Day 2 of 4 – BLSA in NIH
Special 4-day series.
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Today felt like a heart day. Starting with the EKG at 5:15 am. I had my blood pressure taken probably 20 times today. Once before they drew a small bucket of blood from me. Then during a “physical” I had to lay flat for about 20 min with two cuffs, one on each side while the nurse took 6 measurements manually.
Turns out the way they take your blood pressure at the doctor’s office is not right. You should be seated with your feet hip-width apart and silent for at least 15 min before a manual reading three times five minutes apart. Do this twice per day, morning and evening then take the average and you’ll get an idea of your actual blood pressure. The home machines they say are only sort of accurate. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about it.
It went up when they made me walk fast for 400m with a special mask on me and a backpack with a computer memorizing my oxygen consumption and calculating conversion into energy. Because the single most important biochemical reaction humans need is cellular respiration. That’s the process that gives us energy to do stuff, inside our bodies and with our bodies and brains.
Oxygen uptake declines with age, ranging from a 3% mean decline in those between 20 and 30 years old, and 20% in those between 70 and 80 years of age. Scientists want to know the significance of oxygen uptake for changes in cardiovascular risk factors, and the influence of leisure time and physical activity on oxygen uptake. Yep – adherence to rest and exercise recommendations improved oxygen uptake maintenance. Who knew? Right? And, as you get older, intensity mattered more than minutes for an improved cardiovascular profile. There’s a sweet spot for both, though. So, you can’t get away with doing just one hard thing one minute per day. Sorry. Consult your doctor, consider your situation, and get moving!
You’ll sleep better, they say. Good night's sleep is harder to come as people age. Hell, I’ve been looking for one for the last 10 years. But seriously. I can only sleep well if I get my body good and tired. Exercise enough if you want to sleep well. It helps also to follow a regular sleep schedule and develop a regular bedtime routine. Take time to relax before going to bed. Dim the lights. Listen to soothing music, read a book, and have some relaxing non-caffeinated tea. Don’t nap late in the afternoon and don’t nap too long. Definitely, do not watch TV, or use your computer, or phone just before you go to bed. Alarming news, and unsettling or exciting movies, and shows can all awaken your brain and keep you up longer. Lower the temperature in your bedroom but don’t make it cold. Keep your sleeping place quiet. Avoid eating a huge dinner at least 3-4 hours before going to bed. Lower your caffeine intake overall, but definitely don’t have any in the afternoons.
Basically, stop doing all of the things everyone does every day!
Remember, caffeine has a 6-hour half-life. This means that half the caffeine you had at 12 noon is still in your system by 6 pm, and a quarter is still there by midnight!!! It is also water-soluble, so drink plenty and try to flush it out.
Finally, alcohol is a depressant, but it does not make you sleepy. It actually prevents you from sleeping well.
Right after I finished racing in circles for 400m, another technician strapped blood pressure cuffs on both of my arms and ankles and took some more measurements. He looked for circulation abnormalities in my ankles, which happen with age due to the hardening of the arteries. This occurs when fat, cholesterol and other substances build up in the arterial walls. To prevent that… diet and exercise, but mostly exercise!
In addition to age, diabetes, obesity, inactive lifestyle, deep vein thrombosis, and smoking can contribute to poor blood circulation in the feet. It gets so bad for some people that wounds don’t heal, and parts of their feet must be cut out. OMG! Just eat well, and exercise!
Today, I got to see my heart again on the echocardiogram. It moved and shook. It looked good, juicy, and chatty. With the color filter on, I saw the blood gushing in and out of the different chambers. Super cool. I thought about how I am enjoying myself while people who usually get that test worry about possible heart attacks. Context matters! In a couple of weeks, I will get a report that tells me how things are which I will compare to the report from the previous visit. Fingers crossed!
Not heart related – scientists confirm that I have selective hearing. I can also see everything you’re all doing! I have the visual field of a traffic control tower. That’s mostly relevant for my yoga students and anyone who thinks they can sneak up on me unnoticed.
But the two hours memory test fried my brain. The biggest bummer about it is that they don’t tell me anything. I don’t get the results or hear from them ever unless they have a reason to worry about my safety and need to notify a caretaker. That’s just not fair. I’d like to know if I am losing it slowly, or not so slowly. Cognitive decline is inevitable. But some people keep it together well into their 80s and 90s. Others, until just before they die. The best way to know if you are changing is to ask those around you who observe you daily. They notice how forgetful you are, or if you put your right shoe on your left foot. So, don’t be shy. Ask around and get ready to hear things you may not like. If you have dementia symptoms, things will only get worse. Ask your doctor for an evaluation. The sooner you know the better, so you can put your affairs in order and figure out care. Meanwhile… diet and exercise, especially exercise. And stay cognitively engaged in all the ways that you can and then some. If dementia runs in your family, you may very well be next.
I went walking around the water's edge for an hour after this test. I got my daily steps in, some fresh air, and a better perspective. After all, I still knew where I was! I remembered seeing cake in the coffee shop. So, I went and got some. Cake, because every hospital should definitely sell it…
In other fun moments, I stood on one leg for 1 min, walked in a straight line with or without little hops over obstacles, and passed the speed sitting/standing off a chair for a 1 min test. But the neurological testing was the most fun. I had to make shapes with my hands, touch my nose and the nurse’s finger and didn’t make faces while she tickled the palm of my hand in this one special way. That last one is called palmomental reflex. It is present during infancy but it disappears as the brain matures. Apparently, as people get older, it re-appears because the brain begins to deteriorate. We start as babies and we end that way, pooped pants and all.
I have mixed feelings about this whole aging thing now. Looking for ways to avoid it. Oh, yeah! Diet and exercise!
Tomorrow starts with a glucose blood test. I have only one more vein left after today’s two extensive blood draws. I feel slightly traumatized. But I found out that whenever getting blood tests, remember that different labs produce different results. So, it is best to always use the same lab. Who knew? Probably all the doctors among you… but mine never told me.
It’s 9 pm in Baltimore. Good night to you all!
Thank you for reading.
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