May Article Highlights

May 29, 2014

By Dr. Carolyn Anderson

Learning is so important at every stage of our life, and I think even more important as we get older so we remain current and aware of the world around us.

New research and studies can give us ideas of how to improve our health long before it becomes standard medical advice.

I do my best to keep up with the latest news, studies and blogs.  My interests range from positive psychology, health research, to general self-help advice.

I’ve collected some of the best posts and given you short summaries of the articles in a monthly highlights post.

Here’s Scientific Proof That Life Gets Better As You Get Older

Senior couple on cycle ride“As we age, we have the opportunity to accept who we are, instead of focusing on who we feel we need to become.” Ken Eisold

It’s a common misconception to think that happiness declines as you age. In fact, when surveyed, younger adults felt that they would be happier than older adults, however they scored themselves lower on happiness levels, than the older adults did.

There is unfortunate research out there suggesting that 80 % of life’s defining moments happen before age 35. This belief is not only depressing, but very far from the truth. Although there aren’t many major life events as you get older, it doesn’t mean that you are less happy and satisfied. In fact, as this article points out, there are many ways in which getting older can actually mean more happiness.

One way in which life gets better as you age is that, “The older we get the more we appreciate the little things.” A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that, while younger people seek out extraordinary experiences (travel, love, thrills), which can help them build a greater sense of identity- older adults give a higher worth to ordinary life experiences, thus giving them an identity in everyday occurrences. This ability allows older adults to appreciate what they already have, instead of seeking out experiences, therefore creating a more stable sense of happiness.

The Doctor Who Coaches Athletes to Sleep

“The old-school approach of toughing it out is completely bogus, not to mention counterproductive.” Dr. Charles Czeisler

Dr. Charles Czeisler, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is well known around the professional sports team league industry. He advises teams and athletes on how to improve their performance.  His big emphasis is on sleep. He says, “Sleep plays such a big role in learning and memory. It’s a simple way to have an edge and be able to perform at your best.”

In 2011 the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time. Dr. Czeisler was the one who advised the team to cancel their practice in the morning, and exchange it for a nap! That night they beat their opposing team 4-0.

Sleep is crucial to everyday performance, whether you are an athlete, a business person, or a stay-at-home mom. In my practice as an eye surgeon, sleep is essential for me to be able to perform safely on my patients.  I make sure I get to bed early, and get the recommended 7.5-9 hours of sleep needed for my performance.

The Man Working To Cure His Own Cancer

I love coming across inspiring stories of people turning difficult situations into something positive and life transforming. When Josh Sommer was a young university freshman at just 18, he was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Chordoma. Instead of giving up and succumbing to the overwhelming news of cancer, he turned around and began to research the very disease, determined to change his prognosis.

After Sommer realized that the biggest hold out to any cure for this rare disease was human error, he made his way into working at the only federally funded laboratory focused on Chordoma. He says, “I had no experience, but a lot of motivation.”

Although Sommer is now cancer free, the disease often returns, meaning another risky surgery and radiation. To date, there are no drugs effective for treating the disease, something that Summer is determined to change. Thanks to his determination, and the help of dedicated scientists, there is now a drug that is showing some promise.

Cancer is something that affects us all and I’m thankful for the dedicated people working towards cancer cures and prevention strategies.

Ultimate Run for Water: 53-year old Man Completes 130km in 1 Day 

“You don’t know how far you can go until you go as far as you can.” Peter Schofield

What an amazing accomplishment for 53-year old Peter Schofield who ran all five Run for Water distances in just one day! That is a total of 130 kilometers! As a dedicated runner, Schofield explains that, “It was a personal challenge just to do it.”

He started very early in the morning at 3:30 am with the half-marathon course, and continued through the day with the other events (ultra marathon, another marathon), and wrapped up the day with the 10km and 5km distances, finishing up around 10:30 pm! When he finally completed all the events, Schofield felt a full sense of achievement, and was incredibly tired!

Schofield isn’t just in it for the running and personal challenge of it all, he is a huge supporter of the cause behind the race. He raised $1,750 for “Run for Water” which will go towards clean water sources for people in Ethiopia. Schofield expressed that, “It touches my heart, even though I’ve never been in that position. We’re so fortunate here.”

How to Succeed Professionally by Helping Others

I believe in the importance of giving back and helping others.  Not only does it encourage others, but it strengthens us.

I was very encouraged when I found recent research showing that contributing to the success of others, does benefit you in the long run. Although the results are not immediate, in time you will reap the rewards. In fact, evidence points out that helpful employees in restaurants, have higher revenue, cleanliness, and customer satisfaction. This verification applies to other industries, showing that, “helping behaviors play an important role in organizational effectiveness.”

There is even more research that suggests that by helping others, you can actually facilitate your learning. In a study examining employees at a large consulting firm, it was observed that those who helped others, gained insights about their own work, and become better problem solvers in general.

Exercising for Healthier Eyes- May Help Prevent Macular Degeneration

Mature woman using dumbbellsAs an eye surgeon, I know all too well the devastating effects of age related vision loss, especially due to macular degeneration. There is only so much we can do to repair the damage, so preventing disease in the first place is critical.

There was a promising study conducted in 2009 that followed more than 40,000 middle-aged distance runners. The study found that those covering the most miles had the least likelihood to develop the disease. However, the study didn’t compare runners to non-runners, nor did it explain how exercise may affect the eyes.

Another study, conducted  by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, used mice as subjects to try to come to a conclusion on this issue. Amazingly, the study concluded that the mice who were made to exercise, had higher levels of substances known as growth factors in the animal’s bloodstream and brain. These growth factors, are known to support the health of neurons, and are therefore suspected to improving brain health and cognition.

Although there is no totally reliable research showing that exercise decreases your risk of macular degeneration, many doctors (including myself) would agree that if you have a family history of this, discussing an exercise program with your doctor wouldn’t be a bad idea! In fact, it will help you in many other ways physically and mentally!

Pill That ‘Resets’ The Body’s Clock Could Cure Jet Lag

For those who travel, jet lag can be debilitating. In fact, research has shown that when the body’s clock is out of sync for long periods of time, it can cause serious and even fatal heart problems. Not only that, it’s becoming clearer, that disruption of our body’s clock can also cause numerous diseases including, diabetes, cancer, and strokes.

A study conducted at Manchester University found an enzyme in mice that keeps the body operating on a 24- hour rhythm. When this enzyme is suppressed, it can effectively reset itself, giving the body an easier way to adapt to the change. Researchers have found a drug that can inhibit the same enzyme, and could possibly help the body adapt to changes, allowing people to have a smoother recovery from jet lag or night shifts.

The importance of sleep is crucial, and when you disrupt it by travelling through time zones, or taking on a night shift, you can negatively impact your body. This drug sounds promising, and could even help doctors or those on shift work!

90-Year old Edmonton man Graduates High School with His Grandson 

When Walter Ross was just 15-years old, he was forced to leave school to take care of the family business. A few years later, he attempted to get his diploma, and worked hard leading up the exams, even hiring a tutor for help. He passed all the exams, except for one- French.

Throughout the years, as he worked and raised a family, he always had a lingering disappointment about not finishing high school. It wasn’t until his 90th birthday that he announced to his family, that he was going to attempt once again to graduate! With the help of a family member, the province granted him a pass from the missing course, and gave him his high school diploma!

With an invitation from Ross’s grandson’s school to join in on the commencement ceremonies, Ross jumped at the request, and was elated!  It was such an honor for both him and his grandson to share such a special moment, as they walked across the stage together. When asked what was going through his mind when walking across the stage, Ross confessed that he couldn’t really remember!

Ross isn’t quite finished learning yet. With his diploma in hand, he is taking French lessons, and next year he plans to learn Piano!

Toward a Pill That Helps Us Learn as Fast as Kids

brain exercisesCan you imagine taking a pill that could help you learn as fast as kids?  We may not be that far off, as Harvard professor Takao Hensch is passionately working towards a way to successfully achieve this.  In fact, he says he has found that behavioral drugs can actually help return the brain chemistry back into “critical periods” in development. A study conducted by Hensch and other researchers found that men who took the drug valproate, did better on identifying music notes, compared to those in the placebo group.

Hench explains that, “The brain is not losing its plasticity forever as we grow older. It’s the brain’s job to be elastic, and it wants to rewire. But through evolution, it’s created a lot of molecules to make sure it doesn’t rewire too much.”

Other researchers, such as Nafissa Ismail, are bringing up caution saying that, “The young brain’s plasticity is a double-edge  sword- though skills like language and music come more naturally to children, environmental and social stress can also harm them much more profoundly.” She cautions that drugs like Valproate, can actually open up the brain to be more sensitive to environmental stressors.

Although this new research poses some interesting and hopeful findings, there is another side where we have to be cautious, and weigh out the benefits and drawbacks.

Treating Chronic Pain with Meditation

“Meditation teaches patients how to react to the pain. People are less inclined to have the ‘Ouch’ reaction, and are able to control their emotional reaction to pain.”  Fadel Zeidan

Nearly 15% of all Americans experience chronic pain. Many have tried chiropractors, acupuncture, medication, physical therapy, and even surgery to no avail. Chronic pain is most often caused by an injury that is exacerbated over time leading to more damage. Researchers are now saying that meditation can actually decrease pain, and allow sufferers to experience freedom from constant discomfort.

I am a solid believer in meditation and all its benefits, and was amazed by the findings in this article.

The last ten years has seen an increase in studies focusing on meditation. It was found in these studies that mental practice can alter sensory experience. This explains war wounds going unnoticed until after the fighting is over. These studies have also found that meditation can help pain significantly, however, it cannot cure it.

One study that I found encouraging in this article was that you don’t have to be a meditation guru to reap the benefits! Even beginners who attempted meditation for their pain found it effectively decreased it. The reason meditation works so well is that it has been shown to alter four areas of the brain, one of them being the primary somatosensory cortex, which is the pain processing area.

The Monitored Man – How Tracking Your Activity Levels Can Change Your Behavior

We all known that exercise is beneficial, but how much exercise do you really need? There are so many apps and devices out there that help monitor that activity, but do they really help?

I was impressed to find out that these trackers have been shown to increase activity levels. Dr. Rajani Larocca, conducted a six week lifestyle program for ten patients with diabetes (age 50-70), and each patient was fitted with a Fitbit Zip tracker. Every one of those participants increased their activity. In fact, eight months later half the patients in the group still wore the tracker.

Although these trackers only detect motion, not really activity, they seem to motivate people to increase activity. Even though it has been shown that wearing a tracker does increase activity, it was encouraged to only wear monitors when meaningful.

I have a fitness routine that I go through every day, and if I didn’t try to match or beat my times it would get boring. I think that is why there is an increase in activity with monitoring devices. Most of us have a desire to better ourselves, and to be able to see our activity in number form allows us to see our progress more clearly!

About the Author: Dr. Carolyn Anderson is an eye surgeon who founded Impowerage to raise money for macular degeneration research. She practices cataract surgery in Langley, BC and is a professional speaker who speaks on managing your energy.

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