Tag Archives: health choices

Protect Your Brain – Seven Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s

Learning to prevent Alzheimer’s is a topic near and dear to my heart, simply because I have seen exactly how destructive it can be to both those who are struggling with it and to their family. There is a common misconception that Alzheimer’s will neatly eat away at your memory and leave other things intact, but it actually degrades your brain globally destroying memory, personality, skills and social functions. Alzheimer’s destroys everything about the person in a slow, systematic downhill slide.  It’s horrible for the person who is struggling and equally hard for their loved ones. Nobody knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but there are clearly both genetic and lifestyle components. The great news is that there are many steps you can take to keep your brain healthy and sharp into old age.  There is no guarantee that you will be protected, but certainly you can reduce your risk.

Alzheimer's disease brain comparison

Normal brain (left) vs. Alzheimer’s brain (right). Notice the similarities between these pictures and the alcoholic brain pictures below.

Proven Measures to Prevent Alzheimer’s: The Seven Foundations of Good Health.

1. Active body

  • Physical exercise reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 50% – that is a dramatic difference. Also, if cognitive decline has already started then getting more exercise can slow to progress of the condition.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of activity that increases your heart rate (or aerobic activity) 5 times per week.
  • Building strong muscles helps maintain brain health as well. Adding 2-3 sessions of resistance exercise like lifting weights not only increases muscle mass but also makes your brain healthier.
  • Exercises or activities that increase balance and coordination such as tai-chi, yoga, qi gong, or even stand up paddle boarding can help your brain to develop new connections, strengthen your body and even prevent head injury, which is also a contributor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss.

2. Active Mind

  • It makes sense that exercising the brain will help to keep it stronger and more active as you age.
  • Learn something new, take up a new hobby, or try strategy games, puzzles, riddles or memory games.
  • Do the same old thing in a different way – take a new driving route to the grocery store, try writing with the other hand or rearrange your kitchen.  Doing something a new way pushes your brain to create new neural pathways.

3. Active Social Life

  • Research shows that the more connected you are to your social group and to other people, the more likely it is that you will do well on test of memory and cognition.
  • It is easier with age to become more socially isolated so take care to cultivate and maintain healthy friendships and relationships.
  • If you are in a position with a recent move or transition out of the work force and don’t have great social connections then it is time to build some. Volunteer, take night classes, join a club or social group, visit a community or senior center, get out and about, or get a small part time fun job.

4. Healthy Diet

  • Alzheimer’s is highly linked to heart disease so adopting a heart-healthy diet will also help you to prevent Alzheimer’s long term. It is also highly linked to diabetes, so managing healthy blood sugars in key in keeping your brain functioning at its best.
  • Eat plenty of good quality fats and oils like olive oil, grass fed butter, fish oil, coconut oil and avocados.  Decrease the amount of fatty or processed meats, shortening, and especially trans fats.
  • Increase the amount of vegetables and fruits that you eat every day especially the darkly or richly pigmented veggies and fruits like blueberries, pomegranate, beets, carrots, raspberries, elderberry, and blackberry.
  • Minimize the candy, cookies, sweets and also breads in the diet.  Alzheimer’s is closely related to diabetes and involves an insulin-resistance within the brain itself so it is important that you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Eat small amounts regularly – for brain health, 4-5 small meals daily is better than 2-3 larger ones.
  • A daily cup of green tea has also been shown to reduce your risk and promote brain health.

5. Healthy Sleep

  •  Sleep can be a struggle with age so it is important to create a good sleep environment. Make sure to use good sleep hygiene with a totally dark room, no background noise and a regular sleep schedule.
  • Use melatonin if you have difficulty falling asleep or sleep lightly. Melatonin by itself has shown great benefit in protecting the health and function of the brain so this could be a double-whammy.  Also in a senior population melatonin at high dose, like 20 mg nightly,  is safe and possibly advisable because research is showing benefits with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
  • The average person needs 8 hours of sleep to peak creativity and productivity.

6. Healthy Stress Levels

  • Every life has challenges, but worrying has never actually solved any of them.
  • Undue levels of stress create changes in your body that then change your mental functioning.
  • Breathe – stress reduces the amount of oxygen in your brain, so deep belly breathing for a few minutes a couple of times a day can help to re-oxygenate and re-energize your brain.

7. Stop With the Self-Harm.

  • Avoiding some of the major triggers of Alzheimer’s disease will obviously keep you protected longer.
  • Quit smoking – smoking has been shown to lead to earlier onset of dementia.
  • Drink in moderation – excessive alcohol also speeds up the onset of memory loss and dementia, some of which is entirely alcohol related.

    Normal brain vs. an alcoholic's brain.  Notice any similarities to the Alzheimer's brain pictures? Drinking only in moderation helps you prevent Alzheimer's disease.

    Normal brain vs. an alcoholic’s brain. Notice any similarities to the Alzheimer’s brain pictures? Drinking only in moderation helps you prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Protect your noggin – head injury is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s and protecting your head can help your brain to stay sharp.

As the US population ages the rates of Alzheimer’s disease are rising.  Protect your brain and adopt an anti-Alzheimer’s lifestyle.  It is literally never too late to make positive change – even if it’s walking around the block every day. There is always something you can do to change your health and well being and to change your disease risk – you can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s even if you have a family history of the disease. Look to future posts to talk about some of the supplements and specific activities that can be helpful for Alzheimer’s disease.

It's candy cleverly disguised so you won't notice this unhealthy choice.

The Reason We’re So Unhealthy: Choices

Sure sure, lifespans are longer but humans are pretty darn unhealthy right now and honestly I think it all boils down to one thing, and that is unhealthy choices.  Which sounds pretty much like a no-brainer, right? But here’s the thing – it’s not that we are newly weak willed and our ancestors would have made better choices, it’s that we’re really in the first few generations to even have to think about it – so it’s not so much that we’re bad at making healthy choices, it’s that we’re FIRST at having to make choices about this at all.

Think about your grandparents for a minute.  If your grandparents were anything like mine they didn’t own one piece of exercise equipment and had never set foot in a gym (but were pretty darn fit, all things considered). They ate meat and potatoes and bread and about a mountain of ice cream, but weren’t obese.  Pleasantly plump maybe but not even close to obese.  So – why was their self-care so much more relaxed than ours is today with our obsessive avoidance of carbs and pedometer-measured steps and constantly monitored states of health? And why were their outcomes better?

Here’s the thing – they didn’t have a choice about health for the first several decades of their life.  They couldn’t choose the snack cakes from the convenience store or the freezer dinners or the gallons of soda and late-night ice cream bars. They couldn’t because for the most part they didn’t have access to any of that – it wasn’t invented yet.  The food they had access to was milk fresh from farms, veggies either fresh from the garden or canned at home, meat from local farms, their own back yard or from a hunting trip.  That’s pretty much it. Sure there was penny candy as a rare treat and far more home-baked goodies like pies and cookies, but they were made at home with real ingredients. Life involved more activity because things like walking, horseback riding, chopping wood and gardening were activities of daily living -not just things they did on the weekend to “get their exercise” or “connect with nature.”  In short, life didn’t actually give our grandparents and great-grandparents the unhealthy choices we have now.

If I wanted to I could probably walk less than 500 steps a day.  I could drive to my mailbox (you laugh, but most people have done it at least once), have groceries delivered, shop online, stay at the desk at work and move only to get back into the car.  I could also choose to eat only processed food for weeks or to go on a sugar binge or to consume my entire caloric needs in soda. I have all of those decisions to make and a lot of times it’s cheaper and easier to choose the unhealthy way. The generations coming before you and I didn’t ever have to think about this because the unhealthy way was either not available, or such a luxury item as to be prohibitive to most.

It’s really easy to beat yourself up over “making unhealthy choices,” “falling off the diet wagon,” or “cheating” but I actually think that a pat on the back is more appropriate.  Evolutionarily speaking we are designed to always want food . Plus, we want sweet, fatty and salty food the most because those would have been the most rare in our wild state.  You are literally programmed to seek those things constantly and you’re facing a staggering array of unhealthy choices constantly.  I think you should get an award for working at it.  You are amazing and awe-inspiring and wonderful for choosing health more often than you give in to unhealthy choices.  You and I, we’re really in one of the first generations to have to make any of these choices at all and I think we’re doing amazingly well.

Just in case you're thinking that's actually fruit, let me assure you it's not. It's candy cleverly disguised so you won't notice these unhealthy choices.

Just in case you’re thinking that’s actually fruit, let me assure you it’s not. It’s candy cleverly disguised so you won’t notice these unhealthy choices.

So keep up the great work and give yourself a pat on the back because frankly, you have earned it.  Every time you go to a store you walk past racks of candy bars on your way out that cost almost nothing.  You are constantly confronted with friends eating processed food, the enormous never-ending bowl of corn chips at the Mexican restaurant and bucket of popcorn at the movies.  Today there is a constant, ever-present option to make unhealthy choices.  If you are only making unhealthy choices some of the time then my friend you are ahead of the curve. So congratulations! You are paving the way for future generations to get more balance and to be a little more moderate about all of this – right now we’re just wallowing in the unhealthy possibilities.