Category Archives: Harvard Medical School

Improving your walking technique – Harvard

Regular readers know what a big fan I am of the simple exercise of walking. You can read my Page – Why you should walk more to read further on the subject.

Here is additional information from Harvard Medical School to help you get more benefit from your walk.

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People are often surprised to learn that there’s more to walking than simply putting one foot in front of the other. In fact, a little technique goes a long way to making your walks more enjoyable and more effective. Technique is especially important if you are hoping to become fitter and lose weight, because it will enable you to walk faster and longer. When you’re standing tall, your muscles will move through a greater range of motion for a more powerful stride. Improving your walking posture will help you to look and feel more confident, too — and you’ll look slimmer before losing a single pound. It will also help alleviate aches and pains and allow you to take deep breaths for more energy.

For any type of walking

The following rules will help you maintain good form.

Stand tall. Many people bring that hunched-over-the-computer posture to their walks. This position makes it harder for you to breathe and may contribute to backaches. Other people lean backward. Instead, extend your spine as if you were being lifted from the crown of your head. Place your thumbs on your lower ribs and your fingertips on your hips. As you stand up tall, notice how the distance in between increases. Try to maintain this elongation as you walk.

Eyes up. If you’re looking down at your feet, you’re putting unnecessary stress on your upper back and neck. Bring your gaze out about 10 to 20 feet in front of you. You’ll still be able to spy obstacles ahead and prevent upper-body tension.

Shoulders back, down, and relaxed. Roll your shoulders up, back, and then down. This is where your shoulders should be as you walk — not pulled up toward your ears. Think about keeping your shoulders away from your ears to reduce upper-body tension and allow for a freer arm swing.

Swing from your shoulders. Let your arms swing freely from your shoulders, not your elbows. Swing your arms forward and back, like a pendulum. Don’t bring them across your body or let them go higher than your chest.

Maintain a neutral pelvis. Keep your abs tight, but don’t tuck your tailbone under or stick your belly out and over arch your back.

Step lightly. You should be rolling from heel to toe as you stride, not landing flat-footed with a thud. And don’t reach your leg far out in front of you. That increases impact on your joints and actually slows you down. You want a smooth, quiet stride — no bouncing or plodding along — to reduce your risk of injury.

To learn more about how to get the most out of your walks, buy Walking for Health, the Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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5 ways to protect your eyes from AMD – Harvard

At 77, I have had minimal problems with my eyes. Sound of me knocking on wood. I get my eyeglass prescription boosted every so often so I can read the fine print, but other than that, no problemmo.  Here is Harvard Medical School on Age-related macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition in which the macula, the part of the eye that’s responsible for your sharpest and most detailed vision, begins to thin and break down, causing vision loss. If left untreated, it can lead to blindness.

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There is no surefire way to prevent AMD. However, there are things you can do to delay its onset or reduce its severity. Here are 5 of our favorites: Continue reading

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Physical benefits of yoga – Harvard

I am a great believer in the benefits of yoga, both physical and mental. You can search yoga in the tags at the right for any of my posts on the subject. Here are two I consider worth seeing: Why should I do yoga? and Are there immediate physical benefits to yoga?

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist rerunning this charming little piece of art.

Here is what Harvard Medical School has to say on the subject: Yoga promotes physical health in multiple ways. Some of them derive from better stress management. Others come more directly from the physical movements and postures in yoga, which help promote flexibility and reduce joint pain.

Following are some of the physical benefits of yoga that have a growing body of research behind them. In addition to the conditions listed below, preliminary research also shows that yoga may help with migraines, osteoporosis, balance and mobility issues, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, fibromyalgia, and ADHD.

Back pain relief

Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States. Four out of five Americans will suffer from it at some point. But yoga appears to help. A 2013 meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials found “strong evidence for short-term effectiveness and moderate evidence for long-term effectiveness of yoga for chronic low-back pain.” In fact, since 2007, the American Society of Pain guidelines have urged physicians to consider recommending yoga to patients with long-term pain in the lower back.

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What does it take to be a super-ager? – Harvard

One of the stated aims of this blog is to live past 100. Posts every day touch on that goal, but mostly in a ‘part of the big picture’ way. Herewith some positive ideas from Harvard Health publications directly on the subject of super-aging.

Finding role models who are older than we are gets more difficult as we age. But in the last few years, medical science has identified a new group we can aspire to join — the super-agers. The term refers to people in their 70s and 80s who have the mental or physical capability of their decades-younger counterparts.

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Although super-agers’ brains show less cell loss than those of their contemporaries, their IQs and educational levels are similar. What sets them apart might be that they view problem-solving differently, Dr. Dickerson says. “They may approach these tasks as a challenge they can succeed at, in contrast to typical older adults who may give up.” Continue reading

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Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills – Harvard

Moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.

Happy days! More positive information on the benefits to the brain garnered from physical exercise! This time from Harvard Medical School.

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You probably already know that exercising is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep your heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. But exercise can also help boost your thinking skills. “There’s a lot of science behind this,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Continue reading

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Beware of blue light at night – Harvard

Sleep, like walking, is one of the critical elements of good health very commonly not appreciated by the man on the street. I have a Page – How important is a good night’s sleep with a ton of information on it.

Here is some valuable info from the Harvard Health Letter on getting a good night’s sleep.

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Until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in (relative) darkness. Now, in much of the world, evenings are illuminated, and we take our easy access to all those lumens pretty much for granted.

But we may be paying a price for basking in all that light. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. (My emphasis)

But not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.

Daily rhythms influenced by light

Everyone has slightly different circadian rhythms, but the average length is 24 and one-quarter hours. The circadian rhythm of people who stay up late is slightly longer, while the rhythms of earlier birds fall short of 24 hours. Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School showed, in 1981, that daylight keeps a person’s internal clock aligned with the environment.

The health risks of nighttime light

Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us. But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.

A Harvard study shed a little bit of light on the possible connection to diabetes and possibly obesity. The researchers put 10 people on a schedule that gradually shifted the timing of their circadian rhythms. Their blood sugar levels increased, throwing them into a prediabetic state, and levels of leptin, a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal, went down.

Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher. Light at night is part of the reason so many people don’t get enough sleep, says Lockley, and researchers have linked short sleep to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

The power of the blues

While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

In another study of blue light, researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. The fact that the levels of the hormone were about the same in the two groups strengthens the hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. It also suggests that shift workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore eyewear that blocks blue light. Inexpensive sunglasses with orange-tinted lenses block blue light, but they also block other colors, so they’re not suitable for use indoors at night. Glasses that block out only blue light can cost up to $80.

Less-blue light

If blue light does have adverse health effects, then environmental concerns, and the quest for energy-efficient lighting, could be at odds with personal health. Those curlicue compact fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are much more energy-efficient than the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs we grew up with. But they also tend to produce more blue light.

The physics of fluorescent lights can’t be changed, but coatings inside the bulbs can be so they produce a warmer, less blue light. LED lights are more efficient than fluorescent lights, but they also produce a fair amount of light in the blue spectrum. Richard Hansler, a light researcher at John Carroll University in Cleveland, notes that ordinary incandescent lights also produce some blue light, although less than most fluorescent lightbulbs.

What you can do

  • Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
  • Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
  • If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.When I work on my computer late at night, I always wear a pair of blue blocker sunglasses. You can buy them on Amazon for under $20. I have no problems getting to sleep.

    Tony

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Harnessing stress – Harvard

Dealing with stress seemed like a daily occurrence back when I was in the working world. These days, being retired, it’s a different story. I know that many of you are still  working and deal with severe stresses on a regular basis. For that reason, I have written numerous posts on the subject. I offer some examples at the bottom of this post.

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Here is Harvard taking a positive look at stress:

Changing your mindset doesn’t mean taking a Pollyanna view of the world. The key isn’t to deny stress, but to recognize and acknowledge it — and then to find the upside, because a full-throttle fight-or-flight response is not the only possible reaction to stress (at least when the stress does not involve a potentially life-threatening situation).

In people with a more stress-hardy mindset, the stress response is often tempered by the challenge response, which accounts for the so-called excite-and-delight experience that some people have in stressful situations, such as skydiving. Like the typical stress response, the challenge response also affects the cardiovascular system, but instead of constricting blood vessels and ramping up inflammation in anticipation of wounds, it allows for maximum blood flow, much like exercise. The balance of hormones is different, too, including more DHEA. Continue reading

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7 Tips for successful weight training – Harvard

Although I don’t consider it fun, I realize that weight training is a necessity for living a healthy life and keeping my body working.

Here are seven tips from Harvard Medical School that my brother passed along to me.

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“Strength or resistance training challenges your muscles with a stronger-than-usual counterforce, such as pushing against a wall or lifting a dumbbell or pulling on a resistance band. Using progressively heavier weights or increasing resistance makes muscles stronger. This kind of exercise increases muscle mass, tones muscles, and strengthens bones. It also helps you maintain the strength you need for everyday activities — lifting groceries, climbing stairs, rising from a chair, or rushing for the bus.

“The current national guidelines for physical activity recommend strengthening exercises for all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) at least twice a week. One set — usually 8 to 12 repetitions of the same movement — per session is effective, though some evidence suggests that two to three sets may be better. Your muscles need at least 48 hours to recover between strength training sessions.

These seven tips can keep your strength training safe and effective.

1    Warm up and cool down for five to 10 minutes. Walking is a fine way to warm up; stretching is an excellent way to cool down. Continue reading

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Harvard on Simple Weight Loss Principles

Seconds on the lips; a lifetime on the hips.

We have all heard that old cliche and nodded knowingly. But the fact that two-thirds of us are overweight and half of the heavies are actually obese demonstrates that not enough of us are acting as if we believed it.
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I have written an entire page entitled How to lose weight – and keep it off breaking down the principles and techniques I have used for the past several years to reach my ideal weight and maintain it. I am a regular guy not a saint or superhuman. You can do it, too.

Now comes Harvard Medical School with an item echoing and elucidating my sentiments on weight loss and weight maintenance.

“The pleasure of eating a candy bar lasts but a few minutes. Burning off the calories it delivers can take nearly three-quarters of an hour. Continue reading

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How to Keep Blood Pressure in the Safety Zone – Harvard Medical School

First of all, what is high blood pressure? Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against artery walls as it courses through the body. Like air in a tire or water in a hose, blood fills arteries to a certain capacity. Just as too much air pressure can damage a tire or too much water pushing through a garden hose can damage the hose, high blood pressure can threaten healthy arteries and lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and stroke, according to WebMD.
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How to Reduce Stress – Harvard Medical School

When I was a kid and watched hundreds of double feature cowboy movies on Saturday afternoons, one of the phrases that I heard in almost every movie was, “Let’s head ’em off at the pass.” I knew the bad guys didn’t have a chance to get away because the good guys always headed them off.

Amazingly, that is also an example of one of our best defenses against stress. Head it off at the pass. Don’t even let it  get into your head. Works like magic, but it isn’t at all.

The Harvard Medical School has produced a special 52 page report on stress management and offered some superb guidelines on exactly that. It is called Cognitive Restructuring.

Here is an example: “Stop for a moment and try to remember the thoughts that were running through your head the last time you were late for work. Perhaps a simple thought, such as “the train is late,” quickly transformed into “I’ll be late to work. I won’t make it to my meeting on time. My boss will be angry with me. My job is in jeopardy. This always happens to me.”

The report offers examples of these distortions and suggests we use the following list to become aware of negative thought patterns and try to substitute more realistic, positive ones.

■ “All or nothing. Everything is black or white; nothing is gray. If you don’t perform flawlessly, you consider yourself a complete failure.

■ “Overgeneralization. One negative event, such as a slight from your spouse or an encounter with a dishonest merchant, is perceived to be part of an endless pattern of dismaying circumstances and defeat. For example, you might think, “He’s always cold” or “You can’t trust anyone.”

■ “Mental filter. One negative episode, such as a rude comment made to you during an otherwise enjoyable evening, shades everything like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water. It’s as though you are filtering out all the light and only see darkness.

■ “Disqualifying the positive. You are unable or unwilling to accept a compliment or praise. You deflect all compliments with self-deprecation. You might say, “It’s no big deal” or “It was nothing.”

■ “Jumping to conclusions. You draw negative conclusions without checking to see if they have any foundation in fact. You may be mind-reading: “My friend seems upset; she must be mad at me.” Or you may be fortune-telling: “I just know the results of my medical test won’t be good.”

■ “Magnification or minimization. You exaggerate potential problems or mistakes until they take on the proportions of a catastrophe. Or you minimize anything that might make you feel good, such as appreciation for a kind act you did or the recognition that other people have flaws, too.
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10 Diet and Exercise Tips for Prostate Health From Harvard Medical School

“What can I eat to reduce my risk of developing prostate cancer?” This is one of the most common questions physicians hear from men concerned about prostate health,” according to the Harvard Medical School Health Bulletin.

“Undoubtedly, many hope that their doctor will rattle off a list of foods guaranteed to shield them from disease. Although some foods have been linked with reduced risk of prostate cancer, proof that they really work is lacking, at least for now.”

Aim for a healthy eating pattern
Harvard offers good common sense suggestions, many of which you can find on our blog pages.
“Instead of focusing on specific foods, dietitians, physicians, and researchers tout an overall pattern of healthy eating — and healthy eating is easier than you might think. In a nutshell, here’s what experts recommend:

1. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Go for those with deep, bright color.
2. Choose whole-grain bread instead of white bread, and choose whole-grain pasta and cereals.
3. Limit your consumption of red meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and goat, and processed meats, such as bologna and hot dogs. Fish, skinless poultry, beans, and eggs are healthier sources of protein.
4. Choose healthful fats, such as olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), and avocados. Limit saturated fats from dairy and other animal products. Avoid partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), which are in many fast foods and packaged foods.
5. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, such as sodas and many fruit juices. Eat sweets as an occasional treat.
6. Cut down on salt. Choose foods low in sodium by reading and comparing food labels. Limit the use of canned, processed, and frozen foods.
7. Watch portion sizes. Eat slowly, and stop eating when you are full.”
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