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Heart-brain connection: Fitness now protects your brain in your 70s and 80s

Stay fit today; avoid dementia tomorrow

It’s well-known exercise plays a vital role in your physical health, and now studies propose staying fit in midlife may protect your brain as well, avoiding mental deteriation in later years.

A new study, published in Neurology, that followed Swedish women for more than 40 years,  suggests one’s level of physical fitness predicts the amount of protection from dementia decades later.1

Swedish dementia/exercise study began 50 years ago

At the onset of the study in 1968, 191 Swedish women ranging in age from 38 to 60 took part in a vigorous stationary cycling test to measure their exercise work capacity. Based on work capacity, women were split into low, medium, and high fitness categories. The women were followed from 1968 to 2012, and dementia diagnoses were recorded.

The measurement of exercise capacity is an important aspect of the strength of this study –  it was based on the participants’ actual performance rather than relying on participants’ subjective reports of how much, how vigorously, and how often they exercised.

Strong association between fitness and likelihood of dementia decades later

Dementia incidence correlated with fitness level, the greater the fitness level, the less the dementia: 32 percent, 25 percent, and 5 percent of women developed dementia in the low, medium, and high fitness groups, respectively.1 This particular study is one of the longest, following participants for up to 44 years, but shorter studies have come to similar conclusions.2-4

Another very interesting finding: in the subset of women whose initial exercise tests had to be stopped because of issues such as excessively high blood pressure, chest pain, or an abnormal EKG change, almost half (nine out of twenty women) developed dementia. Fit women who did develop dementia did so much later in life. Among the five percent of fit women who eventually developed dementia, the average age of development of dementia was eleven years later compared to the medium fitness group – age 90 vs. 79 – an extra eleven years of dementia-free life.

Midlife fitness also linked to brain volume 19 years later

In another study, the effects of midlife physical fitness on the brain were visualized with MRI. Participants at an average age of 40 performed a treadmill test to determine their exercise capacity. Lower exercise capacity at midlife was associated with smaller total cerebral brain volume 19 years later, suggesting having a higher fitness level helps prevent brain shrinkage with age.5

Diet determines your propensity for fitness

Important to note, one’s fitness level is strongly linked to what you eat.  People who are overweight  as well as those who don’t eat healthfully, do  not have the will, energy or capacity for regular exercise.  When you eat right, you’re more likely to get fit; when you don’t eat right it is very difficult to get fit.

A nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet (Nutritarian) is the most critical determinant influencing whether one gets dementia or not.  When you eat right  you automatically crave exercise and it becomes pleasurable to do so.

This study also demonstrates the wide variety of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and several cancers when you get fit. Mixing together nutritional excellence and exercise is when the magic happens to protect yourself from the common diseases of aging.  Exercise offers additional benefits to cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity, as well as some direct effects in the brain, such as the release of protective compounds called neurotrophins.6,7

At any age, fitness is vital for your present and future brain health.

It is never too late to start exercising and you are never too old. Studies have documented cognitive benefits from exercise (strength training and aerobic training) in all age groups, from children to the elderly.6-9  Today is the day to make sure you do both; eat right and get fit.

Originally printed on DrFuhrman.com. Reprinted with permission.


Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
 
For over 25 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

References

  1. Horder H, Johansson L, Guo X, et al. Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia: A 44-year longitudinal population study in women. Neurology 2018.
  2. Defina LF, Willis BL, Radford NB, et al. The association between midlife cardiorespiratory fitness levels and later-life dementia: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med 2013, 158:162-168.
  3. Liu R, Sui X, Laditka JN, et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness as a predictor of dementia mortality in men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012, 44:253-259.
  4. Willis BL, Gao A, Leonard D, et al. Midlife fitness and the development of chronic conditions in later life. Arch Intern Med 2012, 172:1333-1340.
  5. Spartano NL, Himali JJ, Beiser AS, et al. Midlife exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and fitness relate to brain volume 2 decades later. Neurology 2016, 86:1313-1319.
  6. Kandola A, Hendrikse J, Lucassen PJ, Yucel M. Aerobic Exercise as a Tool to Improve Hippocampal Plasticity and Function in Humans: Practical Implications for Mental Health Treatment. Front Hum Neurosci 2016, 10:373.
  7. Kirk-Sanchez NJ, McGough EL. Physical exercise and cognitive performance in the elderly: current perspectives. Clin Interv Aging 2014, 9:51-62.
  8. Fiatarone Singh MA, Gates N, Saigal N, et al. The Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) study-resistance training and/or cognitive training in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized, double-blind, double-sham controlled trial. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2014, 15:873-880.
  9. Mavros Y, Gates N, Wilson GC, et al. Mediation of Cognitive Function Improvements by Strength Gains After Resistance Training in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment: Outcomes of the Study of Mental and Resistance Training. J Am Geriatr Soc 2016.
Alzheimer Concept.

Alzheimer’s Disease, Fitness and Exercise

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease that strikes fear and terror into those who are getting on in years and family members who are in line to care for them. According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation, in 2015 it is estimated that 5.3 million Americans have the disease. It is the 6th leading cause of death behind heart disease, strokes, and cancer but it is the only one that cannot be prevented (1) although some experts now estimate that it may be the third highest (2).

Health Coaching Support for Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers

Alzheimer Concept.The emotional journey of facing a diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be overwhelming for both the patient and their families. Feelings of fear, stress, anxiety and loss can overpower all individuals involved and the ability to have questions answered is essential to easing these emotions.

Although there are a multitude of support groups available through local community organizations, access, availability, and comfort level of participating in a group setting can all be barriers to participation. A health coach can be a crucial lifeline to supporting the needs of both the family and the patient.  Health coaching services can be made available either 1:1 with the patient, loved one or as a family in which everyone is able to process many common issues facing Alzheimer’s patients.

This can include but are not limited to:

  • Understanding and adjusting to the diagnosis
  • Future care plans/options
  • Medical options and support resources
  • Managing symptoms and keeping loved one’s safe
  • Caregiver balance and managing one’s own health needs
  • Financial planning for support and medical management

A health coach does not necessarily need to be an expert in Alzheimer’s disease per se, but rather, have the ability to connect their client to professional, expert resources in their area. Their common goal is to navigate the needs and connect families to trusted experts that can create a network of safety and security throughout the progression of the disease. The supportive ear of a trained health coach can be enough to provide assurance that help is available and neither the patient nor the caregiver(s) are alone in this journey. Often the health coach is available to meet in convenient settings (including in-home or telephonically) as they realize that transportation can be a barrier to accessing resources.

In addition to care navigation, the health coach can connect the family to therapeutic resources such as exercise facilities, memory classes, and social support systems that can contribute to overall quality of life and management of symptoms. Their expert advice can help to remove burdensome details and guide the process in a meaningful, manageable way whereby the caregiver and patient are able to focus on enjoying their time together.


Jaclyn Chadbourne, MA is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Principal, Director of Research and Development – ‎Universal Medical Technology, LLC and United Medical Gym, Inc in South Portland, ME. With a passion for sustainable healthy living and desire to advocate for patient-centered care, Jaclyn works to help support community resources for all special populations and to implement and oversee clinical protocols. 

Senior Man On Cross Trainer In Gym

Where to Begin When You Are Working Out With a Health Condition

The gym can be a confusing place especially for individuals with health concerns. Many times, these clients are trying to navigate their workouts by themselves because they are unsure of the appropriate questions that they need to ask.

First of all, there are two different types of trainers. There are trainers who have a four year degree and certifications. These trainers are sometimes called Fitness Specialists and have had many hours of study related to a wide variety of diseases and injuries. They are used to modifying exercises and programs based on any specific condition you may have. Fitness Specialists are usually found in a medically based fitness facility affiliated with a hospital. Please note that some Fitness Specialist’s will specialize in a certain area. Some work with individuals with diseases and disabilities and some don’t.

Personal Trainer, Gym, Pull Down Machine, Exercising, AssistanceWhen you finally narrow down who you might like to hire you will want to ask some questions. Please don’t be afraid to ask these questions as they will help you to decide which trainer is right for you. It is also recommended that you observe Fitness Specialists training clients.

First you want to make sure that the trainer has had experience with your condition. If not, they should be willing to research it and or speak with your doctor with your permission. There are exercise guidelines that all Fitness Specialists should follow when working with clients who have health conditions.

You will also want to ask about the trainers background. It is alright to ask about education, certifications, and years of experience. You also want to hire someone who is patient with you. This is extremely important as you figure out which exercises work best for your body. I would also like to add that you need to be patient with yourself as well. Try to relax and enjoy your training session.

Asking the questions from above help to keep you feeling confident. Exercise can seem frustrating in the beginning but you have to keep a positive mindset. In the beginning, set small goals and do the best you can during each training session.


Robyn Caruso is the Founder of The Stress Management Institute for Health and Fitness Professionals. She has 15 years of experience in medical based fitness.

brain food

Strategies to Enhance Cognitive Fitness

Often when we hear the term “fitness” – we automatically think of our physical health. Being mentally fit is equally as important. Cognitive fitness is a state of optimized ability to reason, remember, learn, plan and adapt that is enhanced by certain attitudes, lifestyle choices, and exercises. Better cognitive fitness translates into the ability to make better decisions, solve problems, and deal with stress and change. Neurogenesis is the process of developing new chemical messengers called neurons in the brain. This process can be profoundly affected by how you live your life. Here are eight strategies to help you facilitate the process of neurogenesis and have optimal cognitive functioning:

Daily Physical Activity: Aerobic activity for 30 minutes, three times per week helps improve brain blood flow and enhances memory performance. Regular exercise also releases brain chemicals called endorphins which reduce feelings of depression.

Be Open to New Experiences: Have you ever wanted to learn to play golf or sing in a choir? Participating in experiences that are unfamiliar and mentally challenging will strengthen neural connections in your brain.

Be Curious and Creative: Participating in arts and crafts projects leads to innovative thinking, and musical training may improve function and connectivity of different brain regions. It’s always a great time to take up painting, poetry, or piano!

Develop Meaningful Relationships: Studies have shown that the health consequences of feeling lonely can trigger psychological and cognitive decline – as well as alter immune cells and increase feelings of depression. Make every effort to engage with other people whenever possible.

Get Enough Sleep: Healthy sleep consolidates learning and memory and is necessary for clear thinking and optimal brain function. It is easier to sleep well in a peaceful and natural environment free of clutter.

Reduce Chronic Stress: Chronic stress produces a hormone called cortisol that can damage the brain. Chronic stress can also trigger long-term changes in brain structure that can lead to cognitive decline. Healthy ways to relieve stress include deep breathing, physical exercise, or talking with a trusted friend or family member.

Eat Specific Healthy Foods: Food plays a vital role in the health and proper functioning of the brain. Strive to eat real, whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats – and drink eight 8oz bottles of water each day to keep brain cells hydrated. Apples, avocados, blueberries, unsalted nuts, broccoli and brown rice are great food choices for brain health.

Regular Learning: Continual learning is one of simplest methods to boost brain function. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn. Learning can include studying a new subject, travelling to a different place, learning a foreign language or participating in a new volunteer activity.

Practicing these strategies along with having a positive attitude will not only enhance your cognitive fitness, but also your quality of life!


Carisa Campanella, BA, AS, is an ACE Health Coach and ACSM Personal Trainer. She is the Program Manager at the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson’s. Neuro Challenge provides ongoing monthly support groups and educational programs, individualized care advising and community resource referrals to help empower people with Parkinson’s and their caregivers.

Alzheimer Concept.

Alzheimer’s and Exercise

It’s been estimated that over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Foundation. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia which attacks the nerve cells in the brain. It results in a lack of memory and eventually language skills. This can be very difficult, both on the individual suffering from the disease as well as the caregivers looking after them.

sleep-bed

Sleep and Your Health

In the world of exercise and fitness, we constantly talk about nutrition. We are in the stages of making resolutions for 2017. Here is one I implore every person to mindfully add to their 2017 commitments – getting restorative sleep. We are going to talk about quality sleep, because the truth is quantity can vary greatly.