Middle-aged people who walk slowly age more quickly, according to new research, while fast walkers are physically and mentally younger.
The study, conducted in nearly 1,000 New Zealanders aged 45, found that slow walkers also had older looking faces – independently rated from photos – and smaller, older-looking brains.
People with the slowest gait performed more poorly on a range of physical tests including grip strength, balance, coordination and two-minute step tests and reported more physical limitations in their daily lives.
Rate of aging measures showed they had been growing old five years faster from the age of 26 than those with the fastest walking speed. Slow walkers had other signs of accelerated aging compared to fast walkers such as unhealthier lungs, teeth and immune systems.
Added to that, they had poorer neuropsychological functioning across a range of cognitive assessments including working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning.
Even more unexpected, the study found that walking speed at 45 years could be predicted by childhood cognitive performance on tests of intelligence, language and motor skills.
Participants, born in the 1970s, had taken part in the longitudinal Dunedin study since the age of three, providing regular tests of physical health and brain function as well as brain scans.
“This study found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age,” Professor Terrie Moffitt told the BBC.
The team said the results were “an amazing surprise”, and the first time walking speed earlier in life has been linked to premature aging.
Doctors often measure walking speed in older adults over 65 as an indicator of general health, as it is linked to muscle strength, lung function, balance, spine strength and vision.
These reflect the importance of mobility for remaining independent and retaining quality of life.
More seriously, slower gait in this age group has also been associated with poorer rehabilitation, greater incidence of diseases – including heart disease and dementia – and shorter life span.
“Doctors know that slow walkers in their 70s and 80s tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age,” Moffitt told Medical News Today.
A brisk walking pace is generally considered as 100 steps per minute, or around five kilometres per hour – but of course this is relative to people’s fitness levels.
A good guide is to walk faster than you would normally, at a pace that makes you breathe a bit harder and your heart beat faster.
When you get a little sweaty and out of breath, this is considered moderate-intensity activity, which has several known health benefits such as improving balance and coordination, and keeping heart, lungs and circulation healthy.
In turn, this lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It could also strengthen bones and muscles and help prevent osteoporosis, although a range of different activities are recommended for optimal benefits.
The key is to find enjoyable walking routes – alone or with a friend, partner or walking group if that’s more motivating – and ways to get active that are fun and enjoyable.
Just pick up the pace up a little.
Nearly one million Australians over 70 are taking five or more medicines every day, and this number is continuing to grow, researchers from the Universities of Western Australia and New South Wales have revealed in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Using multiple drugs together, especially five or more, can produce several adverse outcomes including side effects, dysphagia, nutritional deficiencies, impaired cognition, falls, hospital admissions and mortality.
In fact, the World Health Organisation has set a target to halve polypharmacy and other unsafe prescription practices as part of its third global patient safety challenge to reduce medication-related harm.
Older adults tend to have several chronic conditions and often take different drugs to reduce the symptoms and risk of complications. People with higher needs, hospital inpatients and aged care residents tend to take the most meds.
Drawing from a nationally representative sample of people eligible for PBS-listed drugs between 2006 and 2017, Dr Amy Page and co-authors found that the prevalence of polypharmacy grew by nine percent.
And because of population growth, there was a 52 percent increase in the number of people taking five or more medicines a day over that period. In community care, the number of older adults receiving medications has grown rapidly, doubling over the past 20 years.
The researchers say these estimates may be conservative, because they don’t factor in medicines and supplements obtained without a prescription.
Some medicines stopped being subsidised and would also have not been recorded; this may account for the fact that medication use started to decline again after 2016 – although it was close to one million in 2017.
It must also be noted that some drugs are being combined to reduce pill burden, and this should be factored into future investigations.
The researchers report that Australia’s polypharmacy rates are higher than the US or the UK and have been for some time.
While some medications may be necessary for older adults, there is widespread concern about inappropriate polypharmacy and its detrimental outcomes.
Professor Sarah Hilmer from the University of Sydney is one advocate for “deprescribing” unnecessary drugs – noting that some are used as preventative measures and are not even addressing an existing condition.
Sometimes people continue taking drugs into old age when they no longer need them. “Compounding this,” says Hilmer, “is the issue of the prescribing cascade – doctors prescribing a drug to treat the effects of another drug to treat the effects of another drug, without realising they are doing so.”
Her team is working on written resources for consumers as well as doctors.
Dr Page agrees, saying that strategies to improve people’s awareness about the potential risks in taking several medications should target both the public and health professionals.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on May 20, 2019 in Aging
“What matters most?” This is the theme for Australia’s National Palliative Care week from 19-25 May. It aims to encourage people to plan ahead as their life is nearing its end.
In doing so, it’s important to discuss care arrangements with loved ones and health professionals and consider what is most important.
Palliative care is family-centred support for someone who is approaching death with virtually no chance of being cured. The primary aim is to optimise quality of life, particularly in the final weeks and days.
It is “care that helps people live their life as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a life-limiting or terminal illness,” says Palliative Care Australia. It can be given at home or in a hospital, hospice or aged care facility.
Importantly, it embraces individual needs on physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual levels. It also allows for the needs and bereavement of loved ones.
Services include relieving pain and other symptoms like breathing difficulties, facilitating discussions with family and friends, and providing counselling support and resources to assist care at home.
Palliative care involves a team of professionals who can cater for different needs, extending to referrals for home help, financial support and respite care services.
Health professionals might include a GP, aged care worker, cardiologist or other specialist who can provide support when symptoms become hard to manage.
Not only is palliative care the most compassionate way to support dying patients and their families, it has major cost benefits as well.
Reducing needless hospital transfers and medical interventions can help patients receive quality support, dignity and respect, while making significant cost savings, according to Australian research.
Yet, while over a third of deaths occur in aged care facilities, only a small proportion of residents are formally assessed as needing palliative care.
Talking about death tends to be taboo in our society. But we are all confronted with it at some stage. Embracing discussions about death is important to help people come to terms with their feelings about dying and how they want to deal with it.
Some groups are proactively creating opportunities for people to think and talk about death.
The organisation Portable says, “a good death is a human right, and we need to be able to articulate what this means for ourselves and communicate it outwards.” Achieving this, they advocate, will need a human-centred approach in policy and social engagement.
Death Café facilitates spaces where people can “drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death”. So far, they’ve held more than eight thousand cafes in 65 countries and provide opportunities for people to host their own.
The GroundSwell Project has created a “Dying to Know Day” on 8 August to help break the taboo and equip people “to care for themselves and each other through death, dying and loss.”
Through raising awareness and creating these discussions, grieving patients, family and friends will be freer to talk about how they feel, and people around them will be empowered to know what to do, say, or just comfortably be there for them.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on May 11, 2019 in Aging
Globally, for the first time, there are more people over 65 than under five years of age. In Australia, the percentage of older people has tripled in less than a century and continues to grow.
These enduring global trends can largely be attributed to safer childbirth, fertility declines and improved medical treatments.
What implications does this “demographic time bomb” have for health and wellbeing?
In 2017, 3.8 million Australians were aged 65 years and over, according to a survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. This comprises 15% of the population, compared to just 5% in 1937.
In the global scheme of things, that puts Australia about halfway between Papua New Guinea and Japan, countries with the smallest and largest proportions of older adults, respectively.
This growth is still in steep ascent, expected to reach 8.8 million older Australians by 2057 – more than one in five people – and 12.8 million, or one in four people, by 2097.
The profile of this older cohort itself is expected to shift upwards.
Two years ago, more than half of older adults were aged 65 to 74 while 13% were aged 85 and over. In less than 30 years it’s predicted that people in the 65 to 74 age bracket will drop while 20% of people over 85 will be alive.
This trend presents several social, financial and environmental challenges. Remaining healthy is an important means by which older adults can continue to contribute to the broader community’s social, cultural and economic fabric.
While nine in ten older adults said they can confide in someone outside their household and had access to support in times of crisis, their health behaviours do not look so encouraging.
Fruit and vegetable consumption didn’t fare too well either; like the rest of the population, less than one in ten older Australians reported eating the recommended serves of these highly nutritious foods each day.
And while one in eight people in this older cohort reported being engaged in employment, education or training, more than half reported experiencing stress – the most common causes being serious illness or loss of a loved one.
Ultimately, while researchers are on the hunt for ways to reverse aging, it is possible to stay healthy and productive while growing older. The Blue Zone regions, for instance, are home to record numbers of centenarians with low rates of chronic disease.
Some lifestyle factors they share in common include daily activity, regular relaxation, eating a diet rich in plant foods, only eating until 80% full, and maintaining supportive family and social networks.
Other solutions include being involved in work. Paid work can boost income and bring psychological benefits through social and mental engagement. Many businesses are recognising the need for a balanced workforce of younger and older employees.
Unpaid work, like volunteering, care work and artistic pursuits, also brings rewards. Connecting older and younger people can yield mutual benefits. Volunteering itself can bring a sense of competence and confidence, keep people active and prevent isolation.