Quick Answers to Health Questions

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Do you have any health questions that you’ve been meaning to research? Nothing you need to call the doctor about, just health info you’d like to know. Relax, we’re on the same page. We rounded up some answers to questions we’ve been puzzling over.

Is 5 minutes of meditation enough?  

We’ve all heard about the research that meditation can reduce anxiety, depression and pain, not to mention help us soldier through a pandemic. But: What’s the minimum that will produce benefits, anyway? Who can sit still for an hour?

“A 5-minute medication is enough,” says Michael Irwin, MD, a research psychiatrist and director of the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine. Of course, more is better, but 5 minutes, in fact, is what Irwin’s team instructed research participants to start at when they were evaluating meditation’s benefits on promoting better sleep in older adults. They assigned 24 to learn mindfulness awareness, a form of meditation, and 25 to have sleep education. Those who did mindfulness were supposed to progress to 20 minutes a day. But the median time they put in, at the end of the 6-week study, was about 7 minutes a day, Irwin found. And many still had sleep improvements, he says. UCLA offers free guided meditations here. And can it really change your brain? Some research suggests it can, but Irwin says the important result is that the skills you learn meditating can be put to use in daily life, such as helping  you keep your cool in the grocery line.

Is losing your sense of smell normal with age?

Yes, scientists say, beginning about age 55. However, Copenhagen scientists recently refuted the idea that the sense of smell broadly declines for all foods equally. “The losses of food odors at higher age were most severe for the savory food odors,” says Wender Bredie, PhD, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and part of the research team. They tested 246 adults, ages 60-98, and compared them to 89 adults, ages 20-39. The participants told them how intensely they perceived different food odors, as well as how much they liked the odors. The older adults had less ability to smell fried meat, onions and mushrooms than younger adults. But older adults kept up with younger ones when smelling orange, raspberry and vanilla. An important finding: Even when an older adult couldn’t perceive an odor as well, their liking of the odor was not changed, so it probably didn’t mean they passed up the food.

How important is balance, anyway? And can you really improve it?  

Adults who are middle age and older who couldn’t stand on one leg for at least 10 seconds were nearly four times as likely to die (of any cause) over the next 7 years, researchers reported recently. Did you flunk?  Mayo Clinic has these suggestions for exercises to improve your balance.

Is a daily shower or bath really necessary?

Researchers and non-scientists alike have opinions on this. To distill: if you’re a super-exerciser who super-sweats (or have a partner who isn’t losing their sense of smell with age), probably yes. If you have a skin condition, such as psoriasis, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests limiting daily shower time  to 5 minutes, baths to 15, with warm but not hot water. And these researchers found that a daily bath or shower didn’t seem to worsen atopic dermatitis (AKA eczema).

We didn’t cover your burning question? Drop it in the comments below!

Photo: Shaun Newton

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Endocrine Web, Practical Pain Management, Spine Universe and other sites.  She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.

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This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition or before starting an exercise program. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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