New research on longevity, blood sugar, exercise

Medical Minutes

Living to celebrate your 100th birthday

It is believed that more and more people will be living to the age of 100 and so scientists have been studying what may be the key to successful aging and longevity. Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden for the past 50 years have followed the health of 855 Gothenburg men born in 1913. The study now is being wrapped up and it turns out that 10 of the individuals lived to 100.

The volunteers in this study were surveyed at the age of 54, 60, 65, 75, 80 and 100. This allowed the researchers to consider the factors that appear to promote longevity. A total of 27 percent (232 individuals) of the original group lived to the age of 80 and 13 percent (111 individuals) to 90.

The researchers found that 42 percent of deaths after the age of 80 were due to cardiovascular disease, 20 percent to infectious diseases, 8 percent to stroke, 8 percent to cancer, 6 percent to pneumonia and 16 percent to other causes.

A total of 23 percent of the over-80 group were diagnosed with some type of dementia.

The researchers visited seven of the centenarians at home and found that all of them were relatively healthy, satisfied with their circumstances, and pleased to be living where they were.

“The unique design (of the study) has enabled us to identify the factors that influence survival after the age of 50,” said study investigator Lars Wilhelmsen, who is with the Sahlgrenska Academy, Gottenberg, Sweden. “Our recommendation for people who aspire to centenarianism is to refrain from smoking, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and confine themselves to four cups of coffee a day.”

Breakfast content may affect blood sugar levels through the day

Individuals with type-2 diabetes have difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels, particularly after meals. However, a new study is suggesting that if an individual eats certain foods for breakfast they may be able to prevent blood sugar spikes at both breakfast and lunch.

“People often assume that their glucose response at one meal will be identical to their responses at other meals, but that really isn’t the case,” said Jill Kanaley, who is a professor and associate chair in the University of Missouri Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, Columbia, Missouri. “For instance, we know that what you eat and when you eat make a difference, and that if people skip breakfast, their glucose response at lunch will be huge. In our study, we found those who ate breakfast experienced appropriate glucose responses after lunch.”

Kanaley and her colleagues monitored type-2 diabetics’ levels of glucose, insulin and several gut hormones after breakfast and lunch. The participants ate either high-protein or high-carbohydrate breakfasts, and the lunch included a standard amount of protein and carbohydrates. The researchers found eating more protein at breakfast lowered individuals’ post-meal glucose levels.

“The first meal of the day is critical in maintaining glycemic control at later meals, so it really primes people for the rest of the day,” Kanaley said. “Eating breakfast prompts cells to increase concentrations of insulin at the second meal, which is good because it shows that the body is acting appropriately by trying to regulate glucose levels.”

She said different foods will affect individuals differently. For diabetics to really understand how they respond to different foods they need to consistently track their glucose levels. In addition, Kanaley said trigger foods may change depending on how physically active a person is or how long they have waited between meals.

Kanaley said that although it would be helpful for individuals with high blood sugar to eat more protein, they do not need to consume extreme amounts of protein to reap the benefits.

“We suggest consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein at breakfast, which is within the range of the FDA recommendations,” Kanaley said.

Cancer patients told to grab their walking shoes

A brisk walk or a slow jog on a regular basis may be the key to improved cancer treatments, according to Kansas researchers. They have shown that moderate exercise on a regular basis enhances tumor oxygenation, which may improve treatments in cancer patients.

“If we can increase the efficacy of radiation treatment, then the patient’s prognosis is enhanced,” said Brad Behnke, who is an associate professor of exercise physiology at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. “An intervention like exercise has almost universally positive side effects versus other treatments that can have deleterious side effects. Exercise is a type of therapy that benefits multiple systems in the body, and may permanently alter the environment within the tumor.”

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends exercise for cancer patients and cancer survivors, but little research shows what happens within the tumors during such exercise. That prompted Behnke to combine his expertise in integrative physiology with cancer research. He and his team have found that too little exercise may have no effect, while too much exercise may have a negative effect. The optimal regimen appears to be moderate exercise.

Behnke said moderate exercise is an activity that uses 30 to 60 percent of someone’s aerobic capacity. The activity is non-strenuous and is something that most people can perform, such as a brisk walk or a slow jog. Research also has shown that moderate exercise can help cancer patients counteract some of the side effects of treatment.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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