You've added crosswords to your morning routine and listen to classical music regularly, but it turns out, mental gymnastics aren't the best way to keep your brain in tip-top shape. In fact, actual gymnastics would be more effective.
A growing amount of evidence suggests that physical activity is the best way to prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Scary fact: 1 in 8 Americans over the age of 65 (5.2 million in all) has Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. And what's even scarier — this debilitating brain disorder has no cure, making preventive action all the more important.
Characterized by extreme forgetfulness and confusion, Alzheimer's disease is defined as "a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks."
Get to Know the Signs
Difficulty with memory, thinking, and reasoning are the first signs, which can start to occur up to 20 years before a clinical diagnosis, according to Heather M. Snyder, Ph.D, Senior Associate Director of Medical and Scientific Relations for the Alzheimer's Association. Other signs include:
"Changes might be different for each individual," says Dr. Snyder. "For example, I balance my checkbook every week and have done so since college. If I suddenly notice I'm having difficulty with that, it might be a time to seek further evaluation." The red flag in that situation is having a harder time with activities you do regularly and normally don't have to think about, Dr. Snyder stresses.
Although researchers don't fully understand why these brain changes occur, advancing age, a family history of the disease, and certain "risk" genes play a role. Some researchers have also drawn conclusions about a link between diabetes and Alzheimer's, saying a diet high in fat, sugar, and processed foods influences the way your brain metabolizes sugars, but evidence is inconclusive. Dr. Snyder says diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer's, as is heart disease, but that the medical community is still grasping for answers, hence the struggle to find a therapy that reverses the effects.
What You Can Do
We know working out doesn't always sound appealing, but what if we told you it could preserve your brain function? Several recent studies indicate that physical activity, specifically resistance or weight training, has the best outcome in terms of Alzheimer's prevention, says Dr. Snyder. More research is needed to determine why resistance training is more effective, she adds. "This is really the first set of studies that look at the type of exercise."
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise in general benefits the brain, because it both increases oxygen-rich blood flow and produces chemicals that protect the brain by countering some of the natural, age-related reduction of brain connections.
While aerobic training, like running, walking, and biking, is still great for heart health, Dr. Snyder recommends incorporating resistance training, which includes exercises done with rubber resistance bands or tubes, body weight-bearing exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, and squats, and exercises done with dumbbells or weight machines. The Mayo Clinic recommends exercising a few times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. Consult with your doctor or a fitness professional to find a safe and effective workout for you.
The Alzheimer's Association also recommends a healthy body-and-mind strategy that includes:
Physical activities that also involve mental activity–plotting your route, observing traffic signals, avoiding obstacles–provide additional value for brain health. Plus, doing these activities with a companion offers the added benefit of social interaction.
If your loved one shows signs of Alzheimer's or has already been diagnosed, Dr. Snyder stresses the importance of educating yourself as a caretaker—and as a someone affected by this disease. The Alzheimer's Association offers local community resources, like support groups, education programs, and 800 hotlines.
Want to protect your health & well-being? Grandparents.com is now offering health plans with the coverage you need at rates you deserve! Learn more about Grandparents.com recommended health plans by clicking here or calling 1-855-69-LARRY.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.