The ability to walk well is a sign of good health, independence, and mobility for older adults. In fact, I’ve reported on how studies indicate a good gait is the single best predictor of longevity (not all of the overhyped, high-tech, pseudo-scientific tests and measures you hear about).
But research shows that taking multiple prescription drugs together (a practice known as polypharmacy) can slow or hamper the ability to walk in older people.
Meanwhile, being able to walk and talk at the same time is a conventional measure of cognitive ability. And, not surprisingly, a new study found that polypharmacy can hamper this multitasking effort as well.
Frankly, I’m not sure I could walk or talk at all if I had to take a bunch of medications. And yet mainstream doctors continue to whip out their prescription pads, especially as their patients age.
The irony is that natural approaches can not only prevent and reverse the chronic diseases that are associated with aging, but these approaches are also beneficial for both cognitive performance and gait—which ultimately improve longevity.
I’ll tell you more in a moment about the supplements, diet, and lifestyle modifications I recommend to improve your mobility and cognitive health. But first, let’s take a closer look at this new study and the practice of polypharmacy in general.
Taking just five different medications sets you up for over 100 potentially deadly interactions
Technically, polypharmacy is described as taking five or more medications at the same time. And sadly, this is not unusual—especially for older people.
Back when I was in medical training during the 1970s, we typically encountered patients who were on as many as nine different drugs at the same time. When these patients developed cognitive deficits, instead of immediately diagnosing them with “senile dementia,” we would stop the drugs for a short period of time. In the majority of cases, cognitive functions cleared up in 24 to 36 hours.
Of course, this was before today’s proliferation of drugs, designed not to treat actual health conditions, but to address putative “risk factors” like the cholesterol chimera.
Current research suggests that, for most older adults, taking as many as five different drugs at the same time may not be medically necessary. Not to mention that polypharmacy multiplies the dangers of drug side effects.
It’s impossible to know all of the side effects caused by interactions among different medications. There’s data on the interaction of one drug with another, and one drug with an herbal remedy (which the mainstream is typically quick to point out).
But statistically, the number of possible interactions among five drugs is known as “five factorial,” which means 5 x 4 x 3 x 2, or 120 possible interactions. With the nine drugs I saw in my medical school patients, this number goes up to 362,880!
Along with multiple side effects, polypharmacy has also been linked to disability, falls, frailty, and even death. Which leads me to the new study I mentioned earlier.
A direct link between polypharmacy and walking speed
Researchers examined data from 482 people over age 65 who were enrolled in the Central Control of Mobility in Aging Study. The main objective of this study was to determine how changes in the brain and central nervous system occur during aging, and how those changes impact the ability to walk.1
None of the study participants used walking aids such as canes or walkers. A third of the participants took five or more prescription drugs or over-the-counter remedies each day, and 10 percent used nine or more.
People in these polypharmacy groups were more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, a history of heart attacks, or diabetes. They were also more likely to have experienced a fall within the past year.
Once a year between 2011 and 2016, the researchers gave the subjects detailed examinations that assessed physical health, mental well-being, and mobility. Among other measures, the participants’ walking speed and ability to walk and talk at the same time were measured.
After controlling for chronic health issues, those in the five-plus medication group had a slower walking speed compared with those taking fewer medications. And the study participants who took nine or more medications also had a slower gait while walking and talking.
My natural longevity Rx
Based on this and other research, it’s a no-brainer that you should avoid unnecessary drugs—for many reasons. But you can also
take some simple, natural steps (no pun intended) to increase your walking speed, boost your cognition, and improve your longevity.
Moderate exercise can reduce knee osteoarthritis. And alleviating the pain of osteoarthritis can, in turn, improve your gait.
The Ayurvedic herbal trio of ashwaghanda, boswellia, and curcumin can also help protect and support your joints. I call them my ABCs for joint health, and they’re the cornerstone of my Core Joint & Bone FX supplement.
I’ve also written about research showing that aspal (South African rooibos or red bush) and dandelion (either as a tea or supplement) can significantly improve gait in men. powdered Aspal extract combined with blueberry powder can also boost functional mobility.
And of course, we all know blueberries have remarkable short- and long-term benefits for cognition and memory. As do vitamins B, D, and E… and the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Also, don’t forget my favorite healthy “vices”—chocolate (the darker the better) and coffee, not to mention alcohol in moderation.
Not only will these nutritional powerhouses help boost your health and cognition, but they’ll give you a good reason to get off the couch and take a quick walk to the kitchen (or around the block after your Thanksgiving feast)!
1Geroge, C., Verghese, J. “Polypharmacy and Gait Performance in Community–dwelling Older Adults.” (June 2017). J Am Geriatr Soc. National Center of Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28649786