Recent data indicates Americans are living longer than ever before as life expectancy hit 78.1 years in 2006. Rates for 14 of the top 15 causes of death fell in 2006 according the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most significant decline in cause of death was attributed to influenza and pneumonia that fell nearly 13% from the previous year.
Life expectancy of 78.1 is up from 77.8 years in 2005 representing a continued rise over the past decades. Women have a life expectancy of 80.7 years while men remain somewhat behind at 75.4 years. Racial disparities also exist with white women’s life expectancy at 81 years compared to 76.9 for black women. White men’s life expectancy was 76 years and black men at 70.
The top two causes of death include heart disease and cancer followed by stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases such as emphysema and then accidents. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Gains made in life expectancy represent an opportunity for continued years of quality of life. Getting started earlier in life with a proactive lifestyle (physical activity, brain fitness, brain games etc.) including that designed for the heart and brain can help to maximize the quality with the increased quantity of life.
Try the Fit Brains brain games.
The first sound we may perceive as a budding human being on planet earth is the heart beat of our mother. Our brain appreciates rhythm and harmony for stress tends to be limited in such situations. Breathing in a rhythmical manner is taught to reduce stress. Scuba divers describe the peace of being under water when they can hear their breathing in an otherwise quiet environment. Humans continue to migrate to the oceans as a form of vacation where waves provide a rhythm. Others venture to the woods where there is little to distract an inner peace.
These are a few examples of how nature provides our brains with environments that promote rhythm and perhaps stabilize the symmetry of our two brain hemispheres. Our typical daily life takes us out of rhythm and hence causes a stressful disequilibrium in our brain. Research on animals indicates that an environment that is too stimulating leads to slowed brain development. Our challenge is to be conscious of our own daily behavior and the types of environments we expose our brains.
Make it a goal to seek out environments that promote peace and rhythms for your brain. This will help to reduce stress by reducing the amount of stimulation that is not healthy. A walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, or even witness to a sunset can be more health promoting than you might imagine. Anytime you become conscious of your breathing and surrounding in a safe environment is typically a healthy moment.
Sleep is a highly active time for brain development and brain function. There are four primary stages of sleep including Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when we dream and deep sleep or stage four sleep. It is thought that deep sleep and REM tend to decline with advanced age and these are perhaps the parts of sleep when consolidation of information takes place. As such sleep quantity and quality have a major role in what and how well we process and remember information.
REM sleep occupies about 25% of our total sleep and it is during REM that we dream. We tend to be paralyzed during this part of our sleep so we cannot act out our dreams. Without REM and deep sleep we can become lethargic, depressed, and make mistakes. Significant sleep disorders affect more than 35 million Americans and many more around the world. Sudden sleep is known as narcolepsy and can occur while driving which leads to a high number of fatal car accidents. Sleep Apnea, the first phase of narcolepsy, occurs because of a blockage of the airway and results in sudden gasps for air while sleeping. Apnea is most common in middle age, obese and hypertense males.
When considering lifestyle changes for brain health (e.g. brain fitness, brain games), one of the most important aspects of life is sleep. We tend to not get enough sleep and our brains run on fatigue much of the time. Napping is a lost art and we do not rest enough. As a result, our brains are over-stimulated, stressed, and tired. Consider this blog a permission slip to get a good night sleep and to take a nap sometime this week.
A recent study has supported a relationship between an important ingredient in red wine and retardation of the aging process. Resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines may have some life extending effects in mice and maybe in humans. The mechanism in play is switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. The improved tissue maintenance appears to extend life by reducing the degenerative diseases of aging.
Scientists believe this switching mechanism can be induced by a faminelike diet, known as caloric restriction that extends the life of rodents by up to 30 percent, but similar effects in humans are not conclusive. Resveratrol has been shown to increase strength, endurance, and speed of lab mice. Findings from studies suggest resveratrol may be effective in mice and humans in smaller doses than previously known. Studies suggest a significant positive effect on aging in mice with dosages that mimic 4-5ounces of wine daily. Researchers believe resveratrol can mimic many of the effects of caloric restriction at doses that can be easily achieved by humans.
So….if you are not predisposed to alcoholism and your doctor has not restricted you from alcohol, one 4-5 ounce glass of red wine a day may indeed promote a healthier aging process.
The Washington Post reported on a recent study out of the National Institute of Mental Health. The study found that different brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in social status or sees people who are socially superior or inferior. The brain seemed to activate in a similar manner to winning money.
The scientists indicate that our position in social hierarchies affects motivation as well as physical and mental health. Past research has supported the relationship between social rank and health. For example, persons with a lower social status had a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and to die early. Psychological effects to include loss of control over one’s environment may be one trigger for the relationship to poor health.
The brain seems to have a hard wiring for hierarchical information and that this information is important to us. Our desire to compete, play to win, and to be motivated are directly linked to brain circuitry.
This most likely explains our civilization’s interest in sports, gaming, and competition. Our own individual struggle to reach our specific potential in areas of school, work, or skill development also fit into this model. It may not be such a stretch to suggest that our drive to personal health, including brain health involves such brain circuitry and that computerized mental exercises that provide explicit feedback on our performance is one tangible example of competitive health behavior.
Click here to read the Washington Post article