Category Archives: aging

This Week’s Most Ridiculous Heart Health Headline: “Running One Marathon Can Make Your Arteries Healthier”

Yes, CNBC went with that silly headline.

ABC went with “Training For Your 1st Marathon May Reverse Aging.”

The usually reliable Allison Aubrey and NPR went with ” Ready For Your First Marathon? Training Can Cut Years Off Your Cardiovascular Age.”

Aaarggh! As the newly-minted wife of the skeptical cardiologist likes to say.

The media threw caution to the wind and went gaga over this study which proves nothing of the sorts of things described above.

They may have been egged on by the authors who were wildly overstating the implications of the study

“What we found in this study is that we’re able to reverse the processes of aging that occur in the [blood] vessels,” says study author Dr. Anish Bhuva, a British Heart Foundation Cardiology Fellow at Barts Heart Centre in the UK..

Allison Aubrey did manage to quote a sensible person in her report to counter the balderdash being thrown around by the study authors:

The heart health benefits documented in the study likely have much less to do with the one-time race event than they do with the fact that the training program got people in the habit of regular, moderately intense exercise, says exercise researcher Dr. Tim Church, an adjunct professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. On average, the participants ran between 6 and 13 miles per week, during their training, so, not super long distances.”The training program was very practical and very doable,” says Church, who was not involved in the study, but who reviewed the training regimen and results for NPR. “It was a slow build up over six months,” Church says.

I know a thing or two about aortic distensibility. In 1992 I described a new noninvasive method for quantification of aortic elastic properties in a paper published in the American Heart Journal entitled “Evaluation of aortic distensibility with transesophageal echocardiography.”

One thing I know for sure is aortic distensibility is highly dependent on systolic blood pressure and any changes that were seen in this study could simply have been related to lower systolic blood pressure.

The authors acknowledge this limitation along with about a million other limitations at the end of their paper. The limitations are legion and I’ve copied them at the end of this post. I’m quite surprised that JACC published it given those limitations and the absence of any important new findings.

Taking up exercise is really good for you but do not be fooled by these ridiculous headlines into thinking running one marathon has any special way to make you younger.

Take up exercise that you can sustain and that won’t leave you injured or frustrated.

Pheidippidesically Yours,

-ACP

Study limitations

This study was conducted in healthy individuals; therefore, our findings may not apply to patients with hypertension who have stiffer arteries that may be less modifiable (40). From these data, however, those with higher SBP at baseline appeared to derive greater benefit. This study was not designed to provide structured training, but rather to observe the effects of real-world preparation for a marathon, which randomized control trials cannot address. Nevertheless, information on the intensity, frequency, and type of exercise training would have been valuable to understand further the beneficial effects on aortic stiffness. The modest change in peak VO2 may be related to exercise training intensity or low adherence, which reflects the real world. Peak VO2 was performed semisupine to allow concurrent echocardiography, and this may also have reduced sensitivity to changes due to running or running efficiency. We assessed only marathon finishers—plausibly, nonfinishers could have had different vascular responsiveness. The causal link of exercise to measured changes is only inferred—marathon training may lead to other lifestyle modifications (dietary, other behavioral factors), or alterations in lipid profiles and glucose metabolism, although these have not been previously associated with changes in aortic stiffness (11). We did not examine the effect of exercise on peripheral arteries or endothelial dysfunction. Although individual participants served as internal controls, there may have been run-in bias for the initial BP measurement. This appears unlikely, as BP changes would not have been age-related nor correlated with the change in separate measures (e.g., aortic stiffness) with training. Estimated aortic ages are approximations and are based on the same dataset at baseline rather than independent observations. The exercise dose-response curve here is not sampled—only training for a first-time marathon with single timepoint assessment. This area warrants further study. We measured distensibility on modulus imaging acquired at 1.5-T rather than steady-state free precession imaging. The free-breathing sequence we used achieved good temporal resolution, but may be susceptible to through-plane motion. However, this and similar sequences correlate well with breath-held cine imaging, and show similar associations with aging (18). If error was introduced into distensibility measurements related to through-plane motion, the resultant noise would minimize the effect size related to exercise training, and therefore would be unlikely to account for our key findings. PP undergoes amplification from central to more peripheral locations, typically being ∼6 mm Hg higher in the descending thoracic than the ascending aorta (20). This PP amplification is not accounted for in our analysis, because it would have involved invasive measures of aortic pressure at each location. A sensitivity analysis suggested that the likely impact of this effect on the observed changes after training would be minimal; however, we cannot completely exclude the possibility that changes in PP amplification contribute to the observed differences. Diaphragmatic descending aortic distensibility data reported here were, however, higher than expected, although there is limited published data for comparison (41). Unlike Voges et al. (41), central rather than brachial PP was used, which would explain greater distensibility, and the use of 1.5-T phase-contrast modulus may accentuate image contrast differences between 3T gradient echo sequences.

 

Younger Next Year: Can We Forestall Aging?

One of my favorite bands is They Might Be Giants (TMBG), a quirky duo of Johns from Brooklyn which produces eclectic, odd and brilliant music for both adults and children.

I’ve performed (with my old band Whistling Cadaver) the TMBG song “Older” on occasion (often a birthday) which  includes the insightfully weird  lines “You’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older” and the wonderful “Time is marching on (at this point one must insert a long pause of variable duration)  and time is still marching on.”

These words of wisdom have heretofore held true but in the last decade, many researchers and authors have declared that we can forestall the inevitable tide of aging. Books, podcasts, and websites abound on the topic and dominate the bestseller and high popularity lists.

Last week a patient gave me a book entitled “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond – turn back your biological clock” which suggests that TMBG may have gotten it wrong.

The book first published in 2004 was written by a physician Henry Lodge (a Boston Brahmin and grandson of Henry Cabot Lodge) and his “star patient” Chris Crowley, a retired litigator. It became quite popular and morphed into an entire cottage industry.

“Younger Next Year” and the rest of the series, “Younger Next Year for Women: Live Like You’re 50 — Strong, Fit, Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond” (2005), “Younger Next Year Journal” (2006) and “Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program” (2015), have more than two million copies in print and have been translated into 21 languages.

I found the book to be an easy read, written in a folksy, conversational style and alternating between brief sections written by each of the authors which present both the star patient’s perspective and the learned physicians. This makes the book appealing to the large audience that might benefit from its words of wisdom but less appealing to those who seek a more science-backed and advanced look at methods for enhancing longevity.

The blurb from the inner flap serves as a good summary of what is within:

“YOUNGER NEXT YEAR draws on the very latest science of aging to show how men 50 or older can become functionally younger every year for the next five to ten years, and continue to live like fifty-year-olds until well into their eighties. To enjoy life and be stronger, healthier, and more alert. To stave off 70% of the normal decay associated with aging (weakness, sore joints, apathy). and to eliminate over 50% of all illness and potential injuries.”

Ultimately, according to YNY, the secret to successful aging centers on following Dr. Lodge’s simples rules:

  • Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
  • Spend less than you make.
  • Quit eating crap!
  • Care.
  • Connect and Commit.

For the most part, I agree with these rules. In particular, the immense value of regular aerobic, strength and flexibility exercise in prolonging one’s healthspan cannot be overemphasized.

Exercise is the most powerful medicine we have against aging and the authors spend a lot of time trying to convince readers of this and suggesting ways to facilitate and activate a good exercise program.

It is for this reason that I would recommend the book to any patient or reader who is not currently regularly exercising.

In 2015, “Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program” was published which gives more specific details and recommendations. I haven’t read this but you can read a well-written review of the book from a discerning physical trainer here. I’m on a continuous quest to find the best exercise program for myself and my patients and realized that I already have incorporated many of the 25 resistance exercises (downloadable PDF here) mentioned in the book into my regular routine.

Harry’s Death

When my patient gave me this book he told me that Dr. Lodge had died at a youngish age. Alas, sadly this is true.  He died of prostate cancer at age 58 and his NY Times obituary can be found here.

 

 

As I’ve discussed previously with respect to diet gurus (Atkins and Pritikin) we should not put much stock in the mechanism of death of our lifestyle and diet authors.

It’s never too late to start an exercise program.  A year ago I bought Pops Pearson, my 92-year-old father, a recumbent exercise bicycle. He had become unable to walk on his exercise treadmill due to balance and orthopedic issues with a subsequent decline in his overall physical and mental well-being. After starting regular work-outs on the bicycle he now feels stronger and better than he has in years!

Antisenescentally Yours,

-ACP

N.B. The authors of YNY imply that we all know what qualifies as “crap.” The brief details they provide on what we should and should not eat are not unreasonable, however, they mistakenly promote skim milk and non-fat dairy. Best to follow Dr. P’s diet recommendations.

N.B.2 Since my patient was kind of enough to give me this book and I’ve finished reading it I’m going to pass it on to the first patient of mine to leave a comment indicating they want it.

A Septuagenarian Hockey Player With Subclavian Stenosis Hangs Up His Skates

Three years ago I asked “Is There A Difference in Blood Pressure Between Your Right and Left Arms.?”

In that post I stressed the importance of measuring at least once the “interarm BP difference” (IAD) and I promised to give a second post which would “give my recommendations on how to reliably measure IAD and ….tell the story of a 75 year old competitive ice hockey player with a totally blocked subclavian artery to his right arm.”

I saw that remarkable patient, Alan Gerrard, in follow up recently and the visit reminded me of my promise. After 25 years of playing competitive hockey he had finally decided to hang up his skates and retire from the sport he loves.

Here’s what I initially wrote:


The Ancient Hockey Player

The skeptical cardiologist started thinking about IAD because of Alan Gerrard, a most remarkable 77 year old who is still playing competitive ice hockey. Last year an errant hockey puck shattered his shin bone but after 6 months of recovery he is back on the ice, older by 11 years than his nearest competitor.

Alan has noted since his time in the military that the blood pressure in his right arm is significantly lower than that in the left. In fact, he would routinely ask that his BP be taken in the left arm to avoid being diagnosed with hypertension.

The pulse in his right wrist is much weaker than that in his left.

A few years ago, after identifying this IAD, I had him get an MRA of the arteries coming off his aorta and it  blockage of the right subclavian artery which supplies blood to the right arm.

Subclavian stenosis
MRA from Alan. The brachiocephalic artery is the first great artery to come off the ascending aorta. It bifurcates into the right carotid artery and the right subclavian artery. The short red arrow points to the almost complete narrowing at the origin of the right subclavian artery. The subclavian beyond this blockage fills by collaterals.

Since identifying this IAD we exclusively utilize the left arm BP to guide treatment of his hypertension.

At home he keeps a meticulous journal of his right and left arm BPs and brings them in for me to review at office visits.

In the first column he records his left arm BPgerrard IAD BP

on arising. On April 1 it was 120/64. The IAD was 15 meaning his right arm BP was 105.

Interestingly, there is a marked variation in the IAD, as it ranges from  +7 to minus 31 (averaging 10 mmHg)

The average systolic blood pressure in both the right and left arms was identical at 139.

Alan, also shares with me at our office visits a beautiful color-coded graph of his right and left arm BPs which are recorded daily without fail.

altitude left right bp
Graph of systolic blood pressure in left arm (red) and right arm (black). Note that typically left arm SBP> right arm SBP by >10 mm Hg but there is a marked variation in difference and occasionally the right exceeds the left.

At our most recent visit he pointed out that when he was in Colorado at high altitude his blood pressure significantly increased (which, according to a recent European Society of Cardiology report is common.)


Providing Alan’s story was the easy part of my promise. Providing the best method for determining IAD turns out to be much more complicated and likely explains why I never wrote the follow-up post.

It also likely explains why 71% of patients in my poll have never had the IAD checked by a doctor (see below.)

A 2014 study found 8.6% of diabetics had an IAD >10 mm Hg. These patients were 3.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. An IAD>15 mm Hg conferred a nine-fold increased risk of cardiovascular mortality.

This is how IAD was assessed in this British study:

Carry out two pairs of simultaneous BP measurements:
Swap cuffs over (do not disconnect cuffs from BP machine) and obtain two further pairs of simultaneous readings

They utilized two automatic Omron BP devices. The authors recognized the difficulty of this technique in routine clinical practice:

Confirmation of an interarm difference requires a method of repeated simultaneous measurement, to avoid overestimation of prevalence  This technique, however, may not be practical in routine clinical care. It adds time to the clinical assessment of subjects in primary care, and we have found it to be a barrier to recruitment in our previous study in diabetes. Initially, a sequentially measured pair of readings may be sufficient to rule subjects out of further assessment for an interarm difference, but this requires further evaluation.. Previous small studies that directly compared sequential and simultaneous measurement techniques have concluded that the reproducibility of an interarm difference measured by different techniques is poor (3 although we have found that repeated sequential measures can predict a systolic interarm difference ≥10 mmHg on repeated simultaneous measurement.

Dr. P’s Recommended Method for Measuring The IAD

Here’s what I will be asking my MAs to do to assess IAD:

Simultaneously measure BP with automatic cuff on one arm and manual cuff on the other. Switch arms and repeat measurements.

This should be done at least once on all patients with hypertension or diabetes.

For those wishing to test at home who only have one cuff I would suggest the following protocol:

Rest for 5 minutes in a chair. Check left arm BP. Switch cuff to right arm and measure twice. Switch cuff to left arm and measure. Perform this set of measurements one first thing in the morning and once after dinner. If a significant IAD difference (>10 mmg Hg) is noted on the averaged readings repeat the whole process two more times and if it persists report this to your doctor.

If you note a significant IAD always utilize the arm with the higher BP for measurement.

Dextrosinistrally Yours,

-ACP

N.B. In 2017 I included a poll. Here are the results.

Are You Doing Enough Push Ups To Save Your Life?

The skeptical cardiologist has always had a fondness for push-ups. Therefore I read with interest a recent study published in JAMAOpen which looked at how many push-ups a group of 30 and 40-something male firefighters from Indiana could do and how that related to cardiovascular outcomes over the next ten years.

The article was published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Network Open, and is freely available to access online.

The British National Health Service pointed out that “The UK media has rather over exaggerated these findings:”

Both the Metro and the Daily Mirror highlighted the result of 40 push-ups being “the magic number” for preventing heart disease, but in fact being able to do 10 or more push-ups was also associated with lower heart disease risk.

What Was Studied?

The study involved 1,104 male firefighters (average age 39.6) from 10 fire departments in Indiana who underwent regular medical checks between 2000 and 2010. 

At baseline the participants underwent a physical fitness assessment which included push-up capacity (hereafter referred to as the push-up number (PUN))and treadmill exercise tolerance tests conducted per standardized protocols.

For push-ups, the firefighter was instructed to begin push-ups in time with a metronome set at 80 beats per minute. Clinic staff counted the number of push-ups completed until the participant reached 80, missed 3 or more beats of the metronome, or stopped owing to exhaustion or other symptoms (dizziness, lightheadedness, chest pain, or shortness of breath). Numbers of push-ups were arbitrarily divided into 5 categories in increments of 10 push-ups for each category. Exercise tolerance tests were performed on a treadmill using a modified Bruce protocol until participants reached at least 85% of their maximal predicted heart rates, requested early termination, or experienced a clinical indication for early termination according to the American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines (maximum oxygen consumption [V̇ O2max]).

The main outcomes assessed were new diagnoses of heart disease from enrollment up to 2010. 

Cardiovascular events were verified by periodic examinations at the same clinic or by clinically verified return-to-work forms. Cardiovascular disease–related events (CVD) were defined as incident diagnosis of coronary artery disease or other major CVD event (eg, heart failure, sudden cardiac death)

Here’s the graph of the probability of being free of a CVD event on the y-axis with time on x-axis.

The black line represents those 75 firefighters who couldn’t make it into double digits, the green those 155 who did more than 40 pushups.

Participants able to complete more than 40 push-ups had a significant 96% lower rate of CVD events compared with those completing fewer than 10 push-ups.

It is surprising that the push up number seemed a better predictor of outcomes than the exercise test, This should be taken with a grain of salt because although the investigators report out “VO2 max” the stress tests were not maximal tests.

The firefighters with lower push up numbers were fatter, more likely to smoke and had higher blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels.

What useful information can one take from this study?

You definitely cannot say that being able to do more than 40 pushups will somehow prevent heart disease. The PUN is neither causing nor preventing anything.

The PUN is a marker for the overall physical shape of these firefighters. It’s a marker for how these men were taking care of themselves. If you are a 39 year old fireman from Indiana and can’t do 11 push-ups you are in very sorry condition and it is likely evident in numerous other ways.

The <11 PUN crew were a bunch of fat, diabetic, insulin resistant, hyperlipidemic, out-of-shape hypertensives who were heart attacks in the waiting.

Push-ups Are A Great Exercise

Despite the meaningless of this study you should consider adding push-ups to your exercise routine. Doing them won’t save your life but it will contribute to mitigating the weakness and frailty of aging. Don’t obsess about your PUN.

I’ve always liked push-ups and highly recommend them. They require no special equipment or preparation. It’s a quick exercise that builds upper body muscle strength, adds to my core strength and gets my heart rate up a bit. For some reason my office in O’Fallon is always cold so several times during the day when I’m there I’ll do 100 jumping jacks and drop on the carpet and do some push-ups in an effort to get warm.

I don’t do them every day but the last time I tried I could do 50 in less than a minute and that has me convinced I will live forever!

Calisthenically Yours,

-ACP

N.B. In my post on mitigating sarcopenia in the elderly I talked about the importance of resistance exercise:

Americans spend billions on useless supplements and vitamins in their search for better health but exercise is a superior drug, being free  and without drug-related side effects

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog emphasizing the importance of aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health but I also am a believer in strength and flexibility training for overall health and longevity.

As we age we suffer more and more from sarcopenia-a gradual decrease in muscle mass.

Scientific reviews note that loss of muscle mass and muscle strengh is quite common in individuals over age 65 and is associated with increased dependence, frailty and mortality

Push-ups are a great resistance exercise. For a description of the perfect form for a push up see here.

The Peter Attia Drive Podcast: Longevity, Lipidology, Fructose, and How To Keep Your Face And Joints Young

Lately while exercising I’ve been binge-listening to podcasts from Peter Attia, a cancer surgeon turned “longevity” doctor.

I first encountered his writing while researching ketosis, the Atkins diet and low carb diets in 2012 and found his writing to be incredibly well-researched, detailed and helpful.

I appreciate how he never opts for oversimplification of a topic as this disclaimer at the begining of his post on ketosis indicates:

If you want to actually understand this topic, you must invest the time and mental energy to do so.  You really have to get into the details.  Obviously, I love the details and probably read 5 or 6 scientific papers every week on this topic (and others).  I don’t expect the casual reader to want to do this, and I view it as my role to synthesize this information and present it to you. But this is not a bumper-sticker issue.  I know it’s trendy to make blanket statements – ketosis is “unnatural,” for example, or ketosis is “superior” – but such statements mean nothing if you don’t understand the biochemistry and evolution of our species.

When I first came across his writing he was obsessively monitoring his beta-hydroxy butyrate levels on a ketogenic diet and was partnering with Gary Taubes to launch “the Manhattan project of nutrition”, the Nutritional Science Institute. (NUSI) . Designed to help fund good nutritional research with the ultimate goal of reducing obesity and testing the hypothesis that “all calories are equal” NUSI, unfortunately has floundered (see here.)

He’s always been very rigorous in his thinking and writing in the areas of nutrition, diet and longevity and he is quite brilliant and knowledgeable down to very basic areas of biology and metabolism.

He has started  a podcast in the last year that has featured in depth conversations with some really interesting physicians and scientists. It’s described thusly : “The Peter Attia Drive is a weekly, ultra-deep-dive podcast focusing on maximizing health, longevity, critical thinking…and a few other things. Topics include fasting, ketosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, mental health, and much more.”

The first one that I listened to was with Thomas Dayspring, M.D., FACP, FNLA, a world-renowned expert in lipidology and a fantastic teacher.  If you’d like to dive deeply into cholesterol metabolism, lipid biomarkers, the mechanism of atherosclerosis and cholesterol treatment options, this is a great way to start. 

It’s a five part, 7 hour series of podcasts with the first one here

Some Eye-opening Thoughts About Processed Foods, Sugar and Fructose

Most patients are not going to be up for deep dives into lipidology but I highly recommend Attia’s discussion with Robert Lustig.

I quoted Lustig in a 2015 post entitled “Fructose and the Ubiquity of Added Sugar”

Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist has talked and written extensively about fructose as a “toxin.” You can watch him here. He’s also published a lot of books on the topic including one which identifies the 56 names under which sugar masquerades.

Lustig is a passionate, articulate and compelling speaker who has contributed significant research in this area. Most recently he has retired from clinical practice and obtained a law degree with the goal of trying to change US food policy.

Attia does a great job of interviewing him as he helps clarify points and guides  Lustig into specific real world problems such as what to feed your children.

In addition, Attia’s staff do a great job of providing “show notes” which summarize the important points, adding helpful context and links and summarizing the content.

Lustig firmly believes:

‘Fructose and glucose are not the same: the food industry would have you believe a calorie is a calorie, a sugar is a sugar…and it is absolute garbage: they are quite different, and it does matter’

Fructose is a monosaccharide that combines with the monosaccharide glucose to form sucrose, which is what most people recognize as table sugar. Processed foods commonly contain a lot of added fructose-containing sugar but also, increasingly they contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which contains up to 65% fructose.

High intake of fructose goes hand in hand with consumption of processed foods. Approximately 75% of all foods and beverages in the US contain added sugars. Consumption of added sugar by Americans increased from 4 lbs per person per year to 120 lbs per person per year between 1776 and 1994. Thanks to a dramatic increase in sugar-sweetened beverages, American teenagers consume about 72 grams of fructose daily.

There are a substantial amount of observational, short-term basic science, and clinical trial data suggesting that all this added sugar, especially fructose, are posing a serious public health problem and Lustig lays out a compelling narrative in this podcast.

Lustig discusses the  fundamental biochemical differences between glucose and fructose- whereas glucose is the energy of life for all animals, fructose is “vesitigial to all animal life” and is basically a storage form of energy for plants.

Your gut bacteria are more adept at metabolizing fructose than you are

Ludwig points out that fructose accelerates the Amadori rearrangement: the browning of your body tissues and potentially contributing to aging. Fructose does not suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin as glucose dose thus “When you consume a lot of fructose your brain doesn’t know you’ve eaten and so you end up consuming more”.

Finally, Ludwig notes, fructose in contrast to glucose behaves like cocaine on the brain. Fructose specifically lights up the reward center ‘and now has been shown to induce the same physiology in the brain that cocaine, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, or any hedonic substance also generates’

There is not a clear scientific consensus on many of Lustig’s points to be honest but he is a very convincing advocate of avoiding sugar in general and fructose in particular from non-real food sources.

There’s a whole lot more in this discussion that is important to at least think about:

-A detailed discussion of NASH and NAFLD (fatty liver disease that is becoming common in obese Americans.)

-Why you need both soluble and insoluble fiber together as opposed to added soluble fiber in a supplement or processed food adition.

-How to change the food system in which 10 companies control almost 90% of the calories consumed in the US

-the importance of eliminating government food subsidies which make junk food cheap. 

-How eliminating food subsidies wouldn’t change the price of wheat or soy, only corn and sugar which where most of our dietary sugar comes from.

Maintaining Youthful Appearance And Function-The Face and The Joints

Attia’s other podcasts touch on many other issues related to longevity. I found his interview with Brett Kotlus, a New York City oculofacial plastic surgeon who specializes in both non-surgical and surgical cosmetic and reconstructive procedures of the eyes and face (How to look younger while we live longer) to be surprisingly enlightening and engrossing.

Attia’s website and podcasts are refreshingly free of advertising and any annoying teasers. This description of the Kotlus podcast is about as close to a mass-market teaser as you will see:

“Using these powerful basics, I’ve seen amazing changes.” —Brett Kotlus, referring to the 3 simple tools people can utilize to protect and rejuvenate their skin

I will not reveal the “3 simple tools” here but the show notes indicate you can skip to the 46 minute mark to hear about them.

Most recently I’ve been listening to his podcast with Dr. Eric Chehab, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist (Eric Chehab, M.D.: Extending healthspan and preserving quality of life (EP.36).)  As Attia points out, longevity is related to both healthspan and lifespan and our joint health is a major contributor to healthspan.

In this episode, Chebab “explains the measures we can take to live better and maintain our physical health through exercise and the avoidance of common injuries that prove to be the downfall for many. He also provides valuable insight for those weighing their treatment options from physical therapy to surgery to stem cells.”

Because the show notes are so detailed you can read exactly what is discussed in these podcasts and when. For example, if you wanted to skip the early discussion on Eric’s training, fellowship with the New York Giants, and the risk vs. reward of playing football (39:15) and listen to the discssion on The knee joint: common injuries, knee replacements, and proper exercise ” you know to skip to [1:00:00].

Personally, I found all of the preliminary discussion on Springsteen, Pearl Jam  and Chebab’s pre-medical school adventures fascinating.

I highly recommend recommend Attia’s podcasts: they are always enlightening, unbiased, objective and mentally stimulating.

In the world of longevity doctors he is unique in offering solid science-based recommendations and information free of hype,  bias and woo.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Upon Reaching The Century Mark, Eugene Shares His Keys To Longevity

We threw a birthday party  a few weeks ago in our Winghaven satellite office (O’Fallon, Missouri)  for our patient, Eugene.

In the back row are the wonderful staff of our Winghaven office (from left to right) my MA Jenny, sonographer Sandy, and nuclear medicine tech Robert. You can probably figure out the characters in the front row.

Eugene is the first patient of mine that I can recall celebrating a 100th birthday party. I mentioned him previously on this blog on a post about longevity, the art of living long and prosperously, which he had mastered.

He’s still doing remarkably well and his family shared this video of him dancing with his wife, Naomi (also our patient), at an earlier centennial birthday party.

Eugene told me that he met Naomi at a VFW dance when he was 85 years old and swept her off her feet.

The cake that Sandy had made for him features his love of dancing and swimming.

 

While we ate sandwiches and cake I asked him about his 100 years.

Wadlow standing next to his normal sized dad. Be sure to visit bucolic Alton, Illinois where you can stand next to a life-size statue of Robert Wadlow (who suffered from excess human growth hormone (pituitary gigantism) a disease which is now treatable which means that his claim to tallest man ever will likely never be challenged.

He was born and raised in Alton Illinois and went to high school with the  Alton Giant, Robert Wadlow. Depicted to the right next to his normal sized father, Wadlow was the tallest man in the world, reaching 8 ft, 11 inches.

Eugene graduated with a degree in chemistry and physics from Shurtleff University  then went on to get his masters and PhD degrees. He played in a 10 piece band in 1940.

During World War II he served as a navigator for an LST boat (which, he says, was nicknamed large slow target).

After tracking down his LST boat in Panama, he served in the Pacific and  at the Battle of Okinawa.

After retiring at age 65 he picked up running at the age of 65 and ran long distances frequently for 20 years.

I asked Eugene “To what do you attribute your longevity?”.

Here is his reply.

Happy Birthday To All Centenarians!

-ACP

Which Exercise Is Best For Heart Health: Swimming or Walking?

Reader Pat asked the skeptical cardiologist the following question:

Which would be the better heart healthy choice? Walking briskly 3 x week or swimming for 45 minutes 2-3 x a week?

Swimming is an attractive alternative to walking or running for many of my patients with arthritis because it is a lot easier on the load-bearing joints of the lower extremities.

To my surprise there is at least one study (from Australia) comparing swimming and walking that was published in the journal Metabolism in 2010.

The investigators randomly assigned 116 sedentary women aged 50-70 years to swimming or walking. Participants completed 3 sessions per week of moderate-intensity exercise under supervision for 6 months then unsupervised for 6 months.

Compared with walking, swimming improved body weight, body fat distribution and insulin resistance in the short term (6 months).

At 12 months swimmers had lost 1.1 kg more than walkers and had lower bad cholesterol levels.

It should be noted that these differences barely reached significance .

Types of Activities And The Intensity of Exercise

My general recommendations on exercise (see here) give examples of different aerobic physical activities and intensities.

These activities are considered Moderate Intensity

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening Vigorous Intensity

These types of exercise are considered Vigorous Exercise

  • Racewalking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing, with heart rate increases)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

As a rule of thumb, consider 1 minute of vigorous exercise equivalent to 2 minutes of moderate exercise and shoot for 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Of course one can swim laps at peak intensity or at a very slow, leisurely pace so swimming laps doesn’t always qualify as “vigorous” exercise. Likewise one can play singles tennis languorously and be at a moderate or lower intensity of exercise.

It is entirely possible that the swimmers were working at a higher intensity during their sessions than the walkers and that could be the explanation for the differences seen between the two groups.

Ultimately, the best type of  exercise for heart health is the one you can do and  (hopefully) enjoy on a regular basis.

Antilanguorously Yours,

-ACP

N.B. Speaking of swimming. A year ago I wrote about longevity and featured Eugene, a 98 year old who could swim the length of a swimming pool underwater. Eugene turns 100 in 2 days.

Mitigating Sarcopenia In The Elderly: Resistance Training Is A Powerful Potion

While researching afib-detection apps recently, the skeptical cardiologist stumbled across an article with the title “Resistance training – an underutilized drug available in everybody’s medicine cabinet”

This brief post from the British Journal of Sports Medicine blog nicely presents the rationale for using strength training to improve the overall health of the elderly. I have reblogged it below.

Americans spend billions on useless supplements and vitamins in their search for better health but exercise is a superior drug, being free  and without drug-related side effects

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog emphasizing the importance of aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health but I also am a believer in strength and flexibility training for overall health and longevity.

As we age we suffer more and more from sarcopenia-a gradual decrease in muscle mass.

Scientific reviews note that loss of muscle mass and muscle strengh is quite common in individuals over age 65 and is associated with increased dependence, frailty and mortality

Specific information on progressive resistance training for the elderly is sparse but I found this amusing and helpful video on a Canadian site that provides some guidance for beginners.

 

And below is the referenced blog post:

Resistance training – an underutilised drug available in everybody’s medicine cabinet

By Dr Yorgi Mavros @dryorgimavros

As we get older we begin to lose muscle mass, approximately 1% every year. But more importantly, the decline in muscle strength declines at a rate 3-times greater [1]. The consequences of this decline in strength are significant, with lower muscle strength being associated with an increased risk dementia[2], needing care, and mortality[3]. But should we accept this as our fate, or is there anything we can do prevent, reverse or at least slow this age-related decline?

In 1990, a type of exercise called progressive resistance training, commonly known as strength training, was introduced to 9 nonagenerians living in a nursing home, specifically to treat the loss of muscle mass and strength, and the functional consequences of disability [4]. After just 8 weeks, these older adults saw average strength gains of 174%, with 2 individuals no longer needing a cane to walk. In addition, one out of the three individuals who could not stand from a chair, was now able to stand up independently. Just take a moment to think about the results of that study. If I told you there was a medicine that you or a loved one could take, and it could make either of you strong enough to now get out of a chair, would you take it?

What if you or a loved one had a hip fracture, and I told you that same medicine could help reduce the risk of mortality by 81%, and the risk of going in to a nursing home by 84%, as was shown in this study [5]. Currently, the only way to take this medicine is by lifting weights, or pushing against resistance.

A recent study from Britain, [6] showed an association between adults who participated in 2 days per week of strength training and a 20% reduction in mortality from any cause, and a 43% reduction in cancer mortality. Data from the Women’s Health Study in the US published at a similar time were very similar, with women reporting up to 145 minutes per week of strength training having a 19-27% reduced risk of mortality  from any cause [7].

So where does the benefit of strength training come from? First and foremost, it is anabolic in nature (meaning that it can stimulate muscle growth) making it the only type of exercise that can address the age-associated decline in muscle mass and strength. Within our laboratory at the University of Sydney, we have shown that we can use this type of exercise to improve cognitive function in adults who have subjective complaints about their memory [8]. What’s important though, is that there was a direct relationship between strength gains and improvements in cognition, and so maximizing strength gains should be a key focus if you want to maximize your benefit [9]. This type of exercise has even been taken into hospitals and used in adults with kidney failure undergoing haemodialysis, where it was shown to reduce inflammation, and improve muscle strength and body composition [10].

Other laboratories around the world have also used strength training to increase bone strength in postmenopausal women [11], help manage blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes [12], as well as to counteract the catabolic side effects of androgen-deprivation therapy for men with prostate cancer [13]. Not to mention its benefits to sleep [14], depression  [15] and recovery from a heart attack  [16].

So it is no surprise to see that the  Australian [17] and UK [18] public health guidelines for physical activity recommend we take part in activities such as strength training 2-to-3 days per week. Unfortunately however, these recommendations lack detail and guidance on intensity and frequency.

A key theme in all the randomized controlled studies discussed above, is that not only were exercises performed at least 2 days per week, but they were fully supervised, used machine and/or free weights, and were done at a high intensity, which is commonly set to 80% of an individual’s peak strength. It is for this reason I like to focus on the guidelines put forward by The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) [19]. The ACSM advises that everyone, including older adults do at least 2 days of progressive resistance training, which is to be performed at a moderate (5 – 6) to high/hard (7 – 8) intensity on a scale of 0 to 10, involving the major muscle groups of the body. So if you are looking to maximise the benefit from your time in the gym, or looking to make a positive change to your lifestyle, remember that there is medicine you can take; Try lifting some weights or doing other forms of strength training, 3 days a week, and importantly, make sure it feels moderate to hard. Not only will it add years to your life, but life to your years.


Since college I have regularly done weight training 3 times per week As I get  dangerously close to age 65 and joining the ranks of the “elderly” I have ramped up the intensity of my workouts, working hard to forestall the sarcopenia that will ultimately be my fate.

Antisarcopenically Yours,

-ACP

***************************

Video credit: Produced for the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Department of Physical Therapy, the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and the Brain Research Centre at Vancouver Coastal Health and UBC
hiphealth.ca/news/preventing-dementia

 

What Should Your Maximal Exercise Heart Rate Be?: The Importance Of Using The Right Age-Predicted HRmax Formula

A reader who runs 5Ks posted a question recently which indicated concern that his heart rate during intense exercise was much higher than his age-predicted heart rate.  He writes

I’m 65, exhaustion HRmax is 188, HRave for 5k is usually 152-154 and interval HRmax is usually 175-179 depending on how hard I push”

He wondered if he should be concerned about being a “high-beater.”

This prompted the skeptical cardiologist to examine the literature on age-predicted maximal heart rate which led to the shocking discovery that the wrong formula is being utilized by most exercise trainers and hospitals.

First , some background.

The peak heart rate achieved with maximal exertion or HRmax has long been known to decline with aging for reasons that are unclear.

The HR achieved with exercise divided by the HRmax x 100 (percentage HRmax) is widely used in clinical medicine and physiology as a basis for prescribing exercise intensity in cardiac rehab programs, disease prevention programs and fitness clinics.

During stress tests we seek to have patients exercise at least until  their heart rate gets to at 85% of HRmax.

The Traditional Formula For HRmax

The formula that is widely used for HRmax is

HRmax = 220-age

It appears to have originated from flawed studies in the early 1970s. These studies included subjects with cardiovascular disease, smokers and patients on cardiac medications.

The Improved HRmax Formula

Tanaka, et al in 2001 performed a meta-analysis of previous data on HRmax along with accumulating data in their own lab. This was the first study to examine healthy, unmedicated, nonsmokers. In addition each subject achieved a verified maximal level of effort as documented by metabolic stress testing.

Their analysis obtained the regression equation (which I term the Tanaka equation)

HRmax = 208-(0.7 x age) 

Below is the graph of the laboratory measurements from which the regression equation was obtained.

Relation between maximal heart rate (HRmax) and age obtained from the prospective, laboratory-based study.(Tanaka, et al)

This graph shows how  inaccurate the traditional equation is, especially in older  individuals like my reader:

Regression lines depicting the relation between maximal heart rate (HRmax) and age obtained from the results derived from our equation (208 − 0.7 × age) (solid linewith 95% confidence interval), as compared with the results derived from the traditional 220 − age equation (dashed line). Maximal heart rates predicted by traditional and current equations, as well as the differences between the two equations, are shown in the table format at the top.(from Tanaka, et al)

The traditional equation in comparison to the Tanaka equation  overestimates HRmaxin young adults, intersects with the present equation at age 40 years and then increasingly underestimates HRmaxwith further increases in age. For example, at age 70 years, the difference between the two equations is ∼10 beats/min. Considering the wide range of individual subject values around the regression line for HRmax(SD ∼10 beats/min), the underestimation of HRmaxcould be >20 beats/min for some older adults.

There are likely lots of perfectly healthy individuals in their sixties and seventies then who have heart rates at maximal exertion that exceed by 10 to 20 beats per minute the HR max predicted by the traditional formula.

This is due to a combination of the inaccuracy of the traditional formula and the wide variation in normal HR max at any given age (standard deviation (SD) of approximately 10 beats/min.)

Thus, my reader at age 65 would have a HRmax predicted by the Tanaka equation as

208-0.7 x 65=162

If we allow for a 10 BPM range of normality above and below 162 BPM we reach 172 BPM which gets close to  but doesn’t reach the reader’s 188 BPM.

If you examine the scatterplot of the Tanaka data you can see that several of the points for age 65 reach into the 180s so chances are my reader is still within normal limits

The Bottom Line on HRmax

The widely used traditional formula for predicting HR max is inaccurate.

Athletes, trainers, physicians and hospitals should switch to using the superior Tanaka HR max formula.

Individuals should keep in mind that there is a wide range of HR response to exercise in normals and variations of 10 BPM above and below the predicted response are common and of no concern.

Chronotropically Yours

-ACP

Addendum. The 220-age formula is so heavily etched into my brain that I used 220 instead of 208 when I initially calculated the predicted max HR for my reader. this has been corrected.Thanks to Chris Sivewright for pointing this out.

Thoughts On Physician Assisted Suicide

A beloved patient of the skeptical cardiologist committed suicide two years ago.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-7-38-03-am

Although 90 years in chronological age, Phyllis appeared and behaved as one much younger. She was full of life, energy and happiness when she came to my office for treatment of her atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

 

Her daughter and I discussed what happened and how it could have been prevented.  Her perspective follows:

My mother, Phyllis, was a complicated woman.  She was intelligent, charming, beautiful, spirited and fun with an inquisitive mind and many interests.  She could play competitive Bridge and win, even in her 90’s. She drove a little red convertible and had the top down whenever possible. She liked to dress stylishly and had excellent taste.  She had a lifelong habit of health and always exercised and ate carefully…except for chocolate.  She had a legendary addiction to chocolate and I think she will be remembered in our family for many generations to come by all of the wonderful chocolate stories. She was always working to improve herself and to that end almost never read fiction, preferring biography or autobiography. In her 40’s she took up synchronized swimming and water ballet.  She was very single minded in her goal to improve her skills, participated in the Sr. Olympics in Denmark in 1989 and won a silver medal!  At the age of 50 she decided to take up skiing and although she gave it up at 65, she did get good enough to ski the black slopes.  She was very happily married to my father, Jack, until his death at 69.  A few years later she married Earl and they had a solid union until his death.

She made the decision to end her life very soberly with much deliberation.  This had been on her mind for years before she actually accomplished it.  The prior Spring she had set a date and only due to much family intervention, involving lots of fun, did she cancel it.  She felt the odds of something happening to her, which would keep her bed or wheelchair bound or would take away her mental facilities, became greater and greater with each passing year. In her final year she could see differences with each passing month.  She never wanted to be dependent on anyone or anything. She was not depressed.  She had several falls in the last few months, nothing serious, just cuts or bruises, but she could see it was just a matter of time before a bad fall could take her out.  She no longer could eat chocolate or drink coffee or wine, all of which had been a great comfort to her. She had developed a heart problem, which she knew would only get worse as she aged. And she was very scared that her lifelong habit of heath would backfire on her.  That she would go on and on and on trapped in a bed or left with no mind.

She had discussed suicide with all her family at great length in the years leading up to her death. She didn’t like the idea anymore that we did but she was afraid that something would happen to her and she would no longer have the ability to make this decision if she felt it was necessary.

So in the early hours of February 19, 2016 she put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

How unfair that she had to do this gruesome and scary thing all by herself. She would still be alive if she knew that when the time came in which she no longer felt she had an acceptable quality of life she could have taken a pill or be given a shot and then died gently surrounded by all who loved her.

I think everyone needs to look at their own life and ask themselves – what do I want the final years of my life to look like?  Medical science has given us the ability to live much longer healthier lives.  But that comes at a cost.  Many people live on and on in nursing homes, just shells of humans because medical science can keep them alive almost indefinitely.  Is this what the average person wants?  Do most people think to themselves – I’m really looking forward to those years when I’m fed, bathroomed and bathed by strangers?

I think Physician Assisted Suicide can be a good answer for those people who do not want to live in this manner and have made their intentions very clear to family and doctors.

I miss my mom.  I miss our long talks and walks.  I miss lunches out with her. I even miss our disagreements.  And I know that if Physician Assisted Suicide had been legalized in Missouri, she would still be here, playing Bridge, laughing, talking about good books, enjoying family visits, shopping for pretty clothes and getting ready for all the parties of the Holiday season.

 

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Since this happened I have become an advocate of state laws allowing physician-assisted suicide (PAS).  These laws are intended  for patients with terminal disease, but I think if Phyllis had lived in a state where these existed she would not have felt compelled to do what she did.

Physicians are divided on the topic of PAS with 55-65% in state medical society surveys favoring allowing such laws.

Despite this, the American College of Physicians recently published a position paper stating its opposition to PAS:

It is problematic given the nature of the patient–physician relationship, affects trust in the relationship and in the profession, and fundamentally alters the medical profession’s role in society. Furthermore, the principles at stake in this debate also underlie medicine’s responsibilities regarding other issues and the physician’s duties to provide care based on clinical judgment, evidence, and ethics. Society’s focus at the end of life should be on efforts to address suffering and the needs of patients and families, including improving access to effective hospice and palliative care.

Stat news has two physician-authored pieces on this topic which are well worth reading. In the first article, Ira Byock, M.D., a palliative care physician, writes that “there are some things doctors must not do. Intentionally ending patients’ lives is chief among them.” He decries excessive pain and suffering at the end of life but thinks that “so much of that kind of suffering could have been avoided with good care.”

The second article was written by Roger Kligler a physician in his sixties who is dying of metastatic prostate cancer. He writes:

When my suffering becomes intolerable, I hope my doctors will permit me the option to end it peacefully with medical aid in dying — something I have been working to get explicitly authorized in Massachusetts, where I live. Medical aid in dying gives mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live the option to request a prescription medication they can choose to take in order to end unbearable suffering by gently dying in their sleep.

For more information on this topic I recommend the website of Death with Dignity, the organization which authored the Oregon statute governing the prescribing of life-ending medications to eligible terminally ill people. About 100 patients a year have taken advantage of the Oregon Death With Dignity Statute. The website notes that “Overall, 1,545 patients obtained a lethal prescription from 1998 through 2015. On average, 64 percent took the drugs.  Almost all died but six people woke up and died later of natural causes.”

-ACP