Stretching out resolutions (emphasis on the stretching)

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

As I'm sure is true for many of you, I set goals for 2017 based on improving my physical and mental well-being. It's not that I wanted to lose 15 pounds as much as feel healthier.

In the latter category, I took Twitter off my phone, pledged to use more lotion on my winter-battered hands and set ambitious reading goals. In the former category, I gave up alcohol for January and started a yoga- and pilates-based exercise program. The plan is to increase my strength and flexibility, with a goal of 20-40 minutes three to four times a week.

The workouts makes my heart rate rise modestly, but my goal isn't to hit the exertion levels I achieve with a run. A high cardio workout can be fun, but it also can mentally become overwhelming to start. With a different focus on working out, I can already notice a difference in my back. Don't get me wrong: I fall over a lot. But I can tell I'm making progress.

Of course, this is all what would be considered anecdotal evidence. So it was heartening to read about a study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine Researchers that found sessions of moderate exercise can be anti-inflammatory. Results were published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

That matters because of increasing research linking inflammation to arthritis, which has recently hit my back and toes. Inflammation also has been tied to fibromyalgia and obesity. In the UCSD study, 47 participants walked on a treadmill based on intensity related to their fitness, and their blood was collected both 20 minutes before and after.

What the California researchers were able to show is that a 20-minute session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system. As the brain and sympathetic nervous system are activated, hormones such as epinephrine are released, triggering adrenergic receptors. That activation produces immunological responses that are positive for the body.

"The anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise have been known to researchers, but finding out how that process happens is the key to safely maximizing those benefits,” said senior author Suzi Hong, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Chronic inflammation is linked to diabetes, celiac disease, obesity and Alzheimer's. There's some evidence ibuprofen can be beneficial to those with Alzheimer's disease, but it's been challenging to prove that prescribing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work. Additionally, whether you're 30, 50 or 70 years old, adding another medication on a regular basis is often problematic.

That's why the study should give you and your residents hope that workout sessions don't have to be intense. As Hong said, “Feeling like a workout needs to be at a peak exertion level for a long duration can intimidate those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases and could greatly benefit from physical activity."

If you're not offering yoga in your facility for residents, it's worth looking into as an activity. At least one company focuses on training teachers to provide yoga for seniors, and there's research focused around making it safe for older adults. As for employees, if a brisk walk sounds boring, think about yoga, pilates or other options. If you personally have a chronic inflammatory condition, talk to your physician, but have hope that there are other options besides running a marathon.

Follow Elizabeth @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.