Posts made in July, 2011

Midlife metamorphosis: for da guyz

Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Inspiration | 0 comments

Yes, this one if for da guyz. Who may or may not be dealing with their own aging issues. Who says that Flashfree isn’t an equal opportunist when it comes to gender issues?

This one’s a redux. Because men? You’re worth it.

[Used with permission. Dan Collins.]

In Laura A. Munson’s poignant “Modern Love” post, ‘Those aren’t fighting words, dear”  she writes about the crisis of self that may seem familiar to many  in midlife who are watching or have watched their husbands or partners implode. In the post, (which I highly recommend if you’ve not read it) Laura writes:

And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore. When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness…

The premise that happiness comes from within is not a new one. However, the midlife spin on it can be a wake-up call of epic proportions, when we start reaching for a gold ring that actually resides out of sight. Yet, why are we yearning for what was rather than what is to beAren’t life’s many transitions, including the one that our partners and each of us are facing, movements into the next phase of productivity or change or growth, rather than a loss of self?

I’ve had many conversations with women who are facing or have faced situations that are similar to Laura’s. Overwhelmingly, they say that women tend to themselves a little at a time so that the crises never quite reach the precipice. That many women are able to deal with their physical and emotional changes incrementally so that the ultimate metamorphosis — who they are during and at the end of their lives — is not a monumental shock.

Dick Roth, in his wonderful book “No, It’s Not Hot in Here,’ devotes a chapter to men in midlfe. He says that men should repeatedly ask themselves three questions:

  • What won’t pass away when my youth does?
  • Who will I be after my career is over?
  • Who would I be if everything else was gone but my mind and feelings?

Referencing the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Roth adds that the protagonist’s lack of self-pity and ability to cherish his soul provided him with the foundation to overcome his physical confinement (the author, who was completely paralyzed by a stroke except for a single eyelid, was only able to communicate by blinking this one eye).

Cherish your soul. Sounds a lot simpler than it is. Or does it?

As much as we expect our partners to understand what we are going through as hormonal changes wreak havoc on our psyches and our bodies, we must also be willing to offer the reverse, to acknowledge the changes and struggles that our partners are going through, their self-confinement, and perhaps their inability to cherish or tap into their souls.

Midlife doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. What rings true for women, also rings true for men.

Seize it.

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Use it or lose it – more on osteoporosis

Posted by on Jul 15, 2011 in bone health, osteoporosis | 0 comments


Bone health and osteoporosis. Yes, I know I keep writing about it. The reason is simple: you ARE at risk of losing your bone density and strength, especially if you are a woman over the age of 35. And if you are 50 or older? You have as much as a 40% risk of suffering a fracture due to osteoporosis during the rest of your lifetime. Moreover, during the first five years after menopause, women can experience as much as a 30% loss of bone density.

I can’t emphasize it enough. The risk is there. It is inevitable. However, you can reduce your risk a little bit by incorporating the following message into your life:

Use it. Or lose it.

In other words, you need to move.

The latest news out of the esteemed Cochrane Collaboration (an international organization that extensively reviews medical research) is that exercise specifically designed to promote bone growth and preserve existing bone mass, namely the type that places mechanical stress on the body, is necessary.  The newly-published review of 43, scientifically sound (i.e. randomized, controlled studies) is an update of a review that appeared in 2000. Of the 4,320 postmenopausal women included in the reviewed trials:

  • Those who engaged in any form of exercise had slightly less (0.85%) bone loss than women who did not.
  • Those who performed combinations of exercise types, i.e. walking, jogging, dancing, progressive resistance training, vibration platform had, on average, as much as 3.2% less bone loss than those who did not exercise.
  • Non-weight bearing exercise, such as progressive resistance strength training targeting the lower limbs, was shown to slightly preserve bone mineral density at the hip, while the combination of exercise, per above, was most beneficial for slightly preserving bone mineral density at the spine. (Did you know that spine and hip fractures are the most common among women with osteoporosis?)

The conclusions are pretty clear: long periods of inactivity lead to reduced bone mass.However, here is a simple way to mitigate some of this loss, albeit slightly, and even help reduce the costly effects of osteoporosis: Exercise.

The best exercises? Those that stress or mechanically load the bones, meaning the type that make the bones support body weight or resist movement, such as aerobic or strength training, walking, or Tai Chi.

Ultimately, your goal is prevent osteoporosis from occurring in the first place. While some amount of bone loss is part and parcel with aging, resistance training is critical.

Move it or lose it.

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Wednesday Bubble: Got symptoms? Got milk? An udder disaster…

Posted by on Jul 13, 2011 in depression, emotions, humour, menopause | 6 comments

Got milk?!

Milk is being touted as the next best thing, that is, when it comes to hormonal symptoms. In fact, a new campaign sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board centers around the claim that milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS.  offers global gauges of PMS symptoms, packaged apologies for men who feel victimized by PMS and even analyzes or verifies their mistakes so that they can avoid them during the next cycle. In a piece about the marketing effort in the Washington Post, Executive Director of the California Milk Processor Board, Steve James, is quoted as saying that the strategy is to “disarm the situation surrounding PMS and its effects,” both for women and individuals around them who are suffering from their mood swings and other symptoms.

Say what?!!!

Is this advertising for milk or a drug claim?

According to the website, the claims about milk are derived from a review that appeared in the year 2000 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. In the review, the authors discuss the potential links between altered calcium balance and affective disorders, such as depression and anxiety.  Because women with PMS reportedly have calcium fluctuations that interfere with hormonal balance, some researchers have hypothesized that this imbalance can lead to both mood and other features of PMS. In these studies, however, participants obtained their calcium through supplements and not through dietary means; this enabled the researchers to control and standardize intakes (which averaged as much as 1300 mg calcium daily). Translated into daily milk consumption, this means that a person would have to drink more than 4, 8 oz glasses of milk daily to achieve the level of calcium used in clinical studies.

Honestly, do you know anyone over the age of “tween” who consumes that much milk?

Regardless of the studies cited, the claims about milk are exaggerated and  inconclusive. Many of the studies were poorly designed or relied upon recall. However, one has to wonder if the milk-PMS claims will set off a cascade of others that stretch to the other end of the hormonal spectrum –menopause — where too much calcium is believed to be too much of a good thing: although calcium may offer protection against osteoporosis, it may also increase the risk for heart disease in some women.

Let’s get away from the hard science for a moment and take a closer look at the campaign. The inference:

  • Women: your PMS causes undue suffering to people around you, especially your male partners
  • Men: humor the woman in your life. If you want to save your relationship, friendship, partnership, etc, create a photo with puppy eyes, film a video apology or better yet, make fun of her. Oh, and have her drink milk.

Don’t know about you but this one is so absurd it may not even be bubble-worthy. Hey California Milk Processor Board – you may want to add a few women to your marketing team. This one’s an udder disaster.

Hat tip to Reuters Health Executive Editor, Ivan Oransky for the campaign heads up. (I tried to milk it Ivan – how’d I do?!!)

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Meditation in motion: Tai Chi and the ‘pause

Posted by on Jul 11, 2011 in aging, heart disease, mind-body therapy | 0 comments

I’ve written about yoga and meditation/mindfulness training and how both may help with menopausal symptoms in terms of alleviating stress and improving overall wellbeing. However, what about Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial arts practice that uses a self-paced system of soft flowing movements to improve respiration and deep relaxation. It has also been shown to boost muscle strength, coordination and physical condition, improve balance and like yoga and mindfulness training, benefit overall wellbeing. On the health side, it’s been linked with better sleep quality and duration, enhanced circulation and in fact, is considered a weight-bearing exercise akin to aerobic exercise of moderate intensity. As such, it may even help prevent osteoporosis. Yet, unlike regular strength training Tai Chi appears to offer an important means by which risk of metabolic heart disease during menopause may be reduced.

For women specifically, hormonal changes – namely a steeply progressive increase in testosterone — can contribute to a risk of developing metabolic syndrome (i.e. the cluster of risk factors — abdominal fat, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and insulin resistance –that increases the likelihood of developing heart disease and diabetes). Moreover, as women age, the ability to effectively metabolize blood fats and maintain ample antioxidant defenses in their bodies requires higher maximal aerobic capacities (which inherently decline with age). Conversely, being sedentary deteriorates the efficiency by which fats are burned or utilized by the body and also negatively affects antioxidant defense lines and their ability to adapt to sudden or chronic exposure to oxidative imbalances in our bodies that can wreak havoc on cells and lead to build up of plaques and heart disease.

Where does Tai Chi fit in?

Yogic pranayma breathing has been linked to improvements in antioxidant capacity and in lower oxidative stress markers. Moreover, it may also improve cardiorespiratory function. Tai Chi combines postures with slow, deep breathing (i.e. 6 breaths per minute) and may also convey the same benefits. In a recent study published in the Journal of Aging Research, 8 premenopausal and 7 post menopausal sedentary women were asked to participate in an 8-week Tai Chi program that involved the following:

  • 75 minute training sessions twice weekly consisting of  a 5 minute check in, 10 minutes of stretching/warm-up, and 60 minutes of a modified 18-posture Tai Chi and Tai Chi fan style. The Tai Chi routines coupled breathing to music, took a minute to a minute and a half per motion. The women learned five to 10 postures per week and the complete set was practiced for two weeks. Instructors were also sure to monitor and correct postures during each class.
  • Twice-weekly, 60 minute at-home practice that also included completion of a log that detailed the practice (to insure compliance).
  • Measures of body weight, diet, physical fitness, balance, flexibility, muscle strength, maximal aerobic capacity and blood samples.

Not only did 8 weeks of Tai Chi practice significantly improve balance, muscle strength and flexibility in both groups, but also produced as much as an 18% decline in a major marker for heart disease risk (i.e. plasma total homocysteine). Additionally, Tai Chi combined with measured, slow deep breathing improved the activities of antioxidant markers in the bloodstream that play a role in defending cells against damage from oxidative stress.

Although this study is quite small and bears repeating with significantly higher numbers of women, the findings do imply that Tai Chi and slow deep breathing have the potential to play an important role in improving functional/physical declines that occur during menopause and equally if not more importantly, improve antioxidant defenses against metabolic diseases, especially heart disease. Tai Chi is not only low impact, low-velocity and safe, but within the framework of menopause, it may prove to be a golden ring amongst alternatives to prevent disease. Meditation in motion, indeed.

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An age-old problem: public relations as science. Guest post by Dr. Brian Hughes

Posted by on Jul 8, 2011 in aging, women's health | 2 comments

When I saw this post by Dr. Brian Hughes, an academic psychologist at the National University of Ireland in Galway, I knew that I needed to run it on Flashfree. In it, Brian discusses how ageism has become the advocacy project of the month, a hook to attract attention to a specific cause by feeding into the fears and anxiety that often accompany aging. Not only are women a primary target for these campaigns, but by couching the propaganda within a scientific context, it can be difficult to discern truth from fiction.

Although this post is a bit more verbose than what I typically run, I felt it was important to include it in its entirety. I hope that you’ll show Brian some love and spread the word, not only about the post but also his work on The Science Bit Blog. Many thanks Brian, for lending me your prose this week.

There is no doubt that in our increasingly image-conscious and superficially focused times, age discrimination presents a creeping civil rights problem. The tendency to judge the professional and social worth of a person on the basis of his or her apparent age can present artificial barriers to employment and respect. Moreover, age discrimination can dramatically compound sex discrimination, as such problems are often felt more acutely by older women. Therefore, it is no surprise to see recurring campaigns to promote positive attitudes towards people right across the age-spectrum, run by charitable organizations such as Age UK as well as by publications such as Mature Times.

As with any advocacy campaign, new research that provides insights into age discrimination must be seen as important. Scientifically gathered empirical evidence can be crucial in debunking negative stereotypes and in bolstering positive claims. But, alas, not all research is the same – some is little more than advertising propaganda promulgated by capitalists who see vulnerable social groups as lucrative target markets, whose concerns about social exclusion simply make them more likely to spend their money on a solution.

Unfortunately, it appears that advocacy groups are often ill-equipped to identify the difference.

Have a look at this recent lead story on the Mature Times website: “Women feel ‘invisible’ at the age of 46, a study has revealed“. The story describes new research conducted in the UK that pinpoints 46 as the age when women’s confidence begins to “plummet“. According to the research, this is how women begin to feel after they reach that age:

…two thirds beginning to hate what they see in the mirror – most blaming the fact that they now start to have grey hair, feel uncomfortable in their clothes and have to wear numerous pairs of glasses…

…more than a quarter of women feel embarrassed at having to pull out their reading glasses in restaurants and supermarkets as they feel it’s a clear sign they are older, knocking their confidence, and adding to their ‘invisibility’…

The survey also revealed that men no longer hold doors open for four in ten, and two thirds say that they never get offered a seat in public transport. A third of women surveyed said their partners were ageing better than they were which annoyed them.

According to the Daily Mail, which covered the study in their Femail section, the research was based data gathered from more than 2,000 British women aged 40 or older. By any standards this is a very large sample. The Mail were also able to describe more of the findings:

Grey hairs, failing vision and putting on weight all make some women feel increasingly less confident as they grown older…

The researchers found that women in their mid-40s also begin to fret that their views and opinions are no longer valid…by the time they reach their mid-50s, the majority of women say they no longer receive admiring glances from strangers or compliments from the opposite sex…

…This coupled with the steady increase of over 50s requiring glasses for reading, shopping and driving add to that feeling of being older and more “invisible”…

And just in case we were having difficulty visualising a woman over the age of 46, the Mail also provide a photograph of this nice lady to illustrate what they are talking about:

Hmmm. So what’s the problem with all of this then? Surely such findings can be seen as a reasonable depiction of the experiences of British women, given that over 2,000 of them were surveyed for the study? And do they not convey many of the subtle ways in which women (and presumably men also) can become ostracized by mainstream society once they reach a certain age?

The big problem is that this is not an orthodox research study. It was not presented for publication in the scientific literature, or — as far as we can reasonably surmise — peer-reviewed prior to dissemination by independent editors (or even by a research ethics review committee). In fact, this is nothing more than market research, which means its findings are likely to be skewed by the motivations of its sponsors. And in this case, the group who commissioned the research – Clarivu – have a hugely conspicuous conflict of interest.

Clarivu are a commercial company that specialize in vision correction. They perform refractive lens exchange procedures in which the eye’s natural lens is replaced with a synthetic alternative in order to improve failing vision. Their method offers an alternative to laser eye surgery, and is effective for both short- or long-sightedness. In other words, Clarivu are in the business of offering people an alternative to wearing glasses. Yes, glasses! Those things that are repeatedly described by British women as part of the reason they feel “invisible“. And guess what — Clarivu’s services are aimed specifically at people over the age of 50. Just the age at which women begin to realise the extent to which wearing glasses is ruining their lives!

Of course, Clarivu are not a charitable organization — they do all this in return for cash. In fact, in return for UK£3,395 (around US$5,400). And that’s just forone eye. Assuming you’d like to be able to see out of both eyes rather than just the one, the full treatment will set you back the bones of £7,000/$11,000.

One amusing feature of how these results were promulgated in the media can be inferred from Clarivu’s own website. Have a look at the testimonialpresented on their website’s front page:

Look! It’s the SAME LADY as was in the Daily Mail! So, in other words, not only did Clarivu’s PR department circulate copy for publication in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, but they also provided the illustrative photographs. And, by all appearances, the Mail just transferred the lot into their own newspaper without much questioning or analysis.

What we have here is a clear case of a conflict of interest. Can we rely on the media to be an effective gatekeeper in promoting objective reporting on newly claimed research findings? Can we really rely on these findings from Clarivuthat the aging process is an emotionally negative psychological experience? Is it merely a coincidence that this large-scale survey confirms Clarivu’s marketing stance that women over 46 should seek alternatives to wearing glasses? Unfortunately, given that Clarivu have a financial interest in particular research outcomes, we simply cannot rule out the possibility of bias in their execution, analysis, or reporting of these results.

This isn’t to say that we cannot rely on Clarivu to display impeccable moral integrity. We have no evidence that they are anything other than honest in their activities. It’s just that human nature itself will create the possibility of bias whenever conflicts of interest arise. This is why the scientific method promotes principles like objectivity and replication, as well as associated practices, such as blinding and peer-review.

It is disappointing that the study was reported as actual news in the mainstream media. It is particularly ironic that it was reported as news in outlets that would ordinarily see themselves as championing the cause of, on the one hand, older adults, and on the other hand, women. This is because these so-called research findings do little to advance the cause of marginalized groups. In fact, they help maintain the social exclusion of older adults, and older women in particular, by perpetuating negative stereotypes about the aging process.

So when Mature Times report this as news, they are essentially promoting age-discrimination; and when the Daily Mail’s Femail section do so, they are encouraging readers to judge the value of women based on superficialattributes, such as whether they wear glasses after they turn 46.

Age-old problems indeed…

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