Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Good news in the quest for good health

    The United States has finally chosen to expand medical services to all of its citizens.
    Thanks to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, 46 million people without health insurance will soon have it. The bad news is that an increasing demand for family and geriatric services, exacerbated by the aging of the large baby boomer generation, is hitting at the same time as a growing shortage of physicians.  
    Fortunately, this bad news is matched by some very good news.
    Since the Salk Institute began studies in the 1990s, it has been commonly understood that exercise has effects on the brain. Recent studies reported in The New York Times that the beneficial impacts of exercise on brain function are substantial.
     “When we started these experiments,” said Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia, “most of us thought that, at best, we’d see less decline in memory function among the volunteers who exercised, which still would have represented success.”
    Beyond merely stemming people’s memory loss, however, the Canadian studies showed that both aerobic and weight-training exercises produced “actual improvements” in cognitive function in the women who began the six-month study with declining function.
    Although stretching and toning seemed to have no brain function benefit, the study found that “the effects of exercise—any exercise—on overall cognitive function were profound.”
    There is no magic way to quickly increase the numbers of primary care physicians. The aging of the baby boomers is likely to be accompanied by ballooning instances of chronic degenerative illnesses that require long-term treatment. However, this research shows us yet again that we as individuals have some control over our individual health prospects.
    The fact that we must take responsibility for our own health is not news we want to hear. Doctors report that lack of patient compliance—following doctor’s instructions about taking prescriptions or doing therapy—is a constant frustration.
    Let’s face it. We mostly know what we should do. We just don’t do it.
    Few medical diagnoses are more terrifying than dementia. Watching a loved one slowly slip away into a black hole or to face that prospect ourselves is terrifying. Until now, the sad reality has been that nothing could be done. Now it appears that something can be done.
    That alone should be motivation enough to change our ways, like it or not.

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