Alice Germann: "Heads Up for Healthy Brains"
Lupus SK Symposium, April 16, 2011
Heads Up for Healthy Brains is based on current research which has identified steps you can take to improve your brain health. Can you prevent Alzheimer's disease? There are no guarantees, but healthy lifestyle choices will help keep your brain as healthy as possible as you age. And since a healthier brain can withstand illness better, it's important to take action on the things you can control -- lifestyle choices.
Alzheimer's disease develops when the risk factors for the disease combine and reach a level that overwhelms the brain's ability to maintain and repair itself. So reducing as many of the risk factors as you can makes good sense. By making healthy lifestyle choices, you may be able to reduce your risk and improve your brain's ability to sustain long-term health.
There are two risk factors that you cannot control: genetics and aging. There is no doubt that genetics play a role in the disease. Yet only a small percentage of cases are associated with the specific genes that cause the inherited form of the disease. The majority of cases may have genetic links but the risk of contracting the disease only slightly increases if a family member had/has Alzheimer's disease. Age is the most significant known risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. Even with other risk factors present, Alzheimer's disease never sets in until mid to late adulthood. However, researchers believe that the disease process starts years before symptoms appear. Although you cannot control genetics and aging, there is much you can do that may help reduce your risk of getting the disease.
Physical activity improves your body's ability to function; studies show that keeping your brain active may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Think of it as "activity" not "exercise." For those who feel they have little opportunity to exercise, start by adding a bit of physical activity into your daily routine. Choose a brisk walk to the store rather than driving the car, or wash and wax the car instead of going to the car wash. Be sure to check with your doctor about the kind of physical activity that might be right you.
People who exercise regularly are also less likely to develop heart disease, stroke and diabetes, conditions that are all associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In addition to improving your general health, physical activity is also beneficial for your brain health. Even moderate physical activity promotes the circulation of blood to the brain, which nourishes the cells with nutrients and oxygen, and may even encourage the development of new cells.
A brain-healthy lifestyle also emphasizes the importance of overcoming routine and monotony in our daily lives. By approaching daily routines in new ways, you engage new or little used mental pathways. Since evidence suggests that mental stimulation enhances brain activity and may help maintain brain health throughout life, it is important to put your brain to work. Challenging your brain need not be difficult. It can be as simple as dialing the phone with your less dominant hand or as complex as learning a new language. Remember, the goal is to give your brain a new experience and a workout each and every day.
Staying connected socially helps you stay connected mentally. Research shows that people who regularly interact with others maintain their brain function better than those who don't. Socializing appears to have a protective effect that may help lessen your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Maintain old friendships and make new ones. Stay socially active through work, volunteer activities, travel, hobbies, family and friends. Be open to new experiences. Staying active and involved with life sends healthy messages to your brain and body. Being involved with others also helps to reduce stress, boost mood and keep relationships strong.