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How to Stay Healthy With Insights From the Lab

Lighting, exercise and doing right by your body clock

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Exercise can help prevent a second fall

Reduced mobility or a joint replacement often begins with a nasty fall — a missed doorstep or a patch of ice that leads to broken bones, head injury or other catastrophic consequences. A new study of 345 men and women 70 and older suggests that starting an exercise program may prevent a repeat accident, preserving mobility and personal freedom. In the study, subjects cut their risk of a second fall by 36 percent by following the Otago Exercise Program, a series of five strengthening and 12 balance moves with increasing levels of difficulty. The strengthening exercises focused on knee, hip and ankle strength; the balance exercises included backward walking, knee bends, heel walking and toe walking. The program is administered by a physical therapist; ask your doctor for a referral.

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Light exposure may lessen Parkinson's effects

Difficulty sleeping through the night and daytime sleepiness are both often associated with Parkinson's disease, which seems to weaken patients’ circadian clocks. Researchers have shown that exposing subjects to bright light twice daily can reset their sleep patterns and even reduce their early symptoms.

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Afternoon exercise works to stabilize blood sugar

Doctors have long recommended exercise to help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, but a recent study of 11 men between ages 45 and 68 found that high-intensity interval training (HIIT), specifically in the afternoon, was the smartest bet. In their study, exercising a few hours after lunch was not just better for blood sugar control than exercising one hour after breakfast — the two patterns had opposite effects. When the men exercised in the afternoon, their blood sugar remained lower throughout the day than what it had been at baseline. If they exercised one hour after breakfast, however, their blood sugar periodically spiked.

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You don't need 10,000 steps a day to live longer

Fact: The standard goal of 10,000 steps a day isn't based on science. It comes from a marketing effort related to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. To find out how many steps older adults really need so they can lower their risk of dying from all causes, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston asked nearly 17,000 women (average age: 72) to record their steps for at least 10 hours a day on at least four days a week. Mortality rates began to drop when the women averaged 4,400 steps a day; the rates were at their lowest at 7,500 steps, then leveled off.

Hospital lighting should be synched to body clocks

One factor that makes hospital stays so miserable is the unrelenting fluorescent light. But several new companies are now offering hospitals the opportunity to create “circadian entrainment” lighting — essentially mimicking the movement of the sun, with light that grows gradually brighter toward midday and darker as sunset approaches. This helps to prevent the disruption of daily rhythms for patients in hospitals and eldercare facilities.

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Jacqueline Detwiler, the former articles editor of Popular Mechanics, has a master's degree in neuroscience. Sari Harrar is a contributing editor for AARP the Magazine.

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