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It happens to us all eventually—getting older that is. Funny things start to happen by themselves. The number of pill bottles on the bathroom shelf seems to increase as though they are breeding in some weird fashion. Shopping behaviour changes – you find yourself checking out the vitamin and supplement section looking for cures to various real and future ailments. You also start noticing the ads a lot more—growth hormone, cures for Alzheimer’s disease, hemorrhoid creams, Viagra—there must be some value in all these pills and potions after all. I mean why would they advertise if they didn’t work?
Is there anything we can do that doesn’t involve drugs, injections, or cosmetic surgery to assist our graceful decline to the nursing home?
There just may be. Ben Levine’s research group in Dallas, Texas has published some fascinating work that demonstrates that healthy ageing is associated with a decline in left ventricular compliance, which in turn leads to diminished diastolic performance of the heart. Somewhat obvious you say but that is not the interesting bit. In Masters athletes (mean age 67 years) who perform prolonged endurance training, left ventricular compliance was preserved and in fact, the pressure-volume curve for Masters athletes was indistinguishable from young (mean age 29 years) sedentary control subjects. It would be expected that this may reduce the risk of heart failure in this group of elderly subjects. Saves the time and trouble of a heart transplant—just run a lot.
Now that the body is sorted, what about preserving the brain from ageing? Well, we have an easy answer there as well—speak another language. For reasons that are not fully explained bilingual speakers have faster reaction times and cued responses. It may be that the ability to speak more than one language assists in developing the capacity to multitask and switch mental “set” over that which monoglots possess.3 It is a lot more interesting than doing crosswords.
Of course you could just have better genes. A recent Swiss study has shown that short term memory skills are significantly influenced by a single gene.4 I wonder how I can get one?