Spreading the word about the latest research and how that knowledge can help older adults improve their lives is one of the prime goals of The Center for Healthy Minds, headquartered at the Beckman Institute. Dr. Michael Roizen is a doctor who is also using scientific and medical knowledge to share the same types of information through popular bestsellers based on his RealAge formula. So it seemed natural for the Center for Healthy Minds to bring Dr. Roizen to campus for a presentation April 29 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
"We are pleased to showcase the significant research occurring in the area of cognitive aging at the University of Illinois in a way that resonates with the public," said the Center's co-director Denise Park. "Dr. Roizen's RealAge theory is particularly relevant to research by Center for Healthy Minds investigators."
The Center's researchers and Dr. Roizen both have scientific knowledge to back up their advice, but it's the way that knowledge is communicated that makes their approach different from many. In books, articles, and on the Web, the researchers are able to communicate what they know in easy-to-understand language that offers simple advice built upon current science.
- Beckman faculty member Denise Park
Dr. Roizen is an anesthesiologist and internist with the Cleveland Clinic who has co-authored two New York Times bestsellers, YOU: On a Diet and YOU: The Owner's Manual. He is also co-founder of RealAge, a consumer-health media company, which promotes ways for people to improve their physical and mental health. Roizen says that dropping a bad habit like smoking while adding healthy ones like exercise can actually add years to a person's biological age, based on a calculation that takes into account a person's lifestyle, genetics and medical history. Roizen, whose actual age is 59, puts his RealAge at a little over 41 years.
Educating the public about healthy interventions is also a key part of the Center for Healthy Minds research mission of helping people maintain cognitive health over a lifespan. Academic research into the aging mind is a focus for Park, fellow Center director Art Kramer and their colleagues, but their work is also geared toward real-world applications such as interventions.
The Web site for the Center features a page listing seven recommendations for maintaining a healthy mind into older adulthood. The recommendations advise people to keep using their brains as they age, do challenging and complex work, and exercise, among other advice. All of the recommendations are backed up by references to academic research papers done on the topics.
Kramer said studies, while not conclusive in every case, point to the positive effects of interventions like eating foods rich in antioxidants or maintaining an active social life. The beneficial effects of exercise are compelling, he said.
"There is one (intervention) for which there is more positive evidence and that's fitness," Kramer said. "The fitness literature is pretty clear that you get fairly broad effects on different aspects of cognition from fitness training with fairly modest amounts of improvement in fitness."
Kramer and several Beckman colleagues reported in a 2006 paper, Aerobic Exercise Training Increases Brain Volume in Aging Humans, that their results "suggest a strong biological basis for the role of aerobic fitness in maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health and cognitive functioning in older adults."
Roizen has written on how to effect change through diet, exercise, and other interventions. On exercise, Roizen's guide factors in age, genetics, and lifestyle to help people plan a workout routine. He advises starting with a 30-minute walk every day, an intervention that he says by itself will improve overall health.
In his book YOU: the Owner's Manual, Dr. Roizen and co-author Dr. Mehmet C. Oz give detailed descriptions of how our bodies work, and then recommend ways to improve cognitive and physical health. In chapter 3, they explore myths about our brains and cognition and recommend interventions such as learning new skills (like learning to play an instrument) and dietary changes.
While the results of research into the cognitive benefits of exercise has been the most compelling so far, studies into other interventions such as a healthy diet and improved social interactions are also suggesting beneficial effects.
In a 2006 article, Fat Chances, The Secret Story of What's in Your Belly, Dr. Roizen wrote about the dangers of fat in the omentum (a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly). He also wrote about reversing the problems associated with omentum fat through various interventions: "What's most interesting - an encouraging - is that as soon as you make physiological changes to your omentum, your body starts seeing effects."
Roizen recommended a diet plan that makes healthy eating automatic, along with creating an exercise program and building a support system. He offers a 30-recipe diet plan to readers of his books.
Many of the Center's seven recommendations for a healthy mind incorporate the same sorts of advice. The recommendation to put more antioxidants into a diet says that research suggests that vitamins C and E and beta carotene "may play a role in preventing the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease.
The Center's other recommendations include "relax and being happy" citing research that suggests "elderly adults who are prone to psychological distress worrying, feeling nervous, insecure, or inadequate - are more likely to show signs of cognitive decline." The recommendation for maintaining an active social life quotes a Swedish study that found "frequent involvement in social activities is associated with enhanced cognitive function in older adults" and that the risk for dementia increased by nearly 60 percent for those with a limited social network.
Many of the Center's recommendations go hand-in-hand with those offered by Dr. Roizen.
The presentation is part of the Center for Healthy Minds Community Day. The event is free and open to the public with a limit of four tickets per person. For more information call the Krannert Center box office at 217-333-6280 or 1-800-527-2849.