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Friday, April 6, 2012

Healthy Aging, According to Dr. Bloom

Dedicated. This word best describes Dr. Patricia Bloom. For over 30 years, she has been involved in geriatric patient care, education, and research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Her title is Director of Integrative Health for the Martha Stewart Center for Living and she is an associate professor in the department of Geriatrics. Dr. Bloom is committed to the promotion of healthy aging: integrative health; stress reduction; mind body medicine; along with meditation and mindfulness for caregivers.

Often she is asked about the relationship between aging and creativity. Believing that great life experience comes with age she says, “While there is a lot of concern about what happens to brain function as people get older—especially about memory and dementia--there’s real data that senior wisdom is something that is accrued with life experience. Wisdom feeds into creativity. The older person is able to manifest his life experience and his wisdom, so that being creative and growing in new directions is the hallmark of successful aging.”

She cites Grandma Moses and Albert Einstein as two interesting, historical people who bear this out. Both aged well; both took up new forms of creative expression later in life. The former established herself as a fine artist, while the latter took up the violin.

Dr. Bloom advises, “One of the most effective ways of maintaining brain function as we age is to continue to be healthy in general. We know all of the risk factors that you hear about for heart disease--high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or having an inactive lifestyle. All those things that put seniors at risk in other realms of health, are also risk factors for heart disease and Alzheimer’s.” Staying healthy by eating a good diet and being physically active are not easy things to do, but it is this combination that Dr. Bloom sees as “the real fountain of youth” for seniors. Careful attention to both diet and exercise has been shown to prevent many diseases that are associated with aging, and it fosters the maintenance of brain function, as well.

How does keeping active help? This geriatrician posits that there are literally reams of research data that prove this point. “Physical activity is a strong predictor of mortality. If you look at people’s exercise capacity, how able they are to be vigorously active, it is a very strong forecaster of how long they will live. And, for each increment up the scale they are for physical activity, the longer it would predict for their length of life.”

You don’t have to be a marathon runner though. Dr. Bloom wants older adults to know that they should not get discouraged even if they’ve been couch potatoes all their lives. She emphatically assures them, “If you go from the lowest quartile of physical activity to the second to the lowest quartile, you really improve your health status.”

The best advice this specialist has to offer includes continuing to be mentally and socially connected. She encourages seniors to be involved in everything. “Follow your passions, be truly engaged in life.”

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This blog is posted by Laraine Jablon.

Laraine Jablon, BA, MA, is a writer living in Nesconset, New York. She welcomes your thoughts.