Hot Topics: Having a Purpose in Life Boosts Brain Health
Back in college, you may have read psychoanalyst and existentialist philosopher Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, in which he argued that having a purpose in life was what enabled him and others to survive in a Nazi death camp.
As it turns out, a raison d'être also helps protect your brain against Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study of about 250 people by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The study is featured in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
"Our study showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life even as plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains," says study author Patricia A. Boyle. "These findings suggest that purpose in life protects against the harmful effects of plaques and tangles on memory and other thinking abilities. This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health in old age."
In other news:
The Financial Benefits of Exercise: Physically fit, healthy middle-aged adults have significantly lower health-care costs as they age, compared to their less physically fit counterparts, according to research presented this week at an American Heart Association conference. Read more here.
While We're Talking About Exercising, Here's What You Can Do: HuffPost50 has this slideshow of "Exercises That Can Add Years To Your Life." Stair-climbing, cycling and swimming earn mentions in the article, which also reminds us that it's not necessary to suffer through long, grueling workouts to get a health benefit. Indeed, as this 2011 study published in the British medical journal The Lancet found, just 15 minutes of exercise each day typically will extend a person's lifespan by three years. Here also is a New York Times article from fitness blogger Gretchen Reynolds on how to use a modified version of interval training -- that is, brief, repetitive bursts of energetic cardiovascular exercise, followed by brief rest periods -- to get the most of a 20-minute workout session.
NPR's "Fresh Air" Turns 25: The venerable public radio show, built around host Terry Gross and her deft skills as an interviewer, celebrates its first quarter-century of nationwide broadcasts today. (The show actually began locally in Philadelphia in 1975.) Over the years, Gross has interviewed an impressive array of famous people, from the late children's writer Maurice Sendak to hiphop great Jay-Z, and is known for doing extensive preparation that leads to insightful questions. She's also known for her fearlessness in mixing it up with interviewees who turn abrasive or hostile, most notably Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly and KISS musician Gene Simmons. (There also was the time when former President Bill Clinton's mistress Monica Lewinsky walked out on her.) The article that best captures Gross's gift may be this 2001 New York Times essay by writer Orville Shell.
When Does Middle Age Start, Exactly? On average, Americans see middle age as beginning at age 44 and ending at age 60, according to a 2011 study by Florida State University sociologist Anne Barrett. But those in poor health, or who began their families at young ages, tend to see it starting a bit earlier. Also, Barrett and graduate student researcher Erika Toothman found that there's a double standard for aging when it comes to gender, with both men and women agreeing that middle age starts sooner for women than it does for men.
Don't Be An Under Accumulator! In this post for Bankrate's Wealth Blog, Judy Martel discusses how psychology governs our personal financial habits. At one end of the continuum is the UAW, which isn't a labor union but rather an acronym for "Under Accumulator of Wealth." People in this class -- including a lot of high-earning professionals, such as doctors and lawyers -- often feel compelled to demonstrate their success by spending on costly status-drenched items they don't really need. One intriguing -- and potentially dangerous -- belief among UAWs is that income is a "readily renewable resource," i.e., that they always can go out and make more money to pay off their credit cards or buy even more stuff. At the other end is the PAW, or "Prodigious Accumulator of Wealth." A person in this category tends to eschew expensive homes, cars and high-tech gadgetry and typically saves so much money that he or she often ends up as a millionaire, even if only earning a modest salary. It's not too hard to figure out which archetype is better-prepared for the inevitable fluctuations of the economy. Also worth reading is this AARP piece on eight places where you may be accumulating extra cash and not even realize it.
The Avengers Isn't Just for Kids: Former New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith amusingly explains in this piece at Wowwowwow.com why she absolutely loved the latest Marvel Comics superhero blockbuster, even though she confesses to near-total ignorance of comic book heroes and had to sit though a multiplex matinee full of screeching, unruly pre-adolescents. She finds Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, to be "a sexy thing" and is amused to see the villain Loki wreak carnage -- of the fake CGI variety, of course -- upon Smith's own NYC neighborhood.
Plus, You're Probably Still Better at Angry Birds Than They Are: If you're a reluctant middle-aged adopter of new technology, you'll be reassured to know that you're not the only primate who feels that way. An Australian paper, the Herald Sun, has this intriguing article about how six orangutans at Miami's Jungle Island nature park have been using iPads as part of a mental stimulus program. Linda Jacobs, who runs the program, notes that younger orangutans quickly pick up on the touchscreen devices, but the two oldest members of the troupe are not so interested. "I think they just figure, 'I've gotten along just fine in this world without this communication-skill here and the iPad, and I don't need a computer.'"
Remembering the Creator of Where the Wild Things Are: Children's book artist Maurice Sendak, who reassured us about the scary monsters in the shadows of our bedrooms by bringing them out and putting them on the printed page, passed away this week at age 83. Here's his New York Times obituary, which playfully notes that Sendak's classic works -- 1963's Where the Wild Things Are, 1970's In the Night Kitchen and 1981's Outside Over There, among others -- were "roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten." Sendak, a gay man whose own childhood was haunted by the Holocaust, in which some of his relatives perished, grew up feeling like a lonely outsider. He turned his own inner torments into art that has comforted fearful children of several generations. The Times obituary quotes this letter from an 8-year-old reader to the author: "Dear Mr. Sendak, how much does it cost to get to where the wild things are? If it is not expensive, my sister and I would like to spend the summer there."
RIP Vidal Sassoon: The British-born hairstyling giant, who helped liberate women from high-maintenance hairstyles and endless hours in the beauty parlor by popularizing wash-and-wear cuts, died this week at age 84. In the Los Angeles Times, Mary Rourke offers an account of Sassoon's illustrious career as a stylist, businessman and international trend-setting celebrity, while The Washington Post's Delia Lloyd pays homage to Sassoon in this blog post entitled "Vidal Sassoon: Thank you for my bob." You might get a better feel for his genius from this classic 1965 newsreel.
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