When nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally, our memory, behavior, and ability to think clearly are affected. We become unable to recognize family members or care for ourselves. Even basic things such as chewing and swallowing or walking can be impaired.
Regular exercise can protect against Alzheimer’s dementia by up to 60 percent and it can even slow down further deterioration in those who already have it. Just like our biceps, abdominal and heart muscles benefit from physical activity, so does our brain. A world of good can come to us when we exercise just 150 minutes a week, the approximate length of a movie.
Some tips include starting off slowly, even 10 minutes at a time; doing an activity we enjoy, like walking, swimming laps, bicycling, playing tennis, gardening, or jogging; breaking up activity throughout the day; making it a group activity with family and friends.
—A “brain healthy” eating plan. This provides our noggin with the right balance of vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants while avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol. In order for our brains to remain in tip-top condition we need to provide the best fuel possible.
Brain-healthy eating should be thought of as a lifelong marathon, not a sprint.
—Mental stimulation, “use-it-or-lose-it,” mental aerobics. Whatever we may want to call it, ‘exercising’ our minds is like depositing money in a savings account in anticipation of a rainy day. Consider learning something new like a language, skill or hobby, or studying a period in history we have been curious about. People who play games such as puzzles, crosswords, cards and checkers at least every other day have been shown to maintain sharper thinking skills and a decreased risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
—Quality sleep. As Benjamin Franklin stated: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Research has shown that when young and middle-aged adults suffer from insomnia, they increase their risk for developing Alzheimer’s down the road. Not getting enough sleep can increase a protein known as amyloid beta that is found in Alzheimer’s.
On the other hand, good quality sleep allows our brains to rest and rejuvenate. This equates to memory consolidation, much like our computers do when we back them up. Let’s follow proper sleep hygiene — the rituals and routines that we undergo, much like getting a baby to fall asleep.
—Active social life. Having friends allows us to share our joys and sorrows, exchange ideas and advice, and celebrate. However, as we age, our children leave our homes and we retire from the workforce. This can make it difficult to maintain an active social life. Consider volunteering at a charitable organization; join a club or social group; meet your neighbors; call friends on the phone or email; or take a group class at the gym or community college.
Godot may never literally arrive, much like a cure for Alzheimer’s dementia. However, proven lifestyle changes can keep our brain cells healthy and functioning longer. It is widely shared by many that the best medicine we can take is that of prevention. After all, why fix something if we don’t have to break it? Perhaps Godot has arrived and has been sitting in front of us all along. We just didn’t know what Godot looked like.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.