In recognition of June’s Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, Dr. Paul Thomas shares easy ways to exercise your body and brain to ward off Alzheimer’s disease.
By Dr. Paul Thomas of Plum Health DPC
Written with Wayne State University student Kirk Bennett
As June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, I’d like to talk about brain health and risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to understand the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as these two terms are often used interchangeably.
Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a set of symptoms, like impaired cognitive function and memory loss. Think of it like stomach pain. Just as there are a variety of causes of stomach pain, there many causes of dementia — Alzheimer’s disease being the most common.
Alzheimer’s disease is incredibly prevalent in our society, and most of us have been touched by the effects of this disease through experience with a friend or family member. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 and is expected to increase to 14 million people by 2050.
What exactly is Alzheimer’s disease, and is it curable?
While the exact cause and mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood, the simple way to explain the disease is that a protein, called amyloid, is deposited on the nerves in our brain. This prevents the nerves from functioning to their full capacity.
At this time, Alzheimer’s disease is not curable, and the treatment options available today can only slow the progression of the disease. There is no medication that can reverse the process.
What puts people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?
The greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease is in your genes. According to the International Journal of Epidemiology, individuals with a first-degree relative (mother, father or siblings) have a 10 to 30 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that someone with two or more siblings with Alzheimer’s disease are three times more likely to develop the disease.
An important factor to consider when discussing chronic diseases is what we can do today to lower our risk for developing a disease later in life. As a family physician, I spend a lot of time counseling my patients on healthy lifestyles to prevent diseases in the future, and Alzheimer’s disease prevention is no different.
How can you prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Simply put, the best way to prevent the onset of this disease is to take care of your body. The Alzheimer’s Association and the World Dementia Council reviewed many studies and concluded that regular physical activity and managing diseases like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure reduce the risk of cognitive decline and possibly dementia.
In addition, they also found strong evidence to conclude that a healthy diet and exercising your mind may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Some steps you can take to decrease your risk is to eat a healthy diet and continue to exercise your mind as you age.
Ways to Exercise Your Body and Mind
While it can seem intimidating to start exercising, you don’t need a gym membership or the best workout clothes to begin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 30 minutes of brisk activity every day. This could simply be a brisk walk in your neighborhood or a bike ride.
Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain, so it makes sense to exercise your brain and keep those nerve pathways well connected. Reading books is a great way to exercise your brain. If reading doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of free mind game apps for your phone or tablet or brain activities in the newspaper like Sudoku and crossword puzzles.
There are other ways to improve memory, cognition and brain health. Experts recommend activities like learning a new language or playing a musical instrument to keep your brain healthy. There are even commercial products that can help you exercise your brain, like Lumosity, Fit Brains Trainer and Eidetic.
This may sound like a broken record, but if you don’t mind hearing it again, total wellness benefits brain health. Exercising your body increases blood flow to the brain. A healthy diet and exercise manages chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Don’t forget to give your brain a workout too with some mental challenges.
Dr. Paul Thomas is a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in Southwest Detroit. His practice is called Plum Health DPC, a Direct Primary Care service that is the first of its kind in Detroit and Wayne County. His mission is to deliver affordable, accessible health care services in Detroit and beyond. He has been a speaker at TEDxDetroit and is a graduate of Wayne State University School of Medicine. You can find out more at plumhealthdpc.com.