Dark chocolate (70% cacao) is YES! an anti-aging health food. Enjoy a square a day. The flavinoids help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profile.
I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!
Really? Okay, some older people do fall, and falling is not good. And not a joke. But that weird, whiney, clueless and off-putting woman in the laughable commercial is a joke. (Actually, I suspect that the actress is cheesing it up. She knows the character she’s supposed to be playing is a joke.) Yes, some older people fall in their bathrooms. But some older people run 10Ks. Or, geez, walk the damn dog twice a day.
I get a low-rent magazine in the mail every month that goes to members of electrical coops. In it this month was a full-page ad for a Walk-in Tub, a kind of vertical bathtub that actually looked pretty cool. Here’s the copy:
Think about the things you loved to do that are difficult today – going for a walk or sitting comfortably while reading a book. And remember the last time you got a great night’s sleep?
As we get older, health issues or everyday aches and pains and stress prevent us from enjoying life. The next column offered a litany of old people health “issues” – of all which, I just want to say, are preventable if one lives a counterclockwise life: diabetes, lower back pain, insomnia, high blood pressure.
I am not being insensitive. Really, I am not. I am just saying:
You reap what you sow. (No, not always… but very often when it comes to health “issues” related to lifestyle choices.)
And, expectation leads to outcome. I’ve written about this before, but it deserves repeating. If you expect aging to mean the diminution of, well, everything – energy, vitality, health, curiosity, the ability to “go for a walk and sit comfortably while reading a book”), then you actually (factually, scientifically) pre-dispose yourself to go down that road. If you accept all the awful stereotypes about what aging means, the ones popular culture surrounds us with, you become what you imagine you will become. If you expect, instead, good health, useful work, engagement with the world, new adventures, you work to make that happen.
Because sure, we fall. But absolutely, we can get up.
And then go to Pilates class.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Think twice, thrice — and then again — about hormone therapy for anti-aging. HGH is serious (and bad) business.
It’s winter. The sun is setting at 4:30. Not that those of us who live in the Northwest would know when the sun sets. Or rises. It’s all Fifty Shades of Gray here. Slate gray dawn, flannel gray morning, feather gray noon, battleship gray afternoon. You get the idea: No sun. No sun means, even for those of us crazy Northwesterners who spend day”light” time outdoors in the soggy winter, very little vitamin D.
Fast primer on vitamin D: It’s the one vitamin we mammals can actually make. Our skin synthesizes it (from cholesterol!) when we are “adequately” exposed to sunlight. You’ll remember from high school science class that D is “good for the bones” and that “deficiencies are rare.” But “deficiency” in the vitamin world is most often defined as the level at which you would see harm – in the case of deficient D that would be developing rickets. Your vitamin D level could be quite low (significantly below optimum or counterclockwise/ anti-aging levels) without being “deficient.
Here’s why I’m writing about vitamin D today: A new study from the International Food Information Council identifies wide disparities between what people (1,000 U.S. adults) think they are getting, vitamin-wise, and what they are really getting. So 68 percent think they are getting sufficient vitamin D…but actually, only 32 percent are meeting the recommended intake. (The disparity is most stunning with fiber, by the way, with 2/3 thinking they get enough of it, but actually less than 5 percent meeting the recommendation.) Most people in the northern hemisphere – not just the Northwest – cannot count on producing enough “sunshine vitamin,” as D is commonly called, by themselves. And getting enough from food is harder than you might think. A glass of fortified milk , one of the best sources, provides less than a tenth of what you need.
But that’s not the main reason I’ve chosen to write about D today. The main reason is the new research that shows a link between adequate amounts of D in the blood and our body’s ability to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Stay with me here. High blood glucose levels have long been linked to increased risk of diabetes. Now there’s research linking elevated blood glucose levels to increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It looks like vitamin D may be much more important in healthy aging and counterclockwise strategies than we originally thought.
Of course you don’t want to forget the well established vitamin D/ bone connection. (Osteoporosis is not a good thing). Without enough vitamin D, our bodies can’t make use of the calcium we consume – no matter how much calcium-rich foods we eat or how many supplement pills we pop.
So, on these sunless days, take a moment to re-think your vitamin D intake.
What’s enough? Good question. RDA for mid-lifers is 600-700 IU (international units), but most experts think this is way too low. More is better. Maybe a lot more. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for vitamin D, the level beyond which there might be safety concerns, is 4000 IU. I take 2000 IU a day, even on those rare and wonderful winter days when the sun appears in the skies above western Oregon.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Yes, go exercise. But just as important: Integrate movement into your regular daily life.
Thanksgiving is – and has always been – my all-time favorite holiday. And now I have another reason (actually 10 of them) to love this day. And so do you. Here are the Top Ten Reasons Thanksgiving is the Ultimate Anti-Aging Holiday:
10. Family gatherings where you spend time with people younger than you are helps you “think young,” which translates into real biological benefits like lower blood pressure.
9. Cleaning the house before the guests arrive is good exercise. Integrating functional physical activity into your life is probably the single most successful long-term anti-aging strategy there is.
8. Cooking turkey is one of the least anxiety-producing culinary activities you can engage in and still call yourself a cook. Lower anxiety is linked to longer telomeres. Longer telomeres are linked to a healthier, longer life.
7. Eating your largest meal mid-day is a proven weight-control strategy. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of avoiding chronic illnesses (diabetes, heart disease) that decrease quality of life and shorten lifespan.
6. Turkey (breast) is a high-quality, super-lean source of protein. Protein helps build muscle. A favorable fat-to-lean ratio is a biomarker of youthfulness.
5. Pine nuts or hazelnuts in the dressing (made with celery, mushrooms, tons of garlic and onions sautéed in olive oil, mixed with toasted multi-grain bread crumbs). Oh yes! A new study from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported that people who regular consumed nuts were less likely to die from a variety of diseases, most significantly cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases. Nut eaters also tended to be leaner. (I am guessing their nut-eating did not include slabs of pecan pie… so cross that off your list for tomorrow’s dessert.)
4. Cranberries have powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory – and perhaps even anti-cancer – properties.
3. The Center for Science in the Public Interest rates sweet potatoes as the number one most nutritious vegetable. One cup of sweet potatoes (no, not carpeted in brown sugar and dotted with marshmallows) contains 65% of RDA of Vitamin C – a powerful anti-oxidant — and a walloping dose of beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) that equals 700% of RDA. Vitamin A is key for good vision and a healthy immune system.
2. Giving thanks and being thankful are signs of self-efficacy and optimism, traits that are associated with greater health and well-being, and a longer lifespan.
…And the #1 reason Thanksgiving is the ultimate anti-aging holiday:
1. It’s a holiday that demands no gift-giving! No gift-giving means less stress. Less stress means less cortisol. Less cortisol means less inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to just about everything you don’t want to happen to you.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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Act young. But not in a creepy way.
We are learning a lot about aging and anti-aging, about illness and health from animals. As in lab animals (mostly mice and rats) used in experiments. They are said to be experimental “subjects,” but really they aren’t subjects — they are objects. We use them as objects of human scientific inquiry. We use them because it is dangerous, impractical, expensive or unethical (generally all four) to use humans.
This post is not about the ethics of using animals in medical research (a conversation I am deeply interested in). Rather it’s about this animals-as-subjects-animals-as-objects idea. Suppose we actually thought of animals as the initiators of (subjects) and not recipients of (objects) our scientific inquiry. Suppose we considered what they could teach us, just by who they are and how they live, rather than (or in addition to) teaching us by serving as low-cost “models” or stand-ins for humans.
Take the naked mole rat.
So here’s the deal about these extraordinarily unattractive little mammals: They can live for 30 years — 10 times longer than their rodent cousins — and they show remarkable resistance to tumors. Why? What are they doing right that we aren’t? Turns out (say researchers at the University of Rochester and at Oregon State University) that mole rats have astonishingly efficient cellular “factories” that carry out a degree of cellular surveillance unknown in humans. Deep in the mole rats’ RNA are mechanisms for finding and repairing and recycling damaged proteins before they can do harm. Harm as in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cancer. Harm as in the accumulation of small errors that lead to cell death. And, well, death death. These hairless burrowing rodents with disturbingly large front teeth have something to teach us.
Or consider the honeybee. Young honeybees are as busy as…well, you know, in the hive, caring for the queen. But as they age (their life expectancy is six weeks), they are replaced by younger bees who take over the work. These now aged bees who no longer perform useful hive-work begin exhibiting “age-associated learning deficits,” according the Arizona State University researchers who studied them. If you read the “Thinking Young” chapter in my book, Counterclockwise, you’re probably making the same connections I made when I read this study: Members of a society who no longer have a useful place in that society internalize this and begin to think, act and actually be biologically old.
But bees? Yeah, bees. Guess what happened when the researchers removed the younger, active, useful bees from the hive? The older, aged, “useless” bees were re-invigorated. They took on, with fervor, the nursing responsibilities they had fulfilled earlier in life – and they lived longer than they otherwise would have. There is, it turns out, much to learn from the biochemistry of the bee brain, as well as the dynamics of the hive.
You’ll note that both of these examples involve human interference and manipulation, and the sacrifice of animals. So they are not PETA-friendly. I wanted to highlight them because I was struck, when I read this exciting anti-aging research, that the studies begin from a position of interest and respect for the animal, an animals-as-subjects point of view.
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BANISH white sugar and white flour from your life. And rejoice! (Good riddance to bad rubbish.)
Every Wednesday, for a few hours, I volunteer at a local charity that provides hot meals for those in need. I make coffee, pour milk and juice, serve desserts, bus tables, scrape plates, do kitchen prep. When I arrive for my shift, I’m preoccupied with some stressful something – a kid with a cough that won’t go away, a deadline, a chore that needs doing, a work “situation.” Then, magically, gloriously, four hours later, I feel great. Great with a capital G: Buoyant, cheerful, calm and centered but full of energy, brimming with energy. I want to say “joyful,” but I know how over-the-top that sounds. I’ll say it anyway: joyful.
When people find out I do this volunteer work, they say: How good of you to do this, how selfless of you to donate your time. And when I reply that the work seems almost entirely selfish because I get so much more than I give, they think I’m playing humble (not generally a problem for me) or being a Pollyanna (not ever a problem for me). No. I am being utterly truthful. My stint at Food for Lane County is, invariably, the best part of my week. Yes, that’s right: the BEST. When I leave I feel deep-down, soul-satisfyingly healthy – emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and PHYSICALLY healthy.
That volunteering makes people feel useful and boosts their self-esteem is old (but still good) news. Now there is scientific proof to back me up about the physical benefits I seem to derive: It turns out that volunteering is good for your health. It turns out that volunteering is a powerful anti-aging strategy. Several recent studies have found evidence that those who volunteer live longer than their non-philanthropic counterparts. A 2013 study in the journal Psychology and Aging found that 50+ adults who volunteers about 4 hours a week (like I do) were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure 4 years later.
Other studies are finding fewer health complaints, higher functional ability, less depression and anxiety, and less incidence of heart disease among volunteers than among matched sets of non-volunteers. The booklet, “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research,” is full of such happy news. The research reviewed in the booklet focus on mid-life and older people – with health benefits increasing the older one gets – but I also found a study in which high school kids saw a drop in their cholesterol levels after volunteering with younger children once a week for 2 months. So you are never too old – or too young – to volunteer.
It’s noon now, and my volunteer shift begins in 45 minutes. I feel healthier (mind, body, soul) already.
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Eat more plants and fewer animals. The healthiest, longest-lived cultures on earth eat plant-based diets.
Biomarkers can help you figure out how old you are inside and – for those of us looking to actively intervene in the aging process (that means you and me) — they can track counterclockwise movement. Biomarkers are objective measurements of the health — and age – of our bodies. I’m betting you know, or can guess, the most common ones: blood pressure, resting heart rate, good-bad cholesterol ratio. Add to that resting metabolic rate, lean body mass, percentage body fat, strength, flexibility, aerobic capacity, bone density and glucose tolerance, and you’ve got a pretty good snapshot of your body’s health and age. I write about this quite a lot in my book, which you should read…because the number of wonderful books you read each year is also a biomarker. The more you read, the younger you are. Scientifically speaking.
Suppose one of your biomarkers is out of whack. And by out of whack I mean the number is indicating that you are biologically older your chronological years. Let’s take cholesterol because we seem to be obsessed with cholesterol numbers. (Please read this post about confusing and borderline useless cholesterol numbers.) So, you’ve got “high cholesterol” – either as a total number or because of elevated bad cholesterol (LDL) or because of a lousy HDL-LDL ratio. (Again, read this post.) And your doctor, like 94.1 million other doctors, prescribes a cholesterol-lowering statin. The 94.1 million number is actually the number of prescriptions written last year (a generic statin being the second most prescribed drug in the US), not the number of doctors, but you get the idea. The default for high cholesterol, which we’re actually not measuring in the most meaningful ways (did I mention that you’ll want to read this post?), is taking a powerful drug that plays with body chemistry.
You’re ready for the “oops” now, right?
Oops. New research out of University of Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology (U.K.) suggests that one commonly prescribed statin may cause cognitive impairment. It was a rat study – but rat studies led zillions of people to buy resveratrol…so why not pay some attention to what happened to these rodents? What happened is that rats treated with the statin showed “significantly impaired performance in simple learning and memory tasks.” The study was undertaken to follow up on mounting anecdotal reports from non-rodents about memory problems while on statins.
And so, the drug that helps improve one biomarker of aging (cholesterol) potentially screws up another (healthy brain function). This drug is the medical establishment’s go-to treatment. The class of drugs that one in four Americans is taking. The drug that half of men in the U.S., ages to 65 to 74, and 39% of women, ages 75 and older, are taking. Oh wait…isn’t that the demographic for, um, cognitive impairment?
Maybe a statin is your only choice for truly out of control cholesterol that is resistant to any lifestyle change. But I wonder how many of the recipients of those 94.1 million prescription tried lifestyle changes? Here’s some solid advice from the folks at Harvard Med School about cholesterol-lowering foods.
Let food be your medicine, wrote Hippocrates. Scientifically speaking.Filed under Posts | Comments (2)
Indoor job? Northern hemisphere? Supplement with vitamin D.
That’s what a very talented trainer (and a sweetheart of a guy), Sione Fa, recently told a group of people struggling with motivation to get and stay healthy. I was in the audience, an I’ve-heard-it-all veteran of “get off your butt” speeches. I’ve listened to dozens of talks from folks in the fitness biz, from headliners and gurus, from multi-degreed professionals in the health and wellness fields, from over-amped scammers. I’ve been lectured to, preached at, goaded, pushed, harangued – and cheered on. I’ve been educated, and I’ve occasionally even been inspired. But that single sentence stood out for me. That single sentence really hit home. There is a BIG truth in it for those of us not merely committed to our own health but also to turning back our biological clocks.
A counterclockwise lifestyle is a significant commitment. It’s about incorporating physical activity into your life, about making healthy choices with food. It’s about supplements and cleanses, about staying current with the science of anti-aging and guarding yourself against the hucksters. It’s about mindful living, about learned optimism, about figuring out the balance between work and play, about seeking out and nurturing relationships that enrich, about keeping your hands off the Cap’n Crunch.
So why do it? There are the little venal whys, as in: I want to look good. I want to attract the admiring gaze of others. I want everyone at my high school reunion to be in awe. (Not that I think this way, of course.) Then there are the bigger whys: I want to feel good. I want to have energy and vitality. Right, right. But why?
The Why has to be big enough.
It has to be big enough, important enough, meaningful enough to motivate you when it’s raining and you’re cranky and you hate everyone at work and your agent nixed another book proposal and your husband hasn’t even noticed that you lost 10 pounds and your daughter just slammed the door in your face. Not that any of this has ever happened to me. The why has to sustain you through the tough times and for the long haul.
So here’s my Why, courtesy of one of the most inspiring talks I have been privileged to hear, which came in the form of 20 minutes of off-the-cuff remarks by Deborah Szekely, the then-90-year-old (now 92-year-old) co-founder of Rancho LaPuerta, a decades-ahead-of-its-time wellness retreat. She talked about life lived in thirds, with the 60-90 year old span potentially being the best. By that time in one’s life, she said, you’ve learned some things about the world, about human nature, about yourself. You’ve seen things. You’ve tried things. You’ve acquired skills and maybe, maybe some measure of wisdom. What if you also had health, high-level wellness, vitality, curiosity and on-fire creativity? In other words, what if you had been living a counterclockwise life and now had the youthful energy and optimism to use the knowledge and wisdom you acquired over the years in new, exciting and important ways. In meaningful ways.
Can you think of a better reason to live counterclockwise? A bigger Why?Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Eat curry! Curcuminoids, the active ingredient in tumeric, has proven anti-inflammatory and liver-cleansing properties.
Remember when “inflammation” meant a swollen ankle or angry redness around a cut that wasn’t sufficiently cleaned? That’s what’s called acute inflammation, a short-lived reaction to an injury or infection. Yes, it hurts, but in the wide world of health and anti-aging, it’s not even on the map. Then there’s chronic inflammation – “chronic” never means anything good — a not-so-short-lived reaction that engages the immune system in a bigger way to fight a particularly strong infection or disease. Not pleasant. Needs attention. But still not registering a 10 on the age-o-meter.
Allow me to introduce systemic inflammation, a dangerous, disease-promoting, immune system-sapping, age-fast-forwarding inflammation in the lining of blood vessels, the liver, the joints, the gut. It can be symptomless…until it isn’t. Heart disease, cancer Alzheimer’s, diabetes, macular degeneration, obesity and a number of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are being linked to systemic inflammation in the medical literature.
Systemic inflammation can age you from the inside out.
So what do you do?
First: Get yourself checked out to see if you suffer from systemic inflammation. (You probably don’t know.) The next time you go in for a cholesterol screening, ask for the “C-reactive protein” test on the blood panel. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance produced by the liver that increases in the presence of inflammation in the body. Elevated levels have no outward, noticeable symptoms, but they often indicate that trouble is brewing. A sedentary lifestyle, too much stress, exposure to environmental toxins such as secondhand tobacco smoke and a crappy American diet (a lot of refined, processed foods) can all contribute to an elevated CRP. Here’s what the number means.
Second: Do not surf the net looking for miracle treatments and cures. What you’ll find is trendy diets and high-priced supplements. (Surprise, surprise!)
Third: Take sensible steps to boost your health while decreasing the inflammation. That means getting quality sleep, integrating physical activity into your life…every day of your life, and taking a hard look at your diet. An “anti-inflammatory diet” includes complex carbs (Slash sugar! Junk the junk food!), foods rich in omega-3s (see last week’s post for more good news about omega-3s), and foods rich in fiber. In other words, eat the foods you already know you should be eating. And eat curry. The curcuminoids in curcumin (the active ingredient in tumeric, a main component of curry,) have proven anti-inflammatory properties. I love curry. But not every day. I’ve just recently added a curcumin supplement.
Fourth: Re-test to see what you’ve been able to accomplish.
Your CRP level is a good indicator of general health and vitality. Keeping systemic inflammation at bay is one of the smarter anti-aging strategies you can adopt.Filed under Posts | Comments (3)
Seek out creative, intellectual and physical challenges. They keep you vital.
In the wild wild west of supplements, the land of deer antler spray, lamb placenta and noni juice (yes, really) where we’re bombarded with claims and testimonials and celebrity endorsements, it’s a challenge to figure what is good (or at least promising) for those of us who want to tip the balance toward health and vitality as we age.
It’s a great day when real science supplants hucksterism, and we can learn something credible and useful about an anti-aging supplement, Such is the most recent news about Omega-3s. This is a supplement I take, my decision based on persuasive research that Omega 3s (an essential fatty acid found in cold water fish like salmon) are powerful anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is implicated in a host of chronic diseases that fast-forward the aging process.
Now there’s more evidence about the health and anti-aging benefits of omega-3s – this time about the link between this supplement and longer telomeres.
What are telomeres and why do we care if they’re long or short? Glad you asked. Telomeres are the end-caps on our chromosomes that protect them from wear and tear (and death). Long telomeres signal biological youth. Shortened telomeres, not so much. Or, in science speak: “It is becoming increasingly evident that damage specific to the telomeric ends of chromosomes is one of the most critical events that initiate genome instability leading to accelerated ageing, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease.” Got that? As I said: Long telomeres, good. Short telomeres, bad. (I had mine tested during my counterclockwise journey and wrote about it in the book.)
A new study from Australian researchers – a randomized clinical trail (the gold standard), albeit a small, pilot study — found that omega-3 supplementation was associated with “reduced shortening” of telomeres. This echoes UC/ SF research that found links between omega-3s and slower cellular ageing in people with coronary disease as well as another study that linked omega-3s to improved cognitive ability. If you’re not taking this supplement, you should consider it.
Almost as interesting as the good news about omega-3s is the mirror-image bad news that emerged from the recent Australian study. The people who exhibited the greatest shortening of telomere length (remember, short=bad) were those with the highest intake of omega-6s. While omega-3s are hard to get in our modern diet, omega-6s are way too easy. Snack foods, fast foods, cookies, crackers and sweets often contain refined vegetable oils, a major source of omega-6s. More proof – if we needed any more proof – that the American junk food diet is aging us from the inside out.
(Thanks to Dr. Andrew Elliot, the guy behind my telomere testing, for alerting me to this study.)Filed under Posts | Comments (2)
Quit smoking and quit hanging around people who haven’t.
My quantified life: 5-mile runs, 7-minute work-outs, 20 seconds work/ 10 seconds rest Tabata, 10,000 steps a day, 20 reps, 25 lb. kettlebells, 350-calorie breakfast, 20 g of protein a meal, 1200 mgs of calcium a day. What’s the number on the scale this week? What’s my VO2 max, BMR, BMI, hip-to-waist ratio, fat-to-lean ratio? (And I’m not nearly as serious about all this as those FitBit, everything-I-do-is-synched-to-every-device-I-own people. You know who you are.)
Numbers are meaningful — if they have meaning, and if we understand what they mean, and if we realize their limitations and flaws.
For example: Cholesterol.
For years now we’ve been hearing about how high cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (which puts a person on the fast track to poor health and a shortened lifespan). First we were told that any number above 220 total cholesterol was bad. Then the magic number was lowered to 200. Then we began to hear that this total cholesterol number, whatever it was, was really not that important. It was the ratio of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) – which builds up on the walls of arteries to form plaque — to “good” cholesterol (HDL) – which helps remove “bad” cholesterol from the body that was important. This gave us another set of numbers to focus on: According to the American Heart Association, the goal is to keep cholesterol ratio 5-to-1 or lower. An optimum ratio is 3.5-to-1.
Now medical researchers are becoming increasingly convinced that “good” and “bad” cholesterol numbers, and their ratios, are less meaningful than was previously thought. It turns out that it is the size of the lipoproteins, both the “good” and the “bad” ones, that may be what play the significant role in heart disease, diabetes and longevity. Yay! Another number! Apparently, small particles are better at digging into the walls of blood vessels and creating the conditions for plaque to form. Larger, “fluffier” particles don’t do this. It is not often that large and fluffy are good things in the world of health, so let’s take a moment to enjoy that bit of medical news.
As regular readers of this blog know, I never pass up an opportunity to tout the benefits of exercise, so let me pass along this good news from researchers at Duke University Medical Center: Exercise makes small dense LDL particles (the most harmful kind) “larger and fluffier”… which translates into lowered risk.
The blood test you get as a part of your annual exam (aka the “lipid panel” your doctor orders), measures total cholesterol and gives you those now less-than-meaningful numbers for LDL and HDL (plus the now less-than-meaningful ratio). It does not count small particles versus large particles within the LDL and HDL. For those numbers, you need to ask your health provider to order either a VAP or an NMR test. It may be, next week or next year or ten years from now, we discover that these numbers are less than meaningful, and another metric reveals itself to be the magic measurement of heart and artery health.
I expect that will happen. I also expect that an active, engaged life and a diet rich in whole foods will remain the keys to enhancing vitality and health.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)