Put your back against the wall for better health

(Pictured: A wall sit–back against a wall, knees bent for at least 30 seconds–does wonders for blood pressure, according to cardiovascular experts.

Want to lower your blood pressure with the help of exercise? It doesn’t require running on a treadmill or pumping iron. Instead, static isometric exercises like wall sits (also known as wall squats) and planks — which engage muscles without movement — are best, according to analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that includes aerobic activity, weight training and high-intensity interval training.

Of the exercises that were analyzed, the wall sit was the most effective, the study found.

Doctors recommend heart-healthy activities like walking, running and cycling as their top choices for patients with hypertension. But isometric exercises are almost twice as effective at lowering blood pressure compared with just doing cardio, said Jamie O’Driscoll, a researcher in cardiovascular physiology at Christ Canterbury Church University.   

To perform a static isometric exercise, you hold your body in one position until your muscles tire. Examples include wall sits, planks and side planks, glute bridges and heel raises.

Isometric exercises are a great option for older adults because they are low-impact and don’t require any special equipment, said Meredith Dobrosielski, an exercise physiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

“It’s an easily accessible form of exercise that you can do pretty much anywhere,” Dobrosielski said. “You don’t need to go to a gym or spend a lot of time doing it. You just need your body.”

Ready to try a wall sit yourself? Start with these steps:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart, and place your feet one or two steps away from the wall. Keep your arms at your sides.
  2. Keeping your back flat against the wall, bend your knees until you hit an angle that you can hold for at least 30 seconds. (Your thighs don’t have to be at 90 degrees).
  3. Hold the position by pressing your back against the wall.
  4. Relax the pose by standing. Repeat for a total of four wall sits, with short breaks in between.

More static exercises to try.

  • Glute bridge.Strengthens the glutes, hips, hamstrings and core. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent, and feet planted on the ground. Push your heels into the ground and tuck your tailbone. Then squeeze your glutes, raise your hips toward the ceiling and hold.
  • Wall plank. Works the shoulders, arms and core. Place your hands on a wall at shoulder height. Then take a step back, tucking in your glutes as your body weight shifts into your arms. Focus on your core muscles by thinking of pulling your belly button into your spine. For a greater challenge, place your elbows and forearms on the wall.
  • Heel raise. Strengthens calf muscles, improves ankle stability and boosts overall lower body strength. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping a chair or wall in front of you for balance. Raise your heels off the ground and hold.

Source: AARP


By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some good resources to help me locate some quality doctors in my area? I’m looking for an orthopedic doctor for my 77-year-old mother and a new internist for me, since my doctor retired last year.

Searching Susan

Dear Susan,

Finding and researching doctors is a lot easier than it used to be. Today, there are websites that provide databases of doctors, their professional medical histories, and ratings and reviews from past patients.


A good first step is to get referrals from trusted friends and any doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals you know. You also need to call your insurer for a list of approved doctors or ask whether the doctor you’re considering is in-network.

If your mother is enrolled in original Medicare, you can use the care compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This will let you find doctors by name, medical specialty, or geographic location that accept original Medicare. If she’s enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, get a list of approved candidates.

Once you find a few doctors, call their office to verify that they still accept your insurance and if they are accepting new patients.

You should also consider hospital affiliation. Your choice of doctor can determine which hospital you go to, if needed, so find out where the doctor has admitting privileges. Then use Medicare.gov/care-compare to see how it compares with other hospitals in the area. 

Researching doctors.

After you find a few doctors you’re interested in, there are websites to help you evaluate them. For example, the Federation of State Medical Boards offers DocInfo.org to find out a doctor’s board certifications, education, states with active licenses, and whether a physician has been disciplined by a state medical board.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS Data) is also a good source for researching doctors. For example, it will help you find out how many times a doctor did a particular procedure and what they charge for it. Go to Data.CMS.gov/tools and click on “Medicare Physician & Other Practitioner Look-up Tool.” And to learn about the financial relationship that doctors have with drug and medical device companies, visit OpenPaymentsData.CMS.gov.

Other good sites for finding and researching healthcare professionals include healthgrades.com and vitals.com. Both provide substantial information on education and training, hospital affiliations, board certification, awards and recognitions, professional misconduct, disciplinary action, office locations, and accepted insurance plans. They also offer ratings from past patients on communication and listening skills, wait time, time spent with the patient, and office friendliness. But be aware that while physician ratings can be helpful, they can also be misleading and unreliable.

Send questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or at SavvySenior.org.

By Rena Marken

Loneliness, once viewed as a mere emotional state, is now recognized as a serious health concern.

Harvard’s Study of Adult Development, a comprehensive 75-year study, has provided invaluable insights into the profound impact of loneliness on our well-being, particularly as we age. As the study reveals, loneliness is not just a psychological burden; it can have detrimental effects on our physical, emotional, and cognitive health.

Harvard’s research highlights the toxic nature of loneliness. Individuals who experience more isolation than they desire are not only less happy, but also face earlier declines in health and cognitive function, leading to shorter lives. Shockingly, more than one in five Americans report feeling lonely at any given time, emphasizing the pervasive nature of this issue. Loneliness, as the study suggests, is not confined to social isolation; it can thrive even in the midst of a crowd or within the bounds of a marriage.

One of the study’s key findings challenges the notion that the number of friends or the presence of a committed relationship is the sole determinant of well-being. Instead, it’s the quality of close relationships that proves crucial. Living amidst conflict, especially in marriages lacking affection, is revealed to be detrimental to health. The study emphasizes that warm and supportive relationships, rather than simply being in a relationship, play a pivotal role in maintaining overall health.

Intriguingly, the study found that middle-age individuals who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Surprisingly, it wasn’t cholesterol levels that proved to be the most predictive factor of a person’s health in old age–rather, it was their satisfaction in relationships. This reinforces the idea that close relationships act as a buffer against the challenges of aging.

Protecting body and mind

A crucial insight further emphasizes that strong relationships offer more than just physical protection; they extend to safeguarding cognitive well-being. Research reveals that securely attached relationships in one’s 80s contribute to enhanced memory retention. Individuals who find solace in partners they can rely on during times of need experience sustained cognitive function over time. Conversely, those entangled in relationships lacking trust face an accelerated decline in memory. Additionally, the study sheds light on the silent partnership between loneliness and mental health challenges. It uncovers a correlation between loneliness and heightened vulnerability to conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. The absence of social engagement and support not only exacerbates existing mental health issues, but also poses a barrier to recovery.

Harvard’s research challenges the modern pursuit of quick fixes and instant gratification. Relationships, it asserts, are messy, complicated, and lifelong. The study recommends actively tending to family and friends throughout one’s life, replacing workmates with new playmates in retirement. The happiest retirees in the study were those who invested time and effort into building meaningful connections beyond the workplace.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said the study’s dsirector, Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care, too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

As loneliness emerges as a health crisis, Harvard’s study offers profound insights into the power of relationships. The findings remind us that the pursuit of fame and wealth pales in comparison to the enduring value of genuine connections with family, friends, and community. In a world that often seeks shortcuts to happiness, the study’s wisdom is a timeless reminder that the foundation of a good life lies in the intricate, lifelong work of cultivating and maintaining meaningful relationships.

Rena Marken is the co-founder of Ascending Community of Light LLC and manager of RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) for Lutheran Community Services Northwest.


Exercise regularly.

In addition to being good for overall health, regular exercise has positive effects on mental health, according to surveys and other research. It can help manage or even prevent certain health issues, including heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and it’s associated with lower rates of depression. That doesn’t mean running a 5K every morning, as even normal everyday activities like walking or doing yard work can help keep you physically fit. For older adults, four types of exercise are recommended — endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility.

Build community connections.

An active social life is just as important as being physically active as we age. Visits with friends and family can help lower feelings of isolation, and many older adults use this period in their lives to focus on causes that are important to them.

AmeriCorps senior volunteers can help connect you with organizations that need a helping hand in your community. In Pierce County and Kitsap County, contact RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), which is operated locally by Lutheran Community Services Northwest. Call 253-722-5695.

Other ways of building community connections can include running for local office, taking classes at a library or community college, or spending a few hours a week at a part-time job.

Get regular medical care.

Preventive care is often the key to remaining healthy into old age, and Medicare can help people access preventive care like screenings, counseling, and flu shots.

Your doctor can offer advice and referrals if you are concerned about your mental health, a key component of overall health. Depression can be common for older adults, but there is no reason to live with intrusive or depressive thoughts. If you’re in emotional distress or concerned about the mental health of a loved one, call hotlines such as NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) at 206-783-4288 or the federally supported SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) at 800-662-4357 for help, referrals, and advice.

Women may get more from exercise than men do

Women who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of an early death or fatal cardiovascular event than men who exercise regularly, even when women put in less effort, according to a National Institutes of Health-supported study.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, are based on a study involving more than 400,000 U.S. adults ages 27 to 61. The study showed that over a two-decades period, women were 24 percent less likely than those who don’t exercise to experience death from any cause, while men were 15 percent less likely. Women also had a 36 percent reduced risk for a fatal heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event, while men had a 14 percent reduced risk.  

“We hope this study will help everyone, especially women, understand they are poised to gain tremendous benefits from exercise,” said Dr. Susan Cheng, a cardiologist for the Erika J. Glazer Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. “It is an incredibly powerful way to live healthier and longer. Women on average tend to exercise less than men, and hopefully these findings inspire more women to add extra movement to their lives.”    

The researchers found a link between women experiencing greater reduced risks for death compared to men among all types of exercise. This included moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking; vigorous exercise, such as taking a spinning class or jumping rope; and strength training, which could include body-weight exercises.

Scientists found that for moderate aerobic physical activity, the reduced risk for death plateaued for both men and women at 300 minutes, or five hours, per week. At this level of activity, women and men reduced their risk of premature death by 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Similar trends were seen with 110 minutes of weekly vigorous aerobic exercise, which correlated with a 24 percent reduced risk of death for women and a 19 percent reduced risk for men.

Also, women also achieved the same benefits as men but in shorter amounts of time. For moderate aerobic exercise, they met the 18 percent reduced risk mark in half the time needed for men–140 minutes, or under 2.5 hours per week, compared to 300 minutes for men. With vigorous aerobic exercise, women met the 19 percent reduced risk mark with just 57 minutes a week, compared to 110 minutes for men.

This applied to weekly strength training, too. Women and men who participated in strength-based exercises had a 19 percent and 11 percent reduced risk for death, respectively, compared to those who didn’t do these exercises. Women who strength-trained saw an even greater reduced risk of cardiovascular-related deaths at 30 percent, compared to 11 percent for men. 

For all the health benefits of exercise for both groups, however, only 33 percent of women and 43 percent of men in the study met the standard for weekly aerobic exercise, while 20 percent of women and 28 percent of men completed a weekly strength training session.

“Even a limited amount of regular exercise can provide a major benefit, and it turns out this is especially true for women,” said Cheng. “Taking some regular time out for exercise, even if it’s just 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a few times each week, can offer a lot more gain than they may realize.”

“There is no singular approach for exercise,” said Eric Shiroma, Sc.D., a program director in the Clinical Applications and Prevention branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). “A person’s physical activity needs and goals may change based on their age, health status, and schedule. But the value of any type of exercise is irrefutable.”

The study authors said multiple factors, including variations in anatomy and physiology, may account for the differences in outcomes between the sexes. For example, men often have increased lung capacity, larger hearts, more lean-body mass, and a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers compared to women. As a result, women may use added respiratory, metabolic, and strength demands to conduct the same movement and in turn reap greater health rewards.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or about 1 to 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise each week, or a combination of both, and participate in two or more days a week of strength-based activities.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health. The latter is the the nation’s medical research agency and a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.