Read on for updates on how life after working life is getting fuller and busier; the powerful properties of mushrooms; thumbs up for tai chi after stroke; latest research on vitamins and dementia
Retired? No, busy working for good causes
One in five retired people have turned themselves into ‘portfolio volunteers’, taking on regular duties for two or more charities, according to a survey from the Royal Voluntary Service. The RVS questioned a random sample of over-60s about their lifestyles. The results, scaled up, suggest that two-and-a-quarter million over-60s in the UK are busy working for free for good causes.
Why do they do it? For four out of five, it’s about supporting a cause they believe in. Two out of five are following a family tradition of supporting a particular organisation. Nearly a half of the volunteers say they “need to feel they have a purpose”. And 15 per cent were keen to learn new skills.
The RVS says previous research it has done has found that older people who volunteer are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier with their lives.
The UK-based organisation, which has war-time origins and recently changed its name from the ‘Women’s Royal Voluntary Service’, runs a ‘Diamond Champion Award’, to identify and celebrate the contribution of older volunteers who go the extra mile to help others.
Exposing mushrooms to sunlight before cooking and eating them can turn them into a powerful source of Vitamin D. Vit D, often called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is known for being vital for strong bones, and in recent years a raft of research has suggested it also works to protect us against many more health issues including dementia, diabetes, heart disease and muscle weakness. But as the nickname implies, we rely mainly on the sun to deliver Vitamin D to us via ultra-violet rays passing through our skin. Sun-screen, dark skin and older skin all reduce the amount that gets through. So do low light levels: in the UK and northern latitude countries it is now thought that we absorb very little useful Vit D from October to May, because of our climate and lack of strong sunshine.
The mushroom revelation is a real bonus for anyone whose medical condition prevents them from exposing their skin to sunlight (lupus, ongoing cancer chemo treatment etc); for vegetarians who cannot eat fish to top up their Vit D; and for everyone who loves mushrooms!
I have not been able to verify the minimum sun-bathing time needed, but you should get benefits from turning the mushrooms upwards (gills to the sun), unwrapped, for 30–60 minutes outdoors in direct sunlight, before cooking them. It seems button, shiitake and oyster mushrooms all work well. (The stalks do not create extra Vit D, just the mushrooms.). A handful of sunbathed mushrooms should provide as much Vit D as a daily pill (though if you are on a supplement because you are Vit D deficient, you should certainly stay on it, just use the mushrooms as a tasty top-up).
Of course, just like us, the mushrooms have to have a good dose of sun to be able to ramp up their Vit D levels, so don’t go leaving them out on a cold grey midwinter morning. But you certainly can plan ahead: both the mushrooms and our bodies are pretty good at hanging on to the vitamin once we have it. The human body stores its Vit D in fat tissues for several weeks. The mushrooms, dried and carefully stored, will retain their Vit D for months.
If you want more info and advice on sun-bathing and drying mushrooms for a winter-long store of Vit D, try this web page at fungi.com
Tai chi helps prevent falls after stroke
A US study has found that tai chi is far more effective than an alternative exercise programme or ‘usual care’ at cutting falls among people who’ve previously had strokes. Stroke survivors, according to the study’s researchers, fall seven times as much as healthy adults. The study involved 89 stroke survivors (average age 70 and average time since stroke 3 years) being assigned to tai chi, ‘silver sneakers exercise’ or ‘usual care’. The exercise groups did their one-hour workouts three times a week for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, there had been 34 falls among the volunteers: 15 in the usual care group, 14 in the ‘silver sneakers’ group and 5 in the tai chi group.
Tai chi is often recommended for older people at increased risk of falling, but there is less evidence for its efficacy among those who already fall over a lot, so this study is particularly interesting. Read the full report from the American Stroke Association
Vitamin boost for Alzheimer’s
Large doses of B vitamins may in future be the best way to keep Alzheimer’s Disease at bay in people who already have symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). An Oxford University research team studied 200 elderly people with memory loss and other mild cognitive problems, and found that large doses of three B vitamins – folic acid, B6 and B12 – had a dramatic effect in protecting against brain shrinkage in key areas linked to the development of Alzheimer’s.
Researchers already knew that B vitamins work to reduce blood levels of an amino acid, homocysteine, which is considered a risk factor for dementia. But the new research suggests the benefits extend to the brain itself.
More research is needed and it should be noted that the large vitamin doses used are not available in normal Vitamin B supplements at the moment. But anyone who fears they have significant memory lapses or other cognition problems may want to consider topping up their B vitamins, especially B12, and, perhaps more importantly, check with their GP via a simple blood test, whether they have high homocysteine levels.