Monthly Archives: March 2016

Smoking During Pregnancy Seems to Alter Fetal DNA, Study Finds

THURSDAY, March 31, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- When a pregnant woman smokes, the fetus' DNA is altered in ways also seen in adult smokers, researchers say.

The researchers were also able to pinpoint new development-related genes that were affected by a mother-to-be's smoking.

The findings may help improve understanding about the connection between smoking during pregnancy and children's health problems, the study authors said.

For the study, researchers collected blood samples from newborns, mainly from the umbilical cord. Compared to babies of nonsmokers, those born to regular smokers had over 6,000 spots where DNA was chemically modified.

About half of those locations could be linked to specific genes, including those involved in lung and nervous system development, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, and smoking-related cancers.

The investigators also found that many of these DNA changes were still present in older children whose mothers had smoked during pregnancy.

The study was published March 31 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Smaller studies have found links between smoking during pregnancy and chemical changes in fetal DNA, the authors of the new study noted. But this large study, which included over 6,000 mothers and their children, improved the researchers' ability to detect patterns.

"I find it kind of amazing when we see these epigenetic signals in newborns, from in utero exposure, lighting up the same genes as an adult's own cigarette smoking. There's a lot of overlap," study co-senior author Stephanie London said in a journal news release. She is an epidemiologist and physician at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"This is a blood-borne exposure to smoking -- the fetus isn't breathing it, but many of the same things are going to be passing through the placenta," London explained.

More information

The March of Dimes has more about smoking during pregnancy.

Could a Low-Risk Surgery Help Your Chronic Heartburn?

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, March 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A minimally invasive surgery to treat chronic heartburn is safer than generally believed, and could be a desirable alternative to long-term use of acid reflux medications, new research indicates.

Scientists found the death rate following so-called laparoscopic fundoplication surgery for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, was far lower than the 1 percent often quoted.

Experts contended the surgery might be underutilized, especially in light of increasing safety concerns about acid reflux drugs.

"One of the main arguments against surgery when choosing between [drug] and surgical treatment for severe GERD is the risk of mortality," said study author Dr. John Maret-Ouda. He is a physician and doctoral student in upper gastrointestinal surgery at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

But, "this study found only one death associated with [this surgery] among nearly 9,000 patients ... during the study period of 1997 to 2013," he added.

The study results were published in a recent issue of the British Journal of Surgery.

GERD occurs when the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus doesn't close properly, allowing stomach acid to leak back up and cause irritation. The resulting chronic heartburn is uncomfortable, and can lead to cellular changes that develop into esophageal cancer. GERD affects up to 20 percent of people in the United States, according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, can reduce stomach acid production. Brand names for such medications -- one of the top-selling drug classes in the United States -- include Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium. But long-term use of such medications has been potentially linked to some serious health conditions, such as dementia.

Maret-Ouda and his team analyzed 30-day and 90-day death rates after laparoscopic fundoplication surgery for GERD among nearly 9,000 patients. The surgery, which uses several tiny incisions in the abdomen, detaches part of the stomach from the spleen and wraps it around the esophagus, forming a tighter barrier between the stomach and esophagus to prevent acid reflux.

Only one death during the 16-year tracking period was surgery-related, and the 30-day and 90-day death rates were 0.03 percent and 0.08 percent, according to the study.

"Surgery creates a barrier, preventing reflux into the esophagus, while proton pump inhibitors mainly act through reducing the acidity of the gastric contents but not reducing the reflux in itself," Maret-Ouda said. "Moreover, studies comparing surgery to medication with proton pump inhibitors have found that surgery is superior to medication in aspects of symptom control and acid exposure in the esophagus."

Two U.S. experts agreed with Maret-Ouda's assertion that GERD surgery rates have declined in recent years because of the marked increase in PPI use and the perception that surgery carried an unacceptably high death risk.

"What we've seen here since 1999 is a fairly dramatic decline in the use of this surgery, in part due to the reputation of the surgery. If you ask the average doctor, they'll say the mortality rate is around 1 percent, so that's been a major deterrent," said Dr. John Lipham, director of the Digestive Health Center at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

"I think this [new research] is a big relief, because upwards of 40 percent of patients with reflux on PPIs are either not getting good control of their symptoms or do not want to be on them because of their long-term risks ... but hesitate to have surgery," he added.

Lipham said most health insurers will pay for laparoscopic GERD surgery, which costs between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on the surgeon and hospital. The operation is considered "routine," he added.

The cost of PPIs, which are available over-the-counter and by prescription, can vary dramatically, ranging from $17 to more than $160 per month, according to Consumer Reports.

Dr. Kumar Krishnan, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, noted that the benefits of fundoplication surgery for GERD can be limited. Also, the surgery may have to be repeated about once a decade, he said.

"One of the questions patients have is, they don't want to take medications for the rest of their life, but the durability of this surgery is finite and [patients] may need a re-do," Krishnan said. "Patients also need to know that occasionally they may need to get placed back on medications despite having the surgery."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers more about GERD.

Could Less Time Spent Online Signal Early Alzheimer's?

MONDAY, March 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Spending less time on their home computer may be a sign that seniors have early stage Alzheimer's disease, researchers suggest.

Computer use requires multiple brain functions, including attention, planning and memory. While there may be various reasons why an elderly person spends less time online, the researchers suggest that diminishing mental capabilities might be one of them.

Their study included men and women aged 65 and older who had no signs of dementia or other thinking and memory problems.

Participants underwent MRI scans of the hippocampus, an area of the brain crucial to memory. They also had their technology time monitored.

A decrease in hippocampus volume is a well-known sign of Alzheimer's disease, the researchers explained.

The study found that an additional hour of daily home computer use was associated with a 0.025 percent larger hippocampus volume, according to Dr. Lisa Silbert of the Center for Aging & Alzheimer's Disease at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, and colleagues.

Their study was published online recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

While the study found an association between online time and mental capability, it didn't show a direct cause-and-effect relationship.

However, the researchers said they will follow the participants to determine whether reduced hippocampus volume and decreased computer use might predict future declines in thinking and memory.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about Alzheimer's disease.

Pets Help Homeless Youth, Study Finds

SUNDAY, March 27, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Pets may bring many health benefits to homeless children, but they can also make it tougher to find shelter or to use other social services, new Canadian research suggests.

A team of researchers, led by scientists at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, found homeless young people who have pets are less likely to abuse drugs or engage in risky behavior.

Pets may also help ease depression among those living on the streets, according to the study published recently in the journal Anthrozoos.

"So many of these youth have lost trust in people, and the animal gives them unconditional love. They will do anything for their pets, which means they are less likely to commit potentially harmful acts," study author Michelle Lem, a graduate of the veterinary college, explained in a University of Guelph news release.

Jason Coe, a professor of population medicine at Guelph, added that, "We also found those without pets are three times more likely to be depressed, though we have not yet determined if this is directly relatable to having a pet."

Homeless young people with pets may also confide in veterinarians about the personal difficulties they are facing, the researchers found.

"We're able to collaborate with public health and social workers as they attempt to reach these marginalized people, essentially using the human-animal bond and veterinary care as a gateway to provide accessible social support and health care," said Lem. She is also the founder and director of the Community Veterinary Outreach, which offers mobile veterinary services to homeless people in Canada.

Despite these health benefits, there is a downside to pet ownership for homeless youth, the study showed. Pets can become a barrier to social services for these young people.

"Many shelters do not allow pets, so these youth may be limited in where they can sleep," Coe explained.

The researchers argued that pet-friendly shelters are needed to accommodate homeless people who have dogs and other animals.

"There is an opportunity here to use this information when we're developing services and plans for young people," said Bill O'Grady, a sociology and anthropology professor at Guelph.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the health benefits of pets.

Brain Scans Give Clues to Stress-Heart Attack Link

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- A new brain study might help explain why a high level of stress is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Increased activity in the amygdala -- the fear center of the brain -- appears to create an immune system reaction that increases inflammation in the arteries, researchers plan to report at the upcoming American College of Cardiology meeting in Chicago.

Such arterial inflammation is a precursor to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, said senior researcher Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Tawakol and his colleagues followed nearly 300 people and found their amygdala activity -- as seen on brain scans -- indicated whether they would suffer a major cardiac event in the near future.

"By the end of the study, roughly 5 percent with low activity had events, compared to roughly 40 percent of the individuals with high amygdala activity," Tawakol said.

Doctors need to be aware of the heart-health consequences of current events such as the Syrian crisis and this week's terror attacks in Brussels, said Dr. Richard Becker, director of cardiovascular health and disease at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He is also director of the university's Heart, Lung & Vascular Institute.

"After there's an earthquake or a tsunami, the incidence of heart attacks over the next six to eight weeks increases substantially," said Becker, an American Heart Association spokesman, citing prior research. "The same thing happens with human disasters, with terrorism, particularly if it's on a large scale."

Evidence of the strong link between stress and heart disease has been mounting. The heart-health risk posed by stress is now believed to be on par with factors like smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, Tawakol said.

But little is known about how stress from anger, hostility, hopelessness or uncertainty might directly affect the heart, Tawakol said.

Animal studies have suggested that stress can cause bone marrow to release inflammatory cells, which then increase inflammation in the arteries, he said.

To see whether that happens in humans, researchers examined PET/CT scans for 293 patients, average age 55, who originally received the test between 2005 and 2008 for cancer screening but were found to be cancer-free.

The scans allowed researchers to measure activity in regions of the brain, the bone marrow and arteries. Patients were excluded if they had evidence of cancer, established heart disease or were younger than 30 years old.

During the five-year study, 22 patients experienced a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers found that increased amygdala activity meant greater activity in the bone marrow and increased inflammation in arteries.

Further, amygdala activity was linked to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Patients experienced a 14-fold greater risk of heart attack or stroke for every unit increase in measured brain stress activity, researchers said.

The amygdala also affected the timing of a heart attack or stroke. "Individuals with an event within a year after imaging had the highest amygdala activity values," Tawakol said. People with the lowest amygdala activity went the longest before suffering a heart attack or stroke, the study found.

Becker praised the study.

"They [the study authors] were able to connect the dots from the brain to inflammation in the blood vessels to cardiovascular events," Becker said. "This is a very important contribution to helping us understand what stressors really mean to human health."

These findings show the importance of stress relief in a person's life, be it through meditation, exercise, friendships or humor, Becker and Tawakol said.

"For primary care physicians and cardiologists, we need to be more cognizant of how to gauge a patient's stress," Becker said. "We're very good at picking up when blood pressure is high and whether someone has diabetes, but we need increasing rigor in detecting a person's stress."

But the study also hints at new strategies to head off stress-related heart attacks, the researchers said. For example, animal studies have shown that some beta blockers can reduce the amount of inflammatory cells produced by the bone marrow in response to stress, Tawakol said. However, knowing whether those results would be replicated in humans is a long way off.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

For more on stress management, visit the American Heart Association.

The Sounds You Make Eating May Be a Diet Aid

TUESDAY, March 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- If you want to cut back on how much you eat, it might be a good idea to keep things quiet during meals, researchers suggest.

In a series of experiments, they found that people tend to eat less if they're more conscious of the chewing, chomping and crunching sounds they make while eating -- and that loud TV or music can mask those sounds.

For example, study participants wore headphones that played either loud or quiet noise while they ate pretzels. Those exposed to loud noise ate four pretzels, while those in the quiet noise group ate 2.75 pretzels.

"Sound is typically labeled as the forgotten food sense. But if people are more focused on the sound the food makes, it could reduce consumption," said study co-author Ryan Elder. He is an assistant professor of marketing in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah.

"When you mask the sound of consumption, like when you watch TV while eating, you take away one of those senses and it may cause you to eat more than you would normally," he said in a university news release. "The effects many not seem huge -- one less pretzel -- but over the course of a week, month or year, it could really add up."

The study was published recently in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about food portions.

A Wearable Patch Might Help Manage Diabetes Painlessly

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental device might one day literally take the pain out of managing diabetes, Korean researchers say.

The new invention uses a patch to monitor blood sugar levels via sweat, and delivers the diabetes drug metformin through the skin with microneedles.

"Diabetics are reluctant to monitor their blood glucose levels because of the painful blood-gathering process," said study author Hyunjae Lee, from Seoul National University in the Republic of Korea. "We highly focused on a noninvasive monitoring and therapy system for diabetics."

The findings were published online March 21 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The study team was led by Dae-Hyeong Kim, at Seoul National University. Funding for the study was provided by the Institute for Basic Science in the Republic of Korea.

Currently, people with diabetes have two options for monitoring blood sugar (glucose) levels, said Richard Guy, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal. He's a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

One option is a blood glucose meter that requires a finger stick to draw out a drop of blood for testing. The other option is continuous glucose monitoring, which requires that a sensor be placed underneath the skin and worn constantly. Both of these options are invasive and can be painful.

Previously, a less invasive product called GlucoWatch pulled fluid through the skin to the device to measure blood sugar levels. However, that device was never commercially successful and was taken off the market, Guy said.

The Korean research team used a substance called graphene to develop a thin, flexible patch. Graphene conducts electricity, and can be transparent, soft and very thin, the researchers explained.

The patch also contains a variety of sensors that detect humidity, sweat glucose levels, pH and temperature, the researchers said. In addition, the patch contains heat-sensitive microneedles.

The patch uses sweat to determine "sweat glucose," which can be used to figure out blood glucose levels. Lee said the accuracy of the sweat glucose sensor is similar to that of home blood glucose meters in the United States.

Guy pointed out that someone who sweats a lot might pose a challenge for the patch.

But the researchers said they've already taken this into consideration. "We integrated a humidity sensor in the diabetes patch to check how much sweat is generated. So the person who perspires heavily wouldn't affect the sensing," said Tae Kyu Choi, another study author from Seoul National University.

Likewise, Choi said, the researchers accounted for someone who perspires very lightly.

The researchers tested the glucose-sensing ability of the patch in two humans and found the device was able to accurately measure blood sugar levels.

In the current version of the patch, the researchers used microneedles to deliver the diabetes drug metformin to mice. Over six hours, the drug -- delivered through the skin -- was able to drop blood sugar levels from 400 milligrams per deciliter to 120 milligrams per deciliter, the researchers said. For someone without diabetes, a normal blood sugar level taken randomly would generally be under 125 milligrams per deciliter, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Insulin -- the hormone necessary to lower blood sugar for people with type 1 diabetes -- wasn't used because it's a protein that would be difficult to deliver through microneedles because it's large, and it would be vulnerable to the heating process that allows the drug to be delivered through the skin, the study authors explained.

But, Guy said he expects that should this system go forward in development, other drugs that can lower blood sugar more effectively might be considered. "I think metformin was chosen as an example of a drug used in diabetics for the illustration of proof-of-concept," he said.

The researchers said they believe the device could be used by either type 1 or type 2 diabetics.

However, Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said the cost of the device might make it very impractical for people with type 2 diabetes. And, he said, people with type 2 diabetes don't have to know what their blood sugar levels are as often as people with type 1 diabetes.

"They have proved the concept -- that a sweat patch can do the monitoring and can deliver a drug transdermally [through the skin]. Trying to do something like this noninvasively really is the holy grail of diabetes. So, there may be a future for this, but there are many barriers to be overcome," Zonszein said.

The researchers said their next step is to improve the long-term stability and accuracy of the blood glucose sensor. Lee and Choi estimated it would be at least five years before they could solve any remaining obstacles and commercialize the device.

"The promise of a transdermal, minimally invasive glucose monitoring device is coming closer to fruition. I'd hope we'd see a new effort to bring a skin-based monitoring device for glucose to the market in the next few years," Guy said. "In contrast, such as system combined with drug delivery is, in my opinion, much further away."

More information

Learn more about devices that can help you manage your diabetes from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Exercise May Extend Lives of People With COPD

FRIDAY, March 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Regular exercise could help boost the survival of people who've left the hospital after battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a new study finds.

"We know that physical activity can have a positive benefit for people with COPD and these findings confirm that it may reduce the risk of dying following hospitalization," study lead author Dr. Marilyn Moy, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a news release from ERJ Open Research.

Her team published the findings in the journal on March 16.

COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis or a combination of the two, and is often related to smoking. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, chronic cough, wheezing and phlegm production. Over time, the condition can prove fatal.

One expert, Dr. Alan Mensch, noted, "COPD is estimated to affect up to 7 percent of adults and is a leading cause of death worldwide."

He explained that "difficulty breathing often leads to a sedentary lifestyle in COPD patients, resulting in deconditioning of multiple organ systems, including the heart and muscles.

"Improving muscle function with exercise has been demonstrated to decrease the use of health services in patients with COPD," said Mensch, who is chief of pulmonary medicine at Northwell Health's Plainview Hospital in Plainview, N.Y.

The new study's authors also said that the risk of hospital readmission and death is especially high after a person has been hospitalized for COPD.

Could exercise help lower that risk? To find out, Moy's team looked at the medical records of almost 2,400 people in California who were hospitalized for COPD.

The researchers found that those who did any amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity were 47 percent less likely to die in the 12 months after hospitalization than inactive patients.

In fact, low levels of physical activity reduced the risk of death by 28 percent, the researchers report.

Because of the observational nature of the study, the findings can't prove cause and effect. However, the researchers believe that tracking physical activity levels might be a good way for doctors to pinpoint those COPD patients at high risk for death after hospitalization.

According to Mensch, "COPD has now joined other chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular conditions, where exercise has been shown to decrease mortality and prolong life."

He says the finding is especially valuable in regards to COPD, because doctors have little to offer patients to help lower disease-linked death risk.

"It is gratifying to learn that we can now offer therapy in the form of exercise, which will prolong the lives of patients with COPD," Mensch said.

Dr. Len Horovitz is a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He noted that in the study, even patients who were "minimally active" still gained a 28 percent reduction in their odds of dying within the study period.

"It is widely known that activity can avoid microscopic lung collapse," Horovitz said, "and that sedentary patients have a greater risk for developing blood clots and fatal pulmonary embolism [clots]."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on COPD.

Many With Irregular Heartbeat Missing Out on Stroke-Preventing Treatments

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 16, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors know that a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation increases the odds for stroke. But less than half of "a-fib" patients at highest risk for stroke are prescribed recommended blood thinners by their cardiologists, new research finds.

"The findings of our study are surprising given that these patients with atrial fibrillation were treated by a cardiovascular specialist, who should be aware of guideline recommendations" for anticoagulants, such as warfarin, said study lead author Dr. Jonathan Hsu. He is a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

Hsu's team tracked more than 400,000 atrial fibrillation patients in the United States for four years. The investigators found that most were prescribed blood-thinning drugs up to a point. But more than 50 percent of the very highest-risk patients leave their doctor's office without a prescription for potentially life-saving blood thinners.

Whether their doctors are ignoring or misinterpreting treatment guidelines isn't clear, he said.

"As with many issues in medicine, there are likely several reasons," Hsu suggested.

Part of the problem could simply be "patient preference," he said. On the other hand, cardiologists may place too much emphasis on the risk for bleeding that blood thinners pose. But for most patients the benefits are worth the risk, Hsu said.

The study findings are published in the March 16 online edition of JAMA Cardiology.

Atrial fibrillation -- characterized by electrical irregularities that prompt the upper chambers of the heart to function abnormally -- can boost the risk for blood clotting and stroke fivefold, experts say.

One-quarter of all Americans over age 40 are at risk for developing atrial fibrillation at some point in their lives, the study authors noted.

In addition to warfarin (Coumadin), prescribed blood thinners in the United States include Pradaxa (dabigatran), Xarelto (rivaroxaban) and Eliquis (apixaban).

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said there is overwhelming evidence that blood thinners benefit atrial fibrillation patients at moderate to high risk of stroke.

"This study shows a very serious issue, in that these patients are facing excess risk of cardioembolic strokes that could have been prevented," said Fonarow, co-author of an accompanying journal editorial. Cardioembolic strokes are caused by blood clots that develop in the heart and travel to the brain.

To see how stroke risk is being addressed among a-fib patients, the study team used data from nearly 430,000 outpatients seen at 144 practices in the United States between 2008 and 2012. Patients' average age was 71.

Each patient's stroke risk was ranked on the basis of standardized tests, and stacked up against prescription patterns.

Across the whole spectrum of a-fib stroke risk, the investigators found that about 45 percent of patients were prescribed a blood thinner, while roughly one-quarter were prescribed aspirin -- which also thins blood -- instead. Close to 6 percent were offered aspirin plus an anti-clotting medication from the thienopyridine class of drugs. These include Plavix (clopidogrel), Effient (prasugrel) and Ticlid (ticlopidine). Almost one-quarter were given no stroke-risk medication at all.

In general, the team determined that the likelihood of being prescribed a blood thinner rose with every one-point increase in a patient's standardized stroke risk score.

However, the odds for getting a blood thinner prescription hit a ceiling, leaving more than half of the highest-risk patients unprotected, the study found.

"The fact that there seemed to be a plateau of oral anticoagulation prescription of those at highest risk of stroke should be a wake-up call to all of us who treat patients with atrial fibrillation," Hsu said.

Fonarow agreed and said the findings demonstrate "an urgent need to improve the quality of care for patients with atrial fibrillation in these practices."

More information

There's more on the a-fib/stroke connection at the National Stroke Association.

Want to Keep an Aging Brain Sharp? Try the Stairs

TUESDAY, March 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Aging Americans looking to maintain a healthy brain may want to switch from elevators to stairs, new research suggests.

Fitness seemed key to sharper minds as people got older, a Canadian study found, as was more time spent reading and studying.

The findings show "that education and physical activity affect the difference between a physiological prediction of age and chronological age, and that people can actively do something to help their brains stay young," said lead investigator Jason Steffener, a scientist at Concordia University in Montreal.

"This is encouraging because it demonstrates that a simple thing like climbing stairs has great potential as an intervention tool to promote brain health," Steffener said in a university news release.

The researchers used MRI scans to assess the physical brain health of 331 healthy adults, aged 19 to 79. Those who could climb more flights of stairs and those with higher levels of education had "younger" brains, the researchers found.

Specifically, physical brain age was nearly one year lower for each year of education, the study found. For every flight of stairs climbed per day, physical brain age was slightly more than a half year younger, the researchers said.

However, the study only showed an association between these factors and brain health. It wasn't designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published recently in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Steffener pointed out that there are already many 'Take the stairs' campaigns in office environments and public transportation centers. He said this study suggests that these campaigns should also be expanded for older adults to help them work on keeping their brains young.

"In comparison to many other forms of physical activity, taking the stairs is something most older adults can and already do at least once a day, unlike vigorous forms of physical activity," he said.

More information

The Alzheimer's Association has more on brain health.