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By Victoria Alwin

Exercise and Dementia

Nutrition Corner


I went to an all-day seminar yesterday for updates on dementia in general including Alzheimer’s disease. The speaker was a neurologist who is also a researcher in the field. Among the topics explored were whether any particular foods could slow or detour the onset of Alzheimer’s and what other measures could be taken to avoid dementia. His responses on this made sense.

There are certain conditions that seem to increase the risk, especially of vascular dementia where the brain is damaged because of multiple strokes or clogged/ damaged blood vessels. These conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Exercise is a good method of controlling these problems. It has been known for a long time that exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to all parts of the body, including the brain. Exercise, over time, can lower blood pressure, blood sugars and increase the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol. One of the magic properties of exercise is that it helps the body create certain chemicals known as endorphins (natural pain killers), serotonin (can improve mood), and dopamine (controls the pleasure centers of the brain), any of which can make you feel better emotionally. Then there is stress, which causes cortisol (the chemical you are mostly feeling when you are stressed out) to increase and make you more stressed out, both physically and mentally. Exercise can get rid of the extra cortisol, helping you feel more in control, as well as lowering your blood pressure and your blood sugars. All good things! Unless you are too active for your body, regular exercise has no down side. For Alzheimer’s and dementia, exercise can keep all of your body in better shape to handle whatever comes and possibly delay the natural side effects of getting older.

As far as diet and Alzheimer’s goes, it seems that it is easier to regulate the content of experimental drugs than it is to ensure that every cup of blueberries has the exact same amount of antioxidants or whatever nutrient is being studied. Mother Nature is known for tweaking her ingredient list frequently. What appears to be true goes back to reducing the conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease) that can increase the potential for dementia. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any reliable research showing that any food or combination of foods can stop the disease. Many studies suggest that the Mediterranean diet, which is low in red meats and processed foods, higher in fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains, olives and avocados and also keeps salt intake in check, is good for the whole body, which happens to include your brain.


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