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Lower your Blood Pressure with Doable Lifestyle Changes

Many seniors are in  prehypertension, that borderline stage where your blood pressure is at the highest end of normal. If your blood pressure is consistently 120/80 or higher, it’s a warning sign that you may develop full-blown hypertension. Chronic high blood pressure drastically increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, and kidney failure. People with high blood pressure can make some changes in their lifestyle today to avoid developing hypertension.

Exercise in intervals throughout the day

If you’re not used to exercising, it can be hard to start doing an hour-long workout every day. Instead, exercise in short bursts several times each day. Take a short break to run on the treadmill for five minutes, or sprint around the block. Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise in total. That’s just three 10-minute breaks a day.

Reduce your stress

Anxiety and stress have been proven to temporarily raise your blood pressure. It’s unclear if the behaviors associated with stress—drinking alcohol, overeating, or sleeping poorly—cause hypertension, or whether the constant blood pressure spikes are the culprit. Either way, long-term stress is linked to hypertension. For tips on reducing stress and anxiety, read our previous blog post, Take a Break From Stress.

Take a nap

If your schedule allows it, take a one-hour nap every day. It’s been proven to lower blood pressure and may help you avoid blood pressure medication. Just make sure napping doesn’t make it hard to fall asleep at night. Poor sleeping habits are a risk factor for hypertension, so it’s important to get a good night’s sleep.

Don’t drink as much

While you don’t have to give up drinking completely—red wine is actually linked to heart health—reduce your intake if you’re in prehypertension. Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure, but studies show heavy drinkers can improve their average blood pressure by cutting back to one drink a day. For reference, a drink of alcohol means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a shot and a half of whiskey or vodka.

Watch your caffeine

Drinking coffee may contribute to higher blood pressure in some people. One theory is that caffeine blocks a hormone that helps keep the arteries widened. Caffeine doesn’t seem to cause high blood pressure in everyone, but if you’re in prehypertension, ask your doctor if limiting caffeine could help improve your numbers.

 

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Silent Heart Attacks: Know the Risks

Do you know the signs of a heart attack? I’m guessing you do; the American Heart Association has done an admirable job raising awareness about heart health. We all know heart attacks usually come with chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. Other symptoms include upper body pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, and nausea.

But did you know that you could also have  heart attack and not know it? That’s what a silent heart attack is. And like its name suggests, it comes with mild or no symptoms. You might think you have lingering indigestion, the flu, or passing nausea. Often you won’t even know you had a heart attack until a medical test for an unrelated reason reveals heart damage.

A silent heart attack can hit anyone at any time, but certain conditions can put you at higher risk.

Risk Factors for Silent Heart Attacks

A silent heart attack is not much different from a regular, “loud” heart attack. The risk factors are the same: smoking and tobacco use, family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, and obesity.

And while the effects of silent heart attacks are usually mild, it leaves you at a much greater risk of having another heart attack. The subsequent heart attack can be fatal, or cause serious complications such as heart failure.

An Extra Risk for Silent Heart Attacks: Type 2 Diabetes

As I wrote in a previous article, a common complication of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy. Neuropathy is a condition involving damaged nerves. More than half of all diabetics develop some form of neuropathy. It usually causes numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, but in more severe cases, it can affect nerves all over the body.

When the disease causes damage to nerves leading to your heart, any sensations in that area will be muted. A heart attack that should cause terrible chest discomfort may instead feel like a slight twinge of heartburn. You may not notice anything unusual, chalking up any slight discomfort to normal aging. However, it’s a real heart attack and the damage can be serious.

One way to protect yourself from having a neuropathy-related silent heart attack is to monitor yourself carefully for nerve damage. If you catch the damage early, you may be able to slow it down with medication. Some signs of neuropathy are:

  • Difficulty exercising
  • Dizziness or fainting when you stand up
  • Frequent accidents or incontinence
  • A lower sex drive
  • Sweating excessively
  • Digestion problems

If you are having one or a combination of these problems for longer than one or two weeks, talk to your doctor about the possibility of neuropathy.

Symptoms of Silent Heart Attacks

Some people will not have any symptoms at all, and may never know they had a heart attack. In many cases, there are mild, short-lived symptoms that are easy to dismiss. You may feel slight pain or pressure in the center of your chest. Lasting indigestion, breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling light-headed or tired for no reason, shortness of breath, and heartburn are also signs of a heart attack. Women in particular may feel pain in the jaw, neck, or left arm.

After a silent heart attack, you may feel very tired or have heartburn for a prolonged period. You might notice swelling in your legs or sudden difficulty breathing. If something feels different, check with your doctor right away or call 911.

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White Coat Hypertension: It’s Real

doctor taking elderly woman's blood pressure

Does going to the doctor stress you out? Does it stress you out enough to cause your blood pressure to shoot up? If so, you have “white coat” hypertension—a real medical condition where your blood pressure is abnormally high at the doctor’s office. Up to 30 percent of Americans display this syndrome, sometimes resulting in a misdiagnosis of hypertension.

White Coat Syndrome: How is it Diagnosed?

If you have high blood pressure at the doctor’s office, you may want to be tested for white coat hypertension. Your doctor will suggest you come back for a second reading. If at the second reading your blood pressure is also high, your doctor may recommend you check your blood pressure out of the office. You’ll use either a home monitor or an ambulatory blood pressure monitor. An ABPM is a device worn by the patient for 24 hours that measures their blood pressure at various times throughout the day. Your doctor will then compare the readings with the in-office readings.

If your blood pressure is normal all of the time except when you’re at the clinic, you will receive the white coat diagnosis.

White Coat Syndrome: No Big Deal?

You’d be forgiven for thinking white coat hypertension isn’t a big deal. After all, your blood pressure is normal most of the time. However, new data says that’s not the case.  According to a new study, the risk of death is nearly twice as high for patients with white coat hypertension, compared to patients with normal blood pressure.

White Coat Syndrome: How to Treat?

If you have white coat syndrome, the best thing to do is to take your blood pressure regularly at home. If your blood pressure increases from going to the doctor’s office, it’s likely to increase from many other stressors as well. Monitoring your blood pressure at home—with your doctor’s guidance—will provide a lot of insight into what affects your blood pressure. It will also help alert you and your doctor if you become truly hypertensive.

In general, a good way to keep your blood pressure down is to practice stress-relief techniques, particularly before an appointment. Read my article about reducing stress for some great ways to prepare for your next doctor’s visit.

 

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Aging Eyes: Protect Your Vision

Our eyes, along with the rest of our bodies, deteriorate as we age. Failing vision can cause depression and anxiety, loss of mobility, and increased falls. Some medical conditions—chiefly diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease—increase the risk of eye diseases.

There are multiple factors that go into protecting your eyesight. We’ve rounded up the best tips for senior eye health.

The best way to protect your eyesight is pretty simple.

Regular eye exams are the best and easiest way to prevent vision loss. With frequent screenings, your eye doctor can diagnose any disease or condition as soon as it develops. Early detection offers the best outcome when it comes to eyesight, so make sure to visit your eye doctor at least annually for a checkup.

Know your risk factors.

Certain health problems can affect your eyes. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, it’s essential to have regular eye exams. Keep your eye doctor informed of your medical history, and make sure to update him about any new medications.

Women are more likely to have glaucoma, diseased or damaged optic nerves. They’re also more likely to lose all or part of their vision due to glaucoma. Cataract is also slightly more common among women. Aging women should make sure to have an eye exam annually after age 65.

Eat your way to good vision.

Surprisingly, good nutrition is a key component to eye health. In recent years we’ve discovered that what we eat affects everything in our bodies, and our eyes are no exception. A diet good for our eyes includes foods rich in vitamins A and C, and omega-3 fatty acids. Green leafy vegetables, salmon, and dairy products are all good options to load up on these essential antioxidants.

Avoid saturated fats and excessive alcohol, which are both detrimental to eye health.

Lifestyle plays a part as well.

Make healthy lifestyle choices to protect your eyesight. Don’t smoke, since smoking puts you at risk for medical conditions that cause eye diseases. Exercise regularly—exercise improves your blood circulation, which improves oxygen levels in your eyes. When you go out in the sun, wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection. You should also wear a hat with a brim as an extra level of protection.

Address eye injuries promptly.

If you sustain an injury to your eye, get immediate medical attention. Your eyes are valuable and you only have two of them, so you don’t want to delay treatment.

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Take a Break From Stress

Modern life is stressful. We face a barrage of constant stimulation and not enough quiet time. Whether you’re a senior living at home, a resident in a care facility, or a caregiver to a chronically ill person, you probably experience stress on a daily basis.

I don’t have to tell you how harmful stress is to your health. You probably know that unrelieved stress can cause headaches, insomnia, chest pain, and fatigue. You definitely feel the increased anxiety, restlessness, or irritability that results from feeling stressed. And you may even be aware that too much stress for too long can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Relieving your stress will help you feel better today, and the health benefits will endure forever. Here are some tips for relaxation you can use on your lunch break:

Meditate

Meditating for just a few minutes a day can help ease stress, anxiety, and depression. Meditating is natural and easy: sit up straight and place both feet on the floor. Close your eyes and recite a positive mantra, either silently or out loud. Examples of positive statements are “It’s a wonderful day,” or “I feel so at peace.” You can rest a hand on your abdomen to sync your mantra with your breathing. If any thoughts come into your mind, let them pass without distracting you.

Deep Breathing

Similar to meditation, deep breathing is another great way to reduce stress. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and slowly inhale through your nose. Place a hand on your abdomen and really feel your breath as it begins deep in your belly and builds up to your head. Then slowly exhale through your mouth, feeling the breath leaving your body. Your exhale should be at least as long as your inhale.

Deep breathing can also help when you’re in the thick of a stressful situation. When your heartbeat speeds up and you start feeling panicky, close your eyes and practice slow, mindful breathing. Just a few deep breaths will steady your heartbeat and open up your brain to better problem solving.

Connect with Others

Talking to others—preferably face-to-face—is one of the best ways to manage stress. By reaching out to your friends and loved ones, you can share what you’re going through and gain valuable new perspectives. Many caregivers find comfort in support groups, where members can understand and empathize with each other.

Laugh

As we outlined in a previous post, laughter really is the best medicine. A good belly laugh lowers the body’s stress hormone cortisol, and boosts the brain-stimulating chemical endorphin. Take some time to laugh every day.

Listen to music

Playing music can lower your blood pressure and heart rate. Create a playlist of your favorite music to listen to when you feel stressed. Some people prefer listening to classical music or other soothing genres, while others choose to blast their upbeat music and sing their hearts out. You can also listen to nature sounds—soft rain, ocean waves, birds chirping, etc.—to allow your mind to relax.

Exercise

Besides all the other health benefits of exercise, it’s a great stress-reducer. “Runner’s high” is a real thing, and it doesn’t just come from running. All forms of exercise release those feel-good endorphins and leaves you feeling better. A quick walk around the block, or even some stretching exercises like head rolls, can alleviate some of your stress.

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Help your Loved One Quit Smoking

cigarette with smoke rising from itDid you resolve to stop smoking in 2018? Do you have a loved one who wants to stop smoking? We’re a quarter of the way into the year, and if you haven’t yet stopped smoking, now’s the time to do it.

Smoking is a significant contributor to many serious diseases, like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Secondhand smoke also causes health problems for the people around us. Even thirdhand smoke—the chemical residue left on indoor surfaces after someone smoked there—can trigger asthma attacks and other potentially serious reactions.

Our risk for developing diseases and health conditions rises as we age. Smokers are at even greater risk of disease. According to a fact sheet compiled by Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the leading hospital for cancer care in NJ, most lung cancers are linked to smoking, and are preventable.

If you have a loved one who smokes and is having difficulty quitting, here’s how you can help them:

Acknowledge that it’s hard.

Quitting smoking is not just ending a bad habit. It’s breaking a serious, entrenched addiction. The best thing you can do for your spouse, child, or other loved one who is struggling with quitting is to acknowledge how hard it is. Most people can’t do it on their own; your relative needs your support.

Create a smoke-free environment

Work with your loved one to remove anything smoking-related from his or her surroundings. Get rid of ashtrays, matches, lighters, and spare cigarettes. Put out air fresheners to cover the smoke smell that may trigger the desire to smoke. Don’t allow visitors or other household members to smoke anywhere near the house. In addition, encourage your loved one to avoid places where he or she might be more likely to smoke.

Prepare for Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal, the body’s reaction to stopping smoking, is uncomfortable and may make your loved one grumpy or irritable. Depression, anxiety, and headaches are also common with nicotine withdrawal. It usually takes two weeks for the symptoms to subside fully. Help your loved one get through withdrawal by preparing beforehand. Find activities he or she enjoys to serve as a diversion during that time.

You may also suggest using FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies, such as skin patches or gum, which offers relief from withdrawal symptoms. Most importantly, don’t take your loved one’s irritable behavior personally. It’s not you—it’s the withdrawal.

Don’t overreact if they smoke once or twice

Most people can’t stop smoking cold turkey. While working hard to quit smoking, it’s fairly common for to give in to an overwhelming urge now and then. A temporary lapse does not mean they’ve quit on quitting. If you find your loved one stealing a puff, empathize with him or her, and then let it go.

Consider joining a Quit Smoking program

Programs such as Robert Wood Johnson’s Tobacco Quitcenter can provide treatment, therapies, and support for aspiring non-smokers. These programs help people understand why they smoke, teach coping skills, and treat withdrawal symptoms. If your loved one is struggling alone, you may want to suggest they find a smoking cessation program near them.

Helping your loved one kick their smoking addiction is hard work that can take months or years of dedication. Remember to keep a positive attitude and empathetic outlook to support your loved one achieve a happier and healthier life.

 

 

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Eat Your Leafy Greens

close up of green lettuceWe’ve long known the health benefits of eating green leafy vegetables. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals that help you lose weight, fight cancer, and keep your heart healthy. And now they can save your memory too.

Green Leafy Vegetables Improve Brain Function

A new study suggests that eating just one daily serving of green leafy vegetables—spinach, kale, lettuce—can significantly improve your brain function. The long-ranging study focused specifically on older people and followed their eating habits over five years. The results showed that people who ate 1.3 servings of leafy greens every day had the brain function of people 11 years younger.

Previous studies have told us that a nutritious diet plays an important part in cognitive function, but now we know that green leafy vegetables alone can prevent mental decline. The theory behind this revelation is that green leafy vegetables are rich in lutein and folate. Lutein is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the brain, and folate is a B-vitamin that reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other Benefits of Green Leafy Vegetables

Besides preventing mental decline, green leafy vegetables offer a wealth of other benefits:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Diabetes prevention
  • Weight management
  • Sun protection
  • Cancer prevention
  • Bone health
  • Eye health
  • Gut health
  • Excellent source of iron and calcium

How to Add Green Leafy Vegetables to your Diet

These vegetables are really easy to add to your diet, and they’re tasty too. If you’re not already eating 1–2 servings a day, you can start today with minimal investment.

The vegetables you want to add to your diet include arugula, broccoli, cabbage, chard, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, and spinach. They’re delicious in salads, stir fries, and on the side. You can also add them to your omelets, sandwiches, and even smoothies.

A serving of leafy vegetables is about 1 cup, or 1/2 cup cooked. Aim to consume two servings a day for maximum benefit.

 

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Daylight Saving Time is 100 Years Old

Close-up of a clockIt’s time to spring forward again! Early Sunday morning, New Jersey will turn its clocks forward from 1:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. You’ll probably oversleep on Sunday, since your internal body clock will be an hour behind, but you should get used to the new time after a day or two.

Daylight saving time (DST) is a practice that is supposed to maximize the daylight. As winter turns to spring in countries far from the equator, the days get longer. The sun rises as early as 4:00 a.m. in the summer, so by the time most people start waking up at more earthly hours, the sun has already been shining for a while. By moving the clock forward, the sun rises—and sets—at a later time, thereby giving us more sunlight when we’re up and about.

You probably don’t remember a time without DST. That’s because daylight saving time is celebrating its 100th anniversary in the United States. It was first implemented in the US in March 1918, to preserve coal during World War I. In 1916, Germany moved the clocks forward in an effort to conserve fuel for the war effort. The United Kingdom, recognizing a good idea even though they were fighting Germany at the time,  followed suit a few weeks later. It took two years for the United States to to implement it as well.

After the Great War, most American cities dropped DST, only to pick it up again during World War II. During the war years, DST was actually used year-round to provide more daylight and conserve fuel. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which standardized the start and end dates for daylight saving time.

Daylight Saving Time: Good or Bad?

Daylight saving time is a hotly contested topic year after year. Proponents argue it saves energy and money, reduces car accidents, and gets people outdoors more. Symptoms of SAD—seasonal affective disroder—decrease after the time change. Another health benefit is that people are more likely to be active during DST, and Vitamin D intake from sun exposure increases as well.

Skeptics claim the savings—if they exist at all—are insignificant, and DST is nothing but a disruptive annoyance. Changing the clock interferes with your body’s circadian rhythm and makes you feel tired for a few days. Some people feel the effect of the time shift for weeks afterward. There was also a startling study that showed that moving the clock forward can trigger heart attacks in those already at risk.

To reduce the effect of losing an hour of sleep, start moving up your bedtime tonight. Give yourself an extra half hour to sleep, and do the same on Saturday night.

At this point, DST is an institution in the United States, and most people appreciate having more daylight hours. It’s hard to tell whether or not we get any meaningful benefit from it, but it’s still fun to change the clock twice a year!

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Being a Couch Potato is a Dementia Risk

Being out of shape can cause changes in your brain that may increase your risk for dementia. A new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that poor cardiovascular fitness caused memory loss and cognitive impairment in over 60 percent of the study participants.  The study results show the lower your cardiovascular fitness, the more the nerve fibers in the brain’s “white matter” — the area that affects learning and memory — deteriorates. This is the same kind of damage we see in dementia patients.

We tend to think that so-called “brain exercises,” such as logic and crossword puzzles, keep the brain healthy. There is no evidence that’s the case. Research actually supports that physical exercise is the key to brain health. It seems that the brain needs the same types of exercise as the heart to stay healthy.

Previous studies suggested that physically active adults had lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. This new study shows more of the mechanics behind that. If higher levels of fitness correlate with lower levels of “white matter” deterioration, it follows that regularly working out can play a key part in reducing brain degeneration.

Here are the results of other studies connecting the affects of exercise and cognitive function:

  • When older, sedentary men and women started walking 40 minutes a day, three times a week, the hippocampus, the area of the brain connected to memory, increased in size. The hippocampus generally decreases as you age.
  • Men and women with an average age of 71 performed as well on memory tests as those a decade younger than them after five years of moderate or vigorous exercising.
  • Women who participated in strength training at least once a week had a 15% improvement in cognitive function.

The recommended amount of aerobic exercise for older adults is 75-150 minutes a week. Working out for just 30 minutes a day will give your mood a boost — and just might help you fight dementia too.

 

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Hand Tremors: Several Reasons Your Hands Are Shaking

Hand tremors is the most common type of movement disorder, according to a 2011 study in American Family Physician. And your hands are the most likely part of your body to suffer.

A hand tremor can stem from a number of underlying causes, ranging from diseases like Parkinson’s to a benign caffeine overload.  There are several causes for hand tremor, and to tell one from another.

Hand: Essential Tremor

By far the most common form is chronic hand tremor, 4% of the population, may experience it. Essential tremor is a shaking that comes on when you’re trying to perform some kind of work or action with your hands. For example, picking up a glass.

It can be mild, almost unnoticeable, or so pronounced that you can’t complete daily tasks. But there’s one easy way to tell if what you’re experiencing is essential tremor: Have a stiff drink. If you do and the tremor goes away, there’s your diagnosis right there.

In fact, drinking has long been a way for people with essential tremor to manage their shaking.

If the tremors get worse, medications may help. Beta blockers or anticonvulsants may help. In extreme cases, non-invasive ultrasound surgery has worked.

Hand: Parkinson’s Disease

While essential tremor is apparent when your hands are active, the type of hand movement associated with Parkinson’s is called a “rest tremor” because it shows up when the hands are idle.

Also, while essential tremor looks more like shaking, the type of tremor associated with Parkinson’s often has a kind of rhythmic quality to it, he says. For many patients, the tremor starts as a kind of “pill rolling” motion between the thumb and index finger.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease in which certain brain cells gradually die off. While it’s not well understood why that cell die-off starts, it leads to a shortage of the brain chemical dopamine. This chemical shortage eventually produces tremors, as well as other motor symptoms like facial tics, poor posture, and difficulty speaking.

Parkinson’s tends to show up in the elderly; age 60+, although a small percentage of patients develop it younger. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but medications and physical activity can help.

Hand: Stress:

Every person has a very mild, basically invisible form of tremor that results from their heart beat, blood flow, and other processes going on inside their bodies. This is called a physiologic tremor. But under certain conditions, this tremor can become more pronounced.

One of those situations: periods of high stress or anxiety. If your hands or voice have ever started shaking before a public speaking engagement, you’ve experienced this sort of tremor, which is known as “enhanced physiologic tremor.

Stress-relief activities like meditation, yoga, or listening to music, as well as anti-anxiety meds, can help.

Hand: Caffeine

Just as stress can heighten your normally undetectable physiologic tremor, so can caffeine. If you notice your hands shaking after coffee or other sources of caffeine, it’s time to cut back,or switch to half-caffeine.

Caffeine can also make essential tremor more noticeable. If you think your tremors are more than a simple caffeine overload, let your doctor know about it.

Hand: Medications

Like stress and caffeine, some medications,notably, asthma medications like bronchodilators, can lead to hand tremors. Amphetamines, some statins, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can also cause hand tremor.

If you notice your tremors after using your meds, or if the shaking seemed to come on when you started on a new prescription, try an alternative drug that will eliminate the shaking.

Hand: Fatigue

Yet another cause of enhanced physiologic tremor is fatigue.

Sleep deprivation or a grueling workout, can increase tremors of the hands and other body parts.

But again, fatigue can also make essential tremor more pronounced. So if your hands always shake, but it becomes really bad when you’re tired or sleep-deprived, get a doctor to check it out.