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Decrease intake of saturated fats such as red meat, pizza, desserts.

Maintain your water and fluid (nonalcohol) intake.

Eat fruits and vegetables, which are vital sources of antioxidants.

Take a multivitamin tablet daily.

Supplement with vitamin E and consider vitamins A and C as well. Keep Exercising

Even very old people can benefit from a rigorous exercise program. Maria Fiatarone, a geriatrician at Tufts University, published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in which a hundred frail, elderly nursing home residents (averaging eighty-seven years old) were randomized (equal chances of entering one treatment condition or another, like tossing a coin and seeing if it's heads or tails) to be in an exercise program that included progressive resistance weight training, intensive nutritional supplementation, a combination of the exercise program and nutritional supplementation, or a comparison (control) group that did not receive weight training. Compared to the control group, people in the exercise group more than doubled their leg strength in eight weeks. Perhaps even more important, nutritional supplementation alone did not do much good for physical strength and stamina, but the exercise plus nutritional supplementation group performed as well as the exercise only group.

The results of this study were striking, and the advantages of regular exercise are now universally accepted as part of any good health program, regardless of age. A recent study by Kramer and colleagues (1999) also produced impressive results: in 174 previously sedentary people sixty to seventy-five years old, regular walking led to improved performance on cognitive tests of executive function (memory was not systematically assessed in that study). As with diet, exercise should be a lifelong effort and not cease abruptly when you reach fifty or sixty or seventy. The body is a dynamic system and needs constant physical pruning and reshaping to perform optimally.

Physical Fitness Leads to Mental Fitness

In addition to its effects on the body, physical exercise also leads to "mental fitness"—improved cognitive performance, including memory. A clinical study showed that elderly people who completed a ten-week walking program showed significantly superior mood and intellectual performance compared to another group of elderly subjects who continued their sedentary lifestyle. This effect has been confirmed in other studies that involved running and other strenuous forms of exercise. But how does physical exercise work against memory loss? There are at least three possible explanations:

1. Effects on circulation in the brain.

2. Release of endorphins.

3. Impact on nerve cell branching within the brain. Exercise Improves Your Circulation and Mood

Can exercise increase "brain tone'' by improving blood circulation and thus enhance memory? We know that regular exercise over a sustained period of time can reduce the formation of cholesterol-rich plaques that can block blood vessels, sometimes even dissolving plaques that have already been formed, and thereby decrease the risk of both heart attacks and strokes. Just as lack of exercise leads to fat deposition and plaque formation in arteries, which can block blood circulation, exactly the opposite process may occur when a sound exercise regimen is implemented.

Describing a detailed daily exercise program is beyond the scope of this book, but a few points are worth noting. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercises are good for the heart and brain. Aerobic exercise involves medium-level effort in which the heart rate usually does not rise by more than forty beats per minute. For most people, this translates into a rise from 70 to approximately 110 beats per minute. More severe exertion raises your heart rate even further and takes you into the anaerobic range, when the body can no longer keep up with the intensity of the exercise by utilizing glucose and has to switch to a less efficient, anaerobic, energy-producing system. This is why we cannot keep up anaerobic activity for long, and sprinting full tilt beyond one or two hundred yards or meters is virtually impossible. As you grow older, there is a good chance that you will choose to shift from mixed aerobic-anaerobic (tennis, running) to purely aerobic activity (walking, golf). Long, brisk walks are always a good form of aerobic exercise.

After a good round of physical exercise, you feel exhausted. At the same time, you feel energized, even a little high. This uplift is due to the release of brain endorphins, which are chemicals that attach themselves to opiate receptors, the same receptors that attract morphine and heroin. Endorphin release heightens attention and vigi lance, so your cognitive radar becomes a little sharper. This effect is short-lived, but regular exercise can prolong this effect.

Studies in animals show that exercise increases the availability of substances in the brain called neurotrophic factor and nerve growth factor, which stimulate the formation of new connections among nerve cells. Increased connections among nerve cells may indirectly protect against, or at least delay, degeneration of nerve cells during the aging process.

Regular physical exercise not only improves one's general feeling of well-being and quality of life, but it also has preventive and therapeutic properties against most of the major maladies that affect us as we grow older: heart disease, arthritis, and memory loss.

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