Archive for June, 2011

Virginia Tech and Cascades Recreation Area

It was time for an out-of-town adventure and time to check off Virginia Tech from my bucket list. But a 4+ hour overnight trip would not be filled with just a visit to a university campus. In researching things to do in Blacksburg, Va, the Cascades Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest seemed like a worthwhile and fun place to visit. What seemed enticing was not only the hike, but the reward of seeing a magnificent 69 foot waterfall. (Seniors, you can get in free with your National Park Pass).

To get to the falls required a round trip four-mile hike which I thought would be a piece of cake considering I had done an 8.15 mile walk in the Great Aloha Run. Studying the map at the beginning of the hike, it appeared that the lower trail would be more scenic and “easier” because the upper trail was described as being more challenging because of the hill. Hence, we chose the lower trail and began our hike along the lovely Little Stoney Creek.

“Easier” is a relative term — easier if you’re younger and “grueling” in my book with having to step over all shapes and heights of rocks, twisted roots, numerous steps, and narrow pathways. Knowing what was at the end of the trail, I could not give up. Truthfully, I could not have done it without my husband. Well, maybe I could’ve, but it would’ve taken all day and there were dark clouds above and a thunderstorm looming. As we passed people coming down, they kept saying we were almost there and it was worth it.

There comes a point where the lower trail and upper trail meet and it becomes just one path to the falls. I asked a group if they had taken the upper trail (the one we had not chosen) and they said yes and a gentleman explained that it was a road that the park uses for maintenance. Therefore, it was wide and smooth. What a relief that we had an easier way back, but it was raining so the mud road was a little slippery. But, we could still walk much faster and get back to our car.

It took about 1.5 hours to get to the top and it was definitely worthwhile. I was drenched in perspiration on a cool day, but what an awesome view and an exhilarating feeling of accomplishment. I had an apple for nourishment which my body really needed. Unfortunately, it started to rain so we did not have much time to enjoy the view and had to start our descent on some slippery rocks and steps. However, once we got to the maintenance road, it felt as though we were home free.

It was a wonderful trip in every way — one of the best front desk people I’ve ever encountered (Ritz Carlton quality at a Hampton Inn), excellent service and food at Sal’s Italian Restaurant, and on the way home we stopped at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Va where we had an excellent tour guide. That was the icing on the cake. Oh, and yes, the visit to Virginia Tech and their hokie stone buildings was also awesome. Now I know why they’re called Hokies.

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Chronic Stress and Aging

As your bones creak, wrinkles deepen, or even worse, diseases set in, do you find that you’re looking for ways to slow down aging? We have no control over many factors, but one study has shown that there is a link between chronic stress and aging. Long term emotional strain such as seniors taking care of their elderly parents, can take its toll on health and aging.

The first study done at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) led by Elissa Epel, Ph.D. was conducted on a group of healthy mothers caring for chronically ill children. It showed that telomeres shorten in those experiencing psychological stress – i.e., they age the cells and hasten the body’s deterioration allowing the increased risk of diseases. Telomeres are caps at the end of chromosomes (molecules that carry genes) like plastic caps at the end of shoe laces to prevent fraying. When a cell divides, telomeres get shorter. In the natural aging process, the telomeres eventually get so short that cells can no longer divide, and they die producing all of the undesirable effects of aging. Telomerase is an enzyme which helps rebuild telomeres; telomerase levels also decline with age. Over time, however, telomeres do get shorter.

A key factor, however, is perception. The greater the perceived stress, the shorter the telomeres. In the above study, those with the highest perceived stress had telomeres equivalent to someone 10 years older.

In another study led by Edward Nelson, MD of the University of California at Irvine, their research suggests that stress management can stop telomeres from shortening and promote repair as well. The Hayflick countdown was being reset. (Hayflick discovered that after 50-70 cell divisions, a chromosome can grow no shorter and the cell it is in can divide no more). This study involved telephone counseling for women who had been treated for cervical cancer. The counseling worked mentally, physically, and improved their immune system.

In still another study, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D. of UCSF (who shared the Nobel prize for the discovery of the telomerase enzyme that repairs telomeres), showed that exercise has a similar effect to counseling on the telomeres of the stressed.

The bottom line is the only difference among the subjects in all of these studies is attitude. So the good news is you can do something about chronic stress and aging.

Related Resources:

Stress may increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Stress and Cellular Aging
Dr. Elissa Epel, UCSF

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Rosemary and Alzheimer’s Disease

Rosemary

Today there are five million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and by the year 2050, the number is projected to be 13.5 million. My blog, aboutalz.com, is devoted to the subject and one article in particular talks about the new medicines in development. As seniors, we laugh about “senior moments,” but is there anything we can do to stave off Alzheimer’s? In a little booklet called, “Folk Remedies That Really Work,” contributing writer and botanist James A. Duke, Ph.D., says that the spice rosemary is sometimes called the herb of remembrance.

Rosemary contains five compounds that seem to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that’s deficient in patients with Alzheimer’s and important in memory and cognitive functions. Duke believes that rosemary works as well as the drug tacrine (Cognex). He says that tacrine works in only 25% of patients and it can cause liver damage.

Eating rosemary in dishes such as chicken and fish might reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but there’s evidence that rosemary can be absorbed through the skin. So you can try putting rosemary springs into your bath, using rosemary shampoo, or rosemary lotion. Rosemary has a long history and even as far back as ancient Greece, students wore rosemary garlands while studying for exams because they believed that it improved their memory. Check out the spices in your supermarket and there may be (as there was in mine) a little sign telling you about rosemary and memory.

 

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