Maintaining a Healthy Brain


Exciting new research in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease suggests that even if a person is predisposed genetically to these conditions, it may be possible to prevent or at least delay the damaging changes from happening to our brains.

The key is prevention—working to change the progress of disease before symptoms even occur. Similar to heart disease and diabetes, we’re learning that lifestyle choices can delay the onset and minimize risk and severity.

There are only a few Alzheimer’s prevention clinics in the US currently since “prevention” is a new idea. They use technology, problem-solving tests, and blood work to assess the ABCs of Alzheimer’s prevention. A is “anthropometrics”—things like body fat, lean body mass, muscle strength, waist measurement and more. B is blood biomarkers—all the standard blood work plus tests for inflammatory and genetic markers that increase risk. C is cognition, measuring thinking skills and mental flexibility.

Some risk factors are beyond our control: genetic predisposition, gender (women are at a higher risk), age; but the exciting learning has been in just how much our lifestyle choices can affect our outcome. Modifiable risk factors include what we eat, how much we eat (abdominal fat raises our risk threefold!), how we sleep, our blood pressure, our overall fitness level.

Here are the things the Weill Cornell’s Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic recommends we start doing right now to lower our risk:

  • Get our baseline numbers for things like cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, blood pressure, body-mass index and waist circumference.
  • Take a cognitive test. There’s a 15-minute “SAGE” test we can do at home; for a link, go to alzu.org.
  • Keep our muscle mass. We lose muscle over the years if we don’t work to keep it. Most experts recommend a combination of aerobic and resistance/weight training for best results.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight, especially carrying extra abdominal fat, increases our risk for Alzheimer’s and other medical conditions.
  • Eat “green, lean and clean.” Brains benefit from a plant-heavy diet (veggies, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds) with lean protein (especially fish). Extra-virgin olive oil is their recommended go-to dietary oil.
  • Eat fatty fish twice a week: salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout or sardines.
  • Cut out evening snacking. At least a few times a week, try not to eat for 12-14 hours between dinner and breakfast. At least cut out carbs to encourage the body to burn stored fats.
  • Get some good quality shut-eye. Plan for at least 8 hours of sleep per night; turn off all devices for 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime.
  • Put some downtime on our to-do list. Every 4 1/2 years of work stress equates to a year of brain aging! Things like yoga, acupuncture, and regular vacations help. (I would add massage the reflexology, among other things!)
  • Find joy and connection with others. Hobbies and friendships can both relax and challenge our brains.
  • Play music. There’s a lot of new research pointing out the benefit of music to brain health. Listening to music is good, but making music is even better. Learning ukulele is achievable for most people, and more towns (St. Augustine among them!) have regular jam sessions for ukulele enthusiasts, which adds a social element as well.
  • Keep up with dental, vision and hearing health. Untreated tooth and gum problems cause inflammation that can lead to other complications. Vision and hearing loss can result in social isolation.
  • Don’t smoke. 
  • Consider genetic testing, if you believe that knowledge is power. There is no test that says definitively whether we will get Alzheimer’s, but if we find out that we are at risk genetically, it might motivate us to try that much harder to stave it off with lifestyle changes.
  • Join a clinical trial. If we want to take part in studies that might lead to a cure, we can search for studies at clinicaltrials.gov. In June, the Alzheimer’s Association is funding the largest ever lifestyle study on preventing cognitive decline. Learn more at alz.org/us-pointer.

Source: “Cheater’s Guide to Beating Alzheimer’s” by Paula Spencer Scott, “Parade Magazine,” April 8, 2018

Category : Blog &Health &Massage Therapy &Reflexology Posted on April 10, 2018

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