January 20, 2009 [Volume 3, Issue 4]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
No to Drugs, Yes to Nutrition
You've Got to Be Flexible
Three Ways to Improve Your Memory

No to Drugs, Yes to Nutrition

Research is increasingly demonstrating the value of natural, nontoxic, nutritionally-based preventive approaches and interventive therapies, particularly for the purpose of prolonging a healthy, productive lifespan. Let's review recent study findings that validate the safety and efficacy of various nutritional supplements for the prevention and treatment of aging-related diseases.

Don't run short on vitamin D: At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, researchers have completed a study suggesting that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a 26 percent increased risk of death from any cause. Vitamin D also may help prevent type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. Good food source of vitamin D include salmon, cod liver oil, fortified milk.

Remember your omega-3: Following on two studies published in April 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that reported regular consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids was effective in preventing age-related cognitive decline, Chih-Chiang Chiu, from Taipei City Hospital (Taiwan), and colleagues found that omega-3s actually provide therapeutic benefits for the condition. Another study suggests increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids also slashes the risk of age-related macular degeneration. Good food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish (mackerel, herring, sardines, etc.).

Reduce the pressure with potassium: A study led by Mark C. Houston, MD, reports that increased intake of potassium, (and possibly magnesium and calcium) by dietary means may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and decrease blood pressure in people with hypertension. High intake of these minerals also may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Good food sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, soybeans and bananas. Good sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, spinach and unrefined grains.

A little dark chocolate for the heart: In a recent study, researchers collected subjects' dietary habits via food surveys and measured serum levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a blood marker of inflammation. The team determined that CRP levels were 17 percent lower in subjects who consumed dark chocolate as compared to those who did not consume any at all.

Calcium -- not just for strong bones and teeth: Mitsumasa Umesawa, from the University of Tsukuba (Japan), and colleagues followed 41,526 Japanese men and women (ages 40 to 59 at the study's start) for 13 years. Men and women who consumed the highest calcium from all dietary sources lowered their risk of stroke by 30 percent, reported the study, published in the July 17, 2008 issue of Stroke. Good food sources of calcium include plain yogurt and cheese.

To learn more about the many benefits of sound nutrition and how you can design a nutritional program that's right for you and your family, talk to your doctor.

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You've Got to Be Flexible

Flexibility is the ability to move the joints and muscles through a normal range of motion, and it's an important fitness measure; in fact, it's one of the five health-related components of physical fitness, along with muscular strength, muscle endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance and body composition. Here are just a few of the health benefits attributable to a regular flexibility and stretching program: increased circulation, improved posture, better coordination and stress relief.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are six essential guidelines to keep in mind when stretching:

1Warm up first. You're more likely to pull a muscle when it's cold. Start off with five minutes of walking, light limb movement or a favorite low-intensity exercise.
2Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds, remembering to breathe. Simply put, it takes time to stretch tissues safely. Go too fast and you could be in for trouble in the form of a muscle tear. For most muscle groups, a single 30-60-second stretch is adequate.
3Don't bounce. Speaking of muscle tears, bouncing during a stretch can cause microtears in the muscle, leaving scar tissue as the muscle heals, which will only make the muscle tighter and more prone to future pain and inflexibility.
4Avoid pain. You shouldn't feel pain during a stretch. If you do, you've gone too far and need to back off and hold the stretch in a pain-free position.
5Stretch both sides. Joint range of motion needs to be as equal as possible on both sides of the body; after all, if only half the body is flexible, the other half can still cause problems.
6Stretch before and after exercise. Stretch them lightly before a workout and then more thoroughly after your workout. Stretching before activity improves flexibility and reduces injury risk; stretching after exercise relaxes tired muscles and reduces muscle soreness and stiffness.

Here are a few sample stretches (again courtesy of the Mayo Clinic) you can start doing right away:

The Neck Stretch: Bend your head forward and slightly to the right to stretch the left side of your neck. With your right hand, gently pull your head downward, stretching the back left side of your neck. Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

The Shoulder Stretch: Bring your left arm across the body and hold it with your right arm above or below the elbow. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch arms and repeat. To stretch the internal rotators of the shoulder (important if you participate in tennis, golf or other overhead/throwing/swinging sports), hold a rolled-up towel vertically with both hands. One hand should hold the top of the towel and the other hand should hold the bottom of the towel. Now gently pull the towel toward the ceiling with your top hand, stretching the shoulder on your opposite arm. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch top hand and repeat.

The Hamstring Stretch: Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or door frame. With your left heel resting against the wall and your left knee bent slightly, straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, switch legs and repeat.

Your doctor can provide you with a complete list of stretches. Remember not to start any exercise or stretching program without consulting with a health care professional first.

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Three Ways to Improve Your Memory

Memory is the ability to store, retain and recall information, and too many of us have a short memory, a selective memory, or a plain old bad memory. Are you one of those people in need of ways to improve your memory? Before we forget, here are a few simple suggestions:

1Play games, particularly ones that require you to remember previous moves and conceptualize future moves and combinations. Chess is a great example.
2Pay attention to details wherever you go, particularly when the situation involves multiple stimuli. See how many details you can remember after a quick scan of your environment.
3Teach while you learn. Whether you're helping a friend study for a test or reading to your children, you're more likely to retain information the more you repeat it.

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