Adapted from the Specialist Certificate Program by Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
(Article 2 in a 3-part series about Alzheimer’s disease.)
In the previous article, it was noted that:
- although there are natural physiological changes that occur with age, memory loss is neither normal nor a natural process of aging.
- there is no medication at this time that cures fatal Alzheimer’s disease, so prevention is the best line of defense against the disease.
- exercise plays a very important role in prevention of cognitive decline and brain health.
Through many years of research, the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation has determined a four-part program to use in the prevention, delay, and treatment of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This program is called “The 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention.”
Recent research, some of which was sponsored by ARPF, supports the notion that lifestyle interventions can help decrease chances of developing memory loss and possibly help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Medical findings support the correlation between positive lifestyle changes and prevention of certain diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. The same relationship is being examined and assumed positive with respect to Alzheimer’s disease. The basic concept behind the ARPF is that it is important to take a proactive, integrative approach to assist in preventing cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Pillar 1: Diet
Diet is critical to the brain’s health. Prevention starts with smart diet and positive lifestyle changes that can influence the health of your cells and your genes. One of the best ways to feed the brain for better memory is to avoid a diet high in trans-fat and saturated fat. These fats can be found in animal products, such as red meat, and can cause inflammation. This type of diet can also produce free radicals, which are a normal by-product of body metabolism. However, in high quantities, they can damage and even kill valuable, functioning brain cells.
Eating foods that are high in antioxidants, such as those rich in Vitamin C and E, is an effective way to eliminate free radicals from the body. Scientists believe that consuming a vast intake of fruits and vegetables, fish, which is rich in omega-3 oils, and a vegetarian protein substitute, such as soy, can be protective against memory loss. Supplements prescribed by a healthcare professional can also be beneficial.
Pillar 2: Stress Management
Stress management has many positive benefits, including improved physical and cognitive performance, lower blood pressure, improved heart function, reduced anxiety, less chronic pain, and even increased longevity.
Learning to balance daily stress is a vital part of any Alzheimer’s prevention strategy. Studies have shown a strong correlation between having elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, and/or high cortisol levels and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Stress has been found to be a common key factor in all of these conditions.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, plays a role in memory. Normal cortisol has no effect on the hippocampus (part of the brain where memories are processed and stored); however, excess cortisol overwhelms the hippocampus and actually causes atrophy in this area of the brain. Elevated stress levels play a role in cognitive impairment and even the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Stress is therefore not only a direct risk factor for Alzheimer’s, but indirectly affects other Alzheimer’s risk factors, such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, and cardiovascular disease. Stress-management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and many other relaxation techniques have been found very valuable in alleviating stress. A specific type of meditation developed by the ARPF called Kirtan Kriya is a brain aerobic exercise that works to reduce stress responses. You can learn more about the technique at www.alzheimersprevention.org.
Pillar 3: Physical and Mental Exercise
Both physical and mental exercise have been found in research to be important in prevention and treatment of AD. Physical exercise is discussed in article 3 of this 3-part series and is covered extensively in the ARPF Specialist Certificate Course: Exercise Prescription for Alzheimer’s Prevention and Intervention. This article will look at mental exercise and prevention.
Neurologists report that mental exercise can help reduce the chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70%. Brain Aerobics are activities that challenge the brain with tasks that are new and different. These novel tasks challenge the brain and function can be improved. It is recommended to spend at least 20 minutes, three times a week doing mental exercises. Examples of brain aerobics include reading, writing, playing board games, and doing crossword puzzles. Brain aerobics exercises do not have to be complex. They can be done at any time and any place.
Pillar 4: Spiritual Fitness
Increased consciousness and cognition is the final purpose and frontier of Alzheimer’s prevention. Spiritual Fitness may also contribute to brain health and is a proven defense against Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and even Alzheimer’s. Spiritual fitness contributes directly to your ability to maintain a high level of mental function as you age.
Spiritual fitness is the combination of attributes of:
- psychological well-being (such as contentment, socialization, and having a purpose or mission in life)
- combined with spiritual well-being (includes service to others and the ongoing search for peace of mind).
Aspects of Spiritual Fitness include:
- Socialization or being with like-minded people
- Acceptance and forgiveness of yourself and others
- Patience and allowing yourself to be in the moment
- Compassion and empathy towards yourself and others
- Purpose or meaning in life via self-discovery and building your legacy
- Sense of spirituality, regardless of origin or religion, which makes you happier
- Volunteering or service without thought of self-reward is a very beneficial, life-affirming act
Current research suggests that some of the most striking brain benefits of Spiritual Fitness are:
- Reversal of amyloid plaque in the brain, which may increase risk of Alzheimer’s
- Improvement in your genes via healthier telomeres
- Slowing of Alzheimer’s progression
For more information about Prevention of cognitive decline and dementia, visit the ARPF website at www.alzheimersprevention.org.
The information in this article is taken from the “Introduction to Alzheimer’s Disease” course, the first course in a two-course 11 hour Medical Fitness Specialist Certificate Program: Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention and Intervention. Stay tuned for additional information about exercise and prevention of Alzheimer’s.