close to zero, others, upward of seventy-five percent.

I haven’t completely worked out how these objectives will show up in all aspects of my life, but I’ve jotted down a few things. Here is a rough draft of my personal list of how I live with intention:

1. Practice better self-care by saying no when I am spent and need recharging, then giving myself permission to recharge.

2. Work every day to make a small difference in the world by helping women be the best they can be as they age.

3. Spend time only with people who love and support me.

4. Commit to spending time in nature every day, rain or shine, to appreciate the natural world and draw in its healing energy.

5. Stop reading and listening to depressing news and instead focus on the good stories, the stories filled with compassion and caring, and love, and all of us being the best we can be.

6. Select from a stack of books by my bed each night, if only to read a few pages. I don’t have to read one entire book before starting the next.

Finally, the big one for me…

7.  Let go of perfection in every facet of my life, and strive for more balance. I’m not compromising my standards, but finding ways to do my best without causing my hair to catch fire when my stress knob is turned too high. (This one still needs a fair amount of work. J )

 My list will grow and evolve as I continue on this journey because even at sixty, I think of myself as a work in progress. I so appreciate this realization of time well spent coming to me when I (hopefully!) have years left to live deliberately. I understand these challenges will take constant vigilance so that I don’t lapse into unconsciously stuffing my day with things that don’t fulfill me on any level. Even hard times and yucky stuff have their place, I know, if we are aware of the lessons to be learned there. What I know now is this: I am excited to see how my life will unfold as I thoughtfully live each day with greater intention.

Have you turned sixty? How did you feel coming up to and living your sixtieth year? Do you have a list of ways you want to live with intention?

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Susan Lucci's Heart Attack Scare

Last year People Magazine reported that Erica Kane of Pine Valley* suffered a heart attack in October of 2018. As I read the article, it didn’t surprise me that she never mentioned being tested for heart disease before the heart attack scare. Obviously, her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties.

Looking at this information in black and white, it seems incredulous that her doctor had never ordered the four tests that could have saved her from having a heart attack: a simple stress test, a Coronary Calcium Score to help gauge her risk.  And, once she had that number, a Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT) to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of our necks. Further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound, a MRI Angiogram or MRA, or a Cardiac CT Scan, all which I discussed in detail in my previous blog post: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/women-and-heart-disease-the-facts-may-surprise-you-part-ii/

All this begs the question, why didn’t Erica Kane’s doctor order any of these, especially with a history of heart disease in her family?

I have some history of heart disease in my family, and since I reached mid-life, my doctor orders both a coronary calcium score and a CIMT every time I have a physical. I don’t want to put Erica’s doctor on the defensive, but even today in 2020, women are far less likely to receive the same care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment.

In a landmark study done in Sweden over a ten-year period, 2003-2013, involving almost sixty-one thousand women, the researchers found this to be true. I watched my mother languish in a recovery facility, virtually ignored by her (male) physician after undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery. During that stay, she suffered from a host of easily avoidable complications due to basic negligence. I tried to intervene on her behalf, but since I was the baby in the family, no one would listen to me.

The anger I feel as I write these words is almost uncontainable, but the above study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, makes one thing absolutely certain: We must take control of our own health and ASK, or more likely in most cases, DEMAND, that at least once, more if results merit it, we have our coronary calcium scores taken, and for sure, have a CIMT test, especially if heart disease runs in the family or we have any other heart attack scare. If the results are good, the peace of mind is worth it. If the tests show issues, you can do what is necessary so that you will never be like Erica, out shopping one day and then suddenly feel as if an elephant has just sat down on your chest.

 Until next time….Be Vibrant!

*Susan Lucci is one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

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MYTH: Most Older Adults live in Nursing Homes and Cannot Get Around by Themselves

This myth makes me so angry I could rip the fender off a tractor-trailer with my pinky– the one on my bad hand. The real truth is that only about 5% of older adults live in nursing homes, and most are totally mobile, according to the statistics from the government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,5%! With the number of ads showing a family putting the feeble mother-in-law in a home, or a grandparent who needs a nurse around the clock, it is no wonder folks in the US, and especially the younger ones, think all seniors live in Final Acres Retirement Village.

Most seniors today live in their own homes, and many still work, at least part time. Others have downsized into smaller dwellings to enjoy the freedom from routine yard work and household maintenance. Many of these folks are just too busy traveling, enjoying grandchildren, and exploring new hobbies to think about spending any time in a nursing home.

Last season, even Grace & Frankie’s lovely children sent them to a nursing home, and that lasted about five minutes. Seriously, who could believe Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin should be in a home? That scenario is as ridiculous as it is just plain wrong!

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Women and Heart Disease: The Good News!

Now for the Good News about women and health disease: (“Whew, L.J., it’s about time!” I can hear you saying. ;-)) There is so much we can do to keep our hearts healthy. Some of the choices I am suggesting for heart disease prevention may be familiar, and some will be new.

Bottom line — the more healthy changes we make at any age, the better our hearts, and lives, will be. It seems that we have heard this all before, yet more women die from heart disease that the next four types of diseases put together. It makes me want to rent billboards around the country with this fact!

heart disease prevention for women

Strategies for Heart Disease Prevention in Women

Stop Smoking

I will skip recounting the statistics on this single most important life change. Please understand there is no greater health-enhancing choice you can make at this very instant, regardless of age or any other factor, than to stop smoking ASAP. You are worth it.

Take GREAT Care of Your Teeth

Sadly, I have first-hand experience with this one, as dental issues may well have contributed to the early death of my father at 68 from a massive heart attack. I was 35 when he died and thought I was taking good care of my teeth. But, after learning about the relationship between my heart and my teeth, well, I doubled-down on dental care.

What is the dental-heart connection? The same bacteria that causes plaque on our teeth can seep from our mouths into the bloodstream and trigger clots that increase our risk of heart disease and heart attacks. If we suffer from gingivitis and periodontal disease, or bleeding gums, the risk of developing heart disease increases. On-going research is stacking up evidence that gum disease plays a role in not only heart disease but other diseases, due to increasing the number one deterrent to being and staying vibrant—inflammation.

The best prescription for dental health heart disease prevention at the moment to keep our pearly whites in sparkling shape.  Brush for two minutes (ideally with an electric toothbrush) twice a day, floss twice a day, and have our teeth cleaned and checked twice a year. I have mine cleaned three times a year for good measure, and because I drink coffee, tea, and the occasional glass of red wine. ;-0

Get Your Beauty Sleep

Getting enough sleep will literally change our lives. Extensive research now tells us that seven to eight hours of good quality sleep must become one of our top priorities. The benefits form a long list, but for our discussion here, people who slept less than six hours a night have a 20% higher risk of developing heart disease and/or having a heart attack.

Our bodies need time to repair themselves and detox, and our brains must be allowed to process our days. This all takes time. Reorganizing my life to go to bed earlier has taken me years to finally manage, and I can honestly say, it ranks as one of the smartest things I have done for myself. Try going to bed earlier so that you can get in those eight hours for say, three weeks. Notice how you feel and how your brain functions. You’ll be hooked.

Try Meditation

The evidence is rock-solid: meditation is good for what ails us. It slows down our heart rate and lowers our blood pressure, both of which give our heart a break from working so hard.

So many different ways of meditating exist: traditional sitting-on-a-cushion or chair, closing one’s eyes and repeating a word or phrase while letting all other thoughts go, to one I sometimes do, a walking meditation—walking outside in nature and taking in my surroundings while listening to my feet fall on the pavement; staying in the present moment, free of attaching to any thoughts that might come to me. Sometimes I just sit quietly, close my eyes, and listen to the air conditioner run.

Science also tells us we can up the benefits of meditation by focusing on things we are grateful for. Feeling gratitude and appreciation not only rewires the brain, but soothes and smooths the heart rhythms which can help heal the damage stress does to this vital organ. I feel so strongly about the power of gratitude to heal us that I created a free Gratitude MeditationSM App which you can download on your iPhone or Android:

 iPhone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/gratitude-meditation/id461484572

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.brombal.lysarohan.gratitude&hl=en_US

Your Table is Ready

Drawing on the recommendations of Dr. Mark Hyman*, Dr. Andrew Weil**, and Dr. Tieraona Low Dog*** – all leaders in the field of nutrition – here is a heart health-enhancing eating plan. It looks very much like the Mediterranean diet, so there aren’t too many surprises! Remember to try and choose organic products whenever possible.

  • Fiber: Aim for 40 grams of fiber a day
  • Non-gluten grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, wild rice (not white)
  • The rainbow spectrum of fruits and veggies
  • Good fats: Clarified grass-fed butter, olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil
  • Low-mercury fish https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/walletcard.pdf
  • Occasionally lean beef or chicken
  • Goat and sheep’s milk products (instead of cow’s milk)
  • Free-range eggs
  • Nuts and seeds of all kinds (limit to 3 oz. per day)
  • Green and white tea
  • Dark chocolate as an occasional treat (at least 70% cocoa content)
  • Red wine 3-4, 4oz. glasses per week
  • Sugars (use sparingly): Molasses, honey, coconut sugar, palm sugar
  • Limited coffee

To Round Out Our Eating

Tapping again into our trio of experts, here are the key supplements they recommend for heart disease prevention. Before adding these to your regime, always check with your doctor or, if possible, work with a trained nutritional specialist, a DIFM: Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine or an RDN: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

  • High-Quality, High-Potency, Complete Multivitamin: The right multivitamin will contain all the basic vitamins and minerals. An optimal dose usually requires 2 to 6 capsules or tablets a day.
  • Vitamin D3: Our vitamin D deficiency is now epidemic. Depending on what is in your multivitamin, Dr. Hyman recommends taking additional vitamin D.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA): From fish oil supplements. Look for molecularly distilled products certified to be free of heavy metals and other contaminants.
  •  NAC (N-acetyl Cysteine): Great antioxidant and especially supportive of lung tissue.
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid: ALA is a powerful antioxidant, supports liver function, boosts metabolism and helps turn calories into energy in the muscles among other things.
  • CoQ10: CoQ10 has potent antioxidant properties to help support cell function, healthy BP and overall cardiovascular health.

Dr. Low Dog adds for women:

  • B Complex: B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin E
  • Choline
  • Magnesium

Exercise

Of course exercise has to be on the heart disease prevention list. Turning to the advice of Joanna Chikwe, MD, the Chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, her recommendation is simple: exercise one hour a day, most every day—brisk walking, cycling, running, or anything else aerobic that keeps your heart rate in the 85% zone for most of the 60 minutes. I will add, do some weight bearing exercises a couple times a week, in addition to, or on the off days from the hour of aerobic exercise. You will feel and look like someone just handed you a billion dollars! 

I hope these tips will inspire you to make some positive choices to help keep your heart, and your health, purring.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

* https://drhyman.com/blog/2017/04/28/digesting-fat-optimizing-health-daily-supplements/

** https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/dr-weils-anti-inflammatory-diet/

***Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and More by Tieraona Low Dog, MD

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Women and Heart Disease: The Facts May Surprise You Part II

Since my focus is always retention and prevention, today I will talk about some important tests that will help women avoid a heart attack – a silent or not-so-silent one – and help prevent heart disease. My goal is to keep you well informed, and hopefully, urge you to speak up, and then step up to take control of your heart and your life.

As I mentioned in Women and Heart Disease Part I, over eleven hundred women were surveyed by the Women’s Heart Alliance about their knowledge of and experience with discussing heart disease with their physicians.

Heart Disease Discussions

women and heart disease

While a majority of the women in the survey had a routine physical or wellness exam sometime in the previous twelve months, only 40% of those exams included a heart health assessment, despite 74% of these women having at least one risk factor for heart disease. A tiny number – only 16% – were told by their doctors that they were at risk.

Please take a moment to let that sink in, only 16% were told they were at risk.

To confound me even more, I learned only 22% of primary care physicians, and 42% of cardiologists, felt they were comfortable and prepared to assess cardiovascular risk in women!

The last distressing fact: Only 16% of primary care physicians, and 22% of cardiologists discussed giving their patients life-saving tests I will cover below. They also failed to suggest preventive choices to safeguard a woman’s heart health. This makes my head explode! How can this be true in the twenty-first century, with women being the majority of folks in the U.S. (and around the world)?

The short answer: We seem to care more about how we look, and the medical profession may be reinforcing that idea. A full 63% of the women responding admitted to putting off a doctor’s visit at least some of the time, and 45% of women canceled or postponed an appointment until they lost some weight. (The reasons they gave were difficulty losing weight or finding time to exercise.)

With our primary care physicians spending on average 17.5 minutes with us, we don’t feel safe enough to reveal additional information about any heart symptoms we may be having or call further attention to what might be wrong with us. We are embarrassed to talk to our doctor, family, and friends about heart health because we think it’s tied to solely to our weight, and not a combination of many other important factors—stress level, emotional health, diet choices, sleep, other medications, and dental hygiene. Adding to that burden, many of our doctors are men, and the bias some of them carry about women compels them to discount the importance and risks of heart disease and concentrate primarily on how much a woman weighs.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women. It kills twelve times as many women as breast cancer, which gets much more press. Heart disease must be addressed first. Of course, we must also remove the stigma and stereotype of “weight gain equals heart disease.” The good news is that those of us who had our hearts checked by a doctor in the last year were twice as likely to feel comfortable discussing the topic with our family and friends.

Now that all the right cards are in my hand, here are three key tests to ask for the next time you see your physician. Together with ways to prevent heart disease, which I will cover next time, I will lay down my Royal Flush in hearts!

Tests for Heart Disease

A Stress Test

The most familiar of the three, a stress test takes less than an hour and serves as the baseline for understanding the health of your heart. It is done on a treadmill – in sneakers and street clothes – with complete supervision. You set the pace, and no one will ask you to do more than you can.

Coronary Calcium Test

This easy and painless test assesses your level of risk for a heart attack by measuring the amount of calcium deposit(s) in your arteries. This is a coronary CT scan, done with the same equipment as a CT scan.

CIMT: Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test

Another easy, painless and quick test, a CIMT measures the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of your neck. This test can let doctors know if there is any thickening in the artery walls long before you might experience symptoms of a cardiac incident. This test is a sonogram of the carotid artery in the neck—Gel on the neck, quick scan, off the table in fifteen minutes!

If the results of the CIMT are concerning, your doctor will request further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound—an ultrasound to watch blood flow through the vessels and heart, a MRI angiogram or MRA—which allows her to see inside your blood vessels, or a Cardiac CT scan—a dye-free, multiple x-ray that provides images of the heart and blood vessels. All of these will give defining information about the state of your arteries and risk level for a heart attack.

I often print out the list and give it to women to take to their routine exams. Knowledge is power and in this case, very possibly life-saving.

I will wrap up my in-depth discussion on women and heart disease next time with the best things we know – this red-hot minute – that will keep our hearts healthy and humming.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Women and Heart Disease, The Facts May Surprise You Part I

“Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in this country,” says Jennifer Haythe, MD, Director of Cardio-Obstetrics, an internist at NYPH/Columbia and co-director of the Women’s Center for Cardiovascular Health at Columbia.”

Before I went back to school, I wouldn’t have known this fact: My first thought, especially for women, would have been cancer, and therein lies a big part of the problem. A 2017 survey conducted by the Women’s Heart Alliance interviewed 1,011 U.S. women aged 25-60 years and collected physician survey data from 200 primary care physicians and 100 cardiologists, as well. The goal of the surveys was “to determine knowledge, attitudes and beliefs regarding heart disease in women.” The results mirrored my own thinking.

Let’s separate the various strands of this knotty problem. First, the researchers found that 45% of women twenty-five to sixty, and 35% percent of women fifty to sixty– that included me—were unaware that heart disease annually kills 500,000 women in the U.S. Add to that, another 15.2 million women, worldwide, who die from the disease every year. Even more surprising– only 13% of Americans know how great a woman’s risk is for developing heart disease. That percentage of awareness falls even more in women with lower levels of education and income, and women of color.

 The next shocking fact: 71% of women almost never discussed heart health with their physicians, assuming their doctors would ask if there were a problem. To further curl your hair, physicians often didn’t or don’t, discuss cardiovascular disease with their female patients because in spending only 17.5 minutes per patient, according to studies, either the patient had a more immediate health issue, or she didn’t fully report her symptoms. This reflects a wholesale lack of interest (or knowledge) in making prevention a priority before a woman experiences symptoms, or worse, has a cardiac incident.

We all have seen someone in a TV show or movie pretending to have a heart attack (usually a man). He clutches his chest, his breath becomes short and shallow, his eyes bug out, and he makes some dramatic yelp as he falls onto the floor, or into a chair, if he’s lucky.

Realistically, heart attacks come in several different flavors and their symptoms vary. Let’s begin with maybe the most dangerous —The Silent Heart Attack.

The symptoms of a silent heart attack can be subtle, and often dismissed as sudden fatigue, nausea, or shortness of breath that occur when exercising or just out and about. Those symptoms disappear when resting, according to cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of Women’s Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Additionally or differently, especially in women, there might be nontraditional signs like unexplained fatigue, pain or discomfort in the throat, neck, or jaw, or what seems like heartburn — symptoms so mild, they’re barely noticed, or that go completely unnoticed during times of heightened stress.

 The damage from these silent attacks is usually only discovered accidentally while testing a woman’s heart for other reasons. If we have had a silent heart attack, we are 3x more likely to die from heart disease.

One might also experience the following heart attack symptoms:

  • Feeling very full, as though you have eaten a large meal, even if you haven’t eaten recently
  • Followed by feelings of indigestion and a large person sitting on your chest
  • Ribs tightening and becoming short of breath
  • Pain in your right shoulder and arm (not left, as many believe)
  • Pain in the front of your neck and up into your jaw

I suggest you memorize all possible heart attack symptoms. Make a copy and keep it on your phone or pin it on your fridge. I have!

In Part Two of this discussion, I will talk about some empowering choices we can make to keep a heart attack a thing of fiction.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Who Will Care for Us Seniors?

Recently, an article appeared in the national press highlighting the shortage of geriatric medical doctors, called Geriatricians, who specialize in the diseases of older people– folks typically sixty-five and over, who suffer from a variety of diseases. Thoughtful friends sent me the article, several asking for my opinion. Today, I would like to offer my opinion in print.

First the really good news: according to the federal model, 70% of people over sixty-five do not see a geriatrician. The 30% who do often fall into the over eighty-five category and suffer from three or more chronic conditions. These statistics tell me that there are millions of fairly healthy seniors out there, and research backs this up. I find these numbers very encouraging, and believe these folks are more aware of healthy practices, and so take better care of themselves. That’s where gerontologists like me, and some MDs, come in because we promote ways to keep the aging body and mind healthy and free of disease. Prevention and retention are the most important words when it comes to getting older. Every time I put fingers to the keyboard my dominant thought is, how can I offer advice, or highlight research, which will help prevent decline and retain or enhance our precious facilities for our entire lives?

The truth is it’s easier to add things, whether they be supplements, healing foods, better self-care, regular sleep, and exercise, and greater attention to filling our lives with joy, especially when we are still quite healthy and mobile, than to fight our way back to health after developing a chronic condition. This, I believe is the future of the best practice of healthcare: preventative choices we can add into our day and so develop deep reserves which will keep us healthy and vibrant as we get older.

Should we need health care professionals, I love the action Dr. Mary Tinetti, Chief of Geriatrics at the Yale School of Medicine endorses by having “geriatricians to serve as ‘a small, elite work force’ who help train whole institutions in the specifics of care for older adults.” These other fields include nurse-practitioners, PAs, and pharmacists, all who become the foot soldiers for geriatricians. This extension of knowledge and care through different avenues will, I hope, serve those 30% well, as these medical professionals add their expertise to that of the geriatric specialists.

Why I like this idea so much stems from the unacceptable stereotype: ageism. The more fields (and the many people in those fields) that embrace and deal with aging, the less ageism will exist. My hope is that one day soon the general public will view aging issues without prejudice, but rather like pediatrics, just another part of human healthcare. With the help of those 70% of seniors who are doing well, the sea change is coming.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Dementia Is An Inevitable Result Of Old Age

While young people think all older people get dementia, the facts do not support this belief. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds dementia only affects 10.5% of adults sixty-five and over. Even more good news to refute this myth comes from a large multi-country European study showing the dementia rate has actually fallen by 23% in the past twenty years, even though people are now living longer!

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Downsizing

Like many of you, I am guessing, I set aside January (and into February) to get organized both inside and out. Recently, I came across a very interesting book, The Upside of Downsizing: Getting to Enough by Dr. Sara Hart, PhD.

 An issue many of us are facing, or will be in the not too distant future, is moving from the home where we lived the second chapter of our lives (age 30-60+), and where we may have reared our family, and loved many pets. I am not quite there yet, having just turned 60, but I have begun to give it some serious thought.

What my husband and I decided to do is to pretend we are moving on December 31, 2020, and go through our house, basement to attic, and get rid of anything and everything that no longer serves us. At the point we do decide to move, the stress of cleaning out and decluttering will not be added to the stress of finding a new home and physically moving. I also think this new dawning decade is a good time to open every cabinet and closet, and take stock. Next, tossing things attached to old energy, will invite fresh energy to revitalize our home and ourselves.

Dr. Hart makes a brilliant opening suggestion: Start decluttering a place that will be easiest for you to clear out and “begin there so you have some ‘wins’ and also keep your energy and spirits up.” I could not agree with her more, so for the Rohans’ that means starting in the laundry room where cleaning supplies, plant stuff, nails, screws, and all manner of hardware, and some strange odds and ends have found their way there.

I found Dr. Hart’s approach, her gentle encouragement, and her honestly at the difficulty she encountered within herself as she parted with beloved heirlooms, refreshing. She spends time talking about the emotional response we might feel at getting rid of a lifetime of objects we love. This is a woman bearing her soul in what can be one of the most painful processes we experience in our life. She constantly asks, ‘How will I know when I have enough?’

I like this question, and along with the mantra of the younger declutter queen, Marie Kondo, I am asking, “Does this bring me joy?” which is helping immensely to clarify my true feeling toward the object I am holding in my hand. This second question actually makes parting with things easier. I can tap into how I really feel about an item, and put it in the give-away pile, even if my mother spent a million hours creating it.

You may be wondering why I am talking about this topic? Because, as we get older, research confirms and seniors agree that downsizing may ramp up the fear of losing control over our lives; possibly creating a downward spiral into feelings of despondency and depression. Cortisol levels become and stay elevated when we feel out of control, allowing illnesses and diseases to take hold easier and hammer us, sometimes all the way into the ground.

Exerting control over our lives lowers our cortisol levels and gives us a greater sense of well-being, hence, my idea of decluttering because I want to, way before I have to, so I feel empowered by taking control of my clutter and stuff and deciding thoughtfully to let it go. With our world so fraught with serious issues at the moment, many which I feel helpless to influence, going through and getting rid of some of my accumulated objects gives me a reassuring sense of at least having control over my little patch of the world, and hopefully, making it a better and more serene spot for me and my family.

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Is Your Cruisin' Causing You Bruisin'

As I get older, one thing that truly bothers me is how much more easily my skin bruises. Every time my upper arm so much as taps the corner of a cabinet door, or my thigh grazes the edge of a hard chair, I used to end up with a big ol’ purple bruise that could take weeks, even months, to heal. Both these calamities, plus the times I drop something on the top of my foot, like a pot lid, or a book, prompts a wardrobe re-think so the bruise doesn’t show. For someone who is a bit of a klutz, any notions or potions which could shorten the healing time get my full attention.

Those of us in post-menopause suffer the effects of these slight dings to a far greater extent than any other age group. The main reason is the loss of our protective armor of hormones, which, in this case, literally gives our skin an armor-like invincibility to these minor collisions. Without estrogen and progesterone to keep it thick and supple, our skin thins, and becomes much drier. The fat cells in our skin also shrink. Adding to the list of reasons to stay out of the sun and use sunscreen when we are in the sun: ultraviolet light breaks down our collagen and the elastin in our skin. Our blood flow also decreases as we age, and the capillaries—the blood vessels closer to the surface of our skin, become more fragile and can be broken easier, which leads to bruising. Regular exercise can help keep our blood pumping strong, creating a variety of chemical reactions that keep the blood vessel walls stronger than those of non-exercisers. Vitamins C and D, when taken in adequate amounts, help keep these vessels in good shape, as does the spice Turmeric. Talk with your DIFM (Dietitian in Integrative and Functional Medicine), or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist), about adding these to your regime, if you aren’t taking them already.

These are some of the internal tools to help with bruising, but what can we do when we bang into something and know we are in for a plum- colored spot? After sifting through all the best science, I find it confirms what has become my lickety-split response, I call it my AIE: Arnica gel and Arnica homeopathic tablets* (more on this in a moment), Ice, and Elevation. Here is the scenario: I slam one of my body parts into a non-yielding inanimate something. Ouch! I immediately pop some homeopathic Arnica tablets under my tongue (I am so convinced this works, I carry them in my purse at all times). Next I grab an ice pack from the freezer, if at home, or if I am out I get some ice in a plastic bag, or even a cloth napkin, and ice and elevate the area for twenty minutes. If I am at home, I also apply a nice layer of Arnica gel to the area before I put on the ice pack. If out and about, the Arnica tablets will suffice until I get home and can apply the gel. It is hard to describe my elation the next day when the area is either virtually free of any discoloration, or the discoloration is so slight I don’t have to worry about what I wear. It is important to take the tablets and/or apply the gel once every few hours for the first twenty-four hours, then continue for a few days with the gel, if there is any sign of the mishap.

Now to talk a bit more about Arnica. Several studies in both the US and the UK find applying topical Arnica gel at 20% strength can significantly reduce bruising. A 2016 study published in American Journal of Therapeutics, found that both Arnica gel and homeopathic tablets reduced swelling, inflammation, and bruising without causing issues by interacting with other allopathic or pharmaceutical drugs being taken. Of course, it is always necessary to speak with your nutritional expert before taking homeopathic tablets. While the gel seems to be safe in all cases—just ask. So when next you bang a tender spot, you might give this remedy a try!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

*“Homeopathy is a medical system based on the belief that the body can cure itself. Those who practice it use tiny amounts of natural substances, like plants and minerals. Homoeopathists believe these stimulate the healing process. It was developed in the late 1700s in Germany. It’s common in many European countries, but it’s not quite as popular in the United States.”

“Though oral homeopathic Arnica is believed to help with bruising, it’s listed as a poisonous plant by the FDA and considered unsafe for oral ingestion. Homeopathy remedies are so diluted that it’s unlikely poisoning will happen. In homeopathy, there’s a belief that the dilution makes the remedy more effective because of how it works on an atomic level. The FDA hasn’t approved any homeopathy remedies such as Arnica, and hasn’t evaluated any remedy for effectiveness or safety. According to the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, you should avoid ingesting Arnica if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, as it can harm the fetus or baby. You also shouldn’t ingest Arnica if you’re on Warfarin (Coumadin) or any blood-thinning medication.”

Healthline.com

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Myth: Older Tech Workers Are Less Valued Part II

Here are some final beliefs that need setting right:

Myth #2: Newly-hired Older Tech Workers Are Not Paid Equitably.

According to Visier’s findings, a website to “help organizations create a better future with data,” if you are an older adult, your starting pay is not, on average, lower than that of a younger hire. It seems that new employees are paid the same as more tenured workers, where ever they fall on the age timeline.

Myth # 3: Older Workers In Tech Resign At Higher Rates.

Looking at all the employees on both sides of the forty-year mark, first year resignations among the entire spectrum average 10%, with older workers staying in the job at basically the same rate as younger hires. I found it very interesting that first year resignations among Millennials to be much higher in non-tech industries than in the tech world.

Again, not being in the tech world, I welcome all thoughtful discussion about these beliefs. Thank you!

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Fourth Quarter Blog Recap

October 7, 2019—Straight Answers on Breast Cancer

Claudia Harsh, MD, an expert in the field of women’s medicine, answers questions about the connection between menopause and breast cancer.

October 14, 2019—Great Answers on Breast Cancer Prevention

Once again Dr. Harsh offers thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer.

October 21, 2019—Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall

Two glasses of wine a day may lead to a greater chance of contracting breast cancer, especially in women with a family history of the disease. The good news? Exercise lowers the odds!

October 28, 2019 Foods as Prevention in Stopping Breast Cancer

Regular, focused exercise is the number one breast cancer risk reducer, but making friends with vegetables and cutting back on red meat and processed foods come in second and third.

November 4, 2019 Keeping Your Balance

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

November 11, 2019–Great Remedies For Winter Illnesses

Cold and flu season is one time where non-pharmaceutical remedies excel at bolstering the immune system to efficiently squash symptoms before they evolve into a serious illness. Adding more Vitamin C, D, and zinc to your daily regimen strengthens your immune system and may help you avoid that nasty cold.

November 18, 2019: Raising Our Awareness to Help Prevent 

Exercise, proper diet and rest, social connections, and lowered stress all play huge roles in lowering one’s propensity for developing Alzheimer’s. Learning to play an instrument shows promise, as well.

November 25, 2019 A Gratitude Attitude is Where It’s At

Embracing gratitude makes people physically, socially, and psychologically healthier. Grateful people feel less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep—especially in combination with my Gratitude Meditation: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/gratitude-meditation/id461484572

December 2, 2019–Great Remedies for Winter Illnesses

 Herbs and dietary supplements — one area where non-pharmaceutical remedies excel at bolstering the immune system to efficiently squash symptoms before they evolve into a serious illness. The qualities of Vitamin C, zinc, and Vitamin D are covered in this post.

December 9, 2019–Get Hygge, Be Happier!

Hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah” is a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” (The Little Book of Hygge).  This superior Scandinavian practice has no direct translation in English, but “cozy and comfy” comes close. Find time, especially during busy holiday seasons, to recharge, reflect, reorient, and revive, in other words, find time to hygge!

December 16, 2019—Some Ideas for Bringing In 2020

The year 2020 seems especially auspicious, being the sequential year of the century, and the beginning of a new decade.  I offer a winning, triple-play suggestion to bring in the New Year—combining exercise, a personal commitment to oneself, and being fully present.

December 23, 2019—A Plan for 2020

Regular exercise boosts our testosterone, lengthens our telomeres, and helps our adrenals make more estrogen. These actions allow our brains to fire on all fronts and our memory banks to stay as crisp as a cracker. They also give us a greater sense of well-being, help us feel less irritable and more balanced, and contribute to our sexual comfort and desire. Move it to keep it should be our theme for 2020!

December 30, 2019—Fourth Quarter Recap

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A Plan for 2020

We postmenopausal women gain doubly from making regular exercise part of our lives. Regular exercise keeps our muscles strong and boosts our production of testosterone, which we lose at menopause. Testosterone is the hormone that builds and maintains muscle, as well as stoking the fire of romance and intimacy. Exercise also gives our adrenal glands a boost toward producing more estrogen—the site from which we get most of our estrogen in postmenopause. Talk about yet another bushel basket of benefits from sweating for forty-five minutes most every day. This is very good news!

After fifty-five we lose what I call our “protective armor of hormones.” Then, our adrenal glands and specific places in our brain must take over the job once done by our ovaries. But, it is an imperfect transition, as many of us loudly agree. Now, research reveals that exercise helps our adrenals make more estrogen which help keeps our telomeres long. This action allows our brains to fire on all fronts and our memory banks to stay as crisp as a cracker. It also bumps up the level of estrogen circulating in our bodies which gives us a greater sense of well-being, helps us feel less irritable and more balanced, and contributes to our sexual comfort and desire. Additionally, with a gaggle of other hormones, like serotonin and dopamine, regular exercise doubles the dose of perks to our brain’s other receptive centers—pleasure, happiness, and contentment. We get all of this by habitually hitting the dance floor, swinging to the Latin beat in Zumba class, or mastering our serve on the tennis court. I find this information very encouraging.

Now that we are surrounded by winter, with the shortest day of the year just behind us, let’s get up and out and back on track once the holidays are over. We can start the New Year with the knowledge that lacing up those tennies, or slipping on our dance pumps are the first steps toward revving up our bodies and minds to meet the New Year and the new decade– ready to rumble. Look out world, here we come!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Older Tech Workers Are Less Valued

It is true that the average person working in the technology industry is five years younger than those workers in the non-tech world, leading many of us to believe that younger is more valued in this field. However, according to Visier, a website founded by business analytical experts to help “educate and inspire business users to become data-driven leaders,” when tech geniuses turn forty, the matriculate to the “Tech Sage Age.” These TSAers increasingly receive top ratings for their performance, experience, and mature insights. (You gotta love that!) Interestingly, according to Visier, this is the opposite of the decline in numbers of older top performers in non-tech fields.

I do wonder if this is true for women, as well as men……I would love to hear your thoughtful comments from those in the tech industry!

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Some Ideas for Bringing in 2020

Recently, I heard a great idea for starting out the New Year and the new decade. It got me thinking about how I could mark this milestone in our evolution. I love, as do many of us, to clearly designate a beginning (and sometimes an ending) to a phase of our life journey, or the life journey of our loved ones. It makes for bite-sized, manageable chunks we can understand and file away in our brains, or in the cabinet. The calendar makes for convenient segmenting in this regard, and the year 2020 seems especially auspicious, being the sequential year of the century, and the beginning of a new decade. (Some folks argue that technically the decade starts in 2021, but I am going by the feeling we have that a new decade is dawning in a few weeks.)

Here is the idea: my friend plans to walk one mile each hour from 12:00 noon on December 31, 2019 through 12:00 pm midnight on December 31, 2019. She will finish in the wee hours of 2020, and welcome in the New Year and the decade, just as it begins. It will take her about seventeen minutes to walk each mile. I think this is a winning triple-play to bring in the New Year—combining exercise, a personal commitment to oneself, and being fully present for those twelve hours. Following through with this suggestion gets the New Year off to a positive start with three great choices we can make to help us be more vibrant. What could be better? I offer this idea now so that you can make plans to work it seamlessly into your holiday.

Do you have something special planned to bring in the New Year and the new decade? I would love to hear from you. Please share your yearly ritual, or what you are planning for this new chapter in your life!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Get Hygge, Be Happier

Hygge: A Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” The Little Book of Hygge

True confession time: I love to hygge. Pronounced “hoo-gah,” this superior Scandinavian practice has no direct translation in English, but “cozy and comfy” comes close. Hygge comes from a centuries-old Norwegian term meaning to comfort or console. The Norwegians call this the Art of Kos—being “koselig.” Coziness is actually a life skill in Norway. (cue my Norwegian mother-in-law), and is related to the English word “hug”. We might use it as a noun, verb, or adjective. Sort of a one-size-fits-all word for the ideas of relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude. Wintertime is the most hygge season of the year—a blazing fire in the fireplace or fire pit, lighting and burning candles, surrounding yourself with nubby woolen blankets, fuzzy slippers, drinking hot cocoa, lattes, spiced tea, or hot toddies (this one being a Norwegian favorite!) eating delish pastries, and wearing the faded twenty-year-old, once stylish, fleece pants that no one can touch, except to wash. We can hygge with friends—the true expression of hygge, by joining loved ones in a relaxed and intimate setting and sharing some, or all, of the props listed above. However, one can hygge alone, and this is where my heart yearns at the moment.

hygge

By choice, I readily admit that right now, I am living life at Mach speed. While walking the walk and talking the talk I offer here, I still run on HIGH when I run, but I do stop and sleep long, meditate, exercise, and recharge. That’s where my hygge comes in. Stopping and being still is one of the most effective things we can do to recharge, reorient, and revive ourselves when the outer world threatens to crush us. Adding candles, a lively fire, a soft blankie, and a delicious hot drink, soothes and restores us on all levels. Strong science backs up this wondrous practice, with new research coming to light all the time. I just love that science tells us to hygge more to feel happier. The benefits of hygge, (seems like it should be called hygge-ing), envelop us even with short stints of hygge; my usual hygge-ing time lasts roughly thirty minutes to an hour. I intuit when my tanks are refilled, and hop up from my nest, refreshed. Sometimes, I close my eyes, and do my gran’s “lie down,” as I often mention, more snuggled into a deep comfy chair than stretching out, but the benefits are the same—afterward I’m ready to go for the next exciting thing.

I first learned about hygge with others when I was just a newlywed and my husband and I would go visiting the various family members during holiday time. Special small tablecloths are made throughout Scandinavia for laying over the coffee table, where the delicious homemade sweet treats are served along with those hot toddies (some even non-alcoholic;-) Delightful forks and tiny spoons accompany the little plates offered. We then sit around and chat and visit often while the evening shadows wrap us in darkness– candles and fire burning all the while. We leave fulfilled from the yummy food and lively conversation. You don’t have to be Norwegian to recreate this convivial experience. It’s a great practice no matter your heritage. The heart connections we create, or strengthen, do so much for our emotional and mental health, keeping our brain humming and our neurons strong. With no set way to hygge, we are only limited by our imagination. Let yours go this season and find time to hygge—both alone and with others; the rewards are so worth it. Happy Hygge!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Great Remedies for Winter Illnesses

I began my studies of herbal remedies back in the early 1970’s when I was in middle school. Back then, I read everything in print, and started my own herbal remedy library. (To be followed by my supplements library when I was diagnosed with endometriosis at twenty-two.) My first, and many of my second-wave baby boomer readers will recall those years where all of us in America were initially exposed to the power of herbs–both in the kitchen and in the medicine cabinet. I remember buying fresh herbs for the first time at the farmer’s market, putting them on my bathroom window sill, and lovingly tending them like a mama hen looking after her chicks.

Soon my mother and I were replacing the dried herbs—the only way I knew herbs existed — with my fresh sprigs in recipe after recipe from Joy of Cooking. In my bathroom laboratory I created beauty potions and medicinal remedies that actually worked. I was hooked! Fast forward four plus decades, I am still using some of my recipes. Here, I pass on my tried and true ones, and a few I learned about more recently.

There exists a doctor’s bag full of non-allopathic (non-pharmaceutical), deeply researched, offerings to help shorten the duration of illnesses and speed us back to glowing health. Since respiratory infections effecting the sinuses, bronchial areas, and lungs, seem to be the most common areas of the body to succumb to illness, we will focus on remedies to help heal these areas. The multi-layer benefits of using complementary medicine is that other parts of the body get a boost as well from the remedies, so we get extra healing and protection all in one! These are recipes which have been around for years, decades, and even centuries, in some cases, and have helped heal the body with time-proven solutions.

One important thing is the dosage. Most of us are used to the dosage of pharmaceuticals: One three times a day; two twice a day, etc. In complementary and herbal medicine, dosage is much more frequent. In so many cases, more times used/administered, but not more medicine, is better. Some of the frequencies may seem like a lot, so I wanted to make that clear.

Before you begin:

  • Run the jar(s) you will use (I like Mason or Ball jars) with new lids, through the hottest cycle in the dishwasher, let dry completely
  • Wash and let the herbs dry completely before making recipes (damp herbs will mold)

It Usual Begins with a Sore Throat

You know the feeling: hurts a little to swallow, your head starts to feel just a little stuffy or light. Start immediately with a Sage Leaf Gargle*. Sage is a powerful antiseptic for internal and topical use. Recommended usage: gargle every 1 to 2 hours. Swish and spit.

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons fresh or dried sage leaves
  • ¼ ounce salt
  • Pour the boiling water over the sage, cover and steep for 20 minutes.
  • Strain and add the salt. Gargle as needed. Store in the refrigerator for a couple of days

Also high on the list of other medicinal uses for sage is Sage Honey**.  This honey is also a powerful remedy for sore throats.

  • Fresh sage to fill ½ the Mason jar
    Local, raw honey to fill the jar to the brim
  • Chop your fresh sage up as fine as you can and add it to the jar until it fills up about half way.
  • Cover the jar with a lid and allow to sit in a cool, dark, dry place for 2-4 weeks.
  • Take one teaspoon every 1-2 hours until sore throat lessens.

Turn jar upside down regularly to keep herbs well mixed

If You Come Down with a Cold or Cold with Cough

There are a couple of items you should always have in your medicine cabinet: Black Elderberry Syrup/Extract and Thyme Syrup***. Elderberry syrup is great for colds, influenza, and even fever. It is carried at health stores. Purchase a product containing 5,000-6,000 mg of black elderberry fruit in the extract. Keep the fresh thyme syrup in the fridge.

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 ounces Lemon thyme leaf (or plain thyme)–fresh is best, but dried will work
  • 1 cup raw, organic honey
  • 1/4 cup brandy, optional (works as a preservative)
  • Put thyme and water in a pan over low heat. Cover with a lid left slightly ajar, simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 45 minutes. 
  • Strain the liquid and discard the herbs. When mixture is just warm, add the honey and brandy (if using). Whisk until smooth. Transfer to a glass jar and store in the fridge for up to four weeks (without brandy) or four months (with brandy).
  • Take 1-2 tablespoons every 2-3 hours to help get the gunk out

Oregano de la Sierra, also called Wild Oregano, or Bee Balm is also an important herb to aid healing when a cold or cough strikes. The recipe for Oregano Honey is simple to make:

  • Pack a Mason jar with fresh oregano
  • Cover completely with local honey and let sit for 2 weeks
  • Can be added to tea, or just taken by spoon
  • Take one teaspoon every 1-2 hours

Two additional outstanding remedies for winter illnesses like colds and coughs are Echinacea and ginger.

The wise folks suggest Echinacea within 72 hours of coming down with a cold or cough, when the herb is most effective at eliminating viral and bacterial infections. ONE NOTE: DO NOT take Echinacea for the flu, as it can make it worse.

Last is one of my favorites, ginger. This Ginger Syrup is a snap to make, works wonders when you feel yourself coming down with a cold or have a chill. It helps kill viruses that can lead to an upper respiratory infection, helps soothe and shrink swollen nasal passages, and calms a sore throat.

  • Chop a 3 inch piece of fresh ginger.
  • Add to 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of honey and 2 cups of boiling water.
  • Stir well and then cover it with plastic wrap for about 10 minutes.
  • Strain and drink 1-3 times a day

With your fridge and cabinet stocked with these powerful healing tools you’ll be ready for anything Old Man Winter throws at you–including snowballs!

Until next time… Be Well and Be Vibrant!

Always check with your health care provider for any contraindications.

A version of these recipes is found here:

*Motherearthliving.com

**Thekitchn.com

***Wholefully.com

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Myth: Anti-Aging is Possible

Let me lay my cards right on the table, I hate the term “anti-aging.” Why? First because there is no such thing, just like there is no such thing as partial forgiveness or being a little pregnant.  Secondly, this term goes to the heart of our cultural problem of ageism—that stereotype of negative attitudes toward older folks. Dr. Jill Chonody, author of Social Work Practices with Older Adults, writes, “Antiaging norms have become a regular part of American culture and as a result they are readily expressed through and reinforced by an “anti-aging movement” which dictates that physical signs of aging should be hidden by “anti-aging products” to cover age-related ‘flaws.’ ” Dr. Chondoy cites stats of a more than 100% increase in surgical and non-surgical procedures (from $80m to $114m), from 1997-2014, adding the last four years to bring it to over $120m. She goes on to say, “The marketing of these products goes without much notice much like greeting cards. No magazine or products are labeled anti-black or anti-woman, but anti-aging is a very common label for commercial products, including books. Why do we spend money on these products, why would we have unnecessary surgery to hide the physical signs of aging? Social messages repeatedly tell us that aging is unattractive and should be avoided at all costs and we believe it without question.”

So, as we all know, there is only one true way not to age, and that isn’t really a very fun alternative 😉

anti-aging
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A Gratitude Attitude is Where It's At

Today, I would like to let you in on a few of the secrets which result from being grateful, and to offer a helpful tool to guide you on your journey toward adding gratitude and appreciation into your life during this holiday season, and every day. It is a meditation I wrote several years ago at the request of friends. You may access it from the yellow shining sun icon on the homepage of my website, www.LJRohan.com , or drop into your App Store and download it: Lysa Rohan Gratitude Meditation™. My recommendation is to add this quick and easy 10-minute meditation into your day and during this week, and then notice how you feel.

So what does being more grateful do for our body, mind, and spirit?  GREAT things! Dr. Robert C. Roberts, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Philosophy at Baylor University wrote in the book The Psychology of Gratitude, an important collection of scientific research on the subject of gratitude and gratefulness, “Grateful people tend to be satisfied with what they have and so are less susceptible to such emotions as disappointment, regret, and frustration. [They have]… a powerful resource for transcending many of the circumstances that disappoint, frustrate, and anger most of us. In consequence, grateful people, whether religious or not, will be less prone to emotions such as anger, resentment, envy, and bitterness.”

The most current research backs up the work of Dr. Roberts. It reveals that grateful individuals experience a wide variety of physical, social and psychological health benefits. For example, folks who practice gratitude say they feel more alive, healthier, and have greater vitality. They see themselves as having an enhanced capacity to be independent and make their own choices using their free will.

 Practicing gratitude makes us psychologically healthier, as well.  We will more often choose healthy activities over unhealthy ones, and are more likely to seek help for health concerns when they do occur, than those of us who don’t have a grateful outlook. Other psychological benefits from adopting an attitude of gratitude include greater emotional stability, and a more positive opinion of ourselves, others, and a greater sense of optimism about life in general. All good news!

 To add even more benefits to the growing pile, grateful individuals tend to report less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep. When we have higher life satisfaction we tend to smoke less and exercise more, and more often choose healthy activities across the board. Even more good news?  These results are found in many different cultures around the world.

Doc Childre and Howard Martin in The HeartMath Solution, the first book from the HeartMath Institute, which documents their ground-breaking research on the energetic and emotional workings of the heart’s response to thoughts of appreciation, found this to be true from their years of research:  Extensive studies using both a Heart Rate Variability machine, equipment very similar to an EKG, and measuring the antibody IgA, an important component in our immune system that fights against invading pathogens and is a key indicator of the health of our immune systems, shows that our heart rate slows when we make the shift to being grateful and these healing, life-enhancing antibodies are released into our blood stream for up to six hours.  That’s a huge pay off for the single choice to shift our perspective to one of gratitude.

This week, especially for my readers in the US who are celebrating Thanksgiving, try and practice my meditation as many days as possible. Notice how you feel afterwards and in the days that follow. Maybe jot down a few notes about these feelings and any thoughts that come to you. Enjoy this journey!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Raising Our Awareness about Alzheimer’s Prevention

We all have sad stories about Alzheimer’s, a disease like none other. I watched my beloved grandmother’s mind evaporate into the ethers until she was nothing but a breathing, weighted imprint on the bed sheet. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, a time for us to share those stories and remember.

When the first hiccups in my grandmother’s brain appeared, little was known about Alzheimer’s. Ronald Reagan had it, and was being lovingly cared for by his wife, but research was sketchy and, the media gave it little airtime or print space. I first knew something was wrong with Gran when I arrived at her home one cold January morning and found the air conditioning turned down to sixty degrees. She was lying on her bed in only a thin nightgown, the bedclothes thrown on the floor. She was unable to move as the cold air had aggravated her arthritis and she was momentarily paralyzed with pain.

My heart broke in half. Here was my rock, my sweet, loving grandmother, whose generosity, and kindness toward me never wavered. I had no idea what was happening to her, but I knew something was terribly amiss. Not long after, my family met with her doctor and learned she probably had Alzheimer’s. In those early days, books were our only informational source and so I read everything in print about the disease—maybe five books– and cried. And cried, and cried. I learned Alzheimer’s was a slow death sentence, as the saying goes, death by a thousand cuts. Anyone who has walked in these deerskins can tell this tale. Eventually Gran was unable to speak or recognize any of us. I couldn’t believe this was happening, and worse, that I, the A+ researcher, could find nothing, or no one, to offer any hope, because none existed at the time.

However, I never gave up my search for preventative measures. When the first information came out about what we could do to stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s (which is a type of dementia) I paid attention. I took up the piano because I love music and wanted to learn to play, and because the early research showed learning a musical instrument might be a good way to avoid the disease. Fast-forward to my second career where I became a gerontologist, and how lucky I was to have Dr. Alison Balbag as one of my professors. Dr. Balbag found that musicians develop Alzheimer’s only 35% of the time compared to non-musicians. Further research expanded on the benefits of music for our brain and cognitive function. I have written extensively about this in past posts: https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-14-i-hear-music/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-21-play-it-again-sam/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-5-28-make-love-and-music/

Cue to late 2019, and what we know this red-hot minute as our best protections against dementia and Alzheimer’s, and, amazingly, ways to be vibrant, as well J: HIIT exercise—high-intensity-interval-training, as discovered by my favorite girl gang, Nobel Prize winning duo Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elisa Eppel, might be the top contender. https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-26-slowing-down-our-clocks/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-3-12-more-is-better/

Add to that the findings of Dale Bredesen, MD, and several others who found diet to be a critical factor, along with stress reduction and increased meaningful social engagement.  https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/your-brain-on-food/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/12-best-brain-foods-for-memory-concentration-and-brain-health/    ;https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/2018-2-19-stress-and-memory/; https://www.ljrohan.com/blog/our-vibrant-hearts/

If we can make the following choices, we dramatically increase our chances of keeping dementia and Alzheimer’s as merely words in the dictionary and out of our lives.

  • Say sayonara to sugar in all forms except low-sugar fruit
  • Limit alcohol intake to a few glasses of red wine a week
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet—whole grains, fish, fruits, and vegetables, olive oil
  • Make seven to eight hours of sleep a night a priority
  • Meditate to reduce stress
  • Find more ways to be happy and have fun

I really try to adhere to these guidelines. Do I fail some days? Heck yes, but as Scarlett said as Rhett walked into the darkening mist, “Tomorrow is another day.” Being aware of what makes our lives better, allows us to make new choices tomorrow.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Powering Up Our Immune Systems

Building up our immune system to fighting fitness always ranks as our first choice of defense against disease. Not to get sidetracked, but even the leaders in cancer research have finally recognized that strengthening the immune system offers the best protection against disease. (More about that in future posts.) Now, before the temperatures drop and stay down, adding these supplements to our daily routine will help us stay well. As always, check with your health care provider to be clear of any contraindications.

Vitamin C

powering up immune system

At the top of the charts is an old favorite, vitamin C. Some of the latest stats show more than forty-three million adults from the age of twenty to sixty are deficient in vitamin C. That number jumps up drastically for seniors. Why? The short answer is we don’t eat enough fresh fruits and veggies, and the depletion of the nutrients in the soil over the last fifty years has lowered the nutrient content of our agricultural products. As many respected experts tell us, we now cannot get all the vitamins we need by simply eating the right foods. Added pollution, stress, and medications have also contributed to our deficiency.  We get some Vitamin C in our food, but now supplementation is a necessity. Taking 1000 milligrams, in 2 or 3 doses throughout the day, perhaps at mealtimes, will boost your immunity system. Don’t take it all at once, as it absorbs and is eliminated each time we visit the loo, and so spread out the doses. Try different types to see which you tolerate best. My personal favorite is  1000 milligrams of time-released vitamin C.

Zinc

Adding this mineral to your daily regime gives you an edge against illness, and it becomes a even bigger gun if you actually get sick. If a bug finds you, zinc lozenges should be a go-to. Make sure the lozenge contains at least 50 milligrams of zinc; ideally 75 to be effective, but cap the strength of each lozenge at 10 milligrams. Taking more interferes with the absorption of copper. Some great advice: pop a lozenge just before you get on a plane!

Vitamin D

New research points to vitamin D as a frontline fighter against illness. The Institute of Medicine suggests 4,000 IU a day for people nine to ninety-nine. I take that much every day.

To this list I add a great Multi-Vitamin with Minerals. To insure you are getting a good quality one, the smart money is on buying ones from a health food store, versus say, the drug store or a big box store. Talk to the store manager or people who work there and ask questions. The popular one isn’t always the best one.

If you are already working with a nutritional expert, you are in great shape. For the rest of us, these recommendations will be a good start for super-charging all your disease-fighting systems

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: There Are No Myths Regarding Aging

I somehow think I should have started these posts with this myth, but sometimes I am a little late to the party—that way you don’t have to stay there as long!  😉

Dr. James Thornton, now professor emeritus at the University of British Colombia, researched the universal practice of creating stories, which over time become “myths” or legends– as in the Loch Ness Monster, King Arthur, Robin Hood, or Paul Bunyan. Traditional myths and folklore defined personal experience. They shaped social life, and offered hope, and meaning to the unexplainable in times when there was little scientific advancement.

However in today’s world, with science influencing every aspect of our lives, current myths of aging strongly influence our present culture. But, like all myths, these anti-aging mythologies are based on half-truths and false knowledge. Unfortunately they are usually stated as culturally accepted stereotypes, in our case, ageist stereotypes.  Current misconceptions of aging often reinforced in the media and the literature of aging are not merely folklore. They are intentionally misrepresented statements pretending to inform, often in order to sell products and services. But in reality these proclamations only reinforce misunderstandings, and give wrong information about aging as experienced by the vast majority of older people.

The good news? As I love to say, there is a sea-changing coming! So many good people and so many different sources from the media (Think “Grace and Frankie,” Sophia Loren’s new movie, and those silver-haired beauties in print and TV ads) are changing the way us older adults are portrayed. All of these create a more realistic picture of what it looks like to have some experience under our belts.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

myths regarding aging
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Keeping Your Balance

Until I pass on into the next world, I want to be independent and mobile; if I can prevent it, no wheelchairs or rocking chairs for me. I’m sure you feel the same, right? I have covered many aspects of aging which will help us stay out of those kind of chairs, and maintain our ability to get out of our favorite chair. Today, we will look at one more: Keeping and improving our balance. One of the most important little things we take for granted, until topple over for what we think is “no reason,” or can’t get out of that chair. So if you are in your fifties reading this, you might thing, “well, that’s not something I need to worry about now,” but, au contraire, the research shows balance begins to slow down in our fifties and continues declining unless we stop and reverse this tendency.

First, let’s breakdown all the elements contributing to our ability to get out of a chair with ease and walk down the sidewalk in high heels without ending up in the street, embarrassed and bloody. Balance is actually a complex whole-body exercise. Your science lesson for the day: balance requires your sensory systems, your brain, and your muscles and joints to work together. In fact, it is one of the more complex physical things we do as humans. Our sensory system is made up of our eyes, ears and sense of touch. Our eyes tell us where we are in relation to other objects, and if these objects are still or moving; our inner ear has tiny hairs and tiny nerves which work together to tell our brains the position of our head, and like the rudder of a boat or airplane, the hairs and nerves are constantly trying to right the ship and keep it in perfect alignment to the earth, standing still or in motion. Additionally, small crystals of calcium inside our ears help us sense the pull of the earth-gravity, and recognize action and movement. No small tasks for such fine hairs! Our feet and joints let us know if we are on even ground or moving across rough terrain, and our brain takes all this in and sends messages to our cerebral cortex. We then understand all this input as “Watch out, it’s dark and the path is angled and covered with loose rocks!” 

The worst part of taking a fall when we’re over sixty comes more from the psychological toll than the physical one: the fear of falling. Suddenly, we might start limiting what we do—traveling, going out to unfamiliar places, resisting new experiences, all because we begin to think and then believe, we might fall. That wheelchair or rocking chair now starts looking positively inviting. STOP HERE! Do not past GO and collect your $200 to use on one of these. There is good news, and it is this: falling is NOT a normal part of aging. Never has been, never will be. You have the power and the ability to keep your balance until the day the angels take you away, but you must, like all things, work on it to keep. Thankfully relief from the fear, and the reality, is as close as your YMCA/YWCA, gym, or rec center. Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese practice of slow, meditative movements done in a particular sequence ranks as one of the most effective practices to enhance or restore balance. It also works great on lowering your stress and cortisol so you will live longer to dance with your favorite partner. Additionally, yoga is an outstanding practice for shoring up balance, there is even a one-footed balancing pose to get right to it!

Outside of organized classes there are some very effective daily practices we can incorporate to help us be fall-free:

  • Try heel-to-toe walking as if you were on a balance beam like an Olympic gymnast
  • Sit on an exercise ball to strengthen your core and practice getting up without holding on to anything or toppling over
  • Exercise on a wobble board or Boscu ™ ball (one of those half balls nailed to a flat board
  • Practice standing on one foot while you brush your teeth—left in the morning, right one at night.

All of the above should be done once your doctor has given you the go-ahead and ruled out any serious inner ear disorders, Parkinson’s, diabetes and/or certain medications which might affect balance.

Keeping our balance throughout our lives is such an empowering, and doable thing one wonders why we don’t all work on it every day. What might be stopping you?

Until next time…..Be Vibrant!

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Food as Prevention in Stopping Breast Cancer

In drilling deep into breast cancer prevention for women, I find recommendations based on several factors. In aiding prevention for women before mid-life, prevention for postmenopausal women, and what suggestions help postmenopausal women who have had breast cancer, there exists some common approaches which are very encouraging.

Regular, focused exercise across the lifespan wins the day as the number one risk reducer. I know this seems like I never get off this one subject, but think of how many positive benefits we get from regular exercise, not the least exciting result is a trimmer figure and higher metabolism–allowing for the occasional pizza splurge, since isn’t the holy grail about having pizza? For me it is, but, I digress.

On the subject of diet, the latest research reveals some strong pros and cons for what we put on our plates. Several very large studies from both the US at the National Cancer Institute and The Oregon Health and Science University, and in China through The Shanghai Breast Cancer Study (SBCS), and including research from Vanderbilt University, indicate making friends with vegetables is a great idea, especially a family of veggies call cruciferous vegetables. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but I know them when I see the on the produce aisle:

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
  • Wasabi

This wide variety of vegetables can lower our risk of breast cancer (50%) and pancreatic cancer (38%), and a man’s risk of prostate cancer (46%) or pancreatic cancer (35%). One serving a day for postmenopausal women without a history of breast cancer gave them a 50% advantage over non-cruciferous vegetable eaters. That’s some heavy leafy armor. More studies are going on as I write, and I am hopeful the above finding are further supported by these study results. If the vegetables were rated for firepower, the Bazooka Award would go to the simple cabbage and humble turnip, both vegetables readily available in many, many parts of the world and still pretty much ignored by Top Chefs.  

To give us a little protein, eat fish, but stick to low mercury fish. A list of these low-mercury swimmers is regularly updated on www.nrdc.org, the top contenders by potency: mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring and oysters. Red meat does not make the list, and on the big no-no list is charred (grilled) red meat. It seems that crusty, (slightly) burned areas are very carcinogenic (poisonous) for us humans and turn the breast cancer risk-meter way up.  Cutting out food which appears high on the glycemic index (www.dlife.com), something, along with insulin resistance, I discussed in my blog post Move it and Improve It can trim our risk.

The science dovetails nicely with what we know makes up a healthy diet, providing many crossover benefits which raises our resistance to breast cancer, while making our hair shinier, our skin clearer, lowering inflammation throughout our bodies, and helping us sleep better, and last, but such a bell-ringing winner, feeding our brains to improve our cognitive functions. Give those veggies a gold medal! (Cue national anthem ;-).

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall...

I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do love red wine, and I’m married to a wine lover. I also have really cut back on my alcohol consumption, wine included, since I learned about the connection between alcohol and breast cancer.

From the Breast Cancer News website:

Just one alcohol-containing beverage a day — less than a standard drink — is sufficient to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to a new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

This mega-report, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer,” brought together 119 studies and included information from 12 million women, 260,000 who had breast cancer. The study found that there is a 5% increase in risk for women before menopause, and a 9% increase for women after menopause. That doesn’t sound like much, but if there is a family history of breast cancer, or if a woman has had breast cancer, the risk more than doubles. Double-digit risk of anything is enough to give a person something to think about before she orders that frozen strawberry margarita.

In another study, The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center looked at 87,000+ postmenopausal women without a prior history of breast cancer and found that the more drinks a woman had per week, the more her risk of invasive breast cancer increased. Again, if a woman has a family history or previous diagnosis, her risk more than doubled at 14 drinks per week, or two glasses of wine a night. Eek!

 Now for the good news (whew!) There are ways to lower one’s risk. I don’t want to sound like the proverbial old harpy, but our trusted friend, exercise, is showing up as a great way to lower our risk. In the mega-report mentioned above, pre-menopausal women who participated in vigorous exercise like running, biking fast, HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training (see my blog, Slowing Down the Aging Clock  from February 26, 2018), lowered their risk by double digits, 17%, to be exact. Postmenopausal women who Just Did It with vigor, lowered their risk by a full 10%. Moderate exercise lowered a woman’s risk when compared to women who weren’t active. For younger women of childbearing age, breastfeeding the wee ones gave these women added breast cancer protection at all stages of later life.

The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that one in three cases of breast cancer can be prevented if a woman will cut out alcohol and be physically active every day. That’s good news to think about.  It’s also something we can control!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Great Information on Breast Cancer Prevention

  • Can breast cancer ever be cured? What is the percentage of return if contracted before menopause? After menopause?

Using the word “cure” is problematic because it doesn’t answer the question of WHY the cancer developed in the first place. A better way to look at this is “what do we know about preventing breast cancer recurrence?” The number of breast cancer survivors in the United States continues to increase. A review article quoted that there were 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States in 2012 and showed the number expanded to 3.4 million in 2015. This is happening because of improved early detection, improved chemotherapy options both during treatment and after treatment is completed, and a better understanding of hereditary breast cancer with the use of proactive “prophylactic” surgeries. If breast cancer is detected before menopause, we know there is an increased risk of a second cancer whether it is in the same breast in the same location (considered a recurrence) or in a different location in the same breast or in the opposite breast (considered a second primary cancer) over that patient’s lifetime. Why is this? Again, as I said before, one of the biggest risk factors is age. Increasing age will increase the risk of cancer. The percentages of recurrence or, a second primary cancer, is difficult to pin down. We know that one in five women will develop either a recurrence or, a second primary cancer, after completion of five years of post-treatment adjuvant therapy (tamoxifen for example). Recurrence rates are related to:

  • The initial stage of cancer (how far it had spread)
  • The type of breast cancer or grade (what the cells look like or what part of the breast tissue is involved)
  • The family history or presence of a gene associated with increased risk
  • Other treatment related factors such as radiation therapy
  • Post treatment anti-estrogen therapy
  • The use of granulocyte colony-stimulating factors (such as Neupogen™, Granix™ etc.) during treatment

BUT NOW let’s talk about what we know that reduces the risk of recurrence!  Increasing good carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans/lentils, whole grains, and natural soy products) and good fats (flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids and nuts) are associated with improved survival. (Conversely, decreasing animal protein such as beef and pork along with trans-fats used in fried food will decrease your risk.) Increased exercise of 30 minutes five days a week is protective. Stress management techniques such as heart rate variability training (HeartMath™), meditation and decreasing body weight to less than 30 kg/m2 is protective. Avoiding tobacco use completely (both smoking and “vaping”) and limiting alcohol consumption to one drink/day is also protective.

  • Are there any symptoms to watch for?

Screening for breast cancer comes down to knowing your body and taking advantage of the technology that exists for screening. Watch for a lump in the breast or chest wall or armpit area. I often use the analogy of a grain of rice dried and stuck to the countertop when I teach women to detect their own cancer with their fingertips. Cancer is often (but not always) fixed or “stuck”, irregular to touch and associated with a skin dimple where it is pulling on the supportive ligaments of the breast. Nipple retraction, nipple discharge either clear or bloody, redness, scaling or thickening of the nipple can also be found. A rash on the breast that is unresponsive to antibiotics should be evaluated. Symptoms of recurrence can be new-onset localized bone pain, persistent chest pain, persistent cough, persistent abdominal pain, unintended weight loss, persistent headache, personality changes, new-onset seizures or loss of consciousness.

  • Does contracting breast cancer before menopause increase the risk of getting it again after menopause?

The short answer is yes. Cancer incidence increases with age – likely due to a cumulative effect of cell damage and less efficient repair. See the survivorship answer in question seven…

Breast cancer rates are increasing. Why? Is that for both pre and post- menopausal women?

 Actually, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States began decreasing in the year 2000 after increasing for the previous two decades. The risk dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003. One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy by women after the results of the large study called the Women’s Health Initiative that showed a connection between hormone therapy use (specifically conjugated equine estrogen or Premarin™ and synthetic progestagens Provera™) that was published in 2002.  Reasons for the increased rates in the 1980’s and 90’s is likely related to improved screening techniques and increased numbers of women receiving screening.

  • Is post-menopausal breast cancer hereditary?

Although post menopause breast cancer can be hereditary about 10% of the time, most women with a genetic mutation causing breast cancer develop the tumor statistically earlier in their lives.

I am very grateful to Claudia for her thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer. I hope you have found them helpful, I know I have.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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The Doctor Answers Questions on Breast Cancer and Prevention

We ride the Pink Wave and talk about breast cancer, and I hope not to rehash the same old lettuce. We will begin by answering some of the most frequently asked questions by women 55+. Since I am a gerontologist, and breast cancer is not an area I can speak about with authority, I went to an expert in the field, Dr. Claudia Harsh.

Claudia Harsh, MD is board certified in ob-gyn, was fellowship trained in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona and is trained in medical acupuncture through the Helms Medical Institute. She retired from Texas Oncology at the Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas, Texas working in gynecology surveillance and survivorship.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about breast cancer at mid-life.

Q: Can a woman get breast cancer from going through menopause?

Dr. Harsh: I think this question is asking: does menopause increase our risk of getting breast cancer?

We know that our risk of breast cancer increases as we age. About 95% of breast cancers occur in women over age 40. We also know our lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 8 but if we break that down by decades it looks like this:

  •  At age 30 we have a 0.44% or a chance of 1 in 227
  •  By age 40, 1.47% or a chance of 1 in 68
  •  Age 50 means 2.38% or a chance of 1 in 42
  •  At age 60, 3.56% or a chance of 1 in 28
  •  And age 70 we see a 3.82% chance, or 1 in 26

But, these chances are averaged across all women of all ethnicities. Maybe the question we should be asking is “who doesn’t get breast cancer and why?” and that’s where a lot of the interest in lifestyle, medicine and nutrition, can help change the conversation and the risk numbers.

Q: I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. Why did I get it?

Dr. Harsh: About 10% of people who get breast cancer have a family history of the disease. (Or, put another way, 90% of people with breast cancer do NOT have a family history!)

We’ve known for years that some families have an increased risk of breast cancer and once we analyzed the human genome (the genetic “book of life” that resides in our cells – one half from our mother and one half from our father), the first gene associated with breast cancer was BRCA1. This was identified in the early to mid 1990’s and has been shown to be a gene that codes for proteins that repair damaged DNA. For this reason, it is known as a tumor suppressor: if there is a mutation in this gene, it is unable to repair damage and the cell can grow and divide without control and form a tumor.

This field of study is exploding with information – now there are dozens of genes that may impact our risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial or colon cancer (to name just a few!). Genetic counseling makes sense if cancer plays a strong role in your family. It is because of this that the term “previvor”[sic] has been developed for someone who found out they have a high risk genetic mutation and took proactive measures such as having a mastectomy or oophorectomy (removal of breasts or ovaries) to reduce their lifetime risk of the disease.

Q: What are the most important risk factors for breast cancer?

Dr. Harsh: Again, this is an area that is exploding with information. I mentioned before that our risk increases with age. This implies that there is a hormonal association (post menopause vs. pre menopause).

Another important risk factor is family history (genetic mutations) – accounting for approximately 10% of all breast cancers.

Mammographic breast density is a risk factor. Women with denser breasts (more ducts, glands and connective tissue) have an increased risk of cancer mostly because the tumors are harder to see on mammogram.

Personal history of breast cancer increases a woman’s chance of developing a recurrent cancer. Biopsy findings in the ducts can develop into cancer. Previous radiation therapy to the chest prior to age 30 for cancers such as Hodgkin lymphoma has been shown to be a risk factor.

Reproductive/menstrual history: Starting menstrual cycles before age 12 and/or concluding menopause after age 55 are both associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Long-term use (more than 5 years) of postmenopausal hormonal therapy is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Ethnicity may be a risk factor for breast cancer. To date more cancer is found in Caucasian women than in African American/black, Hispanic/Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native women. The degree to which this is due to increased screening in the white population is still being determined.

Research continues into sleep cycles and their association with breast cancer incidence, nutrition, vitamin and nutritional supplementation (especially Vitamin D), and stress management.

Q: How does age at menopause effect breast cancer risk?

Dr. Harsh: As mentioned before, our risk of breast cancer increases with chronologic age.

Two strong factors are likely the culprits here – increased cell DNA damage over time and a change in our hormonal production.

If we look at the hormonal question, we know that reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced by a woman’s ovaries and serve to stimulate cell growth in her breasts to prepare for nursing and her uterus to prepare for pregnancy. Anything that prolongs the duration and/or levels of exposure to this stimulation (late age at first pregnancy or never having given birth) increases breast cancer risk.

On the flip side, anything that shortens the duration of exposure (pregnancy or breast feeding itself for example) reduces breast cancer risks. There is a theory that breast feeding causes the cells in the breast to change or differentiate and they then become more resistant to becoming transformed into cancer cells.

Q: Will breast cancer show up in a blood test or in blood work?

Dr. Harsh: No. Although there are types of specialized testing that are designed to pick up circulating cancer cells, at this point there is no well-researched commercially available blood test to detect breast cancer.

Having said this, there are several measurements called “tumor markers” that can be checked in someone with a cancer diagnosis. Examples such as CA27-29 or CA125 are markers that can be elevated in some cancers. It is the standard of care to measure a variety of markers at the time of diagnosis to see if the blood tests can be used to mark the presence or recurrence of disease.

Similarly, some traditional blood chemistries such as calcium level, liver enzymes and electrolytes help point to the health of liver, kidneys and bone both at the time of diagnosis and throughout treatment.

In my next post we will return to answer more questions about breast cancer and some good news about prevention!

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Myth: If You Are at High-Risk for Dementia…

You are basically toast; you are going to get it, and you might as well accept it. NO, NO, NO, I say!! Fresh off the press research headed by Dr. Becca R. Levy at Yale studied more than four thousand older, dementia-free folks, and she found that while one quarter of the US population carries the gene (APOEe4), which is one of the strongest risk factors for dementia, less than half of APOEe4 carriers develop dementia.

 Billion dollar question: Why? These are times when I love that various social sciences come together to form a beautiful circle. The answer: having a positive attitude not only staves off developing dementia, it seems to prevent it. Direct from the research paper: “Considerable research has found that positive age beliefs predict better cognitive performance; whereas, negative age beliefs predict worse cognitive performance. The pattern of age beliefs predicting cognition has been supported by cross-cultural, experimental, and longitudinal studies, together with three meta-analyses. Further, a recent study found that negative age beliefs predicted the development of Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers.”

This is worth breaking out the bubbly for AND adopting a new attitude this red-hot minute!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Third Quarter Blog Recap

July 8, 2019—Set in Our Ways

This behavior is happening in the US in greater numbers and is becoming a growing concern for seniors’ friends and family. More and more these seniors refuse to hear anything that defies their set beliefs, or their worldviews.

July 15, 2019—Tapping into a Better Brain

The latest research cites dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brains and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles. I’m a work in progress but my personal experience with tap class has enriched my life.

July 22, 2019—It’s Never Too Late to Help Our Aging Brain

Telomeres, the protective end caps of our chromosomes, are found in every cell in our bodies. The longer and stronger our telomeres are, the higher functioning our brains and minds will be, and the less our bodies will decline and age. Exercise looks like the number one magic bullet to lengthen and strengthen our telomeres.      

July 29, 2019—Food For Thought

Our telomeres become shorter when fat accumulates around our middles, and the focus of our choices needs to be on our metabolic health by maintaining ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, good cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. A delicious upside for you: choosing fresh, whole (unprocessed) foods will ensure better metabolic health.

August 5, 2019—Your Brain on Food

For a longer, healthier life follow a Mediterranean diet rather than the traditional American diet of refined carbohydrates. Eating organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible and cutting back on sugar consumption will also ensure better gut and brain health.

August 12, 2019—Best Brain Foods for Memory, Concentration and Brain Health

Based on the latest research, here are a dandy dozen of the best things to “feed” your brain to help it, and you, function at your most vibrant.

August 19, 2019—Sugar Land

Knowing I was eating too much sugar, I decided to drop it from my diet for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The resulting weight loss was beneficial, but more importantly, I was free of the sugar pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

August 26, 2019—The Gut Brain Connection

Researchers have found a strong connection between the health of the gut and the general health of the rest of the body, most importantly for this discussion, the brain. By eating better, adopting a regimen of vitamins, and making a few lifestyle changes, we can strengthen our brains by lowering inflammation in our guts.

September 2, 2019—Let Me Sleep on That

Adequate sleep each night enhances every facet of our health and aging process. It strengthens different types of memories, clears waste products from the brain, offers immune protection against infections, and may lower the possibility of weight gain, depression, and the development of Type 2 diabetes.

September, 9, 2019—Sleep and Women at Midlife

The National Sleep Foundation Senior Health website recommends for adults 65 and older, 7-8 hours of sleep per night for better cognition, mental, and physical health. Seniors, especially women, suffer from sleep deprivation due to trouble falling asleep, tiredness, and the perchance for napping. Sleep issues affect as many as 25% of senior women.

September, 16, 2019—Sleep Suggestions, Part One

Setting a sleep schedule—and sticking with it is the number one suggestion for improving one’s sleep. Keeping a sleep journal, taking time to relax, reviewing medications, and monitoring caffeine and alcohol also help.

September, 23, 2019—Sleep Suggestions, Part Two

Several other hints for achieving the best sleep possible include cool bedroom temperatures, soothing books or music, monitoring light and outside noise, yoga, pillow position, and maintaining a mentally stimulating life.

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Sleep Suggestions, Part II

Continuing our discussion from last time on good ideas for getting our much needed shut-eye, here are more sleep suggestions for you to consider:

8. Listen to a bedtime story.

Load a familiar audiobook on your iPod—one that you know well, so it doesn’t engage you but distracts your attention until you drift off to sleep, suggests Dr. Shives. Relaxing music works well, too.

9. Stay cool.

Experts usually recommend setting your bedroom thermostat between 65° and 75°F—a good guideline, but pay attention to how you actually feel under the covers; if you are still experiencing a variety of menopause sleep problems, it may need to be a bit cooler. For optimal rest, once you’ve settled in to bed, you shouldn’t feel cold or hot—but just right.

10. Use a white noise machine to drown out city noises.

Unless you are lucky enough to live in a rural area, free of urban noise.

11. Eliminate sneaky light sources.

“Light is a powerful signal to your brain to be awake,” explains Dr. Shives. “Even the glow from your laptop, iPad, smart phone, or any other electronics on your nightstand may pass through your closed eyelids and retinas into your hypothalamus—the part of your brain that controls sleep. This delays your brain’s release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Thus, the darker your room is, the more soundly you’ll sleep.”

12. Check your pillow position.

Your head and spine need to be in a straight line to keep your body fully relaxed for restorative sleep. I have seen miraculous changes in people’s quality of sleep from just making this one change.

13. Contrary to popular belief:  Stay put if you wake up.

“The textbook advice is that if you can’t fall back asleep in fifteen minutes, get out of bed,” says Dr. Shives. “But I ask my patients, ‘How do you feel in bed?’ If they’re not fretting or anxious, I tell them to stay there, in the dark, and do some deep breathing or visualization.” But if lying in bed pushes your stress buttons, get up and do something quiet and relaxing (in dim light), such as gentle yoga or massaging your feet until you feel sleepy again.”

14. Spray a sleep-inducing scent.

Certain smells, such as lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang, activate the part of the brain which leads to relaxation and helps you sleep more soundly. Mix a few drops of essential oil and water in a spray bottle and give your pillowcase a spritz.

15. Take up yoga.

Doing yoga during the day, or adding a decompressing yoga routine before bed, slows down the body physically, and turns down the volume on noise in our heads, so we can sleep.

16. Add music to your nightly routine.

Soothing music (lovely classical or Gregorian chant) or nature sounds–I like beautiful birdsong,–are two easy ways to bring on peaceful slumber. Try listening to the music and doing some slow, deep belly breathing to help downshift everything from head to toe.

And last, but not least…

Keeping life interesting and mentally stimulating also promotes good sleep and slows telomere aging, as Chiara Cirelli, MD, PhD from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison noted in her research.

Dr. Cirelli said “[Our] need for sleep is strongly modulated by the amount of brain plasticity during our day. The more we learn and adapt the more we need to sleep. A chronic decrease in sleep need could be due to reduced opportunity to learn and be exposed to novel experience, rather than, or in addition to, problems in the neural circuits responsible for sleep regulation.”

I know there are even more ways to call on the sandman, and I welcome any and all useful sleep suggestions!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Good Sleep Suggestions Part I

So how can women over 55 get the healing slow wave activity and REM sleep they need to take over the world?—I mean optimally function in the world?

Separating the cow patties from the gems on the internet, the solid gold research points to a number of practices we can adopt to get the REM age-defying sleep after menopause we need. O.K., I added “youthening” to the list, because sleep slows the signs of aging, as I discussed in my September 2, 2019 post, and clears out the gunk from our aging brain, while it reverses telomeres aging—all of which keep us younger than our drivers’ licenses claim we are. Let’s start with the a few easy choices we can make to improve our sleep, and then add a few others that require a little more time to implement.

Dr. Breus clinical psychologist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep says, “If you do only one thing to improve your sleep, this is it: Set a sleep schedule—and stick with it.” Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning—even on weekends, presently shows incredible promise as a magic formula for getting good sleep. A consistent sleep routine keeps our biological clocks finely calibrated so we rest better, plus exposure to a regular pattern of light and dark helps, too.  Opening the blinds or going outside right after awakening can help us stay in sync and keep our clocks humming.

Here are some additional things you might try:

 1. Keep a sleep diary

Dr. Lisa Shives of the National Sleep Foundations suggests: “To help you understand how your habits affect your rest, track your sleep every day for at least 2 weeks. Write down not only what’s obviously sleep related—what time you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many times you wake up during the night, how you feel in the morning—but also factors like what you ate close to bedtime and what exercise you got. Comparing your daily activities with your nightly sleep patterns can show you where you need to make changes.”

2. Review your medications

Beta-blockers (prescribed for high blood pressure) may cause insomnia; so can SSRIs (a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft); these are only the tip of the mountain of drugs that cause us to lose sleep. Write down every drug and supplement you take (as they could interact), and have your supplements expert evaluate how they may be affecting your sleep.

3. Cut caffeine after 2 pm

That means coffee, tea, and cola—all caffeine, even chocolate, if you’re sensitive.

4. Write down your woes

“The number one sleep complaint I hear? ‘I can’t turn off my mind,’ ” says Dr. Breus. To quiet our anxious mind, every night jot down your top concerns—then write down the steps you can take to solve the problem. Once concerns are converted into some kind of action plan, you’ll “put your mind at rest,” as the cliché goes.

5. Take time to wind down

“Sleep is not an on-off switch,” says Dr. Breus. “It’s more like slowly easing your foot off the gas.” Give your body time to transition from your active day.

 Dr. Shives suggests:

  • First 20 minutes: Prep for tomorrow (pack your bag, set out your clothes).
  • Next 20: Take care of personal hygiene–take a warm bath (my personal go-to for transitioning), brush your teeth, moisturize your face, and brush your hair to relax your scalp, brush slowly and turn upside down, too; this calms your mind, as well.
  • Last 20: Relax in bed, reading with a small, low-wattage book light or practicing deep breathing.

6. Don’t drink alcohol at least 2 hours before bed

A few hours after drinking, alcohol levels in your blood start to drop, which signal your body to wake up. It takes an average person about an hour to metabolize one drink, so if you have two glasses of wine with dinner, finish your last sip at least 2 hours before bed.

7. Snack on cheese and apple slices

The ideal nighttime treat combines carbohydrates and either calcium (unless dairy sensitive) or a protein that contains the amino acid tryptophan—studies show that both of these combos boost serotonin. Finish up your snack about an hour before bed so that the amino acids have time to reach your brain.

In my next post I will add a few more suggestions to the list to help you get your ZZZ’s.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Sleep and Women: At Midlife and Beyond

The National Sleep Foundation Senior Health website recommends for adults 65 and older, 7-8 hours of sleep per night for better cognition, mental, and physical health. Seniors, especially women, suffer from sleep deprivation due to trouble falling asleep. Additionally, women often sleep less deeply, and have less slow brain wave activity (REM)—that body-restoring and rebuilding phase of sleep. We also wake up more often throughout the night, creating daytime tiredness and the perchance for napping. Sleep issues affect as many as 25% of senior women.

The Nurses’ Health Studies, among the largest studies into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women was begun in 1976, and is ongoing. The studies have compiled data on more than a quarter of a million women. Using the benchmark of seven hours of sleep per night, the NHS found: Shorter and longer sleepers were less physical active, and had higher body mass indices. Less than five-hour sleepers scored significantly lower on cognitive tests. The shortest sleepers experienced the worst cognitive decline later in life. Just two hours a night less over time was enough to accelerate this decline.

Overlaying directly with the NHS, Daniel Polesel PhD., at Federale Universidad de Sao Paulo found Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) is prevalent in postmenopausal women, especially in “late postmenopause,” noting OSAS in women increases significantly after menopause. For moderate and severe OSAS, the researchers found our waist circumference in both early and late postmenopause to be the main factors for sleep apnea. Dr. Polesel noted that late postmenopause may potentially exacerbate the presence of sleep disturbances and that reducing our waist measurement may be an important way to help manage OSAS.

A huge study—2,789 women, reported the addition of bedwetting (nocturnal enuresis-NE) along with OSAS. The symptoms associated with NE include: obesity, snoring, poor sleep quality, sleep fragmentation, daytime sleepiness, and hypertension. Each additional OSAS risk factor significantly increased the odds of having NE in comparison with women with no risk factors. What is the cause behind this sensitive, underdiagnosed issue? We experience apnea-associated changes in the air pressure in our lungs which leads to increased urine output. To further mess with our shut-eye, NE may be a surrogate condition for nocturia, a condition causing us to wake up during the night because we have to urinate. As we get older, many of us urinate more frequently, especially at night. In general, women, and men, over 60 do not usually urinate more than twice a night. “Patients with severe nocturia may get up five or six times to go to the bathroom,” said, Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, a pulmonologist and medical director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff, Arizona. “Sleep apnea triggers the frequent urination.” If you wake up to pee more than twice, give your doctor a call.

 Another cause of disruptive, fragmented, less restorative sleep? Post-menopausal hormone levels. It’s often called hormonal insomnia or progesterone insomnia. At all stages of a woman’s life, the hormone progesterone affects brain function. When in balance, it produces a sense of calmness, and its sedating and anti-anxiety qualities help promote rejuvenating sleep. Progesterone and sleep are tightly connected as our brains are highly sensitive to progesterone. As we know, our progesterone levels drop drastically after menopause.

All of us on the other side of fifty-five, know the multitude of ways menopause affects sleep. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is one option to tame those symptoms, if started within one year of entering post-menopause. This therapy received bad press fifteen years ago, and, many of us threw our hormones in the trash, stomped on them for good measure, and then incinerated them. However, once cooler heads prevailed, and the smoke had cleared from all those fires, subsequent research drilled into the flawed Women’s Health Initiative Study and proved bio-identical hormones–those biologically identical to the hormones our bodies produce, are a safe and effective way to even out hormone depletion and keep a woman’s body firing on all cylinders. Whew.

Another hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, also helps maintain normal sleep patterns. DHEA peaks when we are young and carefree, and then begins to decline.  By the time we reach seventy, our DHEA levels may be less than one-fifth of what we had at age twenty.

Our thyroid glands also have an impact on every system in our body. Thyroid levels affect our energy levels, mental focus and functions, sleep cycles, and more. About 25% of women develop thyroid problems by the time they reach their early forties.

To add another bug in the bathwater, stress and high cortisol levels wrecks sleep. At night, just as we need to wind down, cortisol levels rise. We then feel more alert and awake at bedtime, making sleeping impossible. This cycle of exhaustion repeats itself, never allowing us to get the restorative sleep that would help bring our levels back to normal. Also, a lack of sleep raises our cortisol levels even more. Cortisol is made in the adrenal cortex from progesterone. The small amount of progesterone being produced (and that is a micro-dot amount compared to our pre-menopause days) creates cortisol, which allows little or no progesterone to come to our sleep aid.

But, there is hope on the horizon, and in the coming weeks I will share some proven ways to sail off to the land on Nod.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!


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Myth: Aging Makes You Unproductive

The findings from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks this myth wide open. It seems that as the kiddos leave the nest, so do the parents. According to the latest data, a whopping 29% of the population, the highest number of folks who volunteer, begin giving back around age forty-five. This number dips a little to 24% for seniors sixty-five and over. People in the last half of their lives supply an immeasurable number of hours in both helping with child-rearing and volunteering at worthy organizations. Women make up the majority of volunteers, especially in caring for the grand wee ones and elderly parents or relatives, but the men aren’t far behind them in the overall number of volunteering hours.

The contribution of those at mid-life and beyond makes an enormous impact on our society. Heaven save us from where we would be without the blessing of time us older ones have to give. The statistics also show that seniors are the happiest age group of all. Maybe it’s the giving back. Could there be a correlation? I’ll keep that topic for another day.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

aging makes you unproductive
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The Skinny on Sleep

“Taken together, the results of studies looking at the role of sleep in hormonal, immunological and memory functions suggest that if you do not get enough sleep, you could—besides being very tired—wind up sick, overweight, forgetful and very blue,” says Dr. Robert Stickgold, PhD., at the Harvard Medical School and a sleep researcher focusing on the relationship between sleep and learning.

We now know, sleep doesn’t just have a one purpose. Instead, it appears to be needed for a many of our biological processes to work at their best and slow our biological aging—from our immune system, to hormonal balance, our emotional and psychiatric health, our learning and memory, to the clearance of toxins from the brain. At the same time, none of these functions fails completely in the absence of sleep, but years of sleep deprivation will make many of these short-circuit and ruin our health. 

Just one night of complete, or even partial, sleep loss can interfere with all kinds of bodily functions, such as hormonal activity and our immune protection against infections. Reduced sleep seems to lead to increased weight gain—a theory now supported by at least fifty studies; studies which point to a fifty percent increase in obesity among those studied getting fewer than six hours of sleep. Research also shows an association between sleep restriction and the development of type 2 diabetes.

Adding to the huge effects restricted sleep has on immune and hormonal function, its greatest impact probably occurs in the brain. It seems that when we are sleep deprived, our brain remembers negative words and experiences twice as much as positive words and experiences. Just another reason to get our zzz’s so that we can see the glass as always at least half-full.

“Indeed, several studies over the past 25 years have now concluded that poor sleep can, under certain circumstances, lead to depression severe enough to be diagnosed as major depression and may contribute to other psychiatric disorders as well.” The link with depression has become clearer and seems to directly connect to sleep apnea, a disorder in which the flow of air into the lungs becomes interrupted during sleep. A 2012 study by the CDC found that folks with sleep apnea—men twice as often, and women 5.2 times more often, are likely to experience  major depression than their better-rested neighbors. “Of course, finding a correlation between these two conditions is not the same thing as proving that one causes the other,” Stickgold says.

Presently, researchers suspect that the sleep helps the brain transform our waking experiences into memories. A bushel basket of new science published in the last twenty years reveals that sleep participates in memory processing—it controls what we remember, and how we remember it. Something I found very cool is the research showing that memories can change, or be lost altogether, even after the brain records and consolidates them. One recent study finds that sleep does more than just stabilize memories and keep them from deteriorating over time; it actually improves them!

What Stickgold and others now firmly believe: during different stages of sleep and emotional memories are more favorably enhanced during sleep. Science shows us anything we think is important is selectively retained while we float along in dreamland. The bottom line? Sleep, and not wake time, selectively strengthens memories that our brain decides has value to us.

Dr. Daniel Schacter of Harvard University believes our memory is about the future, not the past; we use prior experience to enhance our future performance.  When we talk about sleeping on a problem, we want our brain to take the information that is already stored there and do some kind of calculation, to juxtapose different possibilities, to find the best solution to a problem. Lucky for us, it can!

If all the above information doesn’t convince you to make sleep a priority, research now adds to the list that sleep clears waste products from the brain. When the investigators injected beta-amyloid (the precursor of the amyloid plaques—the cause of Alzheimer’s disease) into mice, they found that it was cleared from the brain during sleep at twice the rate as during awake times.

I’ll bet you had no idea how important getting adequate sleep each night truly is for every facet of our health and our aging process. I sure didn’t before I became a gerontologist, but now, don’t get between me and my eight and a half hours. (Yes, I need extra!) Sleep is a not yet fully understood phenomenon that all living creatures share here on Planet Earth, and sleep may help us sleep deeply, experience healthy aging, and feel vibrant every day.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Food for Thought: Which Foods Slow Down Aging?

I am asked everyday a version of the same question: “Do you have any great anti-aging advice?” The answer is a bold YES! However, I am not a fan of the word “anti-aging” when it implies stopping aging, because as an expert in the aging process, I know for true that nothing exists which can do this, short of calling it a day and hanging with the angels. However, in my quiver are many arrows available to drastically slooooow down the aging of our minds, bodies, and spirit.

Today, I pull the arrow marked telomeres and aging as it relates to what we decide to put into our mouths. Once again, my favorite girl gang (G.G.), Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elisa Epel and their team have looked at how proper diet can strengthen and lengthen our telomeres.  A little refresher to define telomere: telomeres are the protective endcaps on the threads of our DNA, like those on the tips on our favorite lace-ups, and are found in the brain, where they affect all our cognitive function, as well as in every cell of our bodies. So, they are well worth preserving in any way we can.

My G.G. looks at the three key factors affecting telomeres:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Insulin Resistance

Excess weight on our bodies, and thus on telomeres, results in shorter telomeres, which allow cells to become easily damaged when reproducing. Not only does reproduction slow down but also our brains and memory can malfunction, and we experience greater cellular aging which makes us look and feel older.

A direct correlation exists between insulin resistance and diabetes, and shorter telomeres. The greater our waist-to-hip ratio is—the classic “apple” shape, with extra belly fat and love handles– the higher our insulin resistance will be. A damaging cycle forms with this situation: people with belly fat develop shorter telomeres over the years, and these shorter telomeres may worsen the insulin resistance problem. Researchers tell us abdominal fat causes more inflammation in our bodies than thigh fat. As the GG says, “The pathway from belly fat to diabetes may also be traveled via chronic inflammation.” Inflammation and telomere damage go together, one causing the other in a continual feedback loop.

Even more important than losing weight, improving one’s metabolic health keeps telomeres longer and stronger. Good metabolic health includes having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.  How do we perk up our metabolic health? Exercise. Weight cycling, something so many of us are too familiar with—the gaining and losing of those same bloody ten pounds– shortens our precious telomeres. Blackburn and Epel also think being physically active and eating nutritious, low Glycemic Index foods are better choices than “dieting” by restricting calories. In fact, they found that “calorie restriction has no positive effect on human telomeres.”

Well, that’s good news. Not good news: A study at the University of California at San Francisco found shorter telomeres in the cells of folks who had restricted their calories for long periods of time. Even worse, the telomeres in their immune cells and vital T-cells were also affected. The findings suggest a link between our immune systems and aging. I have more to say on this important topic, so stay tuned!

Until next time…Be vibrant!

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Myth: Seniors Have No Style

Seriously?

Yes, Virginia, many younger people believe they invented cool”and “hip,” just like they think they invented sex. (No kidding.) Actually, thanks to the jazz world, these terms became part of our conversations over seventy years ago. They were not invented in the 1990’s as many young people think, nor were the attributes that made one cool and hip or a “hipster.” Now as far as style is concerned, well, to quote one researcher, “Seniors have been around the block a few times. Which means they know how to shake a leg, how to cut a rug, and more importantly, how to dress to the nines.” We may have traded our stilettos for cute wedges or flats and given up torturing shapewear (um, girdles) under our skintight spandex dresses, but  even now, using the data base in our heads that is filled with decades of fabulous fashion tips, we can still make an entrance that leaves mouths open and eyes filled with awe and admiration. That’s style!  

seniors have no style
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It’s Never Too Late to Help Our Aging Brain!

Did you know, when we take our first breath, there exists no difference in the length of our telomeres between those newborns sporting blue booties and those stylin’ with pink ones? Quick science lesson recap: Telomeres are the protective end caps of our chromosomes—think the plastic protective tip of your shoelace. Telomeres are found in every cell throughout our bodies. The longer and stronger our telomeres are, the higher functioning our brains and minds will be, and the less our bodies will decline and age.  However, once we are all grown up, telomeres are longer in women than in men. (Sorry, fellows.)

The medical world now knows the hormone estrogen creates this disparity between the sexes. Research also reveals estrogen may regulate the number of telomeres we have, as well.  Before menopause, the estrogen we produce protects women’s telomeres from shortening and keeps our telomeres strong and growing.

Interestingly, we postmenopausal women with a history of long-term hormone therapy (HRT) use show longer telomere length than do those who didn’t use hormone replacements after menopause. It seems the extra years of estrogen in our systems kept our telomeres long and strong. That information led me to ask: “For the millions of women who did use HRT, and have finished the recommended protocol of time, what do we do now?”

Drilling into the science, the answer occupying the number one position is exercise. If you have followed my posts for a while, you will be slowly nodding your head, as I have written this word once or twice before about exercise and aging ;-0

Exercise slows down the effects of aging

What I haven’t really focused on before is how much exercise benefits postmenopausal women as a way to slow aging. Since we lose our armor of hormone protection at menopause, because our ovaries produce most of our estrogen, we are left with our fat cells and adrenals as the only sources for this precious substance. Stress causes the adrenals to switch from making estrogen (even a smidge) to adrenalin and the enemy of all people, cortisol. This makes our chances of getting even a drop of this elixir needed for keeping our brain memory functioning at peak level, well, pretty much zero.  

However, there’s good news! For the millions of women who did, and the millions who didn’t opt in for HRT, there is great hope! You may also remember when I wrote about the breakthroughs scientists had made a couple of decades ago in understanding the brain. We now know the brain grows and changes throughout our lives until we take that last breath. We call that development neuroplasticity. That means we are only in the third quarter of the game after we finish HRT, and can still bring home a win in the final one. It is looking as if exercise expands and strengthens our telomeres. More research is needed, but my favorite girl gang, those Nobel Prize winner dynamic dames, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, the experts in telomeres and aging, would take the bet that exercise looks like the magic bullet.  Even better news? Midlife men also seem to benefit from exercise, telomere-wise!

A ground-breaking study from South Korea and published in the highly respected Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society states:

“Compared with a sedentary lifestyle, long-term aerobic exercise and increasing levels of physical activity are associated with reduced telomere attrition [shortening]. This cross-sectional study demonstrated that postmenopausal women who perform habitual physical exercise have significantly longer telomere lengths than do those with sedentary lifestyles.” Straight from the horse’s, researchers, mouth, so to speak.

Compiling this information on how to slow down aging inspires me to put on my tennies this very minute and take a brisk stroll. Come join me!

Until next time….Be Vibrant!

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Tapping Into a Better Brain

A number of years ago, before I went back to school to study gerontology, I began noticing articles in a variety of publications suggesting that exercise might just be the key to unlock the door to vibrant health—mentally and physically– as we enter the second half of our lives. As I write this, we now know beyond all doubt that exercising every day is the key to dynamic aging. It will effectively disrupt aging and can stave off a vat full of health problems. In two past posts, Shake Your Booty and The Rhythm of the Drums, I explored the latest research citing dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brain and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles.

If you ever participated in your high school’s annual musical production, or took modern dance or ballet because your mother forced you to, you will remember those students who never got the steps, and who had the grace of a spastic earwig. I confess to being one of those students. Therefore it was with no expectations, and little hope, that I signed up for tap class. The first semester wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t cotton on to this kind of dance; so different from the free-form rock and roll dancing I knew. I would sit in my car after class and cry, disheartened that the parade of life had passed me by and that, maybe, I was too old to get this.  Same experience for the second and third semesters, but by the beginning of the fourth, I noticed a small but encouraging change: I could remember how to execute some of the steps after a few tries, and some days both feet would behave for most of the class. Finally, I could keep up with the routine. My teacher, Vicky, a life-long dancer near my own age, who is demanding but very kind, never gave up on me. My fellow tappers were also free of judgement and full of encouragement. The continuously positive environment was the reason I stayed, unlike years before when a ballet teacher shamed me in front of the class for being such a hopeless beginner.  

Shuffle-ball-change by double-toe-tap, I improved. Some weeks it all flows, and other weeks I just give up and make up my own steps while the others tap out a perfect routine. Over time I learned to joke and laugh at my mistakes, and everyone laughed with me. I gave up trying to be perfect, and let the over-achieving aspect of L.J. take a break on the bench.

As our time together as a class has increased, everyone has lightened up, we laugh more, and have a lot of fun. Some days we follow class with lunch together. I look forward to my class each week, and miss it when summer comes. About the same time I could follow along fairly well, I noticed my mind felt clearer, a little sharper. Now, even when I am tired I think better, and my thoughts seem more organized. From my research I know the tracks I began laying in my brain two years ago have gone from resembling noodles, to ones stronger than cardboard, to pathways now as strong as wood. That’s only one step away from making permanent steel tracks. Maybe then I can get the routine down on the second or third try. At this moment, I am so grateful I didn’t give up, that I found a new form of exercise I enjoy.  

And, I expanded my world with new friends who share my passion for aging vibrantly.

 Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Set in our Ways

I recently had lunch with a dear friend who is in his mid-eighties. In our many years of friendship we have covered a huge variety of topics from politics to the latest James Bond movie to the best kind of pajamas (cotton, with dog print, of course.) A couple of years ago, I noticed a shift in his thought process and responses.

He is still as sharp as a Swiss Army knife, however, when we hit on a topic and I offer a counter perspective, in the past he would nod, contemplate my words and offer a considered response. Lately, he has gone from doing that to simply dismissing my opinion as irrelevant. The pitch of his dismissal has also escalated. He has developed a habit, which I see is a variation of the Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory in action: Selective Exposure Theory.

This can happen at any age, but it is a behavior often adopted by the elderly. This behavior is happening in the US in greater numbers and is becoming a growing concern for the seniors’ friends and family. More and more these seniors refuse to hear anything that defies their set beliefs, or their worldviews. Does it really matter if we get set in our ways? It matters because it is a sign that these people no longer want to be fully engaged in the world, learn new things, or think deeply about important life/cultural issues specific to their areas of interest or expertise, as in the case of my friend who is a literary scholar.

This decision, whether conscious or unconscious, halts the intake of new information, a critical part of keeping our brains engaged, active, and challenged; all key components in opposing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We become what my sweet grandmother used to call, “set in our ways.”

I have said many times before, (and will again!) our bodies are “use it or lose it” cellular machines, and that is equally true for our brains, our emotional hearts, and our physical bodies. I call this behavior Locking In, and once we start to lock in, our brains in all areas, begin to atrophy. The first to falter are our memory functions followed by our higher reasoning skills. From there we start to favor re-runs of I Love Lucy and twenty-four-piece puzzles. Maybe not right away, but the die is cast.

Now for some good news! You, or a loved one can avoid the above scenario by making different choices. Remember, if you don’t like the way your life is going, you have the power to re-choose.

Here are a few ideas to engage your mind if you begin to feel the Selective Exposure Theory surfacing in your psyche or see it creeping into a loved one’s:

  1. Go to a lecture/discussion group on a topic you are only mildly interested in, listen to the comments, and keep an open mind;
  2. Even better, learn about something completely new that you have no prior knowledge of;
  3. Listen to music other than what you prefer, and try to appreciate its value;
  4. Take a break from your usual reading preference and try something different. If you like mysteries or romances, check out some historical non-fiction, true crime, or sci-fi. Then, find a friend who loves that genre and share opinions;
  5. Sign up to volunteer in a field you know nothing about. (For me that would be childcare ;-))

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The goal is to challenge your brain, force yourself to think and learn about new things – to no longer be set in our ways. Before too long, I wouldn’t be surprised if your memory is better, and you look five years younger!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Quarterly Blog Post Recap

Quarterly Blog Post Recap

(April-June 2019)

April 1, 2019—What With Age Comes Wisdom Really Means

Growing older, gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is often not as important as being kind

April 7, 2019—The Role of Telomeres in Slowing Down Our Aging Clock and How to Increase Them

Stress increases our levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain. Regular exercise not only reverses the damage, but also improves brain and memory function and lengthens our telomeres.

April 15, 2019—Why Multi-tasking is Draining Your Brain and Memory Banks

Many things we do every day are hurting our brains more than helping, but our memory banks don’t have to stay in drawdown mode; we have the power to make generous deposits by choosing new ways of doing things that will add to our lives in every moment.

April 22, 2019—How Stress Negatively Impacts Your Memory

Lowering stress levels should be our number one priority. An overabundance of stress messes with our minds, and as we enter middle ag, our bodies don’t have the same reserves we once had to preserve brain function.

April 28, 2019—Dancing May Be the Best Aerobic Exercise to Reduce Dementia

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long-term health of your brain and reverse telemetric aging.

May 6, 2019 –Please Define Gerontology

Gerontology is the all-encompassing study of aging and the problems related to aging.  The practice of gerontology is both a science and an art; it’s the blending of research and education, advocacy, and care for the mid-life and beyond population. It is the study of body, mind, and spirit.

May 13, 2019—Aging In Place

Remaining at home, or as the gerontologists call it—aging in place—allows us to keep our connections to neighbors and friends, slows memory loss, and preserves our independence as long as possible. It is often more economical, too. Most of all, aging in place makes us happier!

May 20, 2019— Does Ageing Suck? Part 1

Getting older is a blend of acceptance, adherence, and attitude. Whenever we don’t like the way our lives are going, we have the power to re-choose a new life path.  Often the smallest changes make the biggest difference.

June 3, 2019— Does Ageing Suck? Part 2

Everyone eventually learns that growing older is a mixed bag of mostly good times with the inevitable bad. Seeing the glass half full is at times almost impossible, but good health practices and having meaningful relationships help us survive those toughest of times.

Quarterly Blog Post Recap

June 10, 2019— Are You Out of Balance?

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

June 17, 2019— How Much Water Should I Drink? Part I

Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, need water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally. Drink up!

June 24, 2019— How Much Water Should I Drink? Part II

A minimum of sixty-four (64) ounces of good quality, filtered water will cover your needs, adding in a few more glasses during and after exercise, and in very hot weather. This means only water. Other liquids—iced tea, juice, coffee, or vodka– don’t count toward your total daily intake

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How Much Water Should I Drink a Day? Part II

The topic of water is as big as an ocean, and so to continue…

In addition to the benefits of drinking water I mentioned last time, drinking enough water can help us cut calories by filling up the available space in our stomachs with this zero-calorie fluid verses, say, Orangeade™. “What works with weight loss is if you choose water or a non-caloric beverage over a caloric beverage and/or eat a diet higher in water-rich foods that are healthier, more filling, and help you trim calorie intake,” says Penn State researcher and multi-published author, Barbara Rolls, PhD.

One of the most widely known benefits of drinking water is good kidney function. Poor kidney function can cause all kinds of problems, including kidney stones. One in twenty of us will suffer from kidney stones in our lifetime, and the scale tips toward seniors as those who will suffer the most. Why? Because as we age, our thirst dial gets turned down and we are less able to register the need for water, so it becomes doubly important for us mid-lifers and seniors to consciously adopt the habit of drinking enough water. Dr. Barry Poppins at UNC Chapel Hill found that even after seniors were in dehydration, they were less thirsty and drank less replenishing fluids that did the younger folks in the study. Even when offered yummy drinks, the seniors in the study failed to drink enough to fully hydrate themselves. They had to choose to drink enough.

You may have read or heard about the connection between delirium/dementia and seniors. To stay on point here about the benefits of hydration for seniors, let me just say seniors are sometimes misdiagnosed as suffering from dementia, when in fact they are suffering from delirium—delirium being a serious disturbance in their cognitive abilities that results in confused thinking and a reduced awareness of their surroundings. A possible cause for the delirium? You guessed it, not enough water.  Another strong connection with not drinking enough water is an increased expression of Bronchopulmonary Disorders like asthma and other bronchial issues when people, especially seniors, are dehydrated and exercise. These folks need to be sure to drink adequate amounts of water to prevent an episode when they raise their heart rate.

Lastly, do you want your skin to feel and look younger? Drink enough water. Dehydration makes older skin look even drier and more wrinkled–a state improved overnight by drinking enough water to be properly hydrated. It can’t erase wrinkles, dang it, but softer more supple skin when glowing from being properly hydrated does make those laugh lines look positively endearing.

So the ten million dollar question on the front burner of your brain: How much water should I drink in a day? The answer varies according to a few factors, but a minimum of sixty-four (64) ounces of good quality, filtered water will cover your needs, adding in a few more glasses during and after exercise, and in very hot weather—like Texas in July and August. This means only water. Other liquids—iced tea, juice, coffee, or vodka– don’t count toward your total daily intake. Those are just extra.

I started with a little cup with a dial on it as my way in, but there are now new-fangled ounce-and-cup- counting vessels all over the market. Choose the one that appeals to you and buy two—one for the office and one for home. Your brain, your heart, and your parched skin will thank you for it. We can beat dehydration in old age and move toward being vibrant just by drinking water—and it’s calorie free!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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How Much Water Should I Drink a Day? Part I

My mother wasn’t a water drinker, and so I wasn’t a water drinker until I was in my late twenties when I first read about the benefits of good hydration, learned how much water I should drink in a day, and the importance of staying hydrated for healthy aging. It took a while for me to add this habit into my life. I used to have an eight-ounce cup with a dial, and each time I drank a full cup of water I got to turn the dial to the next opening. It somehow made it easier, and a little more fun to chug down those glasses.  Now, thirty-plus years later, it comes naturally. What’s more, I can feel the effects of dehydration when I don’t get enough water.

Here is the really, really terrific news about drinking water: the effects are virtually immediate, and the positive feelings (which I will discuss in more detail) you will experience become accessible anytime you fill your body with this life-enhancing elixir. Now that’s pretty great in my book.

Our science lesson for today: Think back to high school biology class for a moment, where we learned that our bodies are made up of 60% water, our brains and hearts are 73% water and our lungs 83% water. Every organ in our bodies, and every system and process of our bodies, require water to run properly. And, they all need enough water to work optimally.

how much water should i drink a day

Some of the most important functions of proper hydration include our digestion, circulation of our blood, the transportation of nutrients in and out of our cells, removal of toxins and waste from our organs and cells, and maintaining our body’s temperature. Whew, and that’s just the short list! Without enough water our body downshifts into crisis mode, causing stress to all parts, inside and out.

Importance of Electrolytes

How much water you drink in a day can impact all of the systems in your body. Without enough water, our cells can’t stay balanced (with the correct amount of fluid) and so electrolytes (a substance present in all our bodily fluids) can’t do their job effectively. Electrolytes are needed for all nerve reactions—in our muscles and…you guessed it, our brain. According to research, an electrolyte imbalance can cause a variety of negative symptoms, some potentially deadly. Fatigue after only limited activity is a sign of dehydration; the muscles don’t perform as well, and cramping may occur. This is especially crucial for folks who exercise regularly, and/or do so in a warm climate.

Proper Hydratoin to Combat Brain Fog

Brain fog and mental confusion are also triggers that tell us our bodies need more water. Remember when you drank too much alcohol at your niece’s wedding?  The headache and foggy thinking you felt the next day were due to dehydration from choosing to replace your water intake with gin and tonics. 😉  

The Impact of Dehydration

In a large study published in Nutrition Reviews in 2010, researchers found that a steady practice of denying your brain the water it needs can speed up the development of dementia. They also discovered being even mildly dehydrated causes mood fluctuations, difficulty in maintaining concentration, and influences the short-term memory process in all people regardless of their ages.

It seems no one is immune. Running on empty, water-wise, impairs higher brain functions we use in math calculations. Insufficient water also affects the use of fine motor skills—think sewing or silver-smithing – as well as our eye-hand coordination needed to fold laundry, put on make-up, or write a letter (in the olden days, that is). Again, filling our internal tanks will alleviate most of these difficulties in double-quick fashion, so drink up!

I have more to say about how much water you should drink in a day, so stay tuned, and…

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Are You Out of Balance?

Until I pass on into the next world, I want to be independent and mobile; if I can prevent it, no wheelchairs or rocking chairs for me. I’m sure you feel the same, right? I have covered many aspects of aging which will help us stay out of those kind of chairs, and maintain our ability to get out of our favorite chair.

Today, we will look at one more: Keeping and improving our balance. So if you are in your fifties reading this, you might thing, “well, that’s not something I need to worry about now,” but, au contraire, the research shows balance begins to slow down in our fifties and continues declining unless we stop and reverse this tendency.

balance
The Adventures of LJ & GE

First, let’s breakdown all the elements contributing to our ability to get out of a chair with ease and walk down the sidewalk in high heels without ending up in the street, embarrassed and bloody.

Balance is actually a complex whole-body exercise.

Your science lesson for the day: balance requires your sensory systems, your brain, and your muscles and joints to work together. Our sensory system is made up of our eyes, ears and sense of touch. Our eyes tell us where we are in relation to other objects, and if these objects are still or moving; our inner ear has tiny hairs and tiny nerves which work together to tell our brains the position of our head, and like the rudder of a boat or airplane, the hairs and nerves are constantly trying to right the ship and keep it in perfect alignment to the earth, standing still or in motion.

Additionally, small crystals of calcium inside our ears help us sense the pull of the earth-gravity, and recognize movement. No small tasks for such fine hairs! Our feet and joints let us know if we are on even ground or moving across rough terrain, and our brain takes all this in and sends messages to our cerebral cortex. We then understand all this input as “Watch out, it’s dark and the path is angled and covered with loose rocks!”  

The worst part of taking a fall when we are over sixty comes more from the psychological toll than the physical one: the fear of falling. Suddenly, we might start limiting what we do—traveling, going out to unfamiliar places, resisting new experiences, all because we might fall. That wheelchair or rocking chair now starts looking positively inviting. STOP HERE! Do not past GO and collect your $200 to use on one of these. There is good news, and it is this: falling is NOT a normal part of aging.

You have the power and the ability to keep your balance until the day the angels take you away, but you must, like all things, work on it to keep. Thankfully relief from the fear is as close as your YMCA/YWCA, gym, or rec center. Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese practice of slow, meditative movements done in a particular sequence ranks as one of the most effective practices to enhance or restore balance. It also works great on lowering your stress and cortisol so you will live longer to dance with your favorite partner. Additionally, yoga is an outstanding practice for shoring up balance, there is even a one-footed balancing pose to get right to it! 

Outside of organized classes there are some very effective daily practices we can incorporate to help us be fall-free:

  • Try heel-to-toe walking as if you were on a balance beam like an Olympic gymnast
  • Sit on an exercise ball to strengthen your core and practice getting up without holding on to anything or toppling over
  • Exercise on a wobble board or Boscu ™ ball (one of those half balls nailed to a flat board
  • Practice standing on one foot while you brush your teeth—left in the morning, right one at night.

All of the above should be done once your doctor has given you the go-ahead and ruled out any serious inner ear disorders, Parkinson’s, diabetes and/or certain medications which might affect balance.

Keeping our balance throughout our lives is such an empowering, and doable thing one wonders why we don’t all work on it every day. What might be stopping you? 

Until next time…..Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: Older People in the Workplace

Please don’t shoot me, I am only the messenger, but this myth does raise my hackles almost to Mars! An important review done in 2009, studied stereotypes of older people in the workplace by bringing together the findings from over 100 studies of age-related stereotyping at work. What the researchers found was that stereotypes of older workers have three strong themes. First, we are perceived as less motivated and competent at work. This dovetails with the myth I refuted in April, Seniors Are Warm-Hearted, But Impaired, that older people are viewed as warm but not very competent—but in fact, there is little evidence that our work performance declines with age. Some studies even show that, relative to younger people, older people are more productive at their jobs! Imagine that. 

Second, numerous studies show that older employees are seen as harder to train or retrain, making them less valuable as employees. This assumption reflects the low-competence myth I busted. And, it highlights the assumptions of older employees’ inability to change, our likely shorter tenure with the company, and our lack of potential for development. 

Last, we seasoned workers are perceived as being more expensive employees because we have higher salaries and, due to declining health, use more health care benefits. This piece of the stereotype reflects the widespread, though exaggerated, assumption that old age and illness are one and the same.

On a positive note, although it would appear that the stereotypes of older workers are uniformly negative, there exists a substantial amount of research showing older employees, compared with their younger-age counterparts, as more trustworthy, stable, sociable, and dependable. (Score one for our team!) These beliefs reflect a warmer and more positive view of older workers. Also, while younger people think that we older workers are less worthy of advancement and less interpersonally skilled, we are seen as more reliable, compared to younger workers. (Gee, no kidding?) 

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Does Aging Suck? Part II

Such a potent and controversial topic requires at least two posts to even begin to discuss how the process of getting older can affect us. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the feelings of comfort and ease my husband and I experience while walking George on the same streets we have covered for almost three decades. I know almost all my neighbors—except for those who landed here in the last few years. Those warm, familiar feelings only come with the passage of time, which is the same arc of time in which we get older. These are feelings I wouldn’t give away. 

Decades-long friendships of sharing every success, failure, bad haircut, and yucky boyfriend are experiences I would never trade. The richness of those moments comes from living them. Watching family wee ones being born and then go off to college and down the aisle are priceless joy. The amount of data I hold in my brain, three distinct careers worth, could only be acquired from spending the time learning it. Now I get the chance to share it with the world. Lucky me! To me, half a lifetime of wonderful— and some not so hot—memories with my sweet husband is so worth getting older just to have those experiences in my memory bank. 

My looks aren’t as snappy as they once were, looser has replaced tight, and there are other obvious signs of aging. White is growing in with the blonde; bikinis and sleeveless dresses, things of the past. Yet, I have learned grace under pressure, forgiveness in the face of severe harshness and unfair treatment. I now know how to take a longer view of things and really consider the other person’s world before I pop off my mouth. I also know there is more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than in the top, and that makes me hungry to go and do everything I can, to learn everything I can, and embrace every delicious/fun/exciting moment presented to me. I could never have known these things at twenty-seven or even forty-two.

It takes time for the cloak of age to gently enfold us. And, admittedly, it’s sometimes not an easy path, even for an incurable optimist like me, to accept the changes we must make if we are to thrive in this last third of our lives. Depression, illness, the inevitable loss of those we love, and our never-realized hopes and dreams all work against this acceptance. At times life hands us too much to handle alone. The good news is the older I get the lass I care about things that once made me anxious or stressed in my younger years. I know now if we have worked to keep our bodies and minds the best they can be through good health practices and meaningful relationships, surviving those toughest of times only add to the gifts we can share with others: wisdom, acceptance, and abiding love. 

Until next time, be vibrant!

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Meditation 101

As I was researching for this week’s discussion, I found an old Chinese proverb I thought beautifully sums up last’s week’s post on stress and feelings of control. It says, “Eight out of nine things that happen to us do not match our expectations.” How true, and the response we often have is to feel stressed about those eight things. I wonder, did the author of that truism mean eight or nine times in a day, a week, a year, or a lifetime? In my world, it would be eight in a day, and that would be a light day. I think this saying begs the question, then what do we do about it? Ahhh, the perfect segue into this week’s topic: the benefits of finding quiet contemplation time, or time for meditation.

The Benefits of Meditation

A train car full of research confirms the immediate, and long term benefits of sitting quietly in silence and letting go of conscious thinking—the planning, reasoning, problem-solving type thinking–and instead bringing your mind and thoughts to focus on a single thought: “I am at peace,” “Let it all go,” “I am fine,” “I am safe,” “I have enough,” “I am well,” or any special phrase you find comforting. You can also think of nothing in particular, and let whatever thoughts that come to you flow by as if you are sitting on the banks of a river watching it babble along. You simply observe your thoughts as they float by. There is no right or wrong way to practice being quiet, it’s whatever works for you. The key here is to stay unattached to the thoughts, letting them go instead of grabbing on to them and going down some rabbit hole of thinking the next thought about the first thought, then a second one about the first one, then a third, and on and on, until you are right back in your busy mind. 

A train car full of research confirms the immediate, and long term benefits of meditating and sitting quietly in silence and letting go of conscious thinking—the planning, reasoning, problem-solving type thinking–and instead bringing your mind and thoughts to focus on a single thought: “I am at peace,” “Let it all go,” “I am fine,” “I am safe,” “I have enough,” “I am well,” or any special phrase you find comforting. You can also think of nothing in particular, and let whatever thoughts that come to you flow by as if you are sitting on the banks of a river watching it babble along. You simply observe your thoughts as they float by. There is no right or wrong way to practice being quiet, it’s whatever works for you. The key here is to stay unattached to the thoughts, letting them go instead of grabbing on to them and going down some rabbit hole of thinking the next thought about the first thought, then a second one about the first one, then a third, and on and on, until you are right back in your busy mind. 

From a recent article, I would like to offer the words of one of the world’s most respected experts and teachers, and one of my favorites, Pema Chödrön. I appreciate her writings especially because she was reared on a New Jersey farm, attended Sarah Lawrence College, married, had two children, lived and worked as a wife and mother in the real world decades before she became a fully ordained Buddhist nun and teacher. She has walked the walk we are all walking.

“One of the most effective means for working with that [stressful] moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual mind is the practice of pausing, or creating a gap. 

If you take some time to formally practice meditation, perhaps in the early morning, there is a lot of silence and space. Meditation practice itself is a way to create gaps. Every time you realize you are thinking and you let your thoughts go, you are creating a gap. Every time the breath goes out, you are creating a gap. You may not always experience it that way, but the basic meditation instruction is designed to be full of gaps. If you don’t fill up your practice time with your discursive mind, with your worrying and obsessing and all that kind of thing… caught up in the work you have to do that day, the projects you haven’t finished from the day before… caught up in busy mind, caught up in hesitation or fear, depression or discouragement. In other words, you’ve gone into your cocoon.

If you don’t fill up your practice [with busy mind] you have time to experience the blessing of your surroundings. You can just sit there quietly. Then maybe silence will dawn on you. Or maybe not. Maybe you are already….If you connect with… the stillness… maybe that feeling can stay with you and you can go into your day with it. Whatever it is you are doing… the expansiveness, the stillness, stays with you. When you are in touch with that larger environment, it can cut through your cocoon mentality.

On the other hand, I know from personal experience how strong the habitual mind is. The discursive mind, the busy, worried, caught-up, spaced-out mind, is powerful. That’s all the more reason to do the most important thing — to realize what a strong opportunity every day is, (the emphasis is mine) and how easy it is to waste it. If you don’t allow your mind to open and to connect with where you are, with the immediacy of your experience, you could easily become completely submerged. You could be completely caught up and distracted by the details of your life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you fall asleep at night.

You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that… the stillness, and the vastness escape you. You never emerge from your cocoon, except for when there’s a noise that’s so loud you can’t help but notice it, or something shocks you, or captures your eye, and you say, ‘Wow’.”

I quoted Pema because she hits the mark so beautifully. I don’t think most of us want to live this second half of our lives in a cocoon, but so often we find our feet stuck in the minutiae, our minds in the jet stream. Instead, please try this: In the coming week, take fifteen minutes in the early morning or late afternoon, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and sit comfortably. Close or lower your eyes below center and focus on a single, comforting thought. Practice this meditation. Notice how you feel.  And find out a bit more about the goods on meditation.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: Seniors Are Not Tech Savvy

Several studies from the respected Pew Research Center dispel this myth with their findings, yet 55% of younger people think we can’t find the location of the ON button for our computers without help. In truth, 67% of us use the internet on a regular basis, and more than 50% of us have broadband, or Wi-Fi, at home. I think the largest part of the misunderstanding comes from the use of social media. Lots of seniors see serious outcomes for young folks who can only communicate via their cellphones. Keeping face–to-face communication and actual phone calls alive, I think, is another reason why seniors reject the 24/7 use of computers, messaging, and social media.  The younger generations were born with phones in their hands, which must have been painful for their mothers giving birth ;-), and social media fluency equals intelligence in their eyes. As it turns out, the reason for the myth about our internet savvy comes from the fact that we use different social media platforms than they do. While Instagram, Twitter, Qzone, Reddit, Snapchat, and several others are favored by the young, we are the Facebook generation; 70% of mid-lifers and seniors check into Facebook every day. Clearly, we are in touch with modern technology, just on a different wave-length. 

Could you live without your computer? What are your concerns about how social media is affecting our relationships with others? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Does Aging Suck? Part 1

“Aging sucks! There is nothing good about it!” my friend said. And, as she said it, her face looked as if she had just eaten a sourball candy, or worse. Two days later, another woman made the same face and with as much anger in her voice repeated those exact words, and last week I heard this same reframe from a few other friends’ mouths. It got me thinking. Do I agree with them? 

A few parts of me don’t work quite as well as they did a few years ago, now that I am in middle adulthood—my right hip—from my ice skating days, bothers me more often that it did ten years ago, But, I am healthier overall than when I turned fifty. I do special exercises to help my old injury, and when I do them, they work well to keep the pain away, or hovering around a 1/2, on a scale from 1-10. I also help my body by taking good supplements. I found these become key components to maintaining good health as I age and lose the protection offered by my pre-menopausal armor of hormones.  Finding a qualified professional to help me get on the correct vitamin regime is making all the difference.

As far as aging and mental helath, I am as sharp, with only an occasional brain blip, which is due to stress, not getting older. How do I know this? When I return from vacation, or do my meditation practice regularly, information comes instantly. My tap class, and regular piano practice also keep me mentally strong. I know both contribute to my good recall, as well.

does aging suck

After pondering why these women, and others who only see the negative in the ageing process, I recognized that many of us hang on to regrets about losing our youth, things we didn’t do or get to do because of other choices we made. We may be angry that the past, or “easier” parts of our lives are over– when we all were building our careers, had flexible bodies, and more energy than we needed. I also realized that some of us haven’t re-chosen how we want our lives to be. We are in contrast/opposition to what the great Byron Katie calls, Loving What Is. A couple of regrets from my youth still pique my composure, but I work to release those anger knots. In time, I can sense that with practice, they become softer, smaller, and more crumbly than they once felt. 

It helps knowing that whenever we don’t like the way our lives are going, we have the power to re-choose—from as big a decision as choosing a new life path, a new partner, a new locale to call home, to smaller things such as getting rid of unflattering clothes in the closet, or reflecting on who we are now. Even changing our lipstick color to one that better complements our skin tone, signing up to volunteer, planting some flowers, helping a neighbor in need, or trying out a new recipe moves us forward and helps us feel empowered. 

Regret is the biggest time waster on the planet—next to trying to “fix” someone you love 😉 Anger corrodes our insides, shrinks our brain, and makes us look twenty years older than our real age. All facts. Do you really want to subject the only body you will ever have to that kind of abuse? Really?

To be honest, there are days when I don’t love what is going on at that moment in my life, and I would like to chuck it all and move to a tree house with no phone and a hungry, non-endangered tiger circling below. What I know at these times is I am overtaxed. I need a break. I need to refill my energy tanks. Then, however I can, I re-choose my circumstances to allow me to get the self-care I need until I am topped off and ready to step back into the world.  So how does this tie into a worldview that aging sucks? I shift from a place of disempowerment, to replenishing my power by re-choosing what I focus on. This will not change my hip pain, nor rid me of my cellulite, but it lowers my stress, and allows me to see what is going right, where my blessings lie. To reinforce feeling empowered, I do my Gratitude Meditation, and list not just five good things in my life, but as many as I can think of, and I write them in my pretty journal I keep just for that purpose. Looking back on the completed pages and books puts me in a place of seeing both good and bad and realizing how the good stuff so overwhelms the bad stuff. Life can be really tough, but sometimes handling it well might just be a matter of perspective.

…To be continued.

Until next time….Be Vibrant!    

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What it Means to Age in Place

Home…Going home…Being home. Those words envelop my soul, and bring a feeling of calm, of exhaling, of comfort, and warmth, and safety. One of my greatest fears, and a fear shared by mid-lifers and older adults I know, is not being able to stay at home until the angels call me/us home. Gerontologists, researchers, and policymakers have a phrase for this desire to stay in one’s home. We call it aging in place, and more and more we hear about what it means, and what the implications are for losing our ability to stay at home as we get older. I can sense a quick intake of breath here, and a visceral reaction to the image conjured up in your mind of having to leave your home to live in a a nursing facility or retirement community if you really want to stay at home. I feel exactly the same way, which spurs me every day to stay as vibrant as I possibly can to avoid being forced to give up home. 

What environmental gerontologists (yes, that’s a special subset of the discipline) find from many recent studies validates what we all feel. One of the first studies to actually ask seniors what they thought about aging in place was done by Dr. Janine Wiles at the University of Auckland. Dr. Wiles found these folks felt very strongly about wanting to stay in their homes, but not so much for the physical structure of their house, but for the ancillary elements of “staying put,” as many called it. Chief among the reasons they want to age in place comes from wanting to be independent, and having control over their environment and their lives as a whole. 

In fact, a pivotal study done in the UK decades ago found that the more control workers had, i.e., the higher up they were on the work ladder, the less they experienced the effects of aging because they felt less stressed. Those at the bottom of the ladder, with little control, exhibited the most stress, and aged the fastest. Dr. Robert Sapolsky in a book I have mentioned before, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, saw this so clearly in the animal kingdom, as well. Keeping their independence also meant less dependence on family in terms of needing their help with personal care, or being able to stay independent “through” family who step in to provide personal care and support. 

Next on the list, the New Zealanders mentioned the connection to social support, including friends and family. Their connections to neighbors and the neighborhoods in which they live were major sources of comfort and feelings of security through familiarity. Don’t you draw comfort from your neighborhood if you have lived there a long time? My husband often mentions the feeling of ease he has walking our third dog, George, around the block in the evenings. These are the same blocks we have walked with our previous two puppies, for almost thirty years.

Financial benefits came next. When we do the math, it is much cheaper to stay in one’s home, especially since many seniors have almost paid off their mortgages. More than twenty percent of seniors 65-74 own their homes outright.. This makes staying at home much easier if outside caregivers are needed at some point. Systems of support and one’s family enable seniors in many areas of the country to age in place.

The science also tells us that aging in place slows our memory loss.  Staying at home allows us to keep our current social network of friends and familiar places, One of the worst things for our cognition, memory, and spirits is having to leave our homes against our wishes, for any reason.

As a former interior designer, I know several colleagues who are now becoming certified aging in place specialists—designers who help retro-fit one’s home with everything one needs to be safe and comfortable. This may include adding ramps,  changing out bathrooms fixtures or creating a same floor living space for greater convenience.  God bless these wonderful folks! 

As Dr. Wiles summed up so well, “The friendships, clubs, access to resources, and familiar environments [makes] them feel attached to their communities as ‘insiders,’ ” and just as we knew in high school and beyond, being an insider always feels like coming home.

Until next time….Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Seniors Drain the Economy

Breathe deeply now…. After receiving dozens and dozens of comments on Facebook and from my newsletter subscribers, this week I am going for a grand slam by dispelling a huge myth some younger folks have about us: we are an economic burden. Breathe deeply, again, and read on while you are resting your weary body after a long day at work. People over fifty make up only 35% of the population in the United States, but we add $7.4 Trillion dollars a year to the economy each year, or 43% of the total GDP. That’s not pocket change! Yet from the survey of 2,000 people aged sixteen to thirty-four, a full 35% thought older folks become an economic burden when we become seniors. Looking on the bright side, 65% of those responding to the survey thought we do not become an economic burden as we get older. Now that your blood pressure has dropped, what do you think about this fact? How does it make you feel? I look forward to hearing from you!

seniors drain the economy
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People Ask Me, “Please Define Gerontology.”

Sometimes I am asked to explain the difference between the words gerontology and geriatrics. Geriatrics, and geriatricians, who are often medical doctors, focus only on the medical conditions and diseases of the aged, while Gerontology is the study of the process of aging, which includes wisdom for aging gracefully, and aging with dignity. Gerontology and gerontologists look at the multi-faceted aspects of aging and the aging process, as it relates to the physical health, mental health, emotional well being, and social relationships of seniors. It is called a multidisciplinary field, as it brings together the study of psychology (the study of the mind and the mental processes with the science of personality), biology (the general study of the body), physiology (the mechanical, physical, and biochemical processes of the body, or the functions and processes of the body) and sociology (the study of social relationships). In essence, we examine (treat) the whole person. Ours is the study of body, mind, and spirit 

Gerontologists also consider the theories of aging, age-related diseases, and the risk factors associated with aging. We look at ways to slow the aging process and disrupt aging.  Most importantly, gerontologists look at preventable changes in our health and the many options for healthy aging, successful aging, as it is sometimes called. This information is constantly emerging from the latest science which supports aging in place. We study how to preserve and enhance our cognition and memory, and optimize all aspects of our aging brain with healthy foods and supplements chosen to best nourish our bodies as we get older. We pay attention to how social relationships and social connection work to keep us vital and engaged every day. We also look at healthy ways to reverse premature aging in our brains and bodies, without drugs or questionable chemicals.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the life expectancy in the U.S. will be 77 years for men and 82 years for women by the year 2020. We, the aging population, face major challenges in maintaining our health and wellness. Certified gerontologists are specifically trained to meet and answer these challenges. I love what I do to help people, especially women, be as vibrant as they can be at every age, and I am honored to be an aging expert in service to my friends, fans, and followers around the world.  

Until next time….Be Vibrant!

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Dancing May Be the Best Aerobic Exercise to Reduce Dementia

Now we know that four types of aerobic exercise are what we’re aiming for to maximize our telomeres, but there is more to think about to boosting your brain power than just our telomeres. There’s also the matter of retaining our motor skills, shoring up our balance and increasing a different type of memory. 

Research shows that dancing is a promising candidate for countering the age-related decline in our physical and mental abilities; dancing to improve your memory is now showing up in several studies. Aerobic exercise helps in both these areas, but the positive effects of dancing will make you want to sign up for that tap class!

We know the hippocampus plays a vital part in our major cognitive processes—memory and learning, but what you may not know is it is also involved with helping us maintain our balance, something crucial for our well-being and quality of life at any age. While aerobic exercise does its magic growing and maintaining our telomeres in our hippocampus– reversing hippocampus damage overall, as well as all the organs and cells of our bodies, it falls off the list when it comes to helping us stay steady on our feet and feeling grounded. Adding a dance class to our weekly regime can tip our balance from tottering and falling off our stilettos to confidently working the room on them. 

Even more reason to put on your dancing shoes is what dancing does to the long-term health of our brain. Science lesson for today:  two significant studies, one involving more than four hundred and seventy older adults found that dancing created significant (by research standards) cognitive changes in the participants when compared to traditional repetitive exercise—biking, walking, swimming. 

After just six months of regular dance classes, verses regular aerobic exercise, the parahippocampal gyrus (the tissue of the brain that surrounds the hippocampus) of the dancers was bigger. Research also shows skipping the workouts of the parahippocampal regions creates an early red flag on the track towards Alzheimer’s (you can forget that term, now.)  This part of the hippocampus is directly involved with, among other things, storing our memories of last weekend’s great dinner with friends and the important passwords needed to unlock the computers at work.  It’s necessary to process those correctly so that they get filed in the right file—the lasagna recipe goes into the Splurge file; your seven-digit, with at least one capital letter and two even numbers goes into the “Notes” app on your phone. We need to keep it all straight so that later, we can correctly recall everything. 

The dancers also showed significant improvements in manual dexterity, spatial memory-remembering where things are in relation to yourself, tactile discrimination-the sensitivity of our fingertips and our ability to tell the difference between textures, different surfaces, and the like. But, best of all their motor skills were much better than the traditional exercise group. For even more good news: following up for 5.1 years afterward, the dancers showed a markedly reduced risk of developing dementia. How great is that for swinging to the beat once a week? 

In looking at the details of the dance program, we find what makes this form of fun so beneficial: the dance program required the participants to constantly learn new dance patterns. These folks weren’t just doing the watusi every week. And here in lies the key mental health benefits of dancing– making the brain work hard each week to learn those new steps creates the change and growth of our brain, and muscles. The onslaught of unique information each week challenged the minds of these seniors and forced their brains to lay down new nerve tracks and make new nerve connections. The time period of 18 months seems to be an important factor for making these new pathways permanent. More study is needed, but many signs point toward this length of time. 

Knowing this, and since getting my husband to take dancing lessons just didn’t work out in his schedule, I took up tap dancing. I am very, very bad at it, having never done it before, but I can say it has helped my memory. My thoughts come just a little easier, and I can more quickly recall things.  Even my balance has improved a good leap! 

Additionally, there is another component contributing to the sustained increase in the cortex volume of our senior dancers: the winning combination of music and movement. Stay tuned!

Until next time…Dance Vibrantly! 

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Myth: Seniors are Warm-Hearted but Impaired

In the early 2000’s, two researchers at Princeton University queried college students about their opinions of and their ideas about seniors. Sadly, the students consistently grouped the seniors in the same category with disabled and developmentally disabled people, reflecting the widely held prejudice that older adults are low on competence. The students did throw us cognitive-impaired mid-lifers a small bone by rating us high on warmth. Yippee ;-( However, if the students did rate us as being competent, our warmth and likeability factors went through the floor. It seems we can’t be warm and competent at the same time—kind of like being blonde and smart in the same body. On the positive side, there was some wiggle room in how warm and friendly we could be, but the belief that older adults are incompetent was as solid as Mt. Rushmore. Should you think things have changed in the ensuing decade, I am sorry to say, you would be mistaken. In an update to their study published in 2016, Cuddy and Fiske, the researchers, stood by their original findings, and other studies continue to corroborate the first findings of Cuddy and Fiske. Amazing.

How does this information make you feel?

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How Stress Negatively Impacts Your Memory

Have you had any luck with single-tasking this week? Even driving without talking, or texting, is a step forward. Keep at it. The rewards are vast from just being present and doing one thing at a time, the great masters called this mindfulness, and it is something to strive for. Today, I want to delve in a bit more to the effects of cortisol on our brains, and how stress and memory loss are intimately connected.  

I am guessing that many of us thought by the time we were eligible for AARP, as older people were portrayed in movies and television when we were growing up, we would be slowing down and heading for time in the RV to See America First. Somehow, life didn’t quite turn out that way, and I for one, am busier than ever, partly because of our 24/7-always-connected world. This busyness causes stress on our bodies, and raises our cortisol levels at a time when biologically our bodies have down-shifted from firing on all cylinders, all the time, as when we were 25.

Chronic stress– caring for a loved one, a long-term negative work situation, divorce, grieving the death of a spouse/partner/child, financial pressures or health problems, causes our cortisol levels to rise and stay elevated. The result is a cascade of effects that puts our immune system, all our hormonal systems (which help regulate every organ and function in our body), and our neurological system (system of nerves) from head to toe at risk of going haywire. In future blogs I will talk more about the effects of stress on the body. Here, I want to touch on what happens to our ability to retrieve data, store data, reasoning, learning something new—the entire scope of processing  information we are required to do a million times every day. 

Extensive research reveals the direct link between memory and stress and cortisol levels. Consistently high levels of cortisol impairs all these functions—we can’t remember things we once knew we knew, we are unable to hold new information in our minds, and our ability to think and navigate successfully in the world is diminished. This bundle of brain functions are called “working memory.” I think of what cortisol’s short-circuiting does to our working memory like a piano with missing keys; when I play Moonlight Serenade, the missing notes makes Glenn Miller’s classic sound odd. Cortisol has the ability to make our memory act odd. I recall during a particularly stressful period a few years ago, I could not pull up words I wanted to use. My memory would literally go blank, nothing would come– my circuitry was shut down, everyone gone home for the night. It was scary. After the period passed, my word retrieval, along with my ability to remember why I went into a room, returned. I was grateful.

As I mentioned last week, over time and as we get older, chronic stress causes our brains to change shape, and sections—most notably the front part of our brains, will actually shrink, forever ending our ability to have optimal brain or memory function. Sadly, MRI’s show this to be true. When I started my studies to become a gerontologist, I learned in-depth how seriously stress messes with our minds, and as we enter middle age our bodies don’t have the same reserves to preserve brain function. 

Right now, this red-hot minute, lowering our stress level should become our #1 priority, because, the good news is: when we do, our bodies and our memory can recover and heal. Starting next week I am going to begin talking about ways to do just that, not only to stop the decline, but boost our health and memory and turn our backs on memory-robbing dementia.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Why Multi-tasking is Draining Your Brain and Memory Banks

Looking at beliefs that might no longer be serving us in our middle years, multi-tasking is a good place to start. We all knew when we were younger we were bullet-proof– able to easily do four things at once with equal ability and quality. Being a little older, and much smarter, we are beginning to find maybe not so much now.

The truth is we were never able to do four things at once with the same level of attention as focusing on only one. Science tells us this harsh truth: multi-tasking is bad for your brain. Human brains are not wired that way; our brains work best when focusing on one thing at a time. I was (and sometimes still am) as guilty as any millennial until I read the science behind this truth.

Multi-tasking by doing several things at once, or being constantly interrupted and so having to focus on something different than the task before us, does many things, multi-tasking damages our brain by increasing the level of stress hormones released into our bodies. This rise in the main stress hormone, cortisol, negatively impacts our level of brain function and our cognitive performance, leading over time to a short-circuiting of our memory bank. As we zoom into our middle and later years, several other subtle changes are happening in our brains to further impede our memory from working at optimum levels.

The scary news is that too many stress hormones floating around our brains can actually change the way our brain works, shrink the size of our brain and our circuitry, and literally act like a poison, moving us closer to the dreaded “early dementia” column. Seriously.

multi-tasking

Now for the good news, since my glass is always way more than half-full. We can re-choose how we allot our time today to add some brain enhancing activities to counter our past choices, and begin boosting our memory. 

The first one is to reduce the time in which we engage in multi-tasking. Start slow. Going cold turkey is by far the best for brain health, but probably unrealistic unless you just retired to an island to live out your days selling coconut juice to tourists. For the rest of us worker bees, start with looking at where you could stop the insanity—make a list of tasks or chores that you will, from now on, focus on singularly. Any relief you can offer your brain is a plus. Try to add to the list over the coming days and weeks, not just writing them down, but implementing them as well. Notice how you feel as you begin single-tasking, and if there is any improvement in little remembrances. I am betting there will be. Your cortisol levels will drop, and you might find yourself sleeping better, to boot!

The second part of this is to do everything you can to limit your interruptions throughout your day. Ideally in all aspects of your life, but to be realistic, let’s start at work. Think about ways you can limit physical interruptions—people talking to you, instant reminders of incoming email/texts/voice mails. Set the boundaries you can today, try to keep increasing them until you can implement the third suggestion.

The third part of helping your memory return comes from choosing to carve out 45 minutes of uninterrupted periods of concentration twice a day. Start with once a day, if twice seems too daunting — gotta walk before you can dance. This will do so many healing things for your brain. You will very quickly notice a difference in your memory.

Last, but not the least by any standard, give your brain a rest. Doing nothing is one of the most productive things we can do in our world today to restore and replenish our minds and bodies. I like to take 40-60 minutes and just chill, eyes closed, thinking of nothing in particular. Granted, some days this is only a dream, but I do write it in my calendar and work to honor that notation with the same commitment as any other appointment. Every little bit helps. It is not an ‘all or nothing’ benefit.

Our memory banks do not have to stay in drawdown mode; we have the power to make generous deposits by choosing new ways of doing things that will add to our lives in every moment. Remember, the brain given the chance, has the miraculous capacity to improve, not matter our age!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: In Some Ways, Nothing Has Changed

I came across this poem recently and it stopped me cold. I looked at the date and nodded my head, yet realized almost forty years later, many people would still find this poem to be accurate. What do you think?

The Little and the Old Man (1981)

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”

Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”

“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”

The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems

Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.

“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

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The Role of Telomeres in Slowing Down Our Aging Clock and How to Increase Them

Stress increases levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain—in particular to the memory-consolidating hippocampus which is one of the first structures to be assaulted by Alzheimer’s disease.

The End of Alzheimer’s, Dale E. Bredesen, MD.

Today’s brief science lesson: The hippocampus is located deep inside our brains. It is the part of our brains responsible for, among other things, our short-term and long-term memory storage. As I discussed last time, stress kills cells, all different kinds of cells throughout our body, and a key component of those cells is their telomeres.

The Role of Telomeres

Telomeres are the protective end caps of our chromosomes—think the plastic tip of a shoelace. Telomeres are found in every cell throughout the body. The longer and stronger our telomeres are, the higher functioning our brains and minds will be, and the less our body will decline and age. The telomeres in our hippocampus cells are involved with memory. Shortened telomeres are found in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  I know this is a lot of information to take in, but I want to set the stage for future discussions about exciting new research which can help us slow down aging and the destruction of these two very important aspects of our physical selves.

In a previous post I talked about how stress and cortisol can shrink our brains and damage our memories forever. Now for the really, really great news: there are several ways to not only stop this happening, but reverse it and improve our brains, our memory functions, and our entire bodies. One of the most important is….exercise. 

Exercise has emerged in the last few years as so much more important that we previously thought. The smart folks are saying that every neurologist should be prescribing exercise to their patients before they write a script for anything else. We are animals that were born to move—use it or lose it, the saying goes, and that is proving so very true. I will come back again and again to the smorgasbord of benefits of various types of exercise. The list is long, and getting longer.

One key finding is that exercise slows down aging of the body.  For our hippocampus and its attending telomeres, aerobic exercise is the answer; vigorous aerobic exercise at 60% of our maximum capacity—the level at which we are breathing somewhat hard, but can still hold a conversation. Your personal 60% will depend on your fitness level, and as you become more fit, it will shift up. Forty-five minutes, at least three times per week, and our telomeres will be healthy– in our brains and throughout our bodies.

And, here is the even better news: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) stimulates the birth of brand new hippocampus cells. When we rev up the intensity of our workout to our maximum capacity at regular intervals for 20, 30, or 40 seconds, followed by a periods of recovery, our hippocampus receives a message which forces it to adapt and grow to accommodate the onslaught of energy. Our ability to remember improves, our cognitive functions improve, and our lives improve. The response in our muscles and our brains causes a short-term stress response and from this, new cells are created; a positive association between the role of telomeres and stress. (An example of when some stress is good for us!) HIIT training is not something to enter into lightly. As older adults, we must gradually build up our capability, even if we have been exercising regularly. The safest way to add HIT into your workout is to talk with a fitness professional—at your gym or the Y. The trained staff there can help you put together a sensible plan. But—MAKE SURE you speak with a trainer who is trained to work with older adults!!! Ask the necessary questions to find the trainer who understands your needs.

Over the last two weeks watching the finest athletes compete at Winter Olympics will, I hope, inspire you to get moving, it did me, and those amazing women and men reminded me to get in my aerobic work! The myriad of other gifts from doing regular aerobic and HIIT exercise will keep for another day, but know that by lacing those tennis shoes onto your feet and doing the work, you have the capacity to drastically slowdown your aging. Now, just go do it.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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What With Age Comes Wisdom Really Means

For many different religions, one of the anchoring tenants each wisdom tradition holds is acting with kindness toward our fellow humans and all living creatures. Exercising compassion can alleviate our feelings of isolation, solve many problems, and open our hearts to genuine connection to others and the world around us. 

With age comes wisdom, and as I reached mid-life, showing kindness has become the guiding principle for how I want to live my life each day. This was not always the case. For decades, I chose being right as my number one value. You can image how well that often turned out ;-0 For the Baby Boomer generation, and since all time before computers, knowledge was power. We drew our strength and our feelings of acceptance by how much we knew, and like many of us, I wanted everyone to know how much I knew. I am most grateful the old cliché has proven true in my case: With age comes wisdom. Somewhere along the way, wisdom, like a cloak of superior intelligence, enveloped me and I woke up: kindness is where it is at, it’s what wise people practice, what brings one peace. It is the ace that produces a winning hand, every time. Practicing kindness enables me to get out of my head and into my heart, and adopt an attitude of benevolence toward the world and even more importantly, toward myself

This last step is about gaining wisdom, by reaching an age to look back on the effects my harsher behavior of youth had on myself and others, and then being aware, for having lived long enough to know the meaning of with age comes wisdom, and understanding there is a better way. Learning the values of other religions and their wise traditions opened my eyes to this truth, and from there my life has soared. Kindness elevates the conversation by shifting everyone’s perspective and allowing light to shine into a darkened heart. Kindness is the answer, now more than ever, as so many are suffering around the world.

 I celebrate every day this hard-earned wisdom I have acquired. I am so grateful that I now understand a little later than sooner– but in plenty of time for me to share it all around.

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Myth: People Are “Old” at 56

A survey of 2,000 young people sixteen to thirty-four were asked, “What age is ‘old’ to you?” I almost fell out of my desk chair laughing, when I read their answers: the male respondents believe a person becomes “old” at fifty-six. The female respondents gave us a few more years of life by selecting sixty-one as the age at which someone is considered “old.” For anyone reading this who is older than, say, fifty, or fifty-six for sure, I hope you will thank me forever for enlightening you as to what age the younger generation thinks a person is over the hill. I don’t even need to spend time refuting this one. Please share this with some of your other “old” friends for a good laugh, and a knowing roll of the eyes!

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This Week’s Wonder Woman: Dame Freya Stark

Dame Freya Stark DBE (31 January 1893 – 9 May 1993), was an Anglo-Italian explorer, geographer, cartographer, and travel writer. Born in Paris, and raised in Italy, she spoke more than a dozen languages and dialects, including being fluent in Arabic. Beginning in her early thirties, Freya traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, India and Asia Minor until her last trip at eight-six.

dame freya stark

On all Freya’s trips she made maps of the area, often being the first person ever to record the topography of the area. Many of her maps are still used today. She flaunted convention, associating with English diplomats and officers as well as with locals; she went on desert excursions to the Bedouins, accompanied exclusively by Iraqi nationals, completely disregarding the colonial moral code of the time. She wore men’s clothing when traveling, and spent months at a time on camel back in rough and dangerous terrain, always the only woman, much less the only white woman, to do so at the time. During World War II, Freya collaborated with the Ministry of Information in London, where she was employed as an expert on the Middle East. She lectured widely, did radio broadcasts, received numerous awards for her work and her writing and in 1972 she was knighted/raised to the level of nobility by the Queen of England and given the lifetime title of Dame. Freya lived to be over one hundred years old, and was busy writing and lecturing until the very end of her life.

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Quarterly Blog Recap

To make it easier to see what great information you might have missed while living your vibrant life, here is your quarterly summary of the hot topics I have cover so far this year. Enjoy!

January 7, 2019– Neuroboics

Neurobics, a brain-training program is helping people worldwide keep their memories sharp and their cognitive skills humming at near-peak performance. The exercises strengthen brain productivity, which results in faster retrieval of information as well as the ability to add new information into memory.

January 14, 2019—Vitamins For Brain Health and Longevity

Dr. Bruce Ames, Director of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has identified thirty known vitamins and minerals plus eleven other substances, which when taken at optimal levels are the best supplements for brain health. They are listed here.

January 22, 2019 –The Gut Brain Connection

Researchers have found a strong connection between the health of the gut and the general health of the rest of the body, most importan

January 28, 2019– Your Brain On Food

Summary: For a longer, healthier life follow a Mediterranean diet rather than the traditional American diet of refined carbohydrates. Eating organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible and cutting back on sugar consumption will also ensure better gut and brain health.

February 4, 2019—Best Brain Foods

Summary: Based on the latest research, here are a dandy dozen of the best things to “feed” your brain to help it, and you, function at your most vibrant.

February 11, 2019—Change Is Hard

Like so many health issues, we often feel fine until a health issue reaches critical mass, and then BOOM! We have a heart attack, or full-blown diabetes, or worse. Dropping white sugar and excessive wheat products out of our diet is the difficult, but healthy choice.

February 18, 2019 —How Pets Keep Seniors Healthy

Solid research published in the last few decades reveals the benefits of seniors owning a pet or having regular interaction with an animal. Those who have pets are physically and mentally healthier, have more independence, and have stronger and broader social connections, all contributors to keeping us vibrant as we get older. Pets may even reduce some symptoms of dementia.

February 25, 2019—Ten Amazing Black Women

There are so many accomplished women of color to acknowledge and applaud during Black History Month; women doing great things in the present, and ones from the past. In compiling this list, I hope to introduce a few rising stars and highlight the achievements of some lesser known ladies. Each of these women displays facets of what it means to be vibrant. They are true role models for us all.

March 4, 2019—The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder gives many of us the blues, come winter gray skies. Light boxes, exercise– especially in the morning– yoga, lowering sugar intake, and keeping up with friends and hobbies can help you stay vibrant until the sun shines again.

March 11, 2019—3 Tests to Help Prevent Heart Attacks

Even today, women are far less likely to receive the same coronary care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment. If heart disease runs in your family, or if only for peace of mind, insist that your doctor orders some baseline testing to rule out potential heart problems.

March 18, 2019—The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

Every year in the United States, one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on our foods. So, where do all those pesticides go, and are they harmful to us? Here’s the list of fruits and vegetables you should always consider buying organic.

March 25, 2019—Quarterly Blog Summary

A quick and easy way to look back over what I discussed during the past three months and read any you might have missed. 😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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This Week’s Wonder Woman: Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, (September 23, 1838 – June 9, 1927), was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement.  Even though it would be almost fifty years before women gained the right to vote, Victoria was the first woman to run for President of the United States. She was the candidate in 1872 from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights; her running mate was black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. Some historians quibble about the legality of her run because she was younger than the constitutionally mandated age of 35. Election coverage by contemporary newspapers does not suggest age was a significant issue.

As well as an activist for women’s rights Victoria championed labor reforms, and was a voice for “free love“– the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without social restriction or government interference.  Together with her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street, and the two were among the first women to found a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870. The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership was founded by Naomi Wolf and Margot Magowan in 1997, and in 2001, Victoria Woodhull was inducted posthumously into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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Do I Really Need to Buy Organic Food? Yes and No. Here’s Why.

Fact: Every year in the United States, one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed on our foods. So, where do all those pesticides go, and are they harmful to us?  

When pesticides are sprayed, the growing plant, tree, shrub, or bush absorbs these chemicals, which alters the natural state of the plant. Some of the spray lands on the soil, and sinks into the earth, filling the soil with pesticides that eventually make it all the way to the ground water. Additionally, some of the spray hits the surface of our water supplies, the same supply that irrigates the plants we eat, which have already received a dose of pesticides. Then it permeates the water we drink, cook with, and use to bathe our children. The USDA suspects that 50 million Americans obtain their drinking water from ground water that may be contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals.   

The USDA and the FDA continually reassure us that chronic low-level exposure to pesticides and other agricultural chemicals is safe. However, many of the commonly used chemicals in pesticides have long been classified as possible or probable carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. For us at mid-life, the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s increases the more frequently we are exposed to or ingest pesticides. In the last decade, the results of several large-scale studies have been published focusing on just this connection. More than three thousand people participated in a multi-year study published in the journal Neurology. The researchers found farmers and gardeners were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as the general population. Men seem to be at higher risk than women, possibly because there are more men in farming jobs than women. 

There are also an increasing number of studies linking exposure to pesticides to cognitive dysfunction and even overt dementia, including AD dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Some of the latest research finds that some individuals, due to their genetic composition, may be more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides compared to other individuals with different genetic backgrounds. 

organic food

I am very concerned with the amount of chemicals sprayed on our foods. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce our exposure to the harmful effects of pesticides. Organically grown foods contain fewer pesticide residues in comparison to conventionally grown foods. Organic foods are readily available these days and, in my opinion, organically grown foods taste better.  

Sometimes, however, the cost of organic foods can dissuade people from buying them, but you can buy organic food on a budget, most often at farmer’s markets and sometimes in the frozen food section.  If you have a choice between buying organic or conventional foods, wouldn’t you like to know which ones are the most affected by pesticides?  Then you can choose to buy organic or not, based on that information. 

Each year The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment analyzes data from the federal Department of Agriculture. They evaluate pesticide use and create two lists: the Dirty Dozen list, which contains the highest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods, and a Clean Fifteen list, which contains the lowest number and concentration of pesticide residue foods. 

Here are the lists for 2018: 

Dirty Dozen Foods 2018: 

  1. Strawberries 
  2. Spinach 
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples 
  5. Grapes 
  6. Peaches 
  7. Cherries 
  8. Pears 
  9. Tomatoes 
  10. Celery 
  11. Potatoes 
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers 

Clean Fifteen Foods 2018: 

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn 
  3. Pineapples 
  4. Cabbages 
  5. Onions 
  6. Sweet Peas frozen
  7. Papayas 
  8. Asparagus 
  9. Mangoes 
  10. Eggplants 
  11. Honeydew melons
  12. Kiwis 
  13. Cantaloupes 
  14. Cauliflower 
  15. Broccoli 

One tip to help with the higher cost of organics is to buy only those in season, or buy organic frozen. These are picked at the height of the best flavor season for that fruit or vegetable, and then quickly frozen to lock in as much flavor as possible. 

Organic vs. non-organic has been, and will be for some time to come, a fiercely debated topic.  A friend recently told me she will only buy conventionally grown strawberries because they taste so much better, and she doesn’t care about the pesticides. I can’t agree, but all people are entitled to their opinions. And so the debate continues… 

Until next time…. Be Vibrant!  

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Myth: Our Driving Skills Decline As We Get Older

Older drivers are crazy drivers. That’s what younger people, and some older people 😉 seem to believe. However, according to official sources, namely the Federal Highway Safety Administration, drivers sixty-five and over make up only 19% of the crash victims, while those young folks 18-35 make up almost 40%, 38% to be exact, of crash victims. Add to that a study from Consumer Reports which found seniors had fewer crashes per miles driven than younger drivers. The final bombshell that destroys this myth? Research from the University of Swansea suggests that drivers seventeen to twenty-one are four times more likely to crash their cars than are senior drivers. But, anyone who has, or had, teenagers knows that is true. Why do you think kids’ insurance rates are so high and then drop dramatically at twenty-five?

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Renaissance woman only she was born just about 300 years before the Early Renaissance.

At about fourteen, she became a nun of the Order of St. Benedict and remained so for her entire eighty-one years. Hildegard was a visionary, theologian, writer, composer, artist, healer, reformer, medical practitioner, prophet, and poet. Her theological ideas became part of the Catholic Church, and even helped to shape modern theology. She was canonized (official declaration of Sainthood) and named a Doctor of the Church (only one of thirty-six, ever designated) by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. She may have lived and worked only within the confines of the Catholic Church, but her contributions were world-influencing and her writing, prolific. Entering her stride at forty-two, Hildegard wrote about holistic healing, developed new forms of music and opera, and inspired modern philosophy and psychology. 700 years later, her writing influenced Carl Jung’s work on the subconscious in psychology. She also wrote extensively about nature, science, and cosmology, and about diet and nutrition. One of my favorite ideas Hildegard wrote about was her concept of the divine feminine as a positive creative force in the universe–something we are beginning to acknowledge in our world today, eight hundred years later.

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3 Simple Tests to Help Prevent a Heart Attack

Recently reported in People Magazine, Erica Kane of Pine Valley* suffered a heart attack in October of 2018. As I read the article, it didn’t surprise me that she never mentioned being tested for heart disease before the attack. Obviously, her doctor failed to order tests for her which would have revealed the 90% blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, and a 70% blockage in a branch artery even though her doctor knew her father had suffered a heart attack in his early forties. Looking at this information in black and white, it seems incredulous that her doctor had never ordered a Coronary Calcium Score to help gauge her risk.  And, once she had that number, she also needed a Carotid Intima-Media Thickness Test (CIMT) to measure the thickness of the inner two layers of the carotid artery, the artery located at the side of our necks. This simple, and painless, test can let doctors know if there is any thickening in the artery walls long before we might experience any symptoms of a cardiac incident. If the results of the CIMT are concerning, further tests such as a Doppler Ultrasound, an ultrasound for the blood vessels and the heart to see blood flow through the vessels and heart, a MRI Angiogram or MRA which allows doctors to see inside the blood vessels, or a Cardiac CT Scan, which produces dye-free multiple x-ray images of the heart and blood vessels, will give defining information about the state of our arteries and risk level for a heart attack. Even beginning with a simple stress test, doctors can get an idea of the condition of our hearts and whether some or all of the above tests are needed. 

All this begs the question, why didn’t Erica Kane’s doctor order any of these, especially with a history of heart disease in her family? I have some history of heart disease in my family, and since I reached mid-life, my doctor orders both a coronary calcium score and a CIMT every time I have a physical. I don’t want to put Erica’s doctor on the defensive, but even today in 2019, women are far less likely to receive the same care and treatment as men when it comes to their health outside of female issues. We are also three times more likely than men to die following a serious heart attack as a result of receiving less equal care and treatment. In a landmark study done in Sweden over a ten-year period, 2003-2013, involving almost sixty-one thousand women, the researchers found this to be true. I watched my mother languish in a recovery facility, virtually ignored by her (male) physician after undergoing quadruple by-pass surgery. During that stay, she suffered from a host of easily avoidable complications due to basic negligence. I tried to intervene on her behalf, but since I was the baby in the family, no one would listen to me.

The anger I feel as I write these words is almost uncontainable, but the above study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2017, makes one thing absolutely certain: We must take control of our own health and ASK, or more likely in most cases, DEMAND, that at least once, more if results merit it, we have our coronary calcium scores taken, and for sure, have a CIMT test, especially if heart disease runs in the family. If the results are good, the peace of mind is worth it. If the tests show issues, you can do what is necessary so that you will never be like Erica, out shopping one day and then suddenly feel as if an elephant has just sat down on your chest.

 Until next time….Be Vibrant!

*Susan Lucci one of the stars of the daytime soap opera, All My Children.

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This Week's Wonder Woman: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This month is Women’s History Month, and I am beginning each newsletter in March by highlighting a woman from history, or presently alive, that I particularly admire. Honestly, it would take a year to even get halfway through my list, but I will pick a few for this month and save the others for the future.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, A Supreme and Living Legend

How could I not start with RBG?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second female justice appointed in United States history, nominated and confirmed in 1993, at the age of 60. She is still there influencing key decisions and helping furthering the rights of women. In her quiet yet deadly way, she makes her points so brilliantly as to leave the opposition (usually a man) literally speechless. I wish for that talent! I recently learned she is also the subject of the popular Tumblr blog Notorious RBG celebrating her judicial accomplishments as well as her status as an inspirational part of women’s history. She will celebrate her 86th birthday on March 15th. Go RBG!

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Get a Jump This Year on Seasonal Affective Disorder!

Many of us are experiencing the dog days of summer, but before too long, flat gray clouds will cover the sky more days in many parts of the world, as autumn rolls in and the days grow shorter towards winter.  During the depth of winter (yes it will happen, again!)  I want to stay in bed, wait for tomorrow, and hope for sun. Being a Texas girl born and raised, I grew up with more sunny days than cloudy ones, and for decades now, I know my energy level and productivity are somehow linked to sunshine.

On gray winter days, I have little energy, care about nothing, and generally feel and act like Grumpy Cat until evening. Even though I know dark chocolate won’t shift my mood, I sometimes give that delicious treat a good try! If I am somewhere and experience a run of gray days, pretty soon I have sunk so low I must be scraped off the floor. This got me thinking about winter depression, SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, and while I don’t think I suffer a full on case of SAD, I know friends who do. The sooner we start to add a few proven principles to the day, the more likely we are to avoid suffering from SAD once Old Man Winter settles in. This year, with all the sheltering in place we’re all doing, I will be adding these to the top of my to-do list!

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown Medical School, and author of Winter Blues, Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder, who first identified and coined the term in 1984, found we women suffer from seasonal depression or SAD four times as often as men do in our earlier years (ages 20-30), but the numbers become closer to equal as both sexes get older. Your science lesson for today: The research also tells us that the culprit is low serotonin—the chemical in our bodies responsible for our moods, appetite, sleep regulation, and libido. In folks with SAD, serotonin can’t function efficiently because the body produces a serotonin-blocking chemical called SERT. At this point, scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs in some people, and not in others. Stay tuned for more developments in this area. For those of us who have clear-cut cases of SAD every winter, there are some well-researched steps we can take to markedly reduce the symptoms until the sunshine and warmer temperatures return.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Low energy
  • Sleeping too much or not wanting to get out of bed
  • Overeating
  • Craving refined carbs and sugar
  • Weight gain (as a result of the above)
  • Just feeling “blah” all the time
  • Withdrawing from friends and family (feeling like hibernating)

Here are some of the best ways to counter the feelings of SAD and make winter your favorite season. Well, maybe… ????

Counter the Feelings of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Throw open those curtains.

As soon as you wake up, get up (as hard as that may be), and raise those shades as high as they will go to let in as much morning light as possible.

Put on those gym shoes.

A meta-review (a compilation and review of many studies) from the American College of Sports Medicine Journal found for some of us experiencing SAD, vigorous exercise, like HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training, might be as successful as therapy or anti-depressants at lowering our SERT levels, which help to elevate our serotonin levels, and alleviate the depression.

Keep up your Interests.

You may not feel like getting on yet another Zoom coffee hour, or social distance walking outside with your neighbor,  but pushing yourself to be with friends, virtually or in person, is a great way to lift your spirits, to say nothing of strengthening your social connections—a strong choice toward staying vibrant as we get older. The same goes for indulging in your favorite hobby; that ship isn’t going to sail itself into that bottle!

Get a Light Box

This is probably the most often-cited and well-known tool available to fight SAD. Studies show light boxes are the magic bullet for up to fifty percent of SAD sufferers. If used correctly, the boxes cause mood shifts to occur in only a few days, giving blessed relief almost as fast a speeding bullet. Discuss with your doctor, and experiment with different types of light boxes, and see what might work for you.

Eliminate Sugar

My long-time readers will be nodding, (I hope), as I add another reason to drop sugar from your diet. In addition to the negative effects sugar has on our brains and bodies, people who consume the most sugar are more prone to depression. Scientists now think sugar lowers our bodies’ ability to cope with stress. Craving sweets and starchy foods in the winter is also an indicator and symptom of SAD.

Go Outside and Play

Your mother was right. Grab your earmuffs and your muffler and take a brisk walk outside in the morning after sunrise. Or, take up a wintertime-specific sport, like snowshoeing, outdoor ice-skating or curling (at a social distance 😉 Some of the lead researchers in this field, Dr. Kelly Rohan (no relation) at the University of Vermont, and Dr. Ani Kalayjian at Columbia University, both endorse this plan, and Dr. Rohan notes getting that morning light into our retinas is especially beneficial; plus you get exercise as well. Home run in my book.

Hit the Mat

Dr. Kalayjian also recommends taking up yoga for relaxation and relief from depression. More and more studies are pointing to yoga as a good practice for stress reduction and anxiety. That’s one more reason to add a yoga class or two into your weekly regime.

The research points to starting early to fortifying our serotonin levels so we have reserves at the ready for when the days grow short and dark. This year, especially, I plan to get on the program long before I put out my pumpkins and pick out George’s Halloween costume.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: We Lose Our Creativity as We Get Older

I have never seen an expiration date stamped on the forehead of an artist, or a musician, or an interior designer. Creativity, like wisdom, is often a gift that becomes more complex and more nuanced as we get older. Michelangelo was seventy-one when he took on the job of completing St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Tony Bennett will be ninety-three on his next birthday, and when he was eighty-eight he did a killer duet of “The Lady is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga. It’s had more than 29 million views on YouTube. The sheet-metal sculptor, Beverly Pepper, is still producing monumental works at ninety-six. 

I could keep listing active artists in all fields for the next week, but I think the point is made that as humans we are hardwired for creativity, and it is something we carry with us until our last breath.  

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10 Inspirational Black Women You Need to Know

There are so many accomplished women of color to acknowledge and applaud during Black History Month; women doing great things in the present, and ones from the past. I struggled to pick just ten to introduce here. We all know the names of the former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah, Hattie McDaniel, Rosa Parks, and many other black women who have become household names through their achievements, contributions, sacrifices, and resilience for which we admire them. In compiling this list, I hope to introduce a few rising stars and highlight the achievements of some lesser known ladies. Each of these women displays facets of what it means to be vibrant. They are true role models for us all.

Kimberly Bryant
Founder of STEM program for Girls of Color
An electrical engineer, in 2011 Kimberly founded Black Girls Code, a training course for girls 7-17 that exposes them to STEM disciplines. It also opens up opportunities for them to learn about technology, and acquire basic coding skills. Since its creation, Kimberly and Black Girls Code have trained more than 8,000 girls in 13 chapters across America, and one in Africa with plans to expand to other countries. Black women make up less than 3% of the workforce in the tech fields, and Kimberly wants to help raise that number.

Kimberle’ Crenshaw
Distinguished Law Professor
Leading Scholar and Activist
Kimberle’ holds the title of professor of law for both the UCLA School of Law and Columbia University Law School specializing in race and gender issues. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has done much to raise awareness about the unique kinds of discrimination black women experience at the intersection of racist and sexist institutional practices, coining the term “intersectionality,” now widely used as the term for this issue. Kimberle’ launched the #SayHerName initiative, now a critical component of #BlackLivesMatter.

Marley Dias
Thirteen Year Old Out to Change the Book World
At 13, Marley is the youngest person on Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 List. Distressed by the lack of brown faces in books for children, especially female brown faces, Marley founded #1000BlackGirlsBooks, a social media campaign and book drive to collect and donate books for children featuring black girls as the main characters. She has surpassed her goal by a factor of ten. In the spring of 2018, Marley also became an author by writing her own book for Scholastic Books called, Marley Dias Gets it Done: And So Can You!  This is a young woman to watch.

Ava DuVernay
Director of Film and Television
The list of accomplishments for this fireball is impressive: the first black woman director nominated for a Golden Globe, the first black woman director nominated for an Academy Award. She is the first black woman to direct a $100M+ film budget and the first black woman to direct a film earning more than $100M. All this and she is only 46. 

Melissa M. Freeman
A 91 year-old Practicing Physician
Dr. Freeman, who has been practicing medicine for more than half a century, specializes in internal medicine and is leading the fight against the opioid crisis by treating female patients with heroin addictions in her native New York City. She knew early on she wanted to be a doctor, and was only one of four women in a class of one hundred and fifty students at Howard University College of Medicine. Asked about retirement in an interview with ABC, Dr. Freeman replied, “I’m not ready yet!” 

Hadiyah-Nicole Green
Medical Physicist focusing on Laser Treatment for Cancer
For Dr. Green, finding new cancer treatments was and is personal after losing both the aunt and uncle who raised her, to cancer. After an internship at NASA, Dr. Green saw how important the use of lasers could be in cancer therapy. In 2016, as a faculty member at Morehouse School of Medicine, she received a $1.1M grant from the VA’s Office of Research and Development to begin clinical trials on her theories of using lasers to reduce pain and aid in the treatment of cancer. 

Ayanna Howard
Innovator in the field of Artificial Intelligence
After a dozen years at NASA as a senior robotics researcher, Ayanna is now the chair of the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, where she is pushing the boundaries of what we know in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics. Ayanna is also the founder and CTO of Zyrobotics, L.L.C, which focuses on developing personalized educational technologies for children with learning differences.

Lucy McBath
Member of Congress, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District
Rep. Lucy McBath, elected from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District last November, is a dynamic addition to the Democratic Party. Lucy’s passion for public service arises from her family’s 2012 tragedy when her son, Jordan, was shot and killed. She credits her son with inspiring her to run for Congress. Lucy was a private citizen who believed she could make a difference. She harnessed her pain from losing her son by taking action to help save others from experiencing senseless gun violence.

Adrienne Raquel
Rising Photographer and Art Director
As beautiful as the women she photographs, Adrienne is the creative genius behind Nylon Magazine’s 2018 Black History Month cover, Nike Sportswear’s FashionAir campaign, and NARS global social media 2018 holiday campaign. Adrienne is one of the few black female photographers ensuring that stunning images of black women are a part of the present visual culture.

Zim Ugochukwu
Pioneer in the Black Travel Movement
Zim created the digital publishing brand “Travel Noire” to make traveling more relatable and accessible to people of color. Her publication brings the world of black travelers together by sharing tips, tools, and the lure of new destinations around the globe. Zim reaches more than two million readers a month, and has 400,000 Instagram followers.

What a list of accomplished women!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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How Pets Keep Seniors Healthy

Full disclaimer here: I am in love with my Havanese puppy, George Eliot, as I hope many of you see each week in my Facebook posts or here on my website. This post is just the tiniest bit biased toward having, or adding, a pet in your life.

pets keep seniors healthy

In the United States, more than one third, 37% in fact, of folks fifty to sixty-seven, and 29% of older adults sixty-eight and older, are lucky enough to have a pet in their lives. Solid research published in the last few decades reveals the benefits of seniors owning a pet or having regular interaction with an animal. Those who have pets are physically and mentally healthier, have more independence, and have stronger and broader social connections, all contributors to keeping us vibrant as we get older. Pets may even reduce some symptoms of dementia.

Recently, I am proud to say, we gerontologists–experts in aging, who offer lifestyle and behavioral changes to optimize older adults’ physical, mental, and psychological health and quality of life– are again on the forefront. We are discovering what helps us flourish at every age with a study analyzing the best research in the field about pets and seniors.

In 1980, Dr. Erika Freidmann published the first results of groundbreaking research on the health benefits of pets. In this study, Dr. Friedmann found that pet ownership made a significant difference in the survival rate of those who had suffered a heart attack — 94% of the heart patients with a fur baby at home survived serious heart attacks for at least a year, compared to 72% of those who had no animal pal. Later studies added to the heart healthy benefits of having a pet, finding those with pets had better cardiovascular health and reduced hypertension. The American Heart Association — the United States’ oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke — says that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is associated with decreased cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, and having a dog likely plays a role in reducing CVD risk, over all. Well, yippee for Fido! Personally, I think it’s because we open our hearts to our pets and their love for us heals our hearts in return.

An added perk of being a human parent to a pet? Some studies of pet owners have found even more health benefits linked to Fluffy’s presence in the house– a boost to her mom’s and dad’s immune systems and a stronger resistance to disease. Our stress levels are lower than those without a pet. In a study of doctors’ visits among Medicare recipients in California, even those who experienced multiple negative life events such as the death of a spouse or friend had no increase in the number of doctors’ visits compared to those who didn’t share their homes with a furry friend. In the study, dog owners had the greatest resistance to illness and disease.

Additionally, we who share our home with a pet also tend to require fewer visits to primary care providers, which may also be due to better overall health that loving a pet offers us humans. Folks who own a dog benefit even more from an increased moderate level of physical activity through daily walks and time spent outdoors playing with their canine companion.

Pets increase our sense of well-being and boost our psychological health. Walking Spot becomes for many seniors a way to interact with neighbors and the community around them. Pet owners strengthen their social connections by meeting new friends—both furry and human– and bonding with fellow dog lovers. Dog are a great “ice breaker” and dog owners are five times more likely to get to know their neighbors than owners of other types of pets, and twice as likely to forge friendships with people they meet through their pet.  Daily walks also helps seniors stay familiar with their surroundings and helps them feel safe.

Having a pet alleviates depression in people of all ages, a fact now well established by research. For much older seniors, or those with mobility issues and limited contact outside their home, those with pets show less depression and more resilience against everyday challenges. Animals provide older adults with structure and give them a sense of purpose—a reason to get up in the morning, get dressed, and attend to the needs of their four-legged companion. Often, if the seniors were parents, those instincts come online again and subtly ignite the pet owners to be present and on alert because of the charge in their care. Loving a pet can have positive effects on the humans’ well-being and help keep them engaged. For women, and those living alone, our pets make us feel safe at home and when we venture outside. Having a pet, the research tells us, can be a deciding factor in helping older adults remain in a home setting as they get older.

Even if you can’t take on the full responsibility of owning a pet, there are ways to interact and gain benefits from being around animals. Volunteer at a pet shelter or pet care facility, offer to pet sit, or foster a pet for brief periods. Decide what works best for you, and either zoom down to the local shelter and give a fur ball a forever home, or offer to volunteer! Just by being near and interacting with an animal, we absorb their loving energy and good vibes, which makes us better people, and the health benefits?  An added perk 😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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Myth: Breaking These Stereotypes

Since humans first put stick to cave wall, in almost every type of image–moving or in print–where older adults are portrayed, the creator gives us one or more of the perceived shortcomings listed above. (This doesn’t include the ads for Viagra and the like, where the fit, handsome, and vitally alive, silver-haired fox looks longingly at the beautiful and equally toned and vital woman of a certain age.) The term for this systematic stereotyping is called “ageism.” 

This term came into existence in 1969. Before that no word existed to describe the pervasive prejudice against people with seasoning, experience, and wisdom. Now here is the most surprising piece: younger and older adults hold similar stereotypes about aging–how can that be when we are now looking out the eyes of an older adult? I certainly don’t think of myself as mentally deficient, or slow and creaky. Unfortunately, that stereotyping is true because there are almost always (unless you are a centenarian) people who are older than we are on whom we can attach the list of stereotypes. Ageism is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Society, in general, still tends to categorize older adults into one of three subtypes: grandmother types–helpful, kindly, serene, wise, trustworthy; elder statesman–intelligent, competent, aggressive, intolerant; generic senior citizen—lonely, old-fashioned, weak, genderless (and for sure, asexual!) Adding to the unrealistic view of older adults, these automatically activated stereotypes subconsciously guide our behavior toward older people and how we communicate with them. Patronizing talk, including slower speech, simpler vocabulary, careful enunciation, a demeaning emotional tone, and the adoption of superficial conversation are telltale signs our implicit negative stereotyping is kicking in. Even sadder, women have suffered from greater ageism than men. 

Now for some good news? There is a sea-change coming. More and more films and television programs are accurately depicting older adults as vibrant, energetic, smart, funny, and completely with-it.  

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Change is Hard

I just hung up the phone from speaking with my doctor about my lab results, and it seems I need to make a few critical changes to lower my cholesterol. Now granted, the blood work was done three weeks after the holiday season when the remains of sweet treats of all kinds still lingered in a corner of the kitchen counter. I can also recall several meals involving bread, wine, and dessert during the month of December, and so the number could be a little off, maybe. However, not enough, I fear, to keep the doctor from threatening a pharmaceutical intervention to bring it down. Like so many health issues, we often feel fine until the issue reaches critical mass, and then BOOM! We have a heart attack, or full-blown diabetes, or worse. (I feel perfectly fine and have energy. even though at this moment I am closing up my arteries with gooey globs of sticky plaque.) Having written about the effects of sugar and wheat on the brain (blog post Jan. 22) some of you readers might think I don’t eat those inflammation-causing foods. Well, you would only be partially right. From giving up all sugar from Thanksgiving to Christmas 2017, I have slowly slipped back into the clutches of the white menace—both sugar and white flour. The numbers do not lie. 

The rest of my diet does look more Mediterranean than North American, except for those two tiny ingredients. I love bread, and I will walk a mile outside in Texas during the month of August for a slice of old-fashioned yellow cake with chocolate fudge frosting. But, I also want to age vibrantly and, well, actually get older, instead of possibly dying too young from a heart attack. Today, I will begin making changes to insure that doesn’t happen. How will I do it? I will start with sugar, since I am not sure I can yet live without toast. I will begin by sweeping the counters clean, and tossing all temptations, but perhaps keep the chocolate sandwich cookies I bought last month, as my crutch. I am not a big after-dinner dessert eater because I am usually too full. However,  I am a I- want-something-sweet-between-meals sugar consumer. Wine is out, but I’m not a big drinker, and so giving up the vino  will not be too difficult. 

Since I know change is hard, and even tougher the older we get, I will start by cutting back my sugar consumption by 50%, this red-hot minute. I will do that for a week, then cut that by 50%, then 50% each week for a month, until I am getting my sweet fix from berries or other low-glycemic natural sugars—like eating an orange. This is how I think I can manage changing for the long-term. But, I know I will fail at some point, slip up and drop three handfuls of M&M’s into my mouth one afternoon because I am having a bad day. And, that will be O.K. One indiscretion will not delete all my efforts. It isn’t a zero-sum game. Thank God. When I have an M&M fall-out, that night I will add to my gratitude list that I am grateful I only needed three handfuls to make me feel better, instead of the entire bag. I am making progress.

Once I have scoured refined sugar from most of my diet, I will begin on foods made from wheat and follow the same procedure as I did with the sugar. I will stop eating things in order of their value to me. I love toast, as I mentioned—for breakfast, for a midnight snack, truly anytime is a good time. It has a high value in my life, which probably makes it the last thing I will eliminate. I will find a substitute that doesn’t raise my insulin and inflammation levels. I realize these are goals I won’t meet in a week or even in two months  but I will keep trying. I will need to learn to love this new low-glycemic toast substitute, and then I will feel I have my wheat toast addiction in a good place. 

That might be the answer, at least for me: find a substitute I can fall in love with for a food/foods that will eventually kill me, and slowly eliminate the killers from my diet. This is my plan for now. I shall pivot my thinking to see foods made from refined sugar and wheat as occasional treats, splurges to be eaten with reverence, and savored, tiny bite by tiny bite. I promise to keep you posted on my progress, and what I can find to replace my beloved toast. I don’t think there is much hope for a replacement for the old-fashioned yellow cake with fudge frosting, but I am keeping my toes crossed on that one.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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12 Best Brain Foods for Memory, Concentration, and Brain Health

To sum up my discussion on brain health, the aging brain, and the gut brain connection, I am listing below the best things to “feed” your brain to help it, and you, function at your most vibrant. Based on the latest research, I am listing these brain foods in rough order of importance.

The Best Brain Foods in Order of Importance

  1. Cut back or eliminate eating refined sugar—white or brown sugar and maple syrup. 
  2. Cut back or eliminate processed foods made from wheat—cookies, crackers, breads, breakfast cereal. (By a country mile, these two are the most important choices you can make for the health of your brain.)
  3. Eat a like an Italian, or Greek, or other culture from the Mediterranean region. (See my 1/28/2019 post at LJRohan.com for more discussion about this tasty way of eating).
  4. Reduce your stress level: put more fun in your life.  Add quiet time or meditation into your day. Seriously consider adopting  a pet.
  5. Exercise moderately every day. Do enough to raise your heart rate to at least the lower end of the target range for your age: (https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm. The formula there is 220-your age.)
  6. Develop a daily gratitude practice by looking for and acknowledging things going right in your life. (See my posts from June 2018 at LJRohan.com for more guidance.)
  7. Get at least 7 hours (and ideally 8 hours) of good quality sleep each night. A key here is to be in bed, lights out by 11pm.
  8. Strengthen, or develop new friends: join a group, sign-up for a class, call your old classmates and plan a “want to see” people reunion (none of the bullies or meanies allowed). Volunteer somewhere out of your comfort zone.
  9. Learn to play a musical instrument. Challenging, (I’m doing it!) and so rewarding!
  10. Develop a meditation practice: Eastern-based, religious-based, or spiritually-based meditations are all great, and the benefits come from devoting twenty minutes a day to a structured practice of some kind.
  11. Challenge your brain with Neurobic exercises (see my Fun and Fitness for Your Brain blog post for a few suggestions and more information about this brain fitness approach.)
  12. Love with all your heart, and learn to live from your heart –your emotional brain. ????

Pick and choose from this smorgasbord of delicious options, the more of these you taste and add to your diet, the better you will feel, the sharper your cognitive skills will become, and you will be super-charging your memory! Yum-yum.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Older Adults are Lonely and Depressed

When we look at the research around this belief, we find that in truth, older adults are happier, less depressed, and feel less lonely than their children or grandchildren. Large studies done over the last dozen years, in both the United States and the UK, show that less than one-third of seniors describe themselves as unhappy and/or lonely, compared with 40% of young people and 35% of adults in their forties and fifties. The highest spike in reported loneliness actually occurs among the young—people 16-30, who are reporting near epidemic levels of feeling isolated and lonely despite having a phone in their hands 24/7.  Anyone over sixty grew up in an era before high tech– if you don’t count the rabbit ears on top of the TV as advanced technology– in a time when socializing and talking in person were the chief entertainments and the glue in every family and community. We have carried with us, and still use, those social skills learned when young from Mom and Dad and at school, to keep us feeling connected and supported as we grow older.

While there exists a growing number of seniors who feel lonely and depressed because of physical or other limitations, even with the growing number of Baby Boomers reaching senior status, the percentage is still low in comparison to the younger generations.

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Your Brain on Food

Today, I start with the bad news and end with the good news. The latest research tells us that the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease begin with having too much sugar on the brain. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar a day; over the course of a year, that’s 152 lbs. of sugar. The American Heart Association says we should aim for a maximum of 6 teaspoons a day. The higher your blood sugar, the smaller your brain. Too much sugar in the brain actually makes the brain shrink.

We also eat 146 lbs. of flour a year. Pesticides, especially the herbicide, Glyphosate, which is routinely sprayed on commercial wheat, disrupts gut flora. (Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.) Sadly, farmers have a much higher risk of dementia than the average person because of their exposure to pesticides.  Andrew Weil, MD, was one of the first experts in nutrition to identify, what he calls “The Dirty Dozen.” These are most heavily sprayed fruits and veggies, and so they register the highest levels of pesticides inside them. Here is the list in order of the “Dirtiest” first: 

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers

Every smart nutrition expert recommends choosing organic for as much of our produce as possible, and especially opting for organic when it comes to eating any of these top ten offenders. I printed out this list and keep it taped to my kitchen cabinet (where all important notes live at my house), to remind me what to buy before I go to the grocery store. I also keep a small printed and laminated version in my wallet for handy reference. (I know that sounds a bit obsessive, but, I love my brain!)

Now for the Good News! 

Our body ranks as one of the most incredibly powerful compositions of cells and fluids in the universe, and it can and will heal itself when we feed it good things. All is not lost, no matter at what age we re-choose what we put in our mouths. 

The smart money is on a plan you might be familiar with, the Mediterranean diet.* This plan isn’t a “diet,” like ones that continue to make headlines: “Lose 20 Pounds in 20 Minutes by Eating Crabgrass,” or other crazy diets that fill magazine pages and bookseller’s tables. This plan is a way of eating for life. The newest research says a diet higher in fat is better for brain health, making the Mediterranean diet an excellent choice for body, gut, and brain health. It’s rich in extra virgin olive oil and fatty fish. Many studies find that the people who follow this way of eating show significantly fewer cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. In his best-selling book, The Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner listed the world’s healthiest and longest living people on the planet. What way of eating has each culture followed? Either the Mediterranean diet itself, or a very close cousin to it. 

The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell:*

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

To this, Mark Hyman MD suggests eating foods higher in fat such as avocados, and/or adding avocado oil or coconut oil to your daily diet. At every meal fill two-thirds of your plate with veggies—focusing on veggies found below a score of 50 on The Glycemic Index. Look online for this life-saving chart. (Yes, I have a copy of this on my cabinet and in my wallet, as well.) Eating what Dr. Hyman, and others call “smart carbs,” low glycemic carbs, won’t raise blood sugar.  This way of eating benefits both your gut and brain. Your gut flora will come into balance, which will boost your immune system, and slow down the aging process. A double-dip of positive effects! Plus, following this diet will protect your brain from stress and its devastating effects on cognitive function and memory. It will also help you lose weight. A triple-play home run to my way of thinking.

Choosing healthy fats vs. empty carbs to fuel the body is the way to go.  A recent study, from the Mayo Clinic, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that people who ate higher fat sources for calories had a 44% reduction in risk of dementia as opposed to an 86% increased risk of dementia by those who ate a more traditionally American diet of refined carbohydrates. Add to that a rainbow of organic veggies at each meal, meat as a rare treat, and plenty of high-quality filtered water and you could live a long and healthy life just like the folks in Dan Buettner’s study. 

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

*https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

Meditation App - LJ Rohan

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The Gut-Brain Connection

We are beginning to hear and read about a new health-related term, the gut-brain connection. Soon, I predict, this topic will be everywhere.  So what in the devil’s name is the gut brain connection, and how is it related to the aging brain and brain health? Ahhh, I am so glad you asked! 

“…We are just discovering that the gut is playing a critical role in the health and functionality moment to moment of your brain”

David Perlmutter, M.D.

A few years ago,  in a variety of scientific journals from ones focusing on specific components of the body, like Cell, to ones dealing with all aspects of a disease like, The Rheumatologistscientists and doctors began exploring the relationship between our guts and our brainsIndependently, these groups of researchers found a strong connection between the health of our gut/stomach/colon, (pick your favorite term) and the general health of the rest of the body, most importantly for this discussion, our brain. Wow, that’s BIG news! In fact, a growing number of scientists now refer to the gut as the second brain, saying as goes our gut health, so goes the rest of the body’s level of health. In other words, poor gut health=poor brain health=poor general health.  

Leaky Gut and The Gut-Brain Connection

Leaky gut is a direct example of the gut-brain connection. When we are young and bulletproof, that pretty much proved true for almost everything, including the health of our gut, our gut flora, or as you sometimes see it now, our gut microbiome. Decades of ingesting too much processed food and enough refined sugar to fill an entire train of railcars can hurt us in later years. Inflammation resulting from these food choices takes over our colons and allows the “bad” bacteria (inflammation and disease causing bacteria) of our gut to float off and take up residence in other organs, causing them to become inflamed, cease working efficiently, and eventually be damaged, permanently. This is what is known as leaky gut. In double-step time this bacteria/inflammation killer combo reaches our brains, and before too long starts killing brain cells. No kidding. 

Inflammation Impact on the Brain

Why? Because the brain isn’t equipped to deal well with inflammation. Inflammation begins in the colon when we disrupt the gut flora with a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (processed foods) and by taking medications that wreak havoc with that flora balance. Antibiotics, like penicillin, and Clostridium Difficile, and what Dr. Perlmutter thinks might be the biggest issue: acid-blocking drugs called proton pump inhibitors can all cause inflammation.

When we alter the balance of the gut, it changes the environment in which all strains of bacteria can survive. Certain strains will live and thrive, others will die, and then we lose the favorable balance of the gut microbiome. That leads to leaks in the gut allowing certain bacteria to travel northward, causing brain inflammation, aging of the brain, and impaired brain health. Another side effect of acid blocking drugs is irritable bowel syndrome, and even more importantly, a 40% increased risk of dementia from chronic users of these acid blocking drugs. Add stress into the mix and you create the perfect deadly cocktail for attracting cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.  

Now for the good news: when we cut down on, and move toward eliminating, sugar and refined carbs, adhere to the regime of vitamins Dr. Ames suggested, and incorporate a few other lifestyle changes I will discuss in the coming weeks, we can rebuild the gut’s Garden of Eden and put our bodies on the path toward being vibrant.  

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

*Interview with Dr. Mark Hyman, 2017.

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Myth: Older People Can’t Learn New Things

I have so much fun debunking myths about seniors. I see it as a personal challenge to take on these untruths and set the world straight about how amazing seniors actually are. We are blessed with organs that have the power to regenerate themselves, grow new parts and survive and thrive against high odds. Our brain falls high on that list. About twenty years ago, scientists discovered, and we now know as fact, that our brain is neoplastic—able to adapt and change at any age. The science tells us it actually continues to change throughout our lives. So what does that mean in regard to learning new things? It means we are certainly able to, and should keep learning new things all our lives, because the more we challenge our brain as we age, the more efficiently it works. With continual use, our memory and cognitive functions become better, faster, and sharper.

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist showed us that by challenging our brain by learning new things we actually grow new brain cells. As I discuss in my posts, and in my Wednesday’s Wisdom videos this month, when we put our brains to work, we lay new track, and with time and use of these new neurological pathways, we turn that track from temporary “as strong as a noodle” to permanent “as strong as steel”…and develop a “mind as sharp as a steel trap.”;-)

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Vitamins for Brain Health and Longevity

It seems “dietary supplements”— a product you take to supplement your diet, containing one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins and/or minerals, herbs or other botanicals, as well as amino acids and other substances) – have been under fire lately in the popular press. Including a lot of press about what vitamins are for brain health and longevity. What makes me madder than being awakened from a delicious nap, a transgression warranting bodily harm, is when these journalists need a headline, and don’t read (or, understand) the actual science.

Thank goodness a highly respected researcher, Dr. Bruce Ames, who has published more than 500 scientific papers in his almost seven decades as a scientist and director of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (associated with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital), has set the record straight. He has given us all some great news about how to slow down the aging clock, increase our longevity, and add quality time to our lives.

Following ten years of research in his lab, and supported by a bushel basket of evidence published by other scientists, Dr. Ames has identified 30 known vitamins and essential minerals, along with 11 additional substances not currently classified as vitamins, which when taken at optimal levels are the best supplements for brain health. He says they should be called “longevity vitamins” for their potential to “prolong healthy aging.” (In fact, this is the title of his article for the National Academy of Sciences.)

Ames found that 70 percent of Americans are deficient in one or more of the vitamins and minerals vital to good health. Not so deficient as to put our health in jeopardy, like contracting rickets or scurvy, but like a dripping faucet that wears away the porcelain on the tub over time, the lack of vitamins and minerals slowly robs us of our vitality and speeds up the decline of our body. It seems Dr. Ames found even minor deficiencies can impact our long-term health. 

To make it easy, here is a list all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients the latest science suggests we need:*

Vitamins for Brain Health

Biotin, Choline, Folic acid, Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenate (B5), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K

Minerals

Calcium, Chloride, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, Sulfur, Zinc

Other Nutrients

Alpha/beta carotene, Astaxanthin, Beta-cryptoxanthin, Ergothioneine, Lutein, Lycopene, Omega 3 EPA/DHA, PPQ, Queuine, Taurine, Zeaxanthin

Since any recommendations beyond eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats, and free of processed food, sugar, or refined carbohydrates, and drinking plenty of good quality water is beyond my area of expertise, I suggest finding a reputable nutritionist or nutritional counselor, someone trained not in “dieting” or weight loss, but health. Optimally, this person should be a Dietitian in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM) and/or a RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Look for those with a MS degree or PhD. in Nutrition. 

Do your own research beforehand—know what foods are highest in the longevity nutrients. Ask the hard questions to ensure the dietitian you choose is adequately trained to recommend an eating plan and, more importantly, supplementation. I will continue this discussion in this month’s blogs and do my own research as well. My excitement at Dr. Ames’ finding has made it hard to peel me off the ceiling. Lately it feels as if lasting brain health for the all of us might truly be attainable now…just maybe.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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*Ames, Bruce N. (2018) Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins. Perspective of the National Academy of Science. 43:10836-10844.

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Fun and Fitness for Your Brain

Would you like to remember the names of all the interesting people you spoke with at the New Year’s Eve party? Or even the ones you met yesterday????? How about knowing instantly where you put your keys and your phone? The ability to retrieve this information and to remember so many other important things as we age might just be found by practicing brain-training exercises called Neurobics.

The late Dr. Lawrence Katz, the James B. Duke Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, along with Manning Rubin, coined the term Neurobics as a word and a brain fitness program in the early 2000’s. Since then, other folks have jumped on the Neurobics brain-train, helping people all over the world keep their memories sharp and their cognitive skills humming at near-peak performance. Ever since I found this work, I have tried to incorporate some of its suggestions into my daily life. I will be sharing some of those practices and other amusing Neurobics activities this month in Wednesday’s Wisdom, my new, short video offerings I post on Facebook and in my newsletter.

For a refresher on the brain, have a look at a few of my past posts, Draining Our Memory Bank, Stress and Memory, and Slowing Down Our Clocks. Your science lesson for today: When you stay in our comfort zone, stick to routines, and do the same things in the same ways, as you age, your brain begins to atrophy and decline. This happens most noticeably in your hippocampus, and specifically on the little fingerlings of your nerve cells called dendrites.

Dendrites are the branches on the nerve cells that are particularly with memory. Many people believe mental decline is caused by the death of nerve cells, but, in fact, mental decline comes from the reduction of the number and complexity of dendrites. (The “tangles” we hear about in the brains of Alzheimer patients form at the end of the dendrites.) the nerves.

Practicing brain training exercises like Neurobics strengthens the connection between the synapses, even allowing old nerves to grow new dendrites which compensate for the loss of nerves due to lack of use. The results are the better, faster retrieval of old information, and the truly exciting news: these exercises allow the brain to put new information into memory. Old dogs can learn new tricks, it seems. ☺

The science points to Neurobics as being a full brain workout, similar to playing music. How does Neurobics work? It engages our different senses in reordered and novel ways.

Through our eyes we gather the majority of information we know about the world, and as we get older, this dependence on sight alone becomes so intense that our other senses—touch, smell, taste, and hearing– and the nerve synapses associated with these other senses, decline and stop functioning. That means the quadrants of the brain which register these other senses—anterior cortex, cerebellum, and the temporal and frontal cortex– start cruising through life on auto-pilot, and actually begin to shrink. (Eek!) Neurobics asks us to use our other senses to fire up those sleepy quadrants.

Even more good news: You can do this! Try navigating through your morning using only touch. Choose your clothes and get dressed with your eyes closed. Do your morning tasks in a different order—dress before breakfast or the reverse,  then drive a new route to work while periodically breathing in the aroma of a favorite spice. At work, sit in a different chair or go to a new place for lunch.

These are only a few of the many suggestions for shaking it up, taking a different approach to getting through your day. The exercises are fun, and challenging, and since life should have more fun in it, I think this is a perfect thing to jazz up 2019 and build some new dendrites. Who knows? You could become the star of your social circle by greeting every person at next year’s New Year’s Eve party by their first and last name!

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Doing Crossword Puzzles Will Keep Your Brain Fit

I almost decided this myth was too beloved a belief to challenge, but I have never been one to back away from pointing out that the emperor is, in fact, naked. Unfortunately, researchers find that doing crossword puzzles will not keep your brain fit. During a September 2018 visit with Dr. Sandi Chapman, Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and author of Make Your Brain Smarter, she told me, “Doing crossword puzzles makes you good at crossword puzzles.” In her book, she further elaborates, “The important idea to recognize is that you will get better and better at whatever you practice, regardless of age. The limitation to most tasks and activities is that practicing specific tasks makes the person primarily better at the skill practiced, but the brain gains rarely generalize to other skills.” Dr. Fred Wolinsky, at the University of Iowa and creator of the Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study (IHAMS) found the same to be true.

So, if not crossword puzzles, then what should we do to keep our brains more engaged? That is a multifaceted question I will spend the next few posts discussing, but Dr. Wolinsky and Norman Doidge, MD, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and author of The Brain’s Way of Healing, find that doing specific brain training exercises, other than working crossword puzzles, is better at improving several different types of cognitive function. Dr. Chapman adds, “Rather than playing so-called brain games like Sudoku [or doing crosswords], more effective ways to improve memory are to exercise, sleep, and engage in deeper-level thinking.”

Several high-quality, brain-training programs are available for downloading on to your laptop, iPad, or iPhone. Spend some time looking at them and find the one that speaks to you. Develop a consistent practice schedule, and be on your way to thinking and remembering better!

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Blogs In Review 2018

For this last day of 2018, I offer you a recap of my posts for this year to make it a little easier to refer back to or share a favorite one, or for a little refresher for everything we have discussed this year.


February 5—What Does Aging Look Like?

Sixty percent of what most folks believe about seniors is based on ingrained, negative age stereotypes. Unfortunately, these beliefs influence how we age. We can reverse that downward trend by re-choosing every moment of our lives. Instead of thinking old, worn out, senile, unproductive; think wise, resilient, empowered, experienced, accepting…

February 12 –Draining Our Memory Banks

Multi-tasking is for the young, if indeed it ever worked for us then. Multi-tasking in our middle to later years raises the release of stress hormones in our bodies, which negatively impacts our level of brain function. This post outlines four strategies to re-choose how we spend our time so that we can boost rather than drain our brain power.

February 19 – Stress and Memory

Lowering stress levels should be your number one priority. An overabundance of stress messes with your mind, and as you enter middle age, your body doesn’t have the same reserves it once had to preserve brain function. 

February 26 –Slowing Down Our Clocks

Stress increases levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain. Regular exercise not only reverses the damage but also improves brain and memory function.

March 5 – Move It and Improve It

Exercise! Doing so regularly improves sleep, brings down insulin levels, and lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

March 12 – More is Better 

Change up your exercise routines and shoot for 4 different types of physical activity per week to reach optimum brain and body health.

March 19 –Shake Your Booty

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long- term health of your brain.

March 26 –The Rhythm of the Drums 

Music, when combined with aerobic exercise provides the most thorough mind and body work out we know at this moment.

April 2 – Seniors Don’t Have Sex*

It’s time to erase the outdated prejudices and laughable beliefs of the systematic stereotyping called “ageism” and become models of what getting older really looks like—fabulous from here.

April 9 –Explaining Gerontology

Gerontology blends the biological, social, and psychological sciences of aging with humanistic studies of relationships, spirituality, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors of older people.

April 16 – Why I Became a Gerontologist

My goals of empowering, educating, and energizing women to be the best version of themselves evolved from my lifelong fascination of science and my quest to discover more about the process of aging for others and myself where so few available resources existed.

April 23 – Jo Ann Jenkins Rocks!

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP has written Disrupt Aging, a go-to reference for aging vibrantly.

April 30 – Are You Out of Balance?

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

May 7 –The Magic of Music

Moving to jazz, classical, or instrumental –sorry, not rock and roll—enhances your ability to regain and strengthen your balance.

May 14 – I Hear Music

One to three hours of listening to music per week, especially classical, boosts the brain’s capacity to change, adapt, and even grow. In other words, Beethoven and Bach keep your brain young!

May 21 –Play It Again, Sam

Learning to play an instrument increases cognitive performance and improves quality of life. It might also help you sleep better.

May 28 –Make Love and Music

Playing and/or listening to music engage all quadrants of the brain, resulting in higher memory and verbal retrieval.  And, these benefits can last for decades!

June 4 – An Attitude of Gratitude

The power of gratitude to enrich every aspect of our lives can be personally quantified in the Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (GQ6) listed here. 

June 11—Raising Your Gratitude Quotient

Embracing gratitude makes people physically, socially, and psychologically healthier. Grateful people feel less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep—especially in combination with the Gratitude Meditation.

June 18 –The Gifts and Glue of Gratitude

Gratitude, the gift you give yourself, is the heart connection to others that helps you focus on what’s going right in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal makes you mindful of your many blessings.

June 25 –Radical Gratitude

Saying “Thank you” for everything may sound daunting but this expanded use of the Gratitude Meditation brings peaceful thoughts and a greater appreciation of your blessed life, even on those days not seemingly joyful.

July 2 –Up Your Happiness Quotient

Even when facing life’s toughest hurdles, being thankful for the smallest of gifts relieves stress and depression. Dr. Seligman’s powerful tool, “The Gratitude Visit” can help you.

July 9 –Losing Our Armor

After menopause, our hormonal bulletproof armor of younger days vaporizes and we become exposed and unprotected from life’s hardships. Upping our gratitude quotient is the best defense against those stressful times.

July 16 –We’re Out of Control

Much of our stress lies in the fear that life won’t be as we had hoped or planned, and so we decide, consciously or unconsciously, we can’t be happy. Learning how to reboot and gain control of our lives lowers stress and allows us to feel better about those things that aren’t going perfectly.

July 23 — Meditation 101

Practicing meditation, which creates a pause in the circus of life, is a powerful tool in combating life’s more trying times.

July 30 –The Goods On Meditation

Chronic stress speeds up cognitive decline and all degenerative aspects of aging. Studies show practicing mindful meditation can reverse age-related brain degeneration.

September 3 –What Does It Mean To Live Vibrantly?

To age vibrantly we need to cast off outdated notions about aging and focus on the mind and spirit, as well as the body.

September 10 –The Physical Aspects of Being Vibrant

Recognizing, adapting to, and being content with our present abilities—we’re not 25 any more—are key ingredients to living our current lives to the fullest. 

September 17 –Keeping Our Mental Momentum

Setting goals—some of them challenging—being resilient, and accepting ourselves as we are, ensures the active life most adults envision. Regular exercise tops the list for aiding in memory retention.

September 24 – Our Vibrant Hearts

Keeping a positive attitude that allows us to let go of regrets, and practicing some form of spirituality promotes a higher level of emotional well being.  Social connections and involvement lead to a more vibrant and longer life.

October 4- The Doctor Is In With Answers

Claudia Harsh, MD, an expert in the field of women’s medicine, answers questions about the connection between menopause and breast cancer.

October 8—Weighing In On Breast Cancer Preventions

Maintaining a healthy weight and making sound life choices can lower the risk of getting breast cancer.

October 15 –Belly Up To The Bar… Or Not

Two glasses of wine a day may lead to a greater chance of contracting breast cancer, especially in women with a family history of the disease. The good news? Exercise lowers the odds!

October 22 –Prevention On Our Plates

Regular, focused exercise is the number one breast cancer risk reducer, but making friends with vegetables and cutting back on red meat and processed foods come in second and third.

October 29 –More Answers From Dr. Claudia Harsh

Once again Dr. Harsh offers thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer.

November 5 –A Win-Win To Cope With Loneliness This Holiday Season

Making social connections, and especially visiting a senior who is living in a care facility are the most successful ways to change negative feelings of loss and despair to positive feelings of happiness and contentment.

November 12 –Lift Your Spirits and Your Skirt this Season

Winter depression is real! To combat it, get involved—volunteer, mentor a young person, join a group, and find an opportunity to dance the night away!

November 19 – Seeing the Best In Everyone

Playing nice, even with the most tedious guest at the table, will up your happiness quotient.  Listen to an elder’s memories of past holiday celebrations and make some new memories of your own by playing with the children, or just holding someone’s hand. Be present to be happy.

November 26 – Spread A Little Gratitude All Year Long

Rabbi Rami Shapiro has a great way to “Pay It Forward.”  He responds to as many charitable requests his holiday budget allows. Then he finds opportunities in the months ahead to donate to the remaining legitimate charities. Giving throughout the year extends that great feeling you get when you give money to folks who need it.

December 3-Tapping Into A Better Brain

The latest research cites dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brains and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles. I’m a work in progress but my personal experience with tap class has enriched my life.

December 10-Make it Fun!

Our attitudes are everything. We can’t go back to when we were younger, so now the way to feel as good as we can, be as sharp as we are able to be, and look as vibrant as possible, is to invest time, and some money, into taking care of ourselves. New research hot from the field points to fun as the secret sauce for living a long mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy life.

December 17-Sugar Land

Knowing I was eating too much sugar, I decided to drop it from my diet for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. The resulting weight loss was beneficial, but more importantly, I was free of the sugar pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

December 24—With Age Comes Wisdom

In this season of celebration, the underlying message of so many religions—Practice Kindness — has never been more critical. Growing older, gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is often never as important as being kind.


I wish you a Happy, and even healthier, New Year, and more opportunities to… Be Vibrant!

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With Age Comes Wisdom

In this season of celebration for many different religions, one of the anchoring tenants each wisdom tradition holds is acting with kindness toward our fellow humans and all living creatures. Exercising compassion can alleviate our feelings of isolation, solve many problems, and open our hearts to genuine connection to others and the world around us.

As I reached mid-life, showing kindness has become the guiding principle for how I want to live my life each day. This was not always the case. For decades, I chose being right as my number one value. You can imagine how well that often turned out ;-0 For the Baby Boomer generation, and since all time before computers, knowledge was power. We drew our strength and our feelings of acceptance by how much we knew, and like many of us, I wanted everyone to know how much I knew. I am most grateful the old cliché has proven true in my case: With age comes wisdom. Somewhere along the way, wisdom, like a cloak of superior intelligence, enveloped me and I woke up: kindness is where it is at, it’s what wise people practice, what brings one peace. It is the ace that produces a winning hand, every time. Practicing kindness enables me to get out of my head and into my heart, and adopt an attitude of benevolence toward the world and even more importantly, toward myself.

This last step is about gaining wisdom, by reaching an age to look back on the effects my harsher behavior of youth had on myself and others, and then being aware, for having lived long enough to know there is a better way. Learning the values of other religions and their wise traditions opened my eyes to this truth, and from there my life has soared. Kindness elevates the conversation by shifting everyone’s perspective and allowing light to shine into a darkened heart. Kindness is the answer, now more than ever, as so many are suffering around the world.

In this season of celebrations, on the cusp of a New Year, I celebrate this hard-earned wisdom I acquired. I am so grateful that I now understand—a little later than sooner– but in plenty of time for me to share it all around.

The Adventures of LJ and GE™

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Blogs In Review 2018

February 5—What Does Aging Look Like?

Sixty percent of what most folks believe about seniors is based on ingrained, negative age stereotypes. Unfortunately, these beliefs influence how we age. We can reverse that downward trend by re-choosing every moment of our lives. Instead of thinking old, worn out, senile, unproductive; think wise, resilient, empowered, experienced, accepting…

February 12 –Draining Our Memory Banks

Multi-tasking is for the young, if indeed it ever worked for us then. Multi-tasking in our middle to later years raises the release of stress hormones in our bodies, which negatively impacts our level of brain function. This post outlines four strategies to re-choose how we spend our time so that we can boost rather than drain our brain power.

February 19 – Stress and Memory

Lowering stress levels should be your number one priority. An overabundance of stress messes with your mind, and as you enter middle age, your body doesn’t have the same reserves it once had to preserve brain function. 

February 26 –Slowing Down Our Clocks

Stress increases levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain. Regular exercise not only reverses the damage but also improves brain and memory function.

March 5 – Move It and Improve It

Exercise! Doing so regularly improves sleep, brings down insulin levels, and lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

March 12 – More is Better 

Change up your exercise routines and shoot for 4 different types of physical activity per week to reach optimum brain and body health.

March 19 –Shake Your Booty

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long- term health of your brain.

March 26 –The Rhythm of the Drums 

Music, when combined with aerobic exercise provides the most thorough mind and body work out we know at this moment.

April 2 – Seniors Don’t Have Sex*

It’s time to erase the outdated prejudices and laughable beliefs of the systematic stereotyping called “ageism” and become models of what getting older really looks like—fabulous from here.

April 9 –Explaining Gerontology

Gerontology blends the biological, social, and psychological sciences of aging with humanistic studies of relationships, spirituality, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors of older people.

April 16 – Why I Became a Gerontologist

My goals of empowering, educating, and energizing women to be the best version of themselves evolved from my lifelong fascination of science and my quest to discover more about the process of aging for others and myself where so few available resources existed.

April 23 – Jo Ann Jenkins Rocks!

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP has written Disrupt Aging, a go-to reference for aging vibrantly.

April 30 – Are You Out of Balance?

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

May 7 –The Magic of Music

Moving to jazz, classical, or instrumental –sorry, not rock and roll—enhances your ability to regain and strengthen your balance.

May 14 – I Hear Music

One to three hours of listening to music per week, especially classical, boosts the brain’s capacity to change, adapt, and even grow. In other words, Beethoven and Bach keep your brain young!

May 21 –Play It Again, Sam

Learning to play an instrument increases cognitive performance and improves quality of life. It might also help you sleep better.

May 28 –Make Love and Music

Playing and/or listening to music engage all quadrants of the brain, resulting in higher memory and verbal retrieval.  And, these benefits can last for decades!

June 4 – An Attitude of Gratitude

The power of gratitude to enrich every aspect of our lives can be personally quantified in the Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (GQ6) listed here. 

June 11—Raising Your Gratitude Quotient

Embracing gratitude makes people physically, socially, and psychologically healthier. Grateful people feel less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep—especially in combination with the Gratitude Meditation.

June 18 –The Gifts and Glue of Gratitude

Gratitude, the gift you give yourself, is the heart connection to others that helps you focus on what’s going right in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal makes you mindful of your many blessings.

June 25 –Radical Gratitude

Saying “Thank you” for everything may sound daunting but this expanded use of the Gratitude Meditation brings peaceful thoughts and a greater appreciation of your blessed life, even on those days not seemingly joyful.

July 2 –Up Your Happiness Quotient

Even when facing life’s toughest hurdles, being thankful for the smallest of gifts relieves stress and depression. Dr. Seligman’s powerful tool, “The Gratitude Visit” can help you.

July 9 –Losing Our Armor

After menopause, our hormonal bulletproof armor of younger days vaporizes and we become exposed and unprotected from life’s hardships. Upping our gratitude quotient is the best defense against those stressful times.

July 16 –We’re Out of Control

Much of our stress lies in the fear that life won’t be as we had hoped or planned, and so we decide, consciously or unconsciously, we can’t be happy. Learning how to reboot and gain control of our lives lowers stress and allows us to feel better about those things that aren’t going perfectly.

July 23 — Meditation 101

Practicing meditation, which creates a pause in the circus of life, is a powerful tool in combating life’s more trying times.

July 30 –The Goods On Meditation

Chronic stress speeds up cognitive decline and all degenerative aspects of aging. Studies show practicing mindful meditation can reverse age-related brain degeneration.

September 3 –What Does It Mean To Live Vibrantly?

To age vibrantly we need to cast off outdated notions about aging and focus on the mind and spirit, as well as the body.

September 10 –The Physical Aspects of Being Vibrant

Recognizing, adapting to, and being content with our present abilities—we’re not 25 any more—are key ingredients to living our current lives to the fullest. 

September 17 –Keeping Our Mental Momentum

Setting goals—some of them challenging—being resilient, and accepting ourselves as we are, ensures the active life most adults envision. Regular exercise tops the list for aiding in memory retention.

September 24 – Our Vibrant Hearts

Keeping a positive attitude that allows us to let go of regrets, and practicing some form of spirituality promotes a higher level of emotional well being.  Social connections and involvement lead to a more vibrant and longer life.

October 4- The Doctor Is In With Answers

Claudia Harsh, MD, an expert in the field of women’s medicine, answers questions about the connection between menopause and breast cancer.

October 8—Weighing In On Breast Cancer Preventions

Maintaining a healthy weight and making sound life choices can lower the risk of getting breast cancer.

October 15 –Belly Up To The Bar… Or Not

Two glasses of wine a day may lead to a greater chance of contracting breast cancer, especially in women with a family history of the disease. The good news? Exercise lowers the odds!

October 22 –Prevention On Our Plates

Regular, focused exercise is the number one breast cancer risk reducer, but making friends with vegetables and cutting back on red meat and processed foods come in second and third.

October 29 –More Answers From Dr. Claudia Harsh

Once again Dr. Harsh offers thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer.

November 5 –A Win-Win To Cope With Loneliness This Holiday Season

Making social connections, and especially visiting a senior who is living in a care facility are the most successful ways to change negative feelings of loss and despair to positive feelings of happiness and contentment.

November 12 –Lift Your Spirits and Your Skirt this Season

Winter depression is real! To combat it, get involved—volunteer, mentor a young person, join a group, and find an opportunity to dance the night away!

November 19 – Seeing the Best In Everyone

Playing nice, even with the most tedious guest at the table, will up your happiness quotient.  Listen to an elder’s memories of past holiday celebrations and make some new memories of your own by playing with the children, or just holding someone’s hand. Be present to be happy.

November 26 – Spread A Little Gratitude All Year Long

Rabbi Rami Shapiro has a great way to “Pay It Forward.”  He responds to as many charitable requests his holiday budget allows. Then he finds opportunities in the months ahead to donate to the remaining legitimate charities. Giving throughout the year extends that great feeling you get when you give money to folks who need it.

December 3-Tapping Into A Better Brain

The latest research cites dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brains and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles. I’m a work in progress but my personal experience with tap class has enriched my life.

December 10-Make it Fun!

Our attitudes are everything. We can’t go back to when we were younger, so now the way to feel as good as we can, be as sharp as we are able to be, and look as vibrant as possible, is to invest time, and some money, into taking care of ourselves. New research hot from the field points to fun as the secret sauce for living a long mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy life.

December 17-Sugar Land

Knowing I was eating too much sugar, I decided to drop it from my diet for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. The resulting weight loss was beneficial, but more importantly, I was free of the sugar pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

December 24—With Age Comes Wisdom

In this season of celebration, the underlying message of so many religions—Practice Kindness — has never been more critical. Growing older, gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is often never as important as being kind.

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Myth: Most Older Adults Live in Nursing Homes and Cannot Get Around by Themselves

This myth makes me so angry I could rip the fender off a tractor-trailer with my pinky– the one on my bad hand. The real truth is that only about 5% of older adults live in nursing homes, and most are totally mobile, according to the statistics from the government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,5%! With the number of ads showing a family putting the feeble mother-in-law in a home, or a grandparent who needs a nurse around the clock, it is no wonder folks in the US, and especially the younger ones, think all seniors live in Final Acres Retirement Village.

Most seniors today live in their own homes, and many still work, at least part time. Others have downsized into smaller dwellings to enjoy the freedom from routine yard work and household maintenance. Many of these folks are just too busy traveling, enjoying grandchildren, and exploring new hobbies to think about spending any time in a nursing home.

Last season, even Grace & Frankie’s lovely children sent them to a nursing home, and that lasted about five minutes. Seriously, who could believe Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin should be in a home? That scenario is as ridiculous as it is just plain wrong!

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Sugar Land

As I eat lunch today, I am looking over the Food Section of the newspaper and reading easy cookie recipes for people who don’t know how to bake, or just don’t love to bake. Before reading the recipe, I hone in on how much sugar each recipe uses; I sigh.

I think back to last December, when I had gained a few pounds after returning to school. While there, I had relearned the hard sparkling truth about white sugar, and so I decided to give up all sugar from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas Day. ALL sugar. That included wine, too, not just festive holiday cookies you see in bakeries and at parties once a year, or the Panettone specialty bread and other yeasty delights available only during December, and let’s not even talk about forgoing chocolate. Just thinking about that loss makes me close my eyes and center myself with five deep breaths. 

You may be thinking, “Were you just crazy, or what, to forgo sugar at the very best time for all things sweet?” Honestly, there was a method to my madness beyond becoming a masochist for thirty days. First, I had experienced a number of holiday seasons: this wasn’t my first rodeo. I truly believed I had tasted all the holiday treats anyone has ever invented, and so giving up sweets for one season seemed doable. Desperation to fit into my clothes became a strong motivator, after failing to lose the weight after my courses ended. On Thanksgiving Day the pumpkin pie slid too easily down my throat for me to truly grasp that those bites were the last sugar, in any form, I would have for thirty days, except for one-half cup of berries three times a week the nutritionist said I needed to keep me healthy and flu-free.

Yes, a couple of times I fell into the sugar ditch and took a bite of something made with the forbidden plant, but I didn’t beat myself up or dwell on it. I just considered how I felt emotionally and physically, and vowed to get back on the high road, ASAP.  I did, and I noticed several things as the month went on: I was less wired, less irritable, and my head was clearer. I even slept better, despite the stresses of the season. The best part came while packing to travel at Christmas…almost all my clothes fit! I had dropped five pounds and I was a few inches smaller in the classic three measurements-bust, waist, and hips. I had done it, and to be completely honest, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, mainly because I had become very motivated to lose weight. An additional benefit I experienced, which I know from my work, came from a decreased desire for sugar after the month ended. I was free of its pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

Have I gone back to eating sugar? Yes, but so much less than before. Feeling free from, well, let’s face it, sugar addiction, is powerful, and knowing I can take it or leave it feeds that awareness even more. Now, when I have sugar it’s a conscious decision, and I can take two or three bites of something and be satisfied. (Since I love to cook, I do like to taste everything!)  

I am not suggesting you give up sugar during the holidays, but I think it is important for me to walk the walk and talk the talk, if I am asking you to consider your sugar intake this holiday season. Writing to suggest you eat less sugar, in say June, would be a piece of cake, oops, sorry, a lovely cup of berries.????

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Make It Fun!

Some days I feel like I spend the entire twenty-four hours doing things that will help me when I’m “old.” I know that’s not quite true, I am reaping the benefits today of all the positive things I do for myself and as a gerontologist I think it is important to “walk the walk and talk the talk.” However, sometimes it all just feels a little overwhelming—use the alternate hand to brush my teeth and my hair to lay new track in my brain, eat a high-quality breakfast to help control my weight and get in the necessary nutrients, take supplements after breakfast to cover any short-fall in nutrient consumption from breakfast, get dressed using non-dominant hand.

This is all happening, mind you, before nine AM. Then, taking a different route to a meeting to help keep my brain active, practicing tap dancing for an hour (laying more track), then lunch—again a challenge for getting in those nine servings of fruits and veggies, plus protein. After lunch, learning something new to add to my blog posts, writing said post, then walking George for fresh air and connecting with nature, a couple of quick conversations with friends to maintain my social network, cook dinner—yep, same song as breakfast and lunch, third verse. Follow this by practicing the piano– again for new brain tracks, then brushing again and flossing, hot bath to relax and decompress so that I can be in bed with lights out by 11pm to get the eight hours of restorative sleep needed to repair any damage done by all of the above, and just living and breathing the air and experiencing the stress of life in a big city. Whew! Just writing all that made me want to lie down.

taking care of ourselves
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

It was so much easier when we were younger, and took so much less time to keep looking and feeling good. That is what I miss most about my younger days. But, we can’t go back, so now the way to feel as good as we can, be as sharp as we are able to be, and look as vibrant as possible, is to invest time, and some money, into taking care of ourselves.

Is there some good news somewhere in here, L.J., you ask? But, of course! The incredible and miraculous machine of the human body, when cared for with some love and attention, can stay running at near-peak performance for a long time– well into our nineties, our upper nineties, and beyond, according to research coming out now regarding large swaths of folks alive today around the world. What I am figuring out is how to make the maintenance fun. My idea of fun might not be yours, and that may not have been your first thought upon reading the laundry list of “must-dos” above, but the winning answer for $10,000 is: make it fun. New research hot from the field points to fun as the secret sauce for living a long mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy life—a new concept for this sometimes too serious Virgo social scientist, but worth trying.

After much thought, I began to see ways to make all the maintenance be more fun, beginning with an attitude adjustment that will make it so. Our attitudes are everything, research also tells us, so adopting one that no matter what our day ahead is like, how little we enjoy eating vegetables, finding a way to make these tasks fun, and sharing that lighter-hearted approach with our fellow aging friends (and strangers) slowly refocuses our lives from drudgery to one never-ending party. As Mary Poppins said, “Snap, it’s all a game!” Maybe not overnight, but with time, we can lighten our spirits and see the fun, and the beauty, of life all around us. One day not too far in the distance from today, laughter—the outward and tangible expression of a person having fun, will become your morning song and evening vespers; I’m betting my life on it, because who wants to be Grumpy Cat all the time? (I bet he never gets invited to fun parties;-)

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: Aging Makes You Unproductive

The findings from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks this myth wide open. It seems that as the kiddos leave the nest, so do the parents. According to the latest data, a whopping 29% of the population, the highest number of folks who volunteer, begin giving back around age forty-five. This number dips a little to 24% for seniors sixty-five and over. People in the last half of their lives supply an immeasurable number of hours in both helping with child-rearing and volunteering at worthy organizations. Women make up the majority of volunteers, especially in caring for the grand wee ones and elderly parents or relatives, but the men aren’t far behind them in the overall number of volunteering hours.

The contribution of those at mid-life and beyond makes an enormous impact on our society. Heaven save us from where we would be without the blessing of time the older ones have to give. The statistics also show that seniors are the happiest age group of all. Maybe it’s the giving back. Could there be a correlation? I’ll keep that topic for another day.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Myth: All Seniors Have Dementia

Did you know all seniors suffer from dementia? Many younger people truly believe all seniors suffer from dementia. Dementia being the umbrella term for degenerative brain diseases, of which Alzheimer’s is the most recognizable expression.

The truth here is that in the last twenty years, the number of folks demonstrating non-Alzheimer dementia symptoms has dropped to just under 9% of the senior population in both the USA and the UK. The highly respected magazine, The Lancet, as well as several studies from the United States, find more seniors have healthy brain function. The numbers have actually dropped from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012

It’s good to know we seniors still have our wits!

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Tapping Into A Better Brain

A number of years ago, before I went back to school to study gerontology, I began noticing articles in a variety of publications suggesting that exercise might just be the key to unlock the door to vibrant health—mentally and physically– as we enter the second half of our lives. As I write this, we now know beyond all doubt that exercising every day is the key to dynamic aging. It will effectively disrupt aging and can stave off a vat full of health problems. Earlier this year in two posts, Shake Your Booty and The Rhythm of the Drums, I explored the latest research citing dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brain and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles.

If you ever participated in your high school’s annual musical production, or took modern dance or ballet because your mother forced you to, you will remember those students who never got the steps, and who had the grace of a spastic earwig. I confess to being one of those students. Therefore it was with no expectations, and little hope, that I signed up for tap class. The first semester wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t cotton on to this kind of dance; so different from the free-form rock and roll dancing I knew. I would sit in my car after class and cry, disheartened that the parade of life had passed me by and that, maybe, I was too old to get this.  Same experience for the second and third semesters, but by the beginning of the fourth, I noticed a small but encouraging change: I could remember how to execute some of the steps after a few tries, and some days both feet would behave for most of the class. Finally, I could keep up with the routine. My teacher, Vicky, a life-long dancer near my own age, who is demanding but very kind, never gave up on me. My fellow tappers were also free of judgement and full of encouragement. The continuously positive environment was the reason I stayed, unlike years before when a ballet teacher shamed me in front of the class for being such a hopeless beginner.  

Shuffle-ball-change by double-toe-tap, I improved. Some weeks it all flows, and other weeks I just give up and make up my own steps while the others tap out a perfect routine. Over time I learned to joke and laugh at my mistakes, and everyone laughed with me. I gave up trying to be perfect, and let the over-achieving aspect of L.J. take a break on the bench. 

As our time together as a class has increased, everyone has lightened up, we laugh more, and have a lot of fun. Some days we follow class with lunch together. I look forward to my class each week, and miss it when summer comes. About the same time I could follow along fairly well, I noticed my mind felt clearer, a little sharper. Now, even when I am tired I think better, and my thoughts seem more organized. From my research I know the tracks I began laying in my brain two years ago have gone from resembling noodles, to ones stronger than cardboard, to pathways now as strong as wood. That’s only one step away from making permanent steel tracks. Maybe then I can get the routine down on the second or third try. At this moment, I am so grateful I didn’t give up, that I found a new form of exercise I enjoy.  

And, I expanded my world with new friends who share my passion for aging vibrantly. 

 Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Sending Gratitude All Year

Every afternoon I have to shake my head each time I open my overflowing mailbox. Spilling out I find enough catalogs to reforest a small country, or the state of Kansas, offering me holiday happiness through an amazing array of stuff that I didn’t even know existed. Shuffled in with these products of felled trees is a smaller glade of letters from every legitimate, and not so legitimate, charity this side of Venus asking for some of my end-of–the year dollars.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know how much the worthy causes depend on EOY donations to make their budgets. I have walked in those shoes and so each December I donate to as many as possible because it makes me feel fabulous to give money away to people and organizations in need. Extending that feeling of giving as a form of gratitude is the topic for today.

Years ago in Spirituality & Health magazine I read a short piece about an unusual gratitude practice by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, one of my favorite go-to spiritual people. It stuck with me. Each day, before he began his writing time, he would send a check to one of the charities he believed in. As he said, it wasn’t a big check; and that wasn’t the point.

The ritual (and I am guessing he still does it) is about giving as a form of gratitude for what one has been given– paying it forward. It would take an additional forest at least the size of Vermont to print all the articles written about what giving does for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Some of the benefits of daily gratitude I covered earlier.

To offer just a smidgeon of science on the topic, decades of studies show how giving money to those in need results in us feeling happier. Three regions of our brain are fired up when we are generous—the area associated with social behavior, generosity, happiness and decision-making. We experience a cascade of good-feeling hormones which floods our body, creating in us what Dr. Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia called, “The warm glow of giving.” This feeling is noted to be universal among the 120 countries included in the study. At the University of Zurich researchers found that the amount of money given didn’t change the effect of how much happier one felt. It is the act of giving that evokes the positive benefits.

For folks who don’t regularly sit down to write every day, here are some thoughts on how to adapt this practice.

Many of us give regularly to our houses of worship, especially if we attend their services each week, and so our giving muscle already has some definition.

Next, let’s focus on all those saplings in the form of year-end solicitation letters. After I have exhausted the bank balance designated for giving this holiday season, instead of tossing those remaining requests, I bundle all the legitimate ones into a stack and tuck them away. I suggest you do the same. Then you can use those letters throughout the following year to extend the indescribable feeling of quiet joy we all get when we give away something we value, in this case, money.

Maybe you can set a schedule—say once a week on Sunday evening, to take a few quiet minutes after you have completed your Gratitude Meditation 😉 and open one of the letters and express giving as a form of gratitude.

Think about the people who will benefit from your generosity and imagine them holding your gift in their hands. Let yourself acknowledge the altruistic feelings that come from this loving act. Then, write the check to the charity, or go online and enter your credit card. Afterward, you might slip into bed and sleep the sleep of the grateful. Or, slide into a warm tub (my personal fav) and be enveloped in the feelings of gratitude.

Although it may seem a stretch to see paying forward as a counter to loneliness, it helps in a non-tangible way that accumulates with time. A stealth fighter for positive benefit.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Seeing the Best in Everyone

 The Adventures of LJ and GE™

On Thursday Americans will observe Thanksgiving, a holiday that focuses on being thankful, and eating yummy food. What could be better? It’s also a day that for many of us involves sitting at a table with family members we only see on this one day each year. Or, it might be a gathering of your most beloved relatives and significant other, close loving friends and precious, well-behaved children. Or, perhaps you’ll be sharing a meal with friends whose families live in distant places, or have passed away. Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, I would like to offer a few choices of behavior you might consider which will up your happiness quotient.

If you find yourself seated across from your cousin Irma whose beliefs are the opposite of yours on just about everything, and who loves to chatter endlessly about her plan for world peace which involves cross-breeding llamas with cats, pause a moment, and take a few deep breaths. Look at Irma and say quietly to yourself while she praters on:

  • “We both desire a life filled with joy and happiness.” Slowly exhale.
  • Inhale. “We both suffered sadness, anger, and have lived with fear.”  Slowly exhale.
  • Inhale. “We both desire respect and love.” Slowly exhale.
  • Inhale. “We are both doing the best we can.” Slowly exhale.
  • Inhale. “We are both equally parts of Spirit/God/Source (You choose what feels best.) In truth, you and I and Spirit/God/Source are one energy body. We are one.” Slowly exhale.

If you practice this mantra the day before on your best friend over coffee, or your sleeping spouse on the sofa, you will be prepared to handle THE DAY… and cousin Irma.

You can use this exercise anywhere, anytime you want to strengthen and increase meaningful connection during the holidays, be it with a loved one or a stranger. (It works on pets, too. Just ask George Eliot!)

My second recommendation for making a heart connection this Thanksgiving Day and during this holiday season has several parts. 

Part One: seek out an older person in the room. Go and sit by her. Most likely you are related to her, or know her– even better if you don’t, as you can make a new friend.  Ask her what she loves about this holiday, what are some of her best memories. Ask open-ended questions that require answers longer than yes or no. You will be amazed at what you will learn from this wise, older gal, and she will feel great having the attention and getting to talk about her life. Then listen, really listen. When the conversation is over, notice how you feel.

Part Two: Get on the floor with the wee ones and play! Now, I don’t mean just hold the dolly while Lily works the story with her doll and the other members of the doll family. No, I mean get in there and contribute to the story line with your doll and have real make-believe conversations. This may include building a small housing development for them from books and towels. Go for it.

Part Three: Once everyone has eaten and the pie plates are empty, go around the table and ask each person to say three things they are grateful for today. This is the best way I know to end a holiday meal, and it makes doing the dishes so easy 😉

My heartfelt wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving to you!

Until next time….Be Vibrant!

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Lift Your Spirits and Your Skirt this Season

Every time we enter a retail establishment, turn on the TV, or get a whiff of the new pumpkin spiced mouthwash, we know the holiday blitz has arrived. This season of celebrations with fantasy-perfect family gatherings, delicious food and later, sparkling lights and pine scented overload, is not the easiest time for everyone. Amid Susan learning to believe, and Clarence getting his wings, many among us struggle with feeling alone and depressed during the holidays. This is true for people of all ages, but those of us with a few decades behind us can feel it even more. The longing for loved ones with whom we once shared holidays — be they parents, grandparents, or a spouse, who have passed away; or family members and friends who live great distances from us, often becomes especially painful around this time of year. SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder-also called “winter depression” can compound our unhappy feelings, and do a double-whammy on our ability to enjoy the season, so much that it is now a recognized disorder among older adults. Financial issues can also contribute to feelings of depression during the season of More is Better and Greed is Good. 

So, how do we lift our sagging hearts from lower than our knees and feel as light as a snowflake and as happy as a four year-old? One way is to lift our skirts, or boots if you’re a man, and go dancing. I wrote many words earlier this year about the benefits of dancing, and so have a look at Shake Your Booty or The Rhythm of the Drums, and find a place this season to take a partner, or join a group, and dance the night away. The research shows what relationships do for our health is so positive, and letting go and following the rhythm of the beat can give us a well-needed release of serotonin– the feel-good hormone, boost our immune systems, and bring on restorative sleep. Sounds like a winning combo to me. Many studies prove that our resistance to getting cancer, heart disease, and even dementia, as well as a bushel basket of other chronic diseases is greatly enhanced when we are connected to people in social, and even better in intimate 😉 situations. In fact, we add nine years to our life expectancy by hanging with others.

The data is in and the news is good: Those who volunteer, mentor, or simply lend a compassionate ear are healthier, experience higher self-esteems, and report feeling happier about their lives and life in general. I discussed above joining in a Bogie Nights Fest, or a Square Dancing Marathon, and here are some other ways to connect this season:

  1. Check out holiday events in your area. Look online or in the newspaper for a list of events for all ages; pick a few and go! You will either have a good time, or a good story to tell.  Additionally, go to the website, Meetup.com for information about special interest groups or social groups for older adults in your area.
  2. Sign up to volunteer. This is the season of giving, so up the gratitude quotient in your own life, and give some back to those in need. You will feel the joy of the season and reap the health benefits that come from serving others. An added bonus–you’re also more likely to meet like-minded people looking to expand their own social networks!
  3. Mentor a child, or spend time with children. The International Council on Active Aging reported that people over 55 who volunteered to assist school children or tutor not only improved cognitive function, but also burned twice as many calories as non-volunteers. (Isn’t that great news!) Being with children requires that we become more active and focused. Kids also remind us to believe again, as we did in our own childhoods, in fairies and Santa Claus, and that all things are possible. Then at the end of the day, they go home and you go home, to different houses. What could be better?

Even in this wild world we are living in, we can experience much happiness and joy  this season, and all year long, if we chose to embrace it. We can overcome our feeling of loneliness and depression by opening the door and stepping outside, breathing in the crisp air, and choosing to extend our hand to a fellow human who could be lonely, as well. Nothing I know warms up cold fingers faster.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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A Win-Win to Cope With Loneliness This Holiday Season

Want to fill TWO glasses to overflowing during the holiday season– both yours if you struggle with depression and loneliness during the holidays, and that of a senior citizen living in a care facility or who spends their days at a senior citizen center? That answering elixir is poured from the same bottle: spending time with a person living in a care community combats loneliness. 

As we have discussed previously, social connection, that is, human face-to face, heart-to-heart visits are the most potent way to change negative feelings of loss and isolation to feelings of happiness and contentment. And, these visits benefit the giver just as much as the receiver. Isn’t that the coolest? 

holiday loneliness
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

From my blog on September 24th, Our Vibrant Hearts,  we know that no matter our age, we all need social connections to stay healthy. Seniors are no different from twenty-five or forty-five year olds; they’ve just aged a bit. Many of us now have someone—a parent or grandparent, or an extended family member living in a care community. These folks would jump for joy, perhaps only in their own minds, to have a visit from you. This becomes especially true during November and December when they may be yearning for past joyous holiday seasons with loved ones who are no longer here on Earth. This is true for many seniors living in care facilities, and even more so if they don’t have any family, their family is far away, estranged, or just not interested.

Now, for the exciting good news? The loneliness and depression both you and the senior might be feeling will melt away like the first snowfall when the two of you share time and stories and, maybe a mug of cocoa, together. Research shows us how powerful these visits are to increase meaningful connection during the holidays, lift the fog of depression and bring joy to every one participating. It also shows that a little goes a long way for both parties. Grand gestures aren’t necessary. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on gifts or plan elaborate get-togethers.  Happiness resides in the small things, listening being the number one gift, followed by just holding a person’s hand. These gestures rank as the kindest, most comforting acts one person can give to another; the giver becomes the receiver in the same moment. 

This holiday season make a point to visit your elders if you are feeling down, or volunteer an hour or so at a senior care facility. First, contact the facility to be clear on the visiting hours and any planned special events. Then, schedule your visit during a free time so that your senior can relish the one-on-one time with just you. Most older adults love to be around children, especially at the holidays, so bring yours or borrow a niece, nephew, or cousin (assuming you know them well), and take along a favorite toy or book to entertain them just in case. One side note, if the kiddos are under the weather on the day of your planned visit, leave them behind. Seniors are much more susceptible to illness than younger people. After your visit, take a few minutes to sit quietly when you return home and think about how you feel. Savor the interaction as a gift you gave yourself and one you can repeat whenever you have time. That is a blessing of the season.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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More Answers From Dr. Claudia Harsh

I am ending this month by returning to our expert, Dr. Claudia Harsh, who offers us all more good information about breast cancer and women 55+.

Q. Can breast cancer ever be cured? What is the percentage of return if contracted before menopause? After menopause? 

Dr. Harsh: Using the word “cure” is problematic because it doesn’t answer the question of WHY the cancer developed in the first place. A better way to look at this is “what do we know about preventing breast cancer recurrence?”

The number of breast cancer survivors in the United States continues to increase. A review article quoted that there were 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States in 2012 and showed the number expanded to 3.4 million in 2015. This is happening because of improved early detection, improved chemotherapy options both during treatment and after treatment is completed, and a better understanding of hereditary breast cancer with the use of proactive “prophylactic” surgeries.

If breast cancer is detected before menopause, we know there is an increased risk of a second cancer – whether it is in the same breast in the same location (considered a recurrence) or in a different location in the same breast or in the opposite breast (considered a second primary cancer) over that patient’s lifetime.

Why is this? Again, as I said before, one of the biggest risk factors is age. Increasing age will increase the risk of cancer. The percentages of recurrence or, a second primary cancer, is difficult to pin down. We know that one in five women will develop either a recurrence or, a second primary cancer, after completion of five years of post-treatment adjuvant therapy (tamoxifen for example).

Breast cancer recurrence rates are related to:

  • The initial stage of cancer (how far it had spread) 
  • The type of breast cancer or grade (what the cells look like or what part of the breast tissue is involved)
  • The family history or presence of a gene associated with increased risk
  • Other treatment related factors such as radiation therapy
  • Post treatment anti-estrogen therapy
  • The use of granulocyte colony-stimulating factors (such as Neupogen™, Granix™ etc.) during treatment 

BUT NOW let’s talk about what we know that reduces the risk of recurrence!

L.J has covered the most important tips for breast cancer prevention in her blog post these last few weeks, so to recap: 

  • Increasing good carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans/lentils, whole grains, and natural soy products) and good fats (flaxseed, omega-3 fatty acids and nuts) are associated with improved survival.
  • Conversely, decreasing animal protein such as beef and pork along with trans-fats used in fried food will decrease your risk.
  • Increased exercise of 30 minutes, five days a week is protective.
  • Stress management techniques such as heart rate variability training (HeartMath™), meditation and decreasing body weight to less than 30 kg/m2 is protective.
  • Avoiding tobacco use completely (both smoking and “vaping”) and limiting alcohol consumption to one drink/day is also protective. 

Q. Are there any symptoms to watch for? 

Dr. Harsh: Screening for breast cancer comes down to knowing your body and taking advantage of the technology that exists for screening.

Watch for a lump in the breast or chest wall or armpit area. I often use the analogy of a grain of rice dried and stuck to the countertop when I teach women to detect their own cancer with their fingertips.

Cancer is often (but not always) fixed or “stuck”, irregular to touch and associated with a skin dimple where it is pulling on the supportive ligaments of the breast. Nipple retraction, nipple discharge either clear or bloody, redness, scaling or thickening of the nipple can also be found. A rash on the breast that is unresponsive to antibiotics should be evaluated.

Symptoms of recurrence can be new-onset localized bone pain, persistent chest pain, persistent cough, persistent abdominal pain, unintended weight loss, persistent headache, personality changes, new-onset seizures or loss of consciousness. 

Q. Does contracting breast cancer before menopause increase the risk of getting it again after menopause? 

Dr. Harsh: The short answer is yes. Cancer incidence increases with age – likely due to a cumulative effect of cell damage and less efficient repair.

Q. Breast cancer rates are increasing. Why? Is that for both pre- and post-menopausal women?

Dr. Harsh: Actually, the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States began decreasing in the year 2000 after increasing for the previous two decades. The risk dropped by 7% from 2002 to 2003.

One theory is that this decrease was partially due to the reduced use of hormone replacement therapy by women after the results of the large study called the Women’s Health Initiative that showed a connection between hormone therapy use (specifically conjugated equine estrogen or Premarin™ and synthetic progestagens Provera™) that was published in 2002. 

Reasons for the increased rates in the 1980’s and 90’s is likely related to improved screening techniques and increased numbers of women receiving screening.

Q. Is post menopausal breast cancer hereditary? 

Dr. Harsh: Although post-menopause breast cancer can be hereditary about 10% of the time, most women with a genetic mutation causing breast cancer develop the tumor statistically earlier in their lives.


I am very grateful to Claudia for her thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer. I hope you have found them helpful; I know I have.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Prevention On Our Plates

In drilling deep into breast cancer prevention for women, I find recommendations based on several factors. In aiding prevention for women before mid-life, prevention for postmenopausal women, and what suggestions help postmenopausal women who have had breast cancer, there exists some common approaches which are very encouraging. 

breast cancer prevention
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

Regular, focused exercise across the lifespan wins the day as the number one risk reducer. I know dear reader, this seems like a broken refrain, but think of how many positive benefits we get from regular exercise, not the least exciting result is a trimmer figure and higher metabolism–allowing for the occasional pizza splurge, since isn’t the holy grail about having pizza? But, I digress. 

On the subject of diet, the latest research reveals some strong pros and cons for what we put on our plates. Several very large studies from both the US at the National Cancer Institute and The Oregon Health and Science University, and in China through The Shanghai Breast Cancer Study (SBCS), and included in research from Vanderbilt University, indicate making friends with vegetables is a great idea, especially a family of veggies call cruciferous. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but I know them when I see the on the produce aisle:

  • Arugula
  • Bok Choy
  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
  • Wasabi

This wide variety of vegetables can lower our risk of breast cancer (50%) and pancreatic cancer (38%), and a man’s risk of prostate cancer (46%) or pancreatic cancer (35%). One serving a day for postmenopausal women without a history of breast cancer gave them a 50% advantage over non-cruciferous eaters. That’s some heavy leafy armor. More studies are going on as I write, and I am hopeful these finding are further supported by these study results. If the vegetables were rated for firepower, the Bazooka Award would go to the simple cabbage and humble turnip, both vegetables readily available in many, many parts of the world and still pretty much ignored by Top Chefs.   

 To give us a little protein, eat fish, but stick to low mercury fish. A list of these low-mercury swimmers is regularly updated on www.nrdc.org, the top contenders by potency: mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, herring and oysters. Red meat does not make the list, and on the big no-no list is charred (grilled) red meat. It seems that crusty, (slightly) burned areas are very carcinogenic (poisonous) for us humans and turn the breast cancer risk-meter way up.  Cutting out food which appears high on the glycemic index, something, along with insulin resistance, I discussed in my blog post Move it and Improve It can trim our risk. 

The science dovetails nicely with what we know makes up a healthy diet, providing many crossover benefits which raises our resistance breast cancer, while making our hair shinier, our skin clearer, lowering inflammation throughout our bodies, and helping us sleep better, and last, but such a bell-ringing winner, feeding our brains to improve our cognitive functions. Give those veggies a gold medal! (Cue national anthem ;-).

Until next time…Be Vibrant! 

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Belly Up To The Bar...Or, Not

I do love red wine, and I’m married to a wine lover, and I have really cut back on my alcohol consumption, wine included, since I learned about the connection between alcohol and breast cancer. 

From the Breast Cancer News website:

Just one alcohol-containing beverage a day — less than a standard drink — is sufficient to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to a new report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

This mega-report, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer,” brought together 119 studies and included information from 12 million women, 260,000 who had breast cancer. The study found that there is a 5% increase in risk for women before menopause, and a 9% increase for women after menopause. That doesn’t sound like much, but if there is a family history of breast cancer, or if a woman has had breast cancer, the risk more than doubles. Double-digit risk of anything is enough to give a person something to think about before she orders that frozen strawberry margarita. 

alcohol and breast cancer
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

In another study, The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center looked at 87,000+ postmenopausal women without a prior history of breast cancer and found that the more drinks a woman had per week, the more her risk of invasive breast cancer increased. Again, if a woman has a family history or previous diagnosis, her risk more than doubled at 14 drinks per week, or two glasses of wine a night. Eek!

Now for the good news (whew!) There are ways to lower one’s risk. I don’t want to sound like the proverbial broken record, but our old friend, exercise, is showing up as a great way to lower our risk. In the mega-report mentioned above, pre-menopausal women who participated in vigorous exercise like running, biking fast, HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training (see my blog, Slowing Down the Aging Clock  from February 26, 2018), lowered their risk by double digits, 17%, to be exact. Postmenopausal women who Just Did It with vigor, lowered their risk by a full 10%. Moderate exercise lowered a woman’s risk when compared to women who weren’t active. For younger women of childbearing age, breastfeeding the wee ones gave these women added breast cancer protection at all stages of later life.

The American Institute of Cancer Research estimates that one in three cases of breast cancer can be prevented if a woman will cut out alcohol and be physically active every day. That’s good news to think about.  It’s also something we can control!

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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Weighing In On Breast Cancer Preventions

Several very large and extended studies—The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study involving 85k+ women over five years, and the Iowa Women’s Health Study looking at 33k+ women come to the same conclusion: weight gain directly effects a postmenopausal woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. 

The Iowa study found,

First, the highest rates of postmenopausal breast cancer were observed among women who progressively gained weight throughout adulthood. Second, loss of weight, regardless of when it was initially gained during adulthood, was associated with a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer compared with the typical pattern observed in this cohort of continued weight gain.

The results of this study done in 2005 have held up over time and the release of subsequent research. In the Women’s Health Initiative Study, more details came forward to reveal that weight gain from age 50-59 had very strong associations with increasing a woman’s risk, while weight gain during one’s 70’s– 70-79 didn’t raise our risk.  The results are similar for both women who have taken hormone replacement therapy, and women who have not. But, the research indicates non-users, without a history of breast cancer or family history, were at greater risk.

breast cancer prevention
The Adventures of LJ and GE™

For every 2.2 lb increase in a postmenopausal woman’s Body Mass Index, her risk of contracting breast cancer goes up by 3%. So carrying that extra 10 lbs. around at menopause and beyond raises our risk by almost 15%. That doesn’t sound like much, but if we don’t exercise or eat healthfully, and choose to smoke, the risk more than doubles when all these factors are added together. The risk goes up considerably when we up our alcohol consumption along with gaining weight. Additionally, the newest science is now exploring is the effect of environmental elements on the breast cancer statistics. 

Now for the good news? The latest look at these studies and others tell us healthy lifestyle choices can lower our risk by 30%, and that these “modifiable” factors are more important than was once thought. Now that is good news!

To leave you with the latest word on the subject from the American Association for Cancer Research,

In keeping with this, other studies have reported that women who adhered to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society  recommendations (maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active daily, limiting consumption of energy-dense foods, red meats/processed meats, high sodium foods and alcoholic beverages, consuming a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, and breastfeeding exclusively for up to 6 months) had reduced risk of breast cancer.  Our findings suggest that a healthy lifestyle may be associated with reduced risk of breast cancer irrespective of the tumor characteristics.

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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The Doctor Is In With Answers

This month we will come along with the Pink Wave and talk about breast cancer, but I hope not to rehash the same old lettuce. We will begin by answering some of the most frequently asked questions by women 55+. Since I am a gerontologist, and breast cancer is not an area I can speak about with authority, I went to an expert in the field, Dr. Claudia Harsh. 

Claudia Harsh, MD is board certified in ob-gyn, was fellowship trained in integrative medicine through the University of Arizona and in trained in medical acupuncture through the Helms Medical Institute. She recently retired from Texas Oncology at the Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas, Texas working in gynecology surveillance and survivorship. She now lives in North Carolina where she awaits licensing.

Can a woman get breast cancer from going through menopause? 

I think this question is asking: does menopause increase our risk of getting breast cancer? We know that our risk of breast cancer increases as we age. About 95% of breast cancers occur in women over age 40. We also know our lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 8 but if we break that down by decades it looks like this:

  •  At age 30 we have a 0.44% or a chance of 1 in 227
  •  At age 40 1.47% or a chance of 1 in 68
  •  At age 50 2.38% or a chance of 1 in 42
  •  At age 60 3.56% or a chance of 1 in 28
  •  At age 70 3.82% or a chance of 1 in 26 

 But, these chances are averaged across all women of all ethnicities. Maybe the question we should be asking is “who doesn’t get breast cancer and why?” and that’s where a lot of the interest in lifestyle, medicine, and nutrition can help change the conversation and the risk numbers.

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. Why did I get it? 

About 10% of people who get breast cancer have a family history of the disease. (Or, put another way, 90% of people with breast cancer do NOT have a family history!) We’ve known for years that some families have an increased risk of breast cancer and once we analyzed the human genome (the genetic “book of life” that resides in our cells – one half from our mother and one half from our father), the first gene associated with breast cancer was BRCA1. This was identified in the early to mid 1990’s and has been shown to be a gene that codes for proteins that repair damaged DNA. For this reason, it is known as a tumor suppressor: if there is a mutation in this gene, it is unable to repair damage and the cell can grow and divide without control and form a tumor. This field of study is exploding with information – now there are dozens of genes that may impact our risk of breast, ovarian, endometrial or colon cancer (to name just a few!). Genetic counseling makes sense if cancer plays a strong role in your family. It is because of this that the term “previvor”[sic] has been developed for someone who found out they have a high risk genetic mutation and took proactive measures such as having a mastectomy or oophorectomy (removal of breasts or ovaries) to reduce their lifetime risk of the disease.

What are the most important risk factors for breast cancer? 

Again, this is an area that is exploding with information. I mentioned before that our risk increases with age. This implies that there is a hormonal association (post menopause vs. pre menopause). Another important risk factor is family history (genetic mutations) – accounting for approximately 10% of all breast cancers. Mammographic breast density is a risk factor. Women with denser breasts (more ducts, glands and connective tissue) have an increased risk of cancer mostly because the tumors are harder to see on mammogram. Personal history of breast cancer increases a woman’s chance of developing a recurrent cancer. Biopsy findings in the ducts can develop into cancer. Previous radiation therapy to the chest prior to age 30 for cancers such as Hodgkin lymphoma has been shown to be a risk factor.

Reproductive/menstrual history: Starting menstrual cycles before age 12 and/or concluding menopause after age 55 are both associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Long-term use (more than 5 years) of postmenopausal hormonal therapy is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Ethnicity may be a risk factor for breast cancer. To date more cancer is found in Caucasian women than in African American/black, Hispanic/Latina, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native women. The degree to which this is due to increased screening in the white population is still being determined. Research continues into sleep cycles and their association with breast cancer incidence, nutrition, vitamin and nutritional supplementation (especially Vitamin D), and stress management. 

How does age at menopause effect breast cancer risk?

As mentioned before, our risk of breast cancer increases with chronologic age. Two strong factors are likely the culprits here – increased cell DNA damage over time and a change in our hormonal production. If we look at the hormonal question, we know that reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced by a woman’s ovaries and serve to stimulate cell growth in her breasts to prepare for nursing and her uterus to prepare for pregnancy. Anything that prolongs the duration and/or levels of exposure to this stimulation (late age at first pregnancy or never having given birth) increases breast cancer risk. On the flip side, anything that shortens the duration of exposure (pregnancy or breast feeding itself for example) reduces breast cancer risks. There is a theory that breast feeding causes the cells in the breast to change or differentiate and they then become more resistant to becoming transformed into cancer cells.

Will breast cancer show up in a blood test or in blood work? 

No. Although there are types of specialized testing that are designed to pick up circulating cancer cells, at this point there is no well-researched commercially available blood test to detect breast cancer. Having said this, there are several measurements called “tumor markers” that can be checked in someone with a cancer diagnosis. Examples such as CA27-29 or CA125 are markers that can be elevated in some cancers. It is the standard of care to measure a variety of markers at the time of diagnosis to see if the blood tests can be used to mark the presence or recurrence of disease. Similarly, some traditional blood chemistries such as calcium level, liver enzymes and electrolytes help point to the health of liver, kidneys and bone both at the time of diagnosis and throughout treatment.

Later this month we will return to answer more questions about breast cancer. Next time, some good news about prevention!

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Our Vibrant Hearts

The final frontier of aging vibrantly we gerontologists look at is the metaphorical landscape of the heart and the world of our emotions. As I discussed, having a positive attitude will go far toward slowing down, and even reversing the aging clock. If you’re happy in your life, you definitely will be invited to more pot-luck dinners and be more in demand to make up a fourth at bridge. To add to those enticing ideas, research finds positive attitudes help protect us against all kinds of diseases, or if diseases do find us, having an optimistic approach to life is almost as effective as drugs in helping our bodies heal. Like bananas and chocolate, being grateful, as I discussed in June, together with a positive attitude, gives our immune systems an extra sweet boost. Look around you. Grateful people look so much younger, too.

vibrant heart