Protecting those gray cells

Posted under Blog on November 30th, 2012 by Editorial Team / No Comments

Alongside medical treatments, there are many practical things that people can do to help manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. You may have heard the expression that “the brain is a muscle,” and while this is not completely accurate (the brain is an organ), it is certainly true that, just like your muscles, you should exercise your brain. 

This week a local report from Austin, Texas featured a regular get-together for people with Alzheimer’s at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church.  Called “Early Memory Loss Support”, the focus of the weekly meeting is on creative activities such as music therapy, brain teasers, creative writing and discussions about current events.

Carl Goxley, a 74 year old Russian Orthodox priest, says the meetings give him a chance to express himself in a comfortable environment without being judged.  “I feel safe here.  I feel that these people understand me and I have a sense of belonging, where in the general public I don’t.  I’m safe here in a very good healthy way that I don’t have to do things that I’m not able to do anymore,” Carl said.

Anna Finger, programme director, is herself inspired by the group members. “Whatever obstacles we face in our life, you just keep going,” she said. “You march through it and you rally your troops and you find people who can accept you despite your challenges and your limitations and the mistakes that you make and, hopefully, you can laugh about it. So, I’m learning from them.”

Flexing the gray cells is of course just as important as flexing the muscles.  A new report out this week found that active lifestyles can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and dementia, and can even protect the brain in older adults. 

Researchers from the University of California looked at the impact of active lifestyles on 876 adults with an average age of 78 years.  They found that more exercise was linked to larger gray matter volumes in the brain. They also found a clear association between high energy output and greater gray matter volume among the participants with mild cognitive impairment. 

The study leader, Dr Cyrus Raji, said that an important part of the study was its emphasis on having a large variety of different lifestyle choices. He said, "what struck me most about the study results is that it is not one but a combination of lifestyle choices and activities that benefit the brain."

He noted that the impact of an active lifestyle on the brain was probably due to improved vascular health. "Virtually all of the physical activities examined in this study are some kind of variation of aerobic physical activity, which we know from other work can improve cerebral blood flow and strengthen neuronal connections. Additional work needs to be done. However, our initial results show that brain aging can be alleviated through an active lifestyle."

So whether it’s Sudoku and a daily walk or crosswords and working in the garden, exercising the brain and the body may make it easier to manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. 


Tags: exercise, memory loss, physical activity



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