We often start with diet and exercise when we think of healthy activities. There is nothing wrong with that because many nutrition experts believe that diet has the most significant effect on lifespan and health. Advice on exercise usually follows. Life span is the length of time you live without serious illness and enjoy having a sense of well-being. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is an increasing disruptor of mental and physical health for those over sixty. It is a leading cause of chronic disabling disease in older adults.
Experts in the field of Neurology
Two of my favorite Alzheimer’s Disease research experts are Dr. Dean Sherzai and Dr. Aisha Shirzai from Loma Linda, California. They have distinguished themselves as leaders in this field of study and have numerous publications and YouTube presentations from talks and interviews all around the country. They comprehensively explain what research has discovered about the cause and progression of AD and, more importantly, what you can do about it.
A Personal Note
I’ve had a keen interest in AD for the last ten years because my parents (mother and father) suffered from this horrible brain destroyer. I figured I might as well enjoy life for a while because I’m probably doomed, having both sets of my genes from parents with dementia. But I began to research AD, and during a random search on YouTube, I stumbled on a presentation given by the Shirzais’ and my trajectory of thought dramatically changed.
Hope emerged from what these brilliant doctors had to say about reducing risk factors for dementia, specifically AD. I was enlightened to learn risk factors for AD are almost the same as risk factors for heart attacks and strokes. I recommend checking out one or more of the Sherzais’ YouTube presentations on AD. What I have to say about engaging your mind is part and parcel borrowed from the Shirzai’s teachings and publications.
Though only about three pounds (two percent of body weight) in an adult, the brain utilizes twenty percent of the body’s energy. It is constantly working to keep us alive every minute of the day and night. It doesn’t take time off and shut down for sleep and doesn’t have vacation time when healthy. The brain is so vital that a thick wall of bone almost totally encases it.
A healthy brain is essential for the rest of the body systems to work correctly, and this requires a steady influx of oxygen and glucose provided by blood vessels. Interestingly, other organs have similar requirements (muscles, liver, heart), but the brain has more blood vessels to achieve this than any other organ. What does that tell you?
How to Reduce Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease
AD is a vascular disease, which means anything that damages blood vessels can damage the brain. The links below highlight five action steps recommended by these esteemed neurologists. The doctors created the acronym, “NEURO.”
N is for nutrition: Plant-based advised
E- is for exercise: 25-30 mins a day
U- is for unwind: manage/reduce stress and meditation
R- is for rest: good sleep
O- is for optimizing the brain
I will only address the “O” part of reducing risk factors for dementia from this point.
The doctors emphasized that brain exercises are just as important as physical exercise. They highlighted three essential areas for optimizing your brain: Complexity, Challenge and Purpose.
Playing Sudoku or crossword puzzles are ways to enhance memory but shouldn’t be the only brain exercise because it’s not very complex. Examples of complex brain exercises include learning a new language and learning how to play an instrument, sing a song, and dance. Working on community projects or playing cards with a few other people represent higher complex activities.
Complex activities use multiple regions of the brain, for example, the visual cortex, language center, frontal lobe (decision and thought), creative centers, and motor cortex. The interaction of multiple areas of the brain helps maintain the connectivity of nerve cells and slow aging.
Another critical component of engaging the mind is your involvement in challenging activities. The “challenge” is what recruits other nerve activities and helps maintain and create new connections. If you spend hours doing the same thing, with no need for thought, improvisation or creativity your brain gets board. The lack of stimulation in different regions of the brain leads to loss of nerve connections.
The last point is for our activities to have a purpose. In our learned years, we engage in several complex activities that present challenges to progress to higher levels of learning, by passing exams and graduating. Some have challenging and complex jobs that further cultivate brain health and preservation.
Retirement may sometimes mark a decline in brain health if we do not engage in complex, challenging, and purposeful activities. Consider some of the activities I mentioned above or produce your own.
Adequate Sleep Enhances Your Brain Exercises
Exercises such as running, jogging, or strength training don’t work well on insufficient sleep. Similarly, brain activities and engagement are hampered by not having enough sleep. I discussed the importance of sleep in the article I posted two weeks ago. An adult should try to get between 7-9 hours of sleep, allowing the brain to organize the day’s previous events. While asleep, the brain engages in cellular and intercellular (the small space between nerve cells) clean-up and repair. Finally, the brain smooths out emotional disturbances overnight as you sleep. These events culminate in a better mood, focus, alertness, and decision-making. Good sleep is foundational to the success of a complex, challenging, and purposeful brain exercise.
We only utilize a small portion of our brain for daily living. Still, we can expand the capacity for continued learning, problem-solving, and memory by using as much of the brain as possible during our wakeful state. Watching television for hours or playing digital games all day in a seated position will not align you with good mental and physical health. Choosing activities that stimulate different regions of the brain that interact with each other gets you there.
-Learn how to play a new instrument
-Learn a new language
-Memorize and sing new songs
-Take dancing lessons
-Volunteer for community service programs
-Play sophisticated card or board games with friends
Again, if you are either still in school or have a job that involves frequent movement, problem-solving, and interaction with others, you may not need to pay much attention to this article (save it for later). But if you are enjoying retirement or are disabled, or have lots of free time, carefully consider the points I made.