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Aging, Complementary Medicine, Health and Fitness, NIH, Orthopedics, Research

Measuring the physical effects of yoga for seniors

Measuring the physical effects of yoga for seniors

LeslieAs my grandmother marched into her 80s, she would regularly eyeball pieces of furniture before sitting on them. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up,” she’d say, in the spirit of fun but with some underlying fear. Even though she and my grandfather stayed active by taking yoga classes at a senior center, and were a neighborhood hit riding their tandem tricycle in matching helmets and T-shirts, declining strength and range of motion with age just made certain everyday movements difficult.

I thought of my grandma while reading about an NIH-funded study from the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles on yoga for seniors. Published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study quantified the physical effects of seven poses in 20 ambulatory older adults whose average age was 70.7 years. Participants attended hour-long Hatha yoga classes twice a week for 32 weeks. The researchers used biomechanical methods joint moments of force (JMOF) and electromyographic analysis at the beginning and end of the study to measure each pose’s demands on select lower-extremity joints and muscles.

In a Research Spotlight, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine noted:

Findings from the study may be used to help design evidence-based yoga programs in which poses are chosen for the purpose of achieving a clinical goal (e.g., targeting specific joints or muscle groups or improving balance). The physical demands, efficacy, and safety of yoga for older adults have not been well studied, and older adults are at higher risk of developing musculoskeletal problems such as strains and sprains when doing yoga.

Study author Leslie Kazadi, a Los Angeles-based experienced yoga therapist, designed the yoga program with a geriatrician, exercise physiologist/biomechanist, and physical therapist from the research team and taught participants the poses. She told me that standing poses were chosen to target areas of the body that tend to become weak or limited in seniors. Hip stabilizers, for example, help with mobility and balance – and confidence in everyday situations, such as rising from a chair. “What you need to move around in the world is to be strong in your lower body,” Kazadi said. “If you don’t have stability downstairs, then you’re not going to get freedom upstairs no matter what.”

Previously: Exploring the use of yoga to improve the health and strength of bonesAsk Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicineExercise programs shown to decrease pain, improve health in group of older adults and Moderate physical activity not a risk factor for knee osteoarthritis, study shows
Photo by NCCAM/RaffertyWeiss Media

Aging, Complementary Medicine, NIH

NCCAM to host Twitter chat on research and complementary health approaches for Alzheimer’s

Save the date (it’s tomorrow) and tune in for a Twitter chat on Alzheimer’s research and complementary health approaches to preventing or managing the disease. Hosted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the chat will feature experts from the NCCAM and the National Institute on Aging answering questions submitted using the hashtag #nccamchat.

Discussion topics will include dietary supplements such as ginkgo biloba that have been examined for possible effectiveness in slowing cognitive decline, and mind and body practices for caregivers. Check out the NCCAM’s current resources and Clinical Digest for more information.

Beginning at 1 PM Pacific time on Dec. 18, the conversation can also be followed at @NCCAM and @Alzheimers_NIH.

Previously: “Pruning synapses” and other strides in Alzheimer’s researchHow villainous substance starts wrecking synapses long before clumping into Alzheimer’s plaquesWhen brain’s trash collectors fall down on the job, neurodegeneration risk picks up and Ask Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicine

Aging, Fertility, Genetics, Research, Science, Stanford News

Male roundworms shorten females’ lifespan with soluble compounds, say Stanford researchers

Male roundworms shorten females' lifespan with soluble compounds, say Stanford researchers

2927367197_d663f8af63_zIt’s almost too good to be true. A Thanksgiving story about sex, death, gender conflict and… roundworms. A Stanford study published today in Science Express suggests that, in some species of worms and flies, males secrete compounds specifically to shorten the lifespan of nearby females. As a result, their mere presence initiates an inexorable early death sequence that the researchers call “male-induced demise.”

(Let’s all pause here for a deeply satisfying comparison to certain relationships in our own lives…)

The researchers, including Stanford geneticist and longevity expert Anne Brunet, PhD, and postdoctoral scholar Travis Maures, PhD, studied the laboratory roundworm, C. elegans, which has hermaphrodites rather than true females. Their research indicates that male roundworms secrete as-yet-unidentified molecules that act on hermaphrodites sequestered on the other side of a laboratory dish, or those added to a laboratory dish from which a batch of males had recently been evicted. Those hermaphrodites have a lifespan more than 20 percent shorter than controls not exposed to males.

The finding appears to counteract previous theories suggesting that the act of mating (which in worms can be – shall we say – quite rowdy) is responsible for the hermaphrodites’ early demise. As I wrote in our press release:

For several years, it’s been known that the presence of some male worms and flies can shorten the lifespan of their female or hermaphroditic counterparts. But it’s not been clear why. Some researchers have speculated that the physical stress of mating may lead to their early death.

The Stanford research, however, suggests something more than sex is to blame — specifically, that the males are carrying out a calculated plan at the molecular level to off the baby-makers after they’ve done their jobs.

The motive? Brunet and Maures speculate the murderous spree could be triggered by a need to conserve resources for newly produced young, or to prevent other males from mating with the same female. From the release:

“In worms, once the male has mated and eggs are produced, the hermaphrodite mother can be discarded,” Brunet said. “The C. elegans mother is not needed to care for the baby worms. Why should it be allowed to stay around and eat? Also, if she dies, no other male can get to her and thus introduce his genes into the gene pool.”

The researchers found that the continuous presence of young males shortened the average lifespan of C. elegans hermaphrodites by more than 20 percent. This effect persisted even when the genders were prevented from co-mingling, or when the hermaphrodites were sterile — indicating that neither the physical stress of copulation nor the energy demands of producing offspring were entirely responsible for early death. Affected hermaphrodites also displayed symptoms of aging, including slower movement, an increased incidence of paralysis, general decrepitude and structural decline.

It’s almost unbearably tempting to extend these findings to mammals or even humans.The presence of males leads to general decrepitude and structural decline in nearby females? I’ll go with it. And they exert this lifespan shortening effect over both space and time? Check. (In my house this is accomplished by my husband’s refusal to put his dishes in the dishwasher before leaving the house, but your trigger may vary.)

However, such nefarious tactics are likely to seriously backfire when a mother (or a set of parents) is needed to care for helpless offspring. In that case, males would appear to have little incentive to kill off their partners. Even so, the results indicate that this tactic has been going on for millions of years:

Although the researchers first studied a domesticated strain of C. elegans, they were also able to observe male-induced demise in a wild strain of C. elegans, as well as in two other, distantly related species of worm — confirming that the phenomenon has been conserved over about 20 to 30 million years of evolution. The male-induced demise even occurred in species of roundworm that have true males and true females in an equal mix (similar to mammals), suggesting that this phenomenon is not just due to idiosyncrasies of C. elegans such as hermaphroditism or a low proportion of males.

“The observation that this male-induced demise is present in several species of worms and has also been shown in flies suggests that it could have some adaptive benefits,” Brunet said. “It will be interesting, of course, to determine whether males also affect the lifespan of females in other species, particularly mammals.”

Previously Longevity gene tied to nerve stem cell regulation, say Stanford researchers and NIH awards nine Stanford faculty funding for innovative research
Photo by Ryan Somma

Aging, In the News, Neuroscience, Research, Stanford News

“Pruning synapses” and other strides in Alzheimer’s research

"Pruning synapses" and other strides in Alzheimer's research

To date, Alzheimer’s disease research has largely focused on controlling the brain plaque amyloid beta. But an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle suggests that this focus may be too narrow. As Erin Allday writes:

First, amyloid beta is probably just one piece of a long chain of events that go wrong in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. And second, that plaque buildup likely has been going on for years, even decades, before people are symptomatic. By the time doctors introduce a drug to attack amyloid beta, the disease has already progressed to the point that almost any treatment is bound to fail, scientists now believe.

The piece spotlights work being done on synapses – connections in the brain that facilitate communication between neurons – in the Stanford labs of neurobiologists Carla Shatz, PhD, and Ben Barres, MD, PhD. It also explains why scientists are working so hard to come up with answers:

The pressure to find treatments and preventions for Alzheimer’s disease has been building steadily over the past decade, and it’s becoming critical as the United States prepares for the crush of Baby Boomers who are approaching their 70s, when the disease is most likely to strike.

Aside from the personal losses to individuals and families, the needs of those patients will be an enormous burden on the nation’s health care system, doctors say. In California alone, almost half a million people are living with Alzheimer’s now, and that number is expected to climb to 660,000 by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Previously: How villainous substance starts wrecking synapses long before clumping into Alzheimer’s plaquesProtein known for initiating immune response may set our brains up for neurodegenerative disorders, Malfunctioning glia – brain cells that aren’t nerve cells – may contribute big time to ALS and other neurological disorders and Stanford neurologist discusses promising advancements in Alzheimer’s research

Aging, Cancer, Dermatology, Patient Care, Research, Science, Stanford News

Dilute bleach solution may combat skin damage and aging, according to Stanford study

Dilute bleach solution may combat skin damage and aging, according to Stanford study

3350877893_9d1db3abf3_zIs it time to put away your fancy skin creams and moisturizers? A study published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by Stanford pediatric dermatologist Thomas Leung, MD, PhD, and developmental biologist Seung Kim, MD, PhD, suggests that a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite (you’ll know it better as the bleach you use for cleaning and disinfecting), inhibits an inflammatory pathway involved in skin damage and aging.

The researchers conducted their studies in mice, but it’s been known for decades that dilute bleach baths (roughly 0.005 percent, or one-fourth to one-half cup bleach in a bathtub of water) are an effective and inexpensive way to combat moderate to severe forms of eczema in human patients.

According to our release:

Leung and his colleagues knew that many skin disorders, including eczema and radiation dermatitis, have an inflammatory component. When the skin is damaged, immune cells rush to the site of the injury to protect against infection. Because inflammation itself can be harmful if it spirals out of control, the researchers wondered if the bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solution somehow played a role in blocking this response.

The researchers found that the bleach solution blocks the activation of a molecule called NF-kappaB, or NF-kB, that is involved in inflammation and aging. They collaborated with radiation oncologist Susan Knox, MD, to investigate potential clinical applications. From our release:

Radiation dermatitis is a common side effect of radiation therapy for cancer. While radiation therapy is directed at cancer cells inside the body, the normal skin in the radiation therapy field is also affected. Radiation therapy often causes a sunburn-like skin reaction. In some cases, these reactions can be quite painful and can require interrupting the radiation therapy course to allow the skin to heal before resuming treatment. However, prolonged treatment interruptions are undesirable.

“An effective way to prevent and treat radiation dermatitis would be of tremendous benefit to many patients receiving radiation therapy,” said Susan Knox, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology and study co-author.

The researchers tested the effect of daily, 30-minute bleach baths on laboratory mice with radiation dermatitis, and on healthy, but older mice. They found that animals bathed in the bleach experienced less severe skin damage and better healing and hair regrowth after radiation,  and the fragile skin of older animals grew thicker than control animals bathed in water. But don’t ditch the contents of your medicine cabinet just yet– mice aren’t exactly tiny people, and more research needs to be done.

The researchers are now considering clinical trials in humans, and they are also looking at other diseases that could be treated by dilute-bleach baths. “It’s possible that, in addition to being beneficial to radiation dermatitis, it could also aid in healing wounds like diabetic ulcers,” Leung said. “This is exciting because there are so few side effects to dilute bleach. We may have identified other ways to use hypochlorite to really help patients. It could be easy, safe and inexpensive.”

Previously: Master regulator for skin development identified by Stanford researchers
Photo by Shawn Campbell

Aging, Imaging, Neuroscience, Stanford News

Teaching an old dog new tricks: New faster and more accurate MRI technique quantifies brain matter

Teaching an old dog new tricks: New faster and more accurate MRI technique quantifies brain matter

DOG TRICKWhen it comes to neurodegenerative diseases that erode the brain, such as multiple sclerosis, or processes that build up brain tissue, such as the formation of neural connections, the volume of our brains’ white matter matters. Yet, until recently, it was difficult to assess how much white matter a brain had lost or gained, or how it compared to that of other brains, because brain scan techniques had limited speed and accuracy.

Now, a team of researchers led by Stanford postdoctoral scholar Aviv Mezer, PhD, and psychology professor Brian Wandell, PhD, have found a faster and more reliable way to apply a commonly used brain scan technique, called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to quantify the volume of different areas of the brain.

The results were recently published (subscription required) in the journal Nature Medicine; a Stanford News story provides more details.

The researchers have already applied this new brain scan technique to patients with multiple sclerosis. Next, they’ll use it to measure changes in the developing brains of children.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz. 

Previously: Can a single concussion cause lasting brain damage?Found: Potential new way to predict some multiple-sclerosis patients’ disease course, drug responseTwo different types of MS, one big step toward personalized medicineDeveloping a computer model to better diagnose brain damage, concussionsStanford neuroimmunologist discusses recent advances in MS research and Study shows practicing tai chi may increase brain volume in healthy older adults
Photo by pbump

Aging, Health and Fitness, Orthopedics, Pain, Research

Exercise programs shown to decrease pain, improve health in group of older adults

Exercise programs shown to decrease pain, improve health in group of older adults

LASHER ILICEvery time I read about research on the benefits of exercise, I become eager to go outside and run. (Or, realistically, take a pleasant walk.) But before I do that today, I wanted to share a study showing that participating in an exercise program led to a decrease in pain from arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, as well as an improvement in mobility and overall health, among a group of older adults.

The research, which was presented today at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Boston, involved 119 adults of Asian descent – most of them female and age 65 or older – living in New York City. Participants took part in multiple eight-week yoga exercise classes and sessions of the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program between 2011 and 2013. The community-based classes were conducted by the Hospital for Special Surgery‘s Asian Community Bone Health Initiative using bilingual instructors at senior centers in the Chinatown, Flushing and Queens neighborhoods.

A release explained why the researchers focused on Asian adults:

The Asian older adult population in New York City grew by 64 percent from 2000 to 2010, and one in four seniors lived in poverty in 2010. “This population is at risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis,” said Laura Robbins, DSW, senior vice president of Education and Academic Affairs at HSS. “They are more than twice as likely to have no health insurance coverage compared to other major race and ethnic groups. Cultural and linguistic barriers limit access to healthcare services.”

And as for results:

In the survey, many participants reported that their pain intensity dropped and interfered less with their quality of life. The following statistically significant results are noteworthy:

  • 48% fewer participants had pain on a daily basis after completing the program
  • 69% more participants could climb several flights of stairs after the program
  • 83% more participants could bend, kneel, or stoop
  • 50% more participants could lift/carry groceries
  • 39% of participants felt the program reduced their fatigue
  • 30% participants felt that the program reduced their stiffness

Previously: Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary deathModerate physical activity not a risk factor for knee osteoarthritis, study showsResearchers look at brain activity to study falling and Help from a virtual friend goes a long way in boosting older adults’ physical activity

Aging, Cancer, Complementary Medicine, Men's Health

Practicing Qigong may help older prostate cancer survivors fight fatigue, pilot study finds

Practicing Qigong may help older prostate cancer survivors fight fatigue, pilot study finds

PEOPLE PRACTICING QIGONGRecovering from a severe illness can take a toll on a person. For older men who have survived prostate cancer and undergone androgen deprivation therapy, lingering effects may include fatigue and associated quality-0f-life issues. A small pilot study in older prostate cancer survivors has found that practicing Qigong – a gentle body-mind practice that incorporates fluid movement, deep breathing and meditation – may be a helpful non-drug tool for relieving this fatigue.

Scientists at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted the 12-week randomized controlled trial in 40 men with an average age of 72. All of the participants reported high levels of fatigue at the beginning of the study. One-half of the men engaged in Qigong classes, while the other half participated in a stretching class.

As outlined in the study (subscription required), published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, the researchers ”found that the Qigong intervention was associated with significantly larger improvements in fatigue and distress than the stretching group.” The findings, they noted, “are consistent with other Qigong [randomized controlled trials] for cancer survivors and depressed, chronically ill older adults.”

Co-lead author Rebecca Campo, PhD, said in a release, “Qigong may be an effective nonpharmacological intervention for the management of senior prostate cancer survivors’ fatigue and distress.” She added that larger trials and ones that include racially and ethnically diverse participants are needed to confirm the results of the initial trial.

Previously: NIH hosts Twitter chat on using mind and body practices for managing holiday stress and anxietyStudy shows practicing tai chi may increase brain volume in healthy older adults and Study examines the benefits of Tai Chi for the elderly

Aging, NIH, Orthopedics, Technology

Support for robots that assist people with disabilities

Support for robots that assist people with disabilities

As if medical research funding wasn’t tight enough, now scientists must compete with robots for grants. Wait… I have that wrong. The National Institutes of Health recently announced the awarding of $2.4 million over the next five years for projects with robots. (The humans are still in charge of the studies.)

Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about the robots. As part of the second year of the National Robotics Initiative – a shared project of multiple federal agencies to design “co-robots” to improve mobility and functioning in people with disabilities – the NIH is funding three projects.

One is a co-robotic cane that can aid the visually impaired by sensing information about the environment and relaying it to its user. Another is a co-robotic active catheter for heart procedures.

And my favorite, the novel platform for rapid exploration of robotic ankle exoskeleton control, is a wearable robot. People with impaired mobility or strength from aging or due conditions such as cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury may be assisted by this device. Researchers from North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University will test robotic control methods in patients recovering from a stroke to improve the product’s design.

Previously: Biotech start-up builds artful artificial limbs

Aging, Health and Fitness, Stanford News

Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary death

Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary death


There’s nothing positive about a sedentary lifestyle. Little or no physical activity can lead to worrisome health conditions, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, and to premature death. With more people living longer than before, the value of exercise is a message that needs to be reinforced, especially among the aging population.

In a Q&A for the current issue of Stanford Medicine Newsletter, Carol Wingard, MD, former clinical director of the Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center at Stanford, discusses why it’s important for older adults to stay active and prevent age-related decline. She also explains:

We all start adult life with a certain amount of muscle, though men start out with more than women because of testosterone.

So over time there is a gradual loss of muscle that begins in the 20s. Men and women lose muscle at the same rate, but women start at a lower level. Because women start with less muscle mass, they tend to arrive at the disability threshold—the point at which it becomes difficult to carry groceries or go up the stairs—much earlier than men. That is part of why so many women are frail.

There also is a certain amount of age-related decline. A 60-year-old super-elite trained athlete may be able to run as fast as a 20-year-old, but that crossover happens physiologically between 60 and 70. However, all of us can reverse the degree of decline through exercise. Cardiovascular, strength, balance and flexibility exercises also can help prevent falls.

Wingard recommends to start slowly, especially for older patients who haven’t exercised for a while. “For someone who is able to walk, I suggest walking five minutes three times a day for a week or two. Then add one minute every week. That’s a very cheap, readily available way of doing it.”

Previously: Is standing healthier than sitting?How sedentary behavior affects your healthStudy shows frequent breaks from sitting may improve heart health, weight lossSeries looks at the physiology of sedentary behavior and Stanford hosts conference on the science of sedentary behavior
Photo by .v1ctor Casale

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