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January 2021

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At the age of 70, Joan MacDonald was at her doctor’s office, when she was told that her health was deteriorating rapidly. She was on multiple medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and acid reflux. Her doctor insisted on upping the dosages of her chronic medications, unless she made a drastic lifestyle change.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d really focused on her health, and she knew that if she wanted to make a change, it was now or never.

“Strength Training Helped Me Transform My Body in My 70s. Even though you can’t turn back the clock, you can wind it up again.”

Joan MacDonald

MacDonald began going on walks as her form of cardio, practicing yoga, and she even started weight lifting. “I remember picking up a 10-pound weight and thinking it felt really heavy,” shares MacDonald. 

At the age 74, MacDonald has lost more than 30 pounds, and her doctors have given her a clean bill of health. Plus, she no longer needs to take all those medications for her blood pressure, acid reflux, and cholesterol.

“I make sure to drink my first liter of water when I wake up, a collagen mix, Omega’3 Fatty Acids and Multi-Vitamins. I firmly believe in drinking plenty of water and taking some good, basic supplements. It makes a big difference if done daily, over time.” 

Joan MacDonald

Today, MacDonald launched a ‘Train With Joan’ website where others can read about her journey. If there’s any advice MacDonald has for older women who want to get into fitness, it’s this: Age is just a number, and you don’t always need to be “coddled” through workouts just because you’re in your 70s.

‘If I can do it, you can do it’

Joan Macdonald

Ágnes Keleti, the remarkable Hungarian former gymnast and the world’s oldest living Olympic champion, who survived the Nazis and went on to win 10 Olympic medals, 5 of them gold, turned 100 years old.

“I love life, health is the essence. Without it, there is nothing.”

Keleti explaining her longevity.

Ms Keleti was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2002 and was awarded the Israel Prize in 2017 for her contribution to the sport in her adopted country. She is the most successful female Jewish athlete in Olympic history, with only one Jewish athlete – swimmer Mark Spitz – having won more Olympic medals.

GETTY IMAGES
(Peter Kohalmi/AFP/Getty Images/via JTA)

“These 100 years felt to me like 60”

Keleti said

Today, Keleti follows her doctor’s recent advice to avoid performing full leg splits, and her near-perpetual smile and infectious laughter are reminders that even in times of great hardship, there remains the immutable potential for perseverance and the joy of life.

Caffeine is one of the most used psychoactive drug in the world, it can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate and other foods. Studies show that coffee could be beneficial for lowering the risk of developing certain age related diseases, improve mood and boost cognitive abilities. But its caffeine content could also impact sleep and stress in a negative way.

In the first article in the series we discussed the effects of cocoa on our health and longevity. In the following article we’ll examine the effect of coffee and caffeine on our health span on our health span and well-being.

Let me just say that I love coffee, It helps me wake up less groggy for work, gives me a little pick me up at noon, and of course, helps my ability to write articles. Even now as I’m writing these words I drink a cup of coffee with a bit of dark chocolate on the side.

Michael Pollan also loves coffee and in his new book “caffeine” he describes he’s experience of giving up coffee. He did so to help him understand more deeply the effect has on him and our society as a whole. Pollan says that modern society uses caffeine in order to control our biological clock and that this type of usage is of great importance to our ability to work in the evenings and nights. That is one reason why he believes that coffee has a large impact on our society. Pollan said to NPR:

“Caffeine really helps capitalism conquer the frontier of night. And that’s why it was so important to the Industrial Revolution, where you had these expensive machines you wanted to keep running all night and you moved to two and three shifts. Did people work at night before that? Not very much. “ (1)

Michael Pollan

The needs of society also impact our individual selves, if the society needs coffee in order to work, so are we. A lot of people drink coffee in order to adjust themselves to their work hours and of course also for the pleasure and taste of it. But could our use of coffee help us to live healthier and longer?

Could be. Caffeine is one of the most studied psychoactive substance in the world. hundreds of studies examined its effects on different health components and found that coffee could help decrease the risk of age related illness like Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Coffee is also found to have the ability to improve our mood and cognitive performance.

Decreased Alzheimer’s risk

A number of studies show that caffeine consumption is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. a quantitative review shows that coffee consumers has a 30% less risk of getting Alzheimer in comparison to those who didn’t consumed caffeine (2). Another review showed that consumption of 3-5 cups of coffee per day is associated with around 65% lower risk of Alzheimer in comparison to lower amounts of consumption (3,4). One possible explanation for the results can be found in rat studies. Rats who consumed water with added caffeine showed lower amounts of the Aβ peptide in the hippocampus compared to rats who drank normal water.  High amounts of the Aβ peptide is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease (5).

Lower risk of type 2 diabetes

 a statistical analysis on 457,922 participants from 8 different countries has shown an significant association between coffee consumption and lower risk of type 2 diabetes (6).  Another review from 2018 on more than a million participants shows that higher amounts of consumption relates to lower risk of diabetes. Those who consumed 5 cups of coffee per day had 29% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes then those who did not consumed coffee (7). Interestingly, those who consumed decaffeinated coffee also showed similar results (but not in every study). One possible explanation for these results may be the effect of a unique type of polyphenols found in coffee called chlorogenic acids (CGA’s) that has a positive effect on glucose regulation (8).

Lower risk of cardiovascular diseases 

 A systemic review and meta-analysis that examined the relation between coffee consumption and cardiovascular diseases shows a positive association between coffee consumption and lower risk of heart failure. The results show that this relation is at its highest when participants consumed 4 cups per day, and that consumption of more then that had an opposite effect of higher risk instead of lower (9). Another 2014 study showed similar results, that consumption of 3-5 cups of coffee per day had lower association of cardiovascular diseases, and that more than that had an opposite effect (10).

Improved mood and cognitive performance

Lowering the risk of age related diseases is extremely important but as the title of the article show, we went also to have a good mood and to perform at our best. Consumption of one cup of coffee every 4 hours is positively related to a stable increased in mood with a larger effect for those who suffer from fatigue. On the other hand the study also found that consuming too much caffeine is related to higher stress and anxiety levels (11). Coffee also has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, with a greater effect seen in times of arousal. Coffee consumption is positively related to enhanced concentration, safety while driving at night and in monotonous roads, reaction time and maybe even short term memory (12).

So how much coffee is a good amount?

When observing the studies shown you could see that different amount of coffee could have different results. It is important to note that most studies of coffee are observational, it could mean that maybe there are more components that effect the results. With that said, it seems like coffee could help us in times of tiredness, for improving our mood and lowering our risk of certain age related diseases. 

But as we all know coffee also has its downsides. Caffeine could negatively impact our sleep and stress levels. Psychologist Matthew Walker addresses coffee in his book ‘Why We Sleep’, he explains that our amount of deep sleep decreases with age and that coffee could also lower our deep sleep (13). Caffeine has a half life of around 6 hours, what means that quarter of the amount of the caffeine you had in noon, will stay in your body at midnight (14).

For these reasons we’ll recommend you stop your coffee consumption around 14 pm. This way you can have the benefits to your mood and health span and also lower the negative effects on sleep. It is also recommended that the coffee will be without sugars and milk which can also effect health in an unwanted way.

And what about addiction, it does exist, but with all of the benefits of coffee, maybe addiction is not the right word. Michael Pollan eventually got back to his coffee habit. He addresses addiction In his NPR interview:

“I think the word ‘addiction’ has a lot of moral baggage attached to it, as Roland Griffiths told me, if you have a steady supply of something, you can afford it and it’s not interfering with your life, there’s nothing wrong with being addicted.” 

Michael Pollan

References:

  1. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/02/10/803394030/michael-pollan-explains-caffeine-cravings-and-why-you-dont-have-to-quit
  1.  Barranco Quintana J.L. et al. (2007) Alzheimer’s disease and coffee: a quantitative review. Neurol Res, 29:91-5.
  2.  Eskelinen M.H, Kivipelto M. (2010) Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. J Alz Dis, 20 Suppl 1:S167-74
  1. Eskelinen M.H. et al. (2009) Midlife coffee and tea drinking and the risk of late-life dementia: a population-based CAIDE study. J Alzheimers Dis, 16:85-91.
  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28533411/
  1. Huxley R. et al. (2009) Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, and Tea Consumption in Relation to Incident Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Arch Int Med, 169:2053-2063. 
  1. Carlstrom M. and Larsson S.C. (2018) Coffee consumption and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Nutr Revs,76(6):395-417
  1. Mattila P. et al. (2006) Phenolic acids in berries, fruits, and beverages. J Agric Fd Chem,54:7193-7199.
  1. Malerba S. et al. (2013) A meta-analysis of prospective studies of coffee consumption and mortality for all causes, cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Eur J Epidemiol, 28(7):527-39
  1.  Ding M. et al (2014) Long-term coffee consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Circ, 129(6):643-59.
  1.  Nehlig A. (2010) Is Caffeine a Cognitive Enhancer?J Alzheimers Dis, 20(S1):85-94.
  1.  https://www.coffeeandhealth.org/ 
  1.  Walker, Matthew (2017). Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Description & arrow/scrollable preview. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  1.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808/

We tend to think about lifestyle factors as what you eat and how often you work out. But we now know the quality of your social life plays a big role in longevity too.

I’ve seen up close and personal the horrific effects social isolation can do. And as we go into another lockdown, I remind myself to make it a daily habit to connect with the people in my life who will be spending it alone.

The Italian island of Sardinia has more than six times as many centenarians as the mainland and ten times as many as North America. Why? According to psychologist Susan Pinker, it’s not a sunny disposition or a low-fat, gluten-free diet that keeps the islanders healthy — it’s their emphasis on close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions.

Genes account for 25% of healthspan. The other 75%? The answer Susan Pinker suggests may surprise you, and COVID-19 makes this insight relevant than ever.

This talk is highly recommended as pre-lockdown entertainment: