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Friday, September 27, 2013

Reduce Your Risk for Alzheimer’s an Astounding 50% with Exercise

Exercise brain AND body to enjoy older years
One of my closest friends has a genetic history of dementia. Both parents suffered Alzheimer’s, and I watched my friend witness the mental death of them both before they physically passed away.

Dementia is a cruel disease that shows no mercy, ultimately stealing a person’s dignity and self-worth.

My friend called me recently panicking. “I’ve been forgetting things more lately,” she told me. “First it was random moments, but lately they’ve become more frequent. I looked for my car keys yesterday morning for nearly an hour and eventually broke down crying.”

After I helped her calm down,
I asked her to join me for an afternoon workout. “Trust me,” I said, “it’s your most effective strategy against Alzheimer’s.” Here’s why.

What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, or non-age related cognitive decline, which affects memory, attention, language, and other cognitive-related functions. Early symptoms include forgetting recent events that initially become dismissed as stress or having a “senior moment.”

Alzheimer’s occurs most often in people aged 65 and older, although early-onset Alzheimer’s, although more rare, can occur earlier.

Experts don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. Most likely the disease is multi-factorial: numerous issues, from stress to genetics, can contribute. We also don’t have a cure for Alzheimer’s. Self-prevention might be your best medicine.

Brain Health 101
I see men and women in their 60s and 70s who still lift heavy. Muscle atrophy doesn’t just automatically occur as you get older, but you have to maintain muscle through hard work. Same thing with memory: if you want to maintain brain strength and vitality as you age, you’ve got to be proactive and take the right steps.

Brain health is vastly under-emphasized in our society. People spend billions every year on supplements and “miracle foods” that promise leaner, harder, and more energetic bodies. We forget (no pun intended!) without a healthy brain, everything else becomes meaningless.

Foremost is a healthy diet. Certain foods like wild-caught salmon and blueberries have a reputation as brain food for good reason. DHA, one of the essential fatty acids in fish and fish oil, constitutes 40% of your brain’s fatty acids, and the antioxidants in berries can protect your brain from oxidative stress.

Limiting sugary, processed foods can also prevent brain decline. I’m all for the occasional dark chocolate or sweet concoction, but eat these every day and you risk blood sugar fluctuations that can lead to diabetes and other health issues. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found increased Alzheimer’s risk in people who had higher blood sugar levels

Optimal sleep provides another protective measure. A study that looked at 15,000 women over 14 years found women who slept too little or too much “was cognitively equivalent to aging by two years.” These women had lower mental function and also risked early Alzheimer's disease compared to those who slept a solid seven hours a night. 

Managing stress levels also helps. Breathe and put things into perspective. Yeah, sitting in Los Angeles traffic or standing in line waiting for the snail’s-pace cashier at Whole Foods isn’t fun, but is it worth risking your health and happiness?

To really step up your game, I recommend brain-boosting nutrients like alpha-GPC and phosphatidylserine (check out my store for a good brand.) I’m assuming, of course, that you’re already taking a good multi and fish oil as your foundation supplements.

A healthy diet, deep sleep, controlling stress, and supplements can all decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s. So can exercise.

Exercise: Optimal Protection Against Brain Decline

Studies show people who routinely exercise have decreased mental function decline and reduce their risk for Alzheimer's disease. In fact, regular consistent exercise can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s up to 50%

"Regular physical exercise is probably the best means we have of preventing Alzheimer's disease today, better than medications, better than intellectual activity, better than supplements and diet," said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Alzheimer's Research Center at the Mayo Clinic.

Physical activity keeps blood flowing to your brain. It also increases chemicals that protect the brain and helps counter age-related decline in neuronal connections. Exercise can even help your brain better handle damaging oxidative stress.

I’m not the only one arguing this. According to the Mayo Clinic Newsletter, regular exercise:

   Keeps thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
   Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment
   Delay the start of Alzheimer's for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease

Show Me the Studies
Wait, you say. You studied kinesiology. Of course you’re going to sing exercise’s virtues.

Well, yeah, but it’s not just me. Among the numerous studies that support a connection between consistent exercise and brain health:

   In one observational study at the University of California that spanned eight years, researchers looked at physical activity and mental function in about 6,000 women age 65 and older, over an eight-year period. The more physically active women were less likely to experience a decline in mental function than inactive women. 
   A study in The Archives of Neurology found even simple exercise like a daily walk could reduce development or progression of Alzheimer’s. Sadly, most folks in this study were sedentary, and researchers believed inactivity increased the plaque that triggers Alzheimer’s. 
   A study at the University of Chicago found mice that exercised have 50 – 80% less plaque in their brains than sedentary mice. 
   A new study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found exercise could boost memory, especially in people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This was the first study to show exercise could improve memory and brain function among older people with mild cognitive impairment. 

5 Simple Ways to Boost Brain Health Right Now
Okay, I get it: you’re young and don’t need to worry about “old people” diseases like Alzheimer’s, right?


What you do in your twenties and thirties will dramatically effect your quality of life as your grow older. I’m not asking for Herculean efforts here. You can implement these five strategies starting now. Believe me: they’ll repay dividends down the road.

1. Incorporate at least 3 brain-health foods into your diet every week. Smart choices include almonds, asparagus, berries, and eggs. For more, see my friend Dr. Daniel Amen’s list of brain foods.
2. Get 7 – 8 hours of high-quality, consistent sleep every night. Grab my tips for sleeping well here.
3. Manage stress levels. Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or even watching a stupid comedy can help reduce stress. Figure out what works for you and do it.
4. Schedule 30 – 60 minutes of exercise several times a week. If you need some help and live in LA, schedule an appointment with me!
5. Practice random acts of kindness. Pay the Whole Foods cashier for the person behind you who may need the help or just let the car ease into your lane on the freeway.  You’ll brighten someone’s day and also boost levels of your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin.

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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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