Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s with Lifestyle Changes
Of all the concerns facing an aging population, the fear of dementia ranks high, our fear of developing a debilitating loss of cognitive function that impairs our ability to get through daily life.
There are different types of dementia. The most common form, by far, is Alzheimer’s disease which is marked by inflammation and the buildup of amyloid plaque in the brain. More than 5 million people in the United States are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As baby boomers age, this number is expected to mushroom.
The biggest risk factor for dementia is our genetic composition, but while genes determine our risk for a disease, our lifestyle and environment can either trigger or suppress those risks. Alzheimer’s disease starts in the brain some 20 to 30 years before symptoms emerge, so intervening early through personalized medicine and lifestyle modifications can make a difference.
An Individualized Therapeutic Approach
While we wait for an effective drug to treat or cure Alzheimer’s, some doctors are recommending lifestyle changes.
The Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, under the direction of neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, is using an individualized therapeutic approach to study the effects on cognitive improvements. Based on a battery of blood, genetic and cognitive tests, as well as measurements of body fat and muscle mass, patients receive personalized recommendations, ranging from specific diets, certain vitamins and tailored exercise plans.
Over a period of 18 months, patients were monitored for:
- cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels because they are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
- body fat and muscle mass since studies show that the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, gets smaller as belly size gets bigger. Exercise routines were customized to the body metrics of the patients.
- meditation to reduce stress and brain stimulation by learning a new instrument or foreign language.
At the end of the study, the patients showed statistically significant improvements in cognitive function.
Six Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Risk of Alzheimer’s
The strategy to reverse cognitive decline is based on creating a more optimal internal environment for general health and longevity.
California neurologist Dr. Dale Bredesen has also been effective in reversing early onset Alzheimer’s with a lifestyle protocol designed to correct imbalances in metabolic function, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal regulation and oxidative stress (free radicals vs. antioxidants).
He has found that simple modifications in sleep, diet and exercise routines can improve performance on cognitive tests in areas like processing speed and executive function, such as decision-making and planning. Dr. Bredesen’s daily protocol includes:
- eating a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables and good fats.
- regular cardio exercise, including intervals of high enough intensity to leave you breathless.
- fasting at least 12 hours after dinner.
- brain training exercises.
- getting at least 8 hours of sleep.
- a regimen of supplements to address individual deficiencies.
The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
While baby boomers are threatening to overload the health care system with our vast numbers and diseases of aging, experts like Dr. John Ratey offer hope that since we came of age in the era of Kenneth Cooper’s ground-breaking concept of aerobics, we also recognize the importance of a healthy heart and lungs. Now scientific evidence links exercise and fitness to brain health as well. In his book Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. Ratey offers these benefits of how exercise can improve the lifespan and create a healthy internal environment by:
- strengthening the cardiovascular system, creating less strain on the body and the brain.
- regulating fuel, balancing insulin and glucose production.
- reducing obesity. Fat has its own detrimental effects on the brain. Simply being overweight doubles the chances of developing dementia.
- elevating your stress threshold, combating the effects of too much cortisol, a product of chronic stress linked to dementia.
- lifting your mood, which reduces your chances of developing dementia.
- boosting the immune system. Even moderate activity reduces your risk of diseases like cancer.
- fortifying your bones, which keeps you mobile to continue exercising as you age.
- boosting motivation, creating a desire to stay engaged, active and alive as it strengthens the connections between dopamine neurons.
- fostering neuroplasticity, strengthening connections between brain cells, keeping the brain growing and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Given the choice, why wouldn’t you make simple improvements in lifestyle behaviors to enhance your overall health, help your cognition and possibly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s?
© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out Joan’s book Strength Training Exercises for Women at http://bit.ly/JPFSTEW