You don’t have to be a child trapped in an adult’s body like Tom Hanks in “Big” to think young. You can cultivate your memory, quick recall and mental sharpness even if you can’t fit all your candles on a birthday cake. For sustainable brain power, what matters most is what you do with your “think tank,” not just before, but also after, age 60.
That’s a revolutionary idea. The old battle plan to combat a fading memory was to use tricks to help you cope. Well, humbug. You want brain maintenance, not indulgence. The key to a clear-headed old age is physical activity, good nutrition, mental challenges and social connections. And the latest research shows how right we are:
• Move it or lose it. Physical activity helps prevent loss of gray matter and promotes the growth of neurons that process thoughts and shuttle memories. Walking 15 minutes a day is good; better is six days a week for 30 minutes a stroll; best, 10,000 steps a day.
• Grill it or lose it. Lean, mean, thinking machines are fueled not by oil and fat (saturated fat actually kills memories), but by lean protein (never fried) and fiber-rich, 100 percent whole grain, salad-loving, broccoli-munching daily feasts. Add DHA-omega-3s, turmeric, caffeine and aspirin (if your doc says), and you’ll remember those fun parts!
Taking your meds
People often refuse to take medications for reasons that baffle us. Overall, 40 percent to 70 percent of people don’t follow their prescribed medication regimen, and more than 20 percent of new prescriptions go unfilled, even when the meds are free. These often are life-or-death medications: 26 percent of the first prescriptions for insulin and at least 20 percent for oral diabetes medications are left behind the pharmacy counter. The result? Uncontrolled blood sugar levels that lead to heart, kidney, nerve, vascular and eye damage. Thirty percent of antihypertensive prescriptions also go unfilled; more than half of those who do fill them stop taking the meds as directed within a year.
We’re on a campaign to help you take better care and figure out why you’re not taking your meds.
• If it’s financial, ask your doctor and pharmacist about low-price generic alternatives, and check out pharmaceutical companies’ patient-support programs.
• If side effects bother you, there may be other drugs or dose adjustments that eliminate the problems. Ask your doc about options.
• Forgetful? Put meds in containers divided by days of the week and times of the day. Ask family and friends for assistance. Download an app with text reminders or alarms.
More than 125,000 people in North American die every year because they didn’t follow their medication regimen, and even more are hospitalized. Let’s bring those numbers down to zero.
Get the lead out
Harry Potter, Diego and Thomas the Train are not characters you’d think could make kids sick, but thousands of such branded toys have been banned for violating U.S. lead standards.
Other sources of contamination are dust from lead paint (on windowsills and hands), metal kids’ jewelry (really risky), painted decorations made outside the U.S., and kids’ paint sets (check the labels).
Now studies indicate that kids’ exposure to residue from leaded gasoline exhaust (it’s been out of your tank for almost 30 years) that settled into soil and permeated urban neighborhoods promotes aggression and violence as adults. Add these behavioral problems to the list of symptoms from prolonged contact: reduced IQ, slowed growth, behavior and attention problems, and kidney and hearing disorders.
Clearly, lead poisoning is still a problem — especially for kids 6 or younger — but it’s preventable. What can you do to keep your child safe?
• Minimize exposure to lead in soil. Have a veggie garden? Make soil 30 percent compost to reduce bioavailability of lead. Remove outer leaves from leafy crops, and wash all leafy greens in a 1 percent vinegar or 1/2 percent soap solution.
• Minimize exposure from paint. About 42 million homes in the U.S. have lead paint. Get a home testing kit (only about $10) and check anywhere there’s peeling or cracking paint. For advice on safe removal, call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-LEAD.
• Minimize exposure from toys. Beware of imported painted toys for young kids. To check on all recalled ones, visit www.health.ny.gov/environmental/lead/recalls.
Great shingles vaccine news
What do Amy Grant, Golda Meir and Richard Nixon have in common? They’ve all had shingles: nerve inflammation caused by the reawakened chickenpox virus. (Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lurks dormant in your body.) Shingles starts with a burning or tingling sensation, then a rash (or blisters) appears, usually on one side of your body. During and after an attack, you might experience excruciating nerve pain.
You can dodge that bullet. About a year ago, we told you that the shingles vaccine was approved for people 50 and older. But only around 10 percent of people who are eligible for it (and benefit enormously from it) ever get the vaccine. We bet it’s because of Internet buzz about safety concerns and the fact that most people aren’t really aware that every third person in the U.S. gets shingles. That’s more than 1 million cases a year.
Good news: A massive study of almost 200,000 people shows that the live vaccine poses no increased risk for cerebrovascular disease (stroke); cardiovascular disease (heart attack), meningitis, encephalitis, encephalopathy, Ramsay-Hunt syndrome or Bell’s palsy. It’s safe and well-tolerated.
True, the vaccine doesn’t protect you completely from shingles, but it reduces your risk by up to 70 percent. (The younger you are, the more it protects.) And if you end up with shingles, having been vaccinated makes the attack milder, with less-severe post-infection pain. So remember: There’s little risk from the vaccine, and a much bigger one from skipping it. Take a shot; it’s a win-win situation.
Sucralose: Maybe not so splendid
Up to now, research on sucralose has been sometimes positive, sometimes not; a few, but not all, studies do indicate that it may trigger weight gain and promote diabetes by making you crave more sweets or by making you think you’re so calorie-sparing that you deserve to eat that wedge of chocolate cake. Now, like the sometimes slippery slope for saccharin (in 1973 the Food and Drug Administration said presumptive evidence showed that it caused cancer in rats; Canada banned it, but it’s still in the U.S. as Sweet’N Low), recent lab tests indicate that use of sucralose might be associated with leukemia. More research will have to be done to see if animal results apply to humans, but a federal stamp of safety does not necessarily mean something is your healthiest option.
So one more time, we’re asking nicely: Contemplate the possibility of giving up artificial sweeteners (and added sugars) in food and drinks. It may be time to retrain your taste buds.
Enjoy flavor-packed, organically grown, well-washed nutrient mega-stars strawberries, blueberries, figs and apples for a taste of sweetness. Add to salads and nonfat, no-sugar-added Greek yogurt, or serve with a spritz of lime juice for dessert.
Want a sweet beverage? Try iced tea with a drop or two of vanilla extract, crushed mint leaves or lemon; iced coffee with cinnamon and nonfat milk.
You can find sweetness in real food; your waist and taste buds will say thanks.