Jogging, yoga are even healthier than we thought
Also: cancer rates are dropping
Yoga may help boost brain function in older adults
A simple yoga program may be good for the brain in unexpected ways. University of Illinois researchers are now reporting that practicing hatha yoga three times a week for eight weeks may help improve sedentary older adults’ performance on cognitive tasks that are relevant to everyday life. The findings involved 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 years of age. Among the 108 adults, 61 attended hatha yoga classes. The others met for the same number and length of sessions and engaged in stretching and toning exercises instead of yoga.
The researchers found that yoga classes significantly improved participants’ reaction time and accuracy in tests of cognitive function. At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group was speedier and more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than it had been before the intervention. The stretching-and-toning group saw no significant change in cognitive performance over time.
Hatha yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that involves meditation and focused breathing while an individual moves through a series of stylized postures.
“Hatha yoga requires focused effort in moving through the poses, controlling the body and breathing at a steady rate,” said study researcher Neha Gothe, who is with Wayne State University, Detroit Michigan. “It is possible that this focus on one’s body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have generalized to situations outside of the yoga classes, resulting in an improved ability to sustain attention.”
She said previous studies have found that yoga can have immediate positive psychological effects by decreasing anxiety, depression and stress.
Winning the war on cancer
America is doing much better in its war on cancer. The latest numbers from the American Cancer Society show a 22 percent drop in cancer mortality over the last two decades. Largely driven by rapid increases in lung cancer deaths among men as a consequence of the tobacco epidemic, the overall cancer death rate rose during most of the 20th century, peaking in 1991. The subsequent, steady decline in the cancer death rate is the result of fewer Americans smoking, as well as advances in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment.
During the most recent five years for which data are available (2007-2011), the average annual declines in cancer death rates were slightly larger among men (1.8 percent) than women (1.4 percent). These declines were driven by continued decreases in death rates for the four major cancer sites (lung, breast, prostate and colon). Lung cancer death rates declined 36 percent between 1990 and 2011 among males.
Death rates for breast cancer among women are down more than one-third (35 percent) from peak rates, while prostate and colorectal cancer death rates are each down by nearly half (47 percent). The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 1.66 million new cancer cases and 589,430 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2015. Prostate, lung and colorectal cancers will account for about 50 percent of all cases in men, with prostate cancer alone accounting for about 25 percent of new diagnoses.
The three most commonly diagnosed types of cancer among women in 2015 will be breast, lung and colorectal cancer, accounting for one-half of all cases in women. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29 percent of all new cancers among women in the U.S.
“The continuing drops we’re seeing in cancer mortality are reason to celebrate, but not to stop,” said John Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. “Cancer was responsible for nearly one in four deaths in the United States in 2011, making it the second leading cause of death overall. It is already the leading cause of death among adults aged 40 to 79.”
Jogging may help keep you young
A new study is shedding light on an unexpected benefit of jogging in older adults. The study looked at adults over the age of 66, some of whom walk for exercise and some who run for exercise. The researchers found that those who run at least 30 minutes three times a week were less likely to experience age-related physical decline in walking efficiency than those who simply walked. In fact, the older runners were 7 percent to 10 percent more efficient at walking than those who didn’t jog.
“What we found is that older adults who regularly participate in high aerobic activities, running in particular, have what we call a lower metabolic cost of walking than older, sedentary adults. In fact, their metabolic cost of walking is similar to young adults in their 20s,” said study investigator Justus Ortega, a Kinesiology Professor at Humboldt State University, Arcata, Calif.
Metabolic cost is the amount of energy needed to move and naturally increases as we age. High metabolic cost contributes to making walking more difficult and tiring. Decline in walking ability is a key predictor of morbidity in older adults. Researchers aren’t yet sure what makes joggers more efficient than walkers but they believe it may have something to do with the mitochondria found in cells. Evidence suggests that people who exercise vigorously have healthier mitochondria in their muscles.
John Schieszer is an award-winning international journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.