Fitness

Physical activity can cut the risk of Alzheimer’s and improve your health. Here’s everything you need to know.

Save Your Brain. Adopt a Healthy Habit

Save Your Brain. Adopt a Healthy Habit

by JENNIFER KHAN

Want to know what lifestyle tips are best for thwarting dementia?

Jennifer Khan of Oprah.com spoke to Dr. Gary Small, the director of UCLA’s Stanford Center for Longevity and asked him.

Dr. Small is the author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program and has spent 20 years researching the subject.

When Khan asked him about a study showing that moderate exercise, like daily walks, can lower the risk for getting AD by 45 percent, he responded:

“When your heart is really pumping, you deliver more nutrients and oxygen to your brain. And the body secretes protective chemicals during physical activity—including a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is thought to spark the growth of neurons.”

“Exercise can’t guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s, of course. But the hope is to delay the disease long enough so that you never experience symptoms in your lifetime.”

While brain games and puzzles are being touted as a magic bullet, Dr. Small offers a reality check:

“Although doing crossword puzzles is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s, there’s no absolute proof. But generally, anything that gets your brain working is good.”

And he suggests that unfamiliar mental exercise are more helpful than repetitive ones, such as driving home new routes.

Caffeine? We’ve heard numerous news stories citing the benefits. (But do we all want to stay up late at night to ward off disease.)

“A 2009 study done in Finland found that subjects who drank three to five cups of coffee a day had a 65 percent lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.”

“But too much coffee makes it hard to sleep, and sleep is important for brain health.”

Finally, Khan asked: And you really think a single change can make a difference?

Dr. Small responded: “According to our data, if everyone in the United States adopted one additional healthy lifestyle habit, the number of expected Alzheimer’s cases would be reduced by a million in the next five years. So yes, I do.”



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