The Maladies Series continues with a topic that hits very close to home. My father is currently suffering through Alzheimer’s, though thankfully he seems to be far enough gone that he isn’t as upset as he used to be that he doesn’t possess the ability to do the things he used to love, like golf. Alzheimer’s (or dementia, or both in my dad’s case) is an ugly disease. It strips you of everything you love before you lose enough of your mind to not know any better. My father was always very articulate and a decent businessman, so when his speech started faltering about eight years ago, he went in to find out what was going on. He was devastated when they handed down the news. He handled it the best he could for as long as he could, but that once proud man now resides in a nursing home – we just celebrated his 70th birthday in November.
That being said, and even though I’ve heard that Alzheimer’s often skips generations, I’m not taking any chances and much of what I’ve read suggests that this absolutely is not the case – though heredity is very rare and sporadic. Keeping in mind that I’m a recovering alcoholic – which has a tendency to ravage a brain cell or several billion, I have reason to do as much as I can to ensure that I won’t end up like my dad. This includes eating fish, even though I am very mildly allergic to some (my tongue itches when I eat it – go figure – and not shellfish, just fish) and other brain healthy foods. It also includes a lot of exercise. By comparison, I’m in far better shape than my dad was at my age – we’re not even in the same ballpark. I can remember long ago reading that an active lifestyle can go a long way in preventing (or postponing) the onset of Alzheimer’s. Since I read that, the body of evidence has grown quite a bit:
“According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50 percent.
Regular exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems”.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week. Try walking, swimming, or any other activity that gets your heart rate up. Even routine activities such as gardening, cleaning, or doing laundry count as exercise.
- Build muscle to pump up your brain. Moderate levels of weight and resistance training not only increase muscle mass, they help you maintain brain health. Combining aerobics and strength training is better than either activity alone. For those over 65, adding 2-3 strength sessions to your weekly routine may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s in half.
- Include balance and coordination exercises. Head injuries from falls are an increasing risk as you grow older, which in turn increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Balance and coordination exercises can help you stay agile and avoid spills. Try yoga, Tai Chi, or exercises using balance discs or balance balls.
Here’s a long form study that pretty much says the same thing…
“Since 1991, and the first report by Li et al,6 the results of
these studies have been inconsistent. However, 20 of the 24
longitudinal epidemiological studies (Table 1) analyzed in our
systematic review suggested a significant and independent
preventive effect of physical activity on cognitive decline or
dementia. All these results were adjusted for various confounders
(Table 2). On the other hand, only 3 longitudinal
epidemiological studies have failed to find any association
between physical activity and cognitive decline.11,15,20”
This is important:
“Studies conducted on those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) indicate that aerobic exercise may improve cognitive agility. In one study, investigators looked at the relationship between physical activity and ones’ risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 1,700 adults aged 65 years and older were observed over a 6-year period in this study. Results showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was 35 to 40 percent lower in those who exercised for at least 15 minutes 3 or more times a week than in those who exercised fewer than 3 times a week”.
Well that’s enough for me. To boil this down, “they” say that exercise will help a person to hold off the effects of Alzheimer’s and a 30 to 40 percent reduction in risk, simply by exercising 15 minutes, 3 times a week…
There should be no doubt that a lifestyle of rigorous activity can help or eliminate many of life’s maladies. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, I do what they suggest for a warm up, five days a week – I’m going to do my best to outrun it.
As a Post Script, I became physically active well before my dad was diagnosed. I was fortunate to have several years of running under my belt before I even knew the importance of Exercise vs. Alzheimer’s.