Does Exercise Aid Brain Health?

The Debate’s Yet to be Decided

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 31, 2016

According to AARP’s latest health aging survey findings, age 40 and over respondents who regularly exercise rate their brain health significantly higher than non-exercisers. They also cite improvements in their memory, ability to: learn new things, managing stress, and even making decisions. On the other hand, the findings reveal an overwhelming majority of these respondents see the benefits of exercise, but only 34 percent are meeting the Global Council on Brain Health’s (GCBH) recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

These findings in the 37 page Survey on Physical Activity report, conducted by GfK for AARP, directly align with AARP’s Staying Sharp program, a digital platform that promotes brain health though holistic advice supported by science.

“With Staying Sharp, we sought to empower consumers with the tools needed to create a holistically brain healthy environment for themselves—along with a way to track and measure their progress,” said Craig Fontenot, VP of Value Creation. “The results of this survey only further validate the advice suggested on the platform and give us confidence that we’re providing our members with helpful, impactful information.”

The AARP survey findings, released on July 26, found that more than half (56 percent) of the age 40 and over respondents say that they get some form of exercise each week. However, only about a third (34 percent) of these individuals actually achieve the recommended 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous activity each week. There was little difference in reported amounts of exercise by age or gender.

The AARP online survey, with a represented sample of 1,530 Americans age 40 and over, found that walking is the most common form of physical exercise reported with 53 percent of the age 40 and respondents saying that they walk for exercise. A smaller percentage is engaging in more vigorous activity such as strength training/weight training (15 percent) or running/jogging (8 percent).

According to the survey’s findings, most of the age 40 and over respondents see the benefits to engaging in physical activity and do not find it particularly unpleasant or difficult. For example, three quarters believe exercise would improve their health, physical fitness, and quality of life.

Having willpower, enjoying exercise, identification as an “exerciser,” lack of enjoyment and feeling like you have the energy to exercise or lack money to exercise are the key factors that differentiate exercisers from non-exercisers, the researchers say.

The study found that the largest share of non-exercisers are “contemplators” in that they see the benefits and are considering taking up exercise (34 percent). About one-quarter (24 percent) are considered “non-believers” and see no need for exercise and were satisfied being sedentary. However, two in ten (19 percent) are “preparers” and say they have a firm plan to begin exercising in the near future.

Finally, the most common leisure activity that age 40 and over respondents would give up if they were to engage in exercise is watching TV/streaming movies (65%).

Removing the Barriers to Exercise

Colin Milner, CEO at the Vancouver, BC-based International Council on Active Aging, says, “These findings demonstrates the amazing and ongoing benefits of regular exercise. Our challenge, to get more people to actually move. By doing so the country and millions of individuals would improve their physical and mental health,” he notes.

Adds Milner, “The most important thing is to remember is that our bodies and brains were meant to be used. If we fail to do so they will cease to perform at the level we need or desire, and that is detrimental to our overall health and well-being.”

“Part of our challenge [to not exercising] is to remove the barriers that prevent us from leading an engaged life. A recommendation would be to list out the reasons you are not exercising or eating well, why you are feeling stressed or are not socially engaged, then set out to replace these with reasons to exercise and eat well, to be stress free and socially engaged. Once you have done this consider what steps you need to take to make this a reality,” he says. ICAA’s Webpage, “Welcome Back to Fitness” (http://icaa.cc/welcomeback.htm) gives the basics to help people begin exercising.

An avid squash player, Richard W. Besdine, MD, Professor of Medicine and Brown University’s Director, Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, preaches the importance of physical activity to all his colleagues and friends. “There are a large number of research studies documenting that exercise is good for all organs in your body,” he says, adding that that regular exercise can also reduce cancer rates, control diabetes, improve one’s emotional health and even reduce depression.

When asked about AARP’s survey findings about the impact of exercise and brain health, Besdine says he applauds the survey’s objectives of examining the relationship between physical exercise and brain health, but its findings are self-reported at best, not empirically derived.

Besdine points out that there is a growing body of studies that empirically study the relationship between exercise and brain health and findings indicate a positive impact on brain functioning. People who exercise are less likely to be cognitively impaired and those who are mildly impaired may even slow or stop the progression of their mental disorder, he says.

“Although AARP’s survey is very interesting it is very limited because it is self-report and cross-sectional, says Deborah Blacker, MD, ScD, Director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital who is also a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

AlzRisk, part of the AlzForum, a website that reports the latest scientific findings on the advancement of diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, posts a scientific review of 16 scientific articles reporting on the relationship of exercise habits to the later development of Alzheimer’s disease. Blacker, AlzRisk’s leader, says that this more solid body of evidence suggests that exercise may play a modest role in protecting a person from Alzheimer’s disease, but further scientific research is required.

Like Besdine, Blacker still sees the positive benefits of exercise even if the scientific data is still coming in. “We know that physical exercise is good for preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If it may also help to prevent cognitive decline, for me that is an even better reason to exercise,” she says.

The Bottom Line

“Staying physically active is one of the best things that someone can do for their physical health and mental health. Physical activity can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, and, especially for older adults, promote memory and help you think clearly,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “We are working hard to make sure that people from every zip code throughout Rhode Island have access to our state’s wonderful parks, beaches, and other natural resources and are getting the amount of physical activity they need to live long, full, productive lives.”

How the Election Impacts Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 24, 2016

On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) an average of 32 million Americans tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump, a New York Real Estate Developer, author, television personality and now politician, formally accepted the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

After he delivered his July 21 speech, reporters, political commentators, and even postings trending on twitter called Trump’s hour and 15 minute speech (4,400 words) “dark” because of its stark tone and content. This GOP presidential candidate’s speech was even referred to as being the longest acceptance speech in history since 1972.

Before more than 2,400 delegates Trump, 70, pledged to be the nation’s law and order president who would crack down on crime and violence. America first would be Trump’s mantra during the negotiation of international trade deals and the existing NAFTA trade accord would be renegotiated.

Trump also called for defending the nation’s borders against illegal immigrants and giving parents more choice in choosing schools for their children. And to the forgotten men and woman across the country who were laid-off because of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy Trump promised to be their voice. Syrian refugees would be vetted and only those individuals who “will support our values and love our people” will be admitted, he said.

Trump Ignores Social Security in Speech

Aging advocates say that Trump’s acceptance speech was short on details when it can to domestic policy, specifically Social Security and Medicare. But, you won’t need tea leaves to read how a future Trump Administration will change the way the nation supports its retirees. .

According to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the choice of Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate should send “a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.” While Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare.

During his 12 years serving as a U.S. Congressman, Pence consistently voted in favor of GOP legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, says Richtman, charging that Trump’s vice presidential running mate is one of a few Congressional lawmakers that has a strong “anti-seniors voting record.”

Richtman says that “Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.”

While Trump has promised not to cut Social Security benefits on his year-long campaign trail, he continues to surround himself with advisors who are “polar opposite” of his positions says Richtman. “They say actions speak louder than words — Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate will speak volumes to American seniors,” he adds.

Political Experts Weigh in

Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, says that “Trump is on record as saying he does not want to cut Social Security so that is considerably different from most Republican leaders, who support benefit reductions as a way to balance its books. This probably is the reason the [GOP] platform is vague on Social Security. The party could not reconcile Trump’s view on not cutting benefits with the party’s general view that cuts are needed. That left them with a reference to market solutions without explaining what that meant.”

“Party leaders have said they want to raise the retirement age for people under age 50. That issue certainly would be on the issue in a Trump presidency although it is not clear how he views that issue. But there would be significant support in a GOP-run Congress for doing that and cutting the benefits of future retirees,” adds West.

West believes that “Democrats have a very good chance of recapturing control of the Senate. If that happens, that will allow them to block benefit reductions or raising the retirement age, he says.

Wendy Schiller, professor and chair, Department of Political Science at Brown University, warns that talking about changing Social Security can be risky and this “involves a depth of knowledge about entitlement financing that eludes most political candidates especially those without any political experience.”

The Brown professor of politics does not see Trump tackling this issue in any meaningful way in the campaign and she does not believe it will be a priority for him or the GOP if he wins. “Recall George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security immediately after he won reelection in 2004 – by late January 2005 it was dead on arrival in Congress,” she says.

“Overall I am not sure the GOP leadership in the Congress has fully processed what a Trump presidency would look like in terms of policy or what his priorities might be. It is unclear to me that they will align closely and getting anything through Congress these days is nearly impossible, no matter who sits in the Oval Office,” she adds.

Stark Differences in Platforms to Fix Social Security

On Friday, the released Democratic Platform released reveal a stark difference as how to the Democratic and Republican parties will fix the ailing Social Security program. The GOP platform. Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options to be put on the table, opposing the lifting of the payroll tax cap and sees privatization of Social Security as a way for older American’s to create wealth for use in retirement. On the other hand, the Democratic Party platform calls for a strengthening and expansion of the existing Social Security program. The Democrats oppose any attempts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, and calls for lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula.

NCPSSM’s Richtman notes “ It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years — providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.”

As AARP’s John Hishta noted in his July 22 blog, even though the “political spotlight was not on Social Security” at the RNC in Cleveland, delegates, rank-and-file politicians and even political operatives that he talked with clearly understand the programs importance to retirees and younger generations.

“If political leaders fail to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. All beneficiaries could face a nearly 25 percent cut in their benefit,” warns Hishta. .

Hishta tells his blog readers that “AARP’s Take a Stand campaign left the RNC with renewed determination to make updating Social Security a bigger part of the presidential debate.” He pledges to continue pushing for strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and until the November presidential elections.

To keep informed about Social Security discussion during this presidential campaign go to http://takeastand.aarp.org/,

Revelations Bring Together Heaven, Earth

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 17, 2016

Approaching their twilight years, aging baby boomers might occasionally think about their impending mortality, even contemplating what happens after their last breath is taken, wondering what lies beyond the veil. But a growing number of people who have reported Near Death Experiences (NDE) may just shed some light to this age old question.

Although some people, diagnosed clinically dead, come back to life after being revived with no conscious memory of this experience, others experiencing a NDE report vivid, personal memories of their out-of-body trip across the veil. During this spiritual experience the person may meet dead family, friends and even their spiritual teacher, see a white light or travel through a tunnel.

Critics of NDE may try to explain away this experience as being the result of psychological and physiological causes, but those who come back with their direct knowledge of the afterlife don’t buy these explanations.

Dozens of books have been published, many being listed on the New York Times best sellers list, detailing the author’s clinical death and NDE, they strongly believe as evidence of an afterlife.

One book, published by Rodale Books in 2015, details what Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber learned in 1999 about health and healing during his NDE and coming back to life. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247 page book, Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.

One such book, published by Rodale Books in 2015, details what Tommy Rosa, a Bronx-born plumber learned in 1999 about health and healing during his NDE and coming back to life. Rosa’s chance meeting at a conference with Dr. Stephen Sinatra, an integrative cardiologist and psychotherapist, seen on “Dr. Oz” and “The Doctors,” would lead to the publishing of a 247 page book, Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth.

A reading of this book reveals two very different approaches at looking at health, one gleaned from a spiritual experience and the other by scientific training, but both lead to the same set of conclusions. The tome offers eight health revelations (being connected with others, faithfulness, your vital force, grounding, being positive, self-love, seeing your body as a temple, and life’s purpose) geared to helping you live your best, healthiest life, revitalize yourself and embrace a new found sense of purpose and spiritual balance — gleaned from Rosa’s experience and fully corroborated by four decades of medical expertise and other scientific evidence by Dr. Sinatra, who practices in St. Petersburg, Florida, Manchester, Connecticut.

Rosa believes experiences described in his book are different from other NDE books published. His eight revelations can be applicable in the reader’s daily life.

To date, Rosa has promoted his book and his heavenly revelations in newspapers, radio and television. Over 20,000 copies of his book have been sold.

Peeking Over the Veil

Eighteen years ago, Rosa was walking across the street to a local convenience store to buy bread and he was hit by a car and became clinically dead for several minutes. Right after he was hit, Rosa felt a tug whisking him off into a tunnel of light [a common NDE]. The 58-year-old was rushed to the hospital and resuscitated, but left in a coma for weeks. During his NDE Rosa found himself in “Heaven,” where he met a spiritual Teacher and was taught the fundamentals about health and healing.

Ultimately, Rosa remembers that he would emerge from his coma not only grateful to be alive, but with a new found sense of intuition, increased empathy and more awareness of the connection to Heaven and Earth.

Rosa, a founder of the Stuart, Florida-based Unicorn Foundation whose mission is to bring spiritual awareness and education to everyday people, says that the most important revelation of his NDE was that all living things are connected. “No one’s actions are isolated to that specific person, but that every action has a ripple effect throughout the energy of our fellow,” he says. In this book. Dr. Sinatra confirms the importance of this revelation, noting how the need for human connection lies at the very heart of human existence. He describes how the practitioner’s ability to empathize with his patients is what truly facilitates the healing process, and also touches upon how one’s emotions can influence their health and overall well being.

His perspective of religion and living life has changed, too. Although he was raised a strict Catholic, the diversity of beliefs serves “Heaven” leading a person to a higher divine plane of consciousness. “I know now that everything is a dream and that you don’t sweat the small stuff,” he says.

Synchronicity Births a Book

At the time of Rosa’s NDE, Dr. Stephen Sinatra was dismantling the prevailing ideas of preventive pharmacology with his holistic approach to treatment. When Rosa met the Florida-based cardiologist, he got an intuitive feeling that the physician had an infection in his hip. This insight confirmed Dr. Sinatra’s own similar thoughts of infection, and he was later diagnosed with a staph infection. When Rosa shared with Dr. Sinatra the divine revelations of healing that he had learned in his celestial travels, the cardiologist was shocked–the keys to solving the imbalance of energy that he had identified as the cause of most chronic illness were the same as those Tommy was relating. Until this point, Dr. Sinatra hadn’t thought about how they were all connected and now it all made sense.

A dinner conversation would propel Rosa and Dr. Sinatra to write Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth, a book covering spiritual revelations from Rosa’s NDE and putting a medical slant to it. “I was prepped for this incredible conversation as I had many NDEs in my own cardiac practice,” remembers Dr. Sinatra. Once Rosa had discussed how he learned not only the importance of “grounding,” during his NDE but other health topics Dr. Sinatra was espousing in his medical practice and at lectures, it was clear to both that a book project must begin. And it did.

Millions Experience NDE

Over the years, Jeffrey Long, M.D., a leading NDE researcher, has documented over 3,000 NDEs, posted on the http://www.nderf.org website. The practicing radiation oncologist says that this data base is by far the largest collection of NDEs, available in 22 languages, that is publicly accessible. Readers from over 100 different foreign countries access Dr. Long’s web site monthly. Over 300,000 pages are read from this website every month.

Meanwhile, Dr. Long’s website, notes that although most people who come near death do not remember anything, around 18% [like Rosa] later report that “something happened.” That “something” is often a near-death experience NDE, says Long. He notes a 1993 Gallop Poll estimated that 12 to 15 million Americans personally experienced a NDE. As of 2001, almost 600 adults per day across the nation experience an NDE.

In this book Rosa pokes a hole in the veil between the living and dead. He tells it like it is. Because of his NDE he does not fear death. “Death is only a new beginning,” he says

During his 40 years in medical practice Dr. Sinatra had been at the bedside of many of his dying patients. “Some I saved. Some I lost,” he said, acknowledging that being with his dying patients often frightened him.” Rosa’s spiritual journey and the lessons learned have brought peace to Dr. Sinatra, his co-author. “In a heartbeat he literally saved me from my own fear of death,” he says.

To purchase a copy of Health Revelations from Heaven and Earth, go to http://www.healthrevelationsbook.com.