Toward a Better You
MIND AND BODY
A few key moves at every age can set you on the course for a lifetime of health. By Jamie Ducharme
— 20s —
Lose the stilettos.
Because high heels can alter your gait, forcing the foot, ankle, and knee to bear the weight, James Ioli, chief of podiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recommends forgoing fashion to avoid the risk of arthritis.
Get the HPV vaccine.
Dana-Farber doctors recommend that both women and men protect themselves. The virus can cause rare but serious head and neck cancers in men.
Get gel manicures.
An American Academy of Dermatology study says the chemicals in gel manicures may cause thinning of the nail bed, and the UV lamps used to set the polish could up the risk of skin cancer.
New research from Mass General suggests that even occasional marijuana use may cause permanent brain alterations in young adults.
High blood pressure.
It can silently wreak havoc on your body for years before you even develop symptoms. The hypertension program at Boston Children’s Hospital treats children and young adults with the condition.
One in 391 women will get skin cancer before age 40, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, so being proactive about screenings is vital.
Follow doctors’ orders.
Scar tissue from an old injury can create problems later, says Chris Geary, head of sports medicine at Tufts, who recommends adhering carefully to your doctor’s stretching and strengthening program post-trauma.
Check your genes.
Work through your family history with a specialist to identify genetic disorders, then discuss testing, prognosis, and medical management.
— 40s —
Check screen habits.
Mass Eye and Ear now has a name for it: Computer Vision Syndrome, and it’s on the rise. Symptoms include headaches, dry eyes, and neck pain, all caused by suboptimal viewing conditions.
In addition to reducing stress, yoga and meditation may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, say experts from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Overreact to pain.
Back problems have long been overtreated with narcotics and surgery, say researchers at BIDMC, who recommend trying at-home methods like over-the-counter pain relievers, icing, and heat first.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that men who eat one to three servings of processed meats per day have poorer sperm quality.
To reduce your exposure to radiation, MGH now offers cutting-edge breast-imaging methods like 3-D mammography, ultrasound, and MRI technology.
Low estrogen levels.
Low testosterone may lead to health problems in males, but MGH researchers have found that insufficient estrogen may also cause weight gain and a decrease in sexual voracity.
Drink more milk.
A Brigham and Women’s study found that women’s consumption of skim or low-fat milk (not cheese or yogurt) delayed the progression of arthritis.
Take up salsa dancing.
Staying social and active can reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s, says Robert Stern, director of the clinical core of BU’s Alzheimer Disease Center, by enhancing blood flow in the brain.
— 60s —
A little-known side effect of getting older, according to the National Institute on Aging, is losing the sensation of thirst, so make a conscious effort to stay hydrated.
Get a dog.
The American Heart Association reports that the rigors of caring for a pooch have countless benefits, including a healthier heart (regular exercise) and a happier mind.
Skip the gym.
A study out of MGH found that the cardiovascular benefits of a fitness regimen are almost immediate for 60- to 80-year-olds.
Expect to be a teenager again.
Your fitness capabilities change as you age, according to sports medicine doctors from Tufts. The older body needs more time to recover, meaning workouts should be gentler to avoid the risk of permanent injury.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all baby boomers get tested for the liver-damaging virus, which, if left untreated, can cause a wide range of health problems.
Six and a half million Americans age 65 and older have depression—a condition that can have far-reaching physical consequences, including eating disorders, insomnia, and memory loss.
Baby aspirin can help preserve heart health, according to Brigham and Women’s experts, but it can also cause internal bleeding for some individuals, so check with your doctor.
Orthokeratology, a process that uses high-tech lenses to flatten the eye and reshape your cornea while you sleep, could render glasses unnecessary while reducing age-related myopia.
THE (ENDLESS) PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Americans’ use of antidepressants is off the charts: One in 10 has a prescription, and for women in their forties and fifties, that rate increases to one in four. To get your smile on med-free, try these three clinically tested alternatives. By Melissa Malamut and Raquel Kaplan
Meredith St. John, vice president and academic dean of the New England School of Acupuncture, in Newton, says that stress management is one of the major reasons why people seek out this alternative treatment. A recent study found that people who had acupuncture treatments regularly for three months experienced fewer depressive symptoms than those who did not.
One of the country’s most widely used stress-reduction programs, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) began at UMass Medical Center 19 years ago. The eight-week session (10 two-and-a-half-hour visits, plus a weekend workshop) offers a mix of guided meditation, gentle stretching and yoga, group dialogue, and personal instruction in order to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. A 2010 Harvard Medical School study revealed that participants had increased activity in the regions of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotion, and perspective.
Yoga may be a promising treatment for depression, says Maren Nyer, director of yoga research for Mass General’s Depression Clinical and Research Program. Nyer is the principal investigator in a study examining how Bikram yoga (practiced in a 105-degree room) may improve quality of life and reduce depression.
I Tried That
By Raquel Kaplan
Created in India in 1995, laughter yoga is said to burn calories and lower blood pressure. But the real benefits may be psychological: Believers claim that whether fake or real, giggling releases endorphins that enhance your mood and give you a better outlook throughout the day. There are now about 8,000 laughter clubs in 80 countries, including Let’s Laugh Today, taught by husband-and-wife team Bill and Linda Hamaker in Franklin, Sharon, Walpole, and Westwood.
When I arrived at the Walpole Public Library for a one-hour session with the couple, I found a diverse group: My fellow chucklers ranged from college students to seniors to parents with toddlers in tow. To reap the benefits, you have to be open to getting goofy in front of strangers, and the Hamakers skillfully led us down the road to hilarity through a mix of improv, play-acting, and deep breathing. In one exercise, for example, I had to pretend to give myself a flu shot, use a tissue as a prop to model a miniskirt, search for treasure as a pirate, and fly like a caped superhero.
There were some awkward moments (chanting “ho, ho, ha, ha, ha” isn’t exactly my thing) and bizarre setups (talking to a partner in gibberish), but when I was cut off by an angry driver on my way back to the city, I found myself laughing out loud. In fact, laughter came easier the rest of the day. As an added bonus, I was delighted to discover that my abs were sore the next day.
Wear casual clothing and bring a water bottle—all of that laughing is very dehydrating. letslaughtoday.com.