I was stunned to watch 60-Minutes last night when they interviewed people who are over 90 years old. They have been followed for over 30 years since they joined what used to be called Leisure World close to San Diego. This group is an interesting group to study since the researchers (at UC Irvine) have their full records, including vitamin intake, illnesses, they test them regularly for dementia and other ailments and also place them into the MRI to see if the researchers can learn something from the elderly. Since they donate their brains to science, we also learn about their brains after they die.
I was amazed to see how some of these 90+ year-olds looked and moved like they were 50 years old and when asked, one 100+ year old said she actually feels like she is 50. She was the most active of them all, still walking fast without any aid, 3 miles a day except on Sunday, when it is only 2 miles. Admirable! But wait. The findings are stunning!
We all believe that being thin is healthy. Turns out the being thin is not so healthy when you get older! I am not talking obese but a little bit of extra here and there is actually healthy. So the next time you examine yourself in the mirror, consider your age before your waistline!
Another thing of surprise was the blood pressure! Most everywhere doctors tell you that your blood pressure should be 120/80 or less… may be so said 60-Minutes when you are young. But as you get older, it seems the ones who live to be 90+ have higher blood pressures than normal. Those who had normal BP died long time ago! So it seems that higher blood pressure–I don’t mean sick high–is better for you. This is also evident in the case of those who have migraines. It seems that most people with migraines have low blood pressures–I do too–and I have a hard time increasing my blood pressure to be higher. Blood pressure is probably genetic but one can tinker with that by adding more salt to the diet. I will make an effort to add more salt to increase my BP to be over 120/80 since lower BP means the brain gets less blood and that is not good for the brain!
So is our current “heart healthy” diet with low salt and low blood pressure good for us? It may be good for the heart but definitely not for the brain. So if you want to live to be a healthy 90+ and not have dementia, perhaps you should eat more salty foods than the doctor recommends and stop taking all those blood pressure medications that lower your blood pressure to be 120/80 or less. (Do not just stop please! Get your doctor’s advice on how to lower your dose if you wish to lower it! It can have catastrophic consequences if you just stop taking your heart medicine!)
Drinking alcohol and/or coffee also turned out to be good! 1-3 coffees a day and/or up to 2 glasses of any alcohol–not just red wine but any alcohol–showed to be a good thing! But the most interesting of them all–in addition to the blood pressure–was the lack of importance of the vitamins we take. It really did not matter if they took vitamins or not and what kind, all or just one or any at all. It seemed that those who lived to be healthy 90+ did not care for vitamins. They cared for social activities, dances, fun, good food, good drink, and who cares about blood pressure?!
The MRI results were also interesting because they showed that what we consider as accumulation of matter (plaques) in the brain, that has long been associated with Alzheimer’s, has in fact nothing to do with it. They found these plaques in the brains of people who had absolutely no Alzheimer’s or dementia of any kind and also discovered people who had Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia who lacked these plaques completely. Thus the feared brain plaques seem independent of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia and may mean something we have not yet figured out or mean nothing, only broken down cells that clear out slower as a result of age.
Congratulation 60-Minutes for the fantastic segment and congratulation for all 90+ participants. AND a big congratulation to those who read this article and will be healthy 90+ as a result of stopping to listen to those doctors who still believe in the importance of low blood pressure in older age and in the importance of vitamins! Finally a report that proves that we do not need to be medicated to death to live!
Comments and questions are welcome!