Common Irregular Heartbeat May Hamper Seniors’ Walking Ability

Older adults who develop atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm irregularity, may be more prone to walking problems — including reduced speed, strength and balance, a new study suggests.

The physical decline associated with atrial fibrillation was equivalent to about four years of aging, the researchers said.

“Atrial fibrillation is a serious disease that can have an important impact on how older adults experience declining physical performance and function with aging,” said lead researcher Dr. Jared Magnani, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University.

These findings don’t prove a cause-and-effect link between atrial fibrillation and declining physical performance, only that there’s an association, Magnani said.

Other factors can contribute to both the risk of atrial fibrillation and declining physical performance. These factors may include inflammation, increased muscle loss, or being overweight, the researchers said.

The report was released online April 5 in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers (atria) beat irregularly and sometimes too fast. This can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other conditions.

For the study, Magnani and his colleagues examined the physical performance of more than 2,700 individuals. They were evaluated at ages 70, 74, 78 and 82, then re-evaluated after four years, the study authors said.

Over four years, all participants had a decline in physical performance. But people with atrial fibrillation had a significantly greater decline, the study found.

Specifically, they fared worse on tests of balance, grip strength, how far they could walk in two minutes and the time needed to walk 400 meters — 437 yards. Overall, it took those with atrial fibrillation 20 seconds longer to cover the distance than those without the condition, the researchers said.

“Atrial fibrillation is more than a heart rhythm problem, but seems to be a systemic problem with important consequences in aging,” Magnani said.

When older adults start to slow down or become frail, they have an increased risk of a range of problems, Magnani said. That may result in a fall or fracture. As a result, people may lose their independence, have a decline in quality of life, end up in a long-term care facility, or die, he said.

Atrial fibrillation is among the most common heart rhythm irregularities, said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The findings in this study “suggest that atrial fibrillation may contribute to age-related declines in physical performance,” said Fonarow, who was not involved with the research. “Identifying effective strategies to prevent and treat atrial fibrillation in older adults are needed,” he said.

The typical treatment for atrial fibrillation is blood thinners to prevent strokes, Magnani said. “This study suggests that exercise and preserving physical performance may also be beneficial for older adults with atrial fibrillation,” he said.

Intensive Exercise a Fountain of Youth for Aging Muscles

One key to keeping muscles young is as close as the nearest gym, researchers say.

“High-level” exercise appears to help keep older people’s muscles young at the cellular level, the Canadian study finds.

“Exercise is definitely an important contributor to functional performance,” and even non-athletes can benefit from workouts, study lead author Geoff Power, of the University of Guelph, said in a university news release.

“Staying active, even later in life, can help reduce muscle loss,” added Power, who is professor in Guelph’s department of human health and nutritional sciences.

Power explained that as people get older, they lose muscle mass and strength, and this process speeds up after age 60.

But the researchers found that muscle decline is slower in elderly people who are elite athletes.

As reported recently in the Journal of Applied Physiology, the investigators compared the muscles of world-class track and field athletes in their 80s with people the same age who lived on their own but weren’t athletes.

Compared to the non-athletes, the elderly athletes’ legs were 25 percent stronger and had about 14 percent more muscle mass. In addition, the athletes had nearly one-third more “motor units” — which consist of nerve and muscle fiber — in their leg muscles. More motor units means more muscle mass and greater strength, the study authors explained in the news release.

Finding ways “to intervene and delay the loss of motor units in old age is of critical importance,” Power said.

However, every person is different and “we cannot rule out the importance of genetics,” he added. Power said more research is needed to determine whether higher levels of muscle health in older elite athletes is the result of training or genes, or both.

8 Phrases a Nutritionist Would Love to Never Hear Again

Nutritionist Doctor is writing a prescription. Focus on fruit.

As a nutritionist, I’m pretty much the ideal audience for people who want to talk about how they eat – or at least that’s what everyone thinks. It’s sort of like when you meet a dentist at a party and you can’t help but ask for his or her advice on how to treat your toothache. Or, when you come across a makeup artist and you must ask about her favorite mascara and under eye concealer. (OK, maybe that’s only me.)

But while I do love talking nutrition, I don’t love so many of the things I hear people say about it. Often, I do my best to just smile and then gradually change the subject. However, I also sometimes can’t resist throwing in my two cents – after all, I feel like it’s my civic duty to set the record straight. (Or, more likely, I’m just very opinionated.)

So if you meet me at a dinner party or yoga studio and want to say one of these eight phrases, please bite your tongue. Here’s why:

  1. ‘I don’t eat carbs.’

Too many people think it’s cool to say they don’t eat carbs when they don’t even know what foods actually contain carbohydrates. You don’t eat fruit or veggies? Those are carbs. And, in case you forgot, dairy has lactose, which is a carbohydrate. If you are limiting non-nutritious carbs such as candy, cookies and cake, then just say that; it’s cool. If you are limiting pasta, bread and potatoes, say it like it is, too. Just be forewarned: That comment might open up another disagreement between us as well.

  1. ‘I’m starting a detox.’

Usually, when I hear this one, I first roll my eyes, then I ask, “Why?” If you eat crappy foods day in and day out and then eliminate them, of course you will feel better. So, instead of spending money on fancy juices, buy lots of whole fruit, veggies and whole grains. They are packed with fiber, which will naturally help to detoxify your body. Better yet? Learn to eat healthy year-round and you won’t even feel like you need to detox in the first place.

  1. ‘I avoid gluten.’

The only time I am OK with this comment – and I repeat, OK – is if it comes from a person with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Otherwise, I just want to scream. Eliminating gluten from your diet is not a guarantee you will lose any weight or feel better. Gluten is not the enemy, but poor judgment can be. Instead of putting unnecessary restrictions on your diet, learn portion control instead.

  1. ‘I follow a paleo diet.’

Do you also get your coffee from Starbucks? Thought so. Eating lots of fruits, veggies and fish is great, but claiming that you’re eating like our cavemen ancestors did is really far-fetched. When you actually start hunting and gathering your own food, let’s talk. In the meantime, just be honest and admit you’re eating another version of Atkins.

  1. ‘I never eat processed foods.’

Well this is just plain silly. Almonds, quinoa and Greek yogurt are all processed. Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat, so almost everything we eat is actually processed. So, unless you’re grabbing an apple straight from the tree or a tomato from the vine, you might not want to use this term. It would be more accurate to say, “I avoid overly-processed, packaged foods whose original sources are hard to recognize.”

  1. ‘I’m starting my diet tomorrow.’

I hate to tell you this, but “diet” is a four-letter word that really shouldn’t be part of your vocabulary. “Starting a diet” is almost synonymous with “going off a diet.” It always seems to be a vicious cycle. I would so much rather hear people say they’re going to start changing their behaviors and adopting a healthier lifestyle. If you acknowledge that this process will take time and patience, you’ll really be on my good side.

  1. ‘I eat a clean diet.’

Well, aren’t we trendy! This is a rather new term that actually has no formal definition. What does “clean diet” even mean? Is it the opposite of a “dirty diet?” While I can kind of appreciate where people are coming from when they say this – maybe they think they are saying they eat a “wholesome diet” – why must we label the way we eat as a “diet,” anyway? Can’t we just name the foods we love to eat more of and leave it as that?

  1. ‘I never eat [fill in the blank] – it’s bad for you!’

Ouch, that’s severe. Never? When someone says this, it’s usually related to pizza, French fries, burgers, you know – many of our favorite foods. So, I want to set the record straight: There are no good or bad foods, just foods that might be better for us than others and that we should eat more of, such as fruits and veggies. Healthy eating is not about perfection, but rather what you eat the majority of the time. I refer to it as the 80/20 rule: Eighty percent of your diet includes foods that have a ton of nutritional benefits, while 20 percent is left for the rest.

Finding Wellness on a Surfboard

A woman surfs on a large wave.

Surfing is about more than just standing up. A killer core, cardio and strength workout, the paddling and pop-ups push new and old – and not just in the physical sense. As it turns out, surfing functions as a life and wellness tool in and out of the water. Like yoga, surfing embodies a holistic approach to life.

I was reminded of both the simplicity and strength of this message time and again during a weeklong surf retreat that humbled me, challenged me and inspired me as the waves and I came together (or didn’t) off the coast of Cambutal, Panama.

And it isn’t just me who thinks surfing and wellness go hand in hand. Spafinder Wellness 365 recently announced its wellness trend report for 2016, and surfing topped the list. In fact, catching waves is booming in the wellness travel genre, especially among women looking to blend physical activity with self-care through all-female surf retreats. SwellWomen Surf & Yoga Retreat owner Lulu Agan has built an empowering program in Maui, Nicaragua and El Salvador with the belief that “through the experiential element, such as learning how to surf, you are invited to tap into your inner strength and courage. This experience of riding the wave can be applied to all facets of our lives.”

What happens on a surfboard to inspire wellness?

Nic Jacobson, director of furf at Sansara Surf and Yoga Resort in Cambutal, Panama, tells his students that surfing is about catching waves. It isn’t about looking strong in a perfectly positioned stance on your board over a wave (even if we admit that does look mighty fierce).

There is no doubt: Surfing is a physical sport. Your body will be sore. Your muscles will respond. My core has never been as tight and strong as after I spent five days in the water (and sometimes on my board). But the long lasting wellness that you’ll be able to take home with you and incorporate into your daily life happens in the mind and heart when you embrace the lessons from the water, waves and surfboard.

Surfing teaches you how to cope in daily life.

There is only one reality when you’re surfing, whether you’re a newbie or veteran. The ocean is the only one in full control. Ocean waves come in sets, including the good and the bad, just like life. For Jacobson, the key moment occurs in the fight. He explains, “We push through the rougher waves to calmer waters. We keep paddling so that when the opportunity comes, and a wave rolls through, we are in a position to seize that moment. When life presents us with a challenge, or period of turmoil, we have to have this same dedication. We don’t surrender to the challenge, but we push through it so we’re back in position for greatness, whatever that looks like for you.”

Surfing encourages us to drop our ego.

The good and bad news, even for experienced surfers, is that every day is a new day in the ocean. And even more importantly, every wave is a new wave. Eckhart Tolle writes, “The past has no power over the present moment.” While you can develop strength, form and expertise while surfing more and more waves, each new attempt presents an opportunity to humble us. Through the great waves and the not-so-great waves, we learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that it’s OK to fall. “Challenge exists in our everyday lives, and with the art of surfing, we teach colors outside the lines of life back home, erasing egos and unleashing the bare human spirit. It’s like we’re all kids again, and everyone is on the same playground,” Agan says.

Surfing encourages us to deal with frustration and fear.

There’s  is no doubt that the ocean is relentless. Even on a calm day, surfing involves a lot of paddling through waves to reposition yourself for the next set. Finding yourself furiously stroking through the water in the hopes of catching the wave in just the right moment – only to have it move by you or toss you around – can be frustrating, if you let it. Jacobson reminds his students that “the ocean isn’t going to shut off. So you accept it. You let go of control. And all of a sudden, it’s not that bad.” When you step outside the story of frustration and judgment that spirals into a full-blown novel in your mind to be present in the moment, a new perspective emerges. In that moment, you can face anything.

Health Tip: Need a Time-Out From Athletic Training?

Training for an athletic event can push your body to its limits, so it’s important to know when to back off.

The American Council on Exercise mentions these warning signs that you’re overdoing it:

  • It’s very difficult to get through your entire routine.
  • You’re always in pain, sore, sluggish or fatigued.
  • You’re having strong cravings for certain foods or binge eating.
  • You’re noticing changes in your emotional health, including feeling irritable, depressed or moody.
  • You’re not seeing the results you expect.
  • You’re frequently hurt.
  • You’re choosing exercise over other important things, such as social events or sleep.

Exercise May Counter Harms From Too Much Sitting, Study Says

Regular exercise helps counteract the harmful health effects of too much sitting, a new British study suggests.

“This research is significant because it demonstrates yet again why physical activity and exercise is so important. It shows that people who spend large amounts of time not moving, either through work, leisure or lifestyle, can counteract some of the negative effects of sedentary behavior by regularly exercising,” study co-author Kishan Bakrania, a University of Leicester researcher, said in a university news release.

Researchers analyzed data from a 2008 national health survey of adults in England. They grouped people according to their levels of physical activity and sitting time.

Adults who sat a lot and didn’t get any exercise had more heart disease and diabetes risk factors than those who spent a lot of time sitting but got regular exercise, the researchers said.

They also found that people who spent less time sitting had higher levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, even if they didn’t get regular exercise.

“By suggesting that being physically active may offset some of the deleterious consequences of routinely engaging in high levels of sedentary behavior, this study further emphasizes the importance of physical activity in the promotion and maintenance of health,” said lead researcher Thomas Yates, from the Leicester Diabetes Centre and the University of Leicester.

However, this was a so-called observational study and further research is needed to confirm these findings, he added.

Too Much Sitting May Shorten Your Life, Study Suggests

Get off your duff: A new study finds that sitting less may extend your life.

Brazilian researchers who analyzed data from 54 countries linked sitting for more than three hours a day to 3.8 percent of deaths from all causes.

Limiting sitting time to less than three hours a day would increase a person’s life expectancy by an average of 0.2 years — or more than two months, the researchers said.

The study adds to growing evidence that too much sitting is a health threat, and that even regular exercise may not be enough to counter the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, the researchers said.

Their report appeared online in advance of the August print issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study authors estimated the effects of less time spent sitting, regardless of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Even a modest, 10 percent reduction in sitting time — for instance, 30 fewer minutes a day — could have an immediate impact, the researchers said.

“Bolder changes [for instance, 50 percent decrease or two fewer hours] would represent at least three times fewer deaths versus the 10 percent or 30-minute reduction scenarios,” lead investigator Leandro Rezende said in a journal news release. Rezende is with the department of preventive medicine at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine, in Brazil.

Despite a growing body of research showing the dangers of too much sitting, it’s difficult to get people to make changes, the researchers added.

“Although sitting is an intrinsic part of human nature, excessive sitting is very common in modern societies,” Rezende said.

Labor-saving devices, long commutes and homes in areas that lack support for active lifestyles contribute to the problem, he added.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.

Health Tip: Exercise for a Healthier Heart

It’s common knowledge that exercise helps you shed pounds. But it also can help your heart.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute says exercise:

  • Boosts lung function and makes your heart stronger, allowing more oxygen-rich blood to be pumped throughout your body.
  • Reduces the risk of plaque formation inside your arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease and heart attack.
  • Lowers blood pressure and blood fats, and helps regulate blood sugar.
  • Helps reduce inflammation, control weight and boost healthy HDL cholesterol.

Schools in Most States Skimp on Phys Ed, Study Finds

Most states don’t provide students with enough physical education, a new report finds.

Just 19 states require elementary school students to take physical education classes for a set amount of time, and only 15 set minimum rules for middle school students.

Only Oregon and the District of Columbia require the amount of physical education time recommended by national experts. That’s 150 minutes a week for elementary students, and 225 minutes for older kids.

In 62 percent of states, students are allowed to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit. Many states let schools withhold physical activity or use it to punish students, according to the 2016 Shape of the Nation report.

The report was released by Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and by SHAPE America — Society of Health and Physical Educators.

“The benefits of physical education ring clear as a school bell,” Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association, said in a Voices for Health Kids news release. “With effective physical education, we can keep kids’ hearts healthy and their minds in gear to do their best at school every day.”

The good news is that school districts, under a recent law, will be able to get federal funding to improve their programs, the report said.

The 6 Best Yoga Poses You Can Do at Your Desk

Various yoga poses

Researchers say our chair culture is literally killing us. And they might be right: Because most of us sit at desks in front of computer screens for hours, many of us are in debilitating, chronic back pain frombad posture. What’s more, tilting your head to hold your phone strains your neck and can create permanent imbalances in your cervical spine and shoulders. A sedentary lifestyle doesn’t only destroy your body externally, but it also wreaks havoc on your insides. Sitting causes organ damage, muscle degeneration, poor circulation, weight gain and fat build-up – especially around the belly. And then there’s the mental aspect: When you sit hunched over at your desk, it makes your body frail, which lowers your confidence, energy and mood.

We are overworked, stressed out and obsessed with being busy. That lifestyle distracts us from achieving good posture throughout the day. While we know it’s bad for us, most people need to work seated in front of a computer. If you’re one of them, try these yoga poses to reverse the damage:

1. Side Stretch

  • Position: Standing at your desk.
  • Purpose: To lengthen and stretch your spine and the sides of your body.
  • Benefit: This pose helps create a lift out of your pelvis in your lower back and all the way up to your shoulders and neck. This movement can help you stay tall while sitting.
  • How to do it: Stand with your feet and legs together. Keep your weight even on your feet. Inhale, lengthen your back and reach your arms overhead. Hold your right wrist with your left hand. Keep your hips and shoulders square toward the wall you’re facing as you lean to the left. Gently pull with your left hand and stretch your right side. Keep your chin lifted and parallel with the floor. Hold this position for three breaths and switch to the next side.

2. Shoulder Stretch

  • Position: Standing at your desk.
  • Purpose: To align and open your shoulders and upper back.
  • Benefit: Fight back against slouching shoulders with this stretch.
  • How to do it: Stand with your feet as far apart as your outer hips, and point them straight forward. Clasp your hands behind your back. As you breath in, straighten your legs, lengthen your torso and set your shoulders back. Squeeze your arms straight. Exhale and bow forward. Keep lengthening your back. Lift your shoulders and open your upper back.

3. Neck Stretch

  • Position: Standing at your desk.
  • Purpose: To stretch your neck and back.
  • Benefit: This pose is an efficient way to alleviate tension in your neck and shoulders. It reverses what I like to call “iPhone neck syndrome.”
  • How to do it: Stand with your feet as far apart as your outer hips and point them straight forward. Plant your feet firmly, with your weight evenly spread between your heels and the tops of your feet. Clasp your hands behind your back. Slide your clasp to your right hip. Inhale, lengthen your back so your shoulders are even with the base of your neck and are even across your back. Gently tilt your head to the left. Soften your jaw and your gaze. Hold for three deep breaths and switch sides.

4. Thigh Stretch

  • Position: Standing at your desk.
  • Purpose: To stretch your thighs and release your lower back.
  • Benefit: This pose opens your thighs and alleviates back pain. When you sit, your thighs likely turn out, which tucks your pelvis under and diminishes your lower back. When you open your thighs, however, you can root your legs down into their hip sockets evenly. This movement is crucial to establish a healthy lift in your back.
  • How to do it: Stand facing your desk with your feet and legs touching and your feet straight forward. Shift weight into your right foot and lift your left foot toward the back wall. Reach down and hold the outer edge of your left foot with your left hand. Hug your left knee in toward your right. Inhale, lengthen the sides of your torso and set your shoulders back. Kick your left foot back against your hand, point your left foot and flick your toes back. Take three deep breaths in this stretch before switching sides.

5. Pyramid

  • Position: Standing behind your desk.
  • Purpose: To stretch your hamstrings.
  • Benefit: If your legs get achy or numb while sitting, this posture will improve circulation, wake up your legs and relieve pain in the lower body. Pyramid pose stretches your hamstrings, and that helps you set your thigh bones back into their hip sockets and creates space to open your back.
  • How to do it: Stand about an arm’s length away from your desk. Step your left foot back about 3.5 feet. Spin your back heel to the floor and angle your back foot toward the left upper corner of the room. Straighten your legs. Square your hips toward your desk. Inhale as you lengthen your back and fold forward until your back is parallel with the floor. Reach your arms forward and place your hands on the edge your desk. Press your hips back and extend through the crown of your head. Hold for five breaths and switch sides.

6. Seated Pigeon

  • Position: Seated at your desk.
  • Purpose: To open your hips.
  • Benefit: Opening your hips clears lower back and hip pain. As you open your hips, you can root down through your pelvis more evenly to get an even lift in your lower back. This position is paramount for good posture while seated at your desk.
  • How to do it: Sit toward the front edge of your chair. Plant your left foot firmly on the floor. Cross your right shin across your left thigh and flex your right foot. Press your left hand against your right foot and your foot against your hand to remind it to flex. Set your inner thighs back and create a broadening in your pelvis and lower back. Lengthen your spine and deepen your breath. Repeat on the second side.