Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Would You Break a Sweat to Save Your Brain?

Tis the season to begin thinking about new year's resolution and for sure, many will hit the gym, the pool, and the neighborhood pavement for a few months.

What if I could offer greater motivation, perhaps enough to start today in December?

As we become older adults, our brains begin to shrink or "atrophy" at a rate of 1-2% per year.  Scary, yes, but there may be something we can do about it.  We will focus on the hippocampus, the part of the brain "critical for establishing new memories, part of the brain most vulnerable in Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and vulnerable to aging."

As discussed in a very informative lecture by Professor Frank Longo, MD, PhD, Chairman of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, it is possible to grow your brain with daily exercise.

Dr. Longo cites a 2011 Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) by Erikson et al. entitled 
"Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory."  RCTs are the gold standard in research trial design, showing cause and effect, not just association (or correlation) of factors.

Dr. Longo then imagined out loud how this good news may play out when speaking with a patient at his Stanford clinic:

"I have this new drug out, it's is going to reverse the shrinkage of your hippocampus- I know that sounds like science fiction- we have this drug that will reverse brain shrinkage... here are the side effects of this 'drug': less hypertension, less diabetes, and less depression... so you'd say write me a prescription, I'm ready. I'd tell you you need to do brisk walking, or some form of exercise, 30 minutes a day 5 days, you'd be really disappointed and probably wouldn't take it."

This, no doubt, will not stop Dr. Longo from offering the findings and encouragement. Of course, we should all still try to spread the news of the potential benefits of exercise. Will you make that difference?

I hope you consider this study and start lacing up your tennis shoes. Please do not see this as an all or nothing proposition.  If you can exercise 3 days a week, that is better than nothing. I'll post more research on prevention. The best way to find Peace with Dementia is to take steps to avoid developing it. Be well!

A special thanks to Dr. Longo for this presentation and Dr. Erikson and team for this important work.

Action Items:

  • Decide if you want to reduce risk of hypertension, depression, diabetes, and dementia.
  • If yes, find a cardiovascular activity that you enjoy doing - swimming, walking, cycling, etc.
  • Add a comment or question. 
  • Share, Like, and +1 this article.
  • Like us on FB and visit our website for a list of support groups and services.
Matt Estrade, MBA, CAPS is the Founder and Chief Mentor at Care Partner Mentoring, LLC in Covington/New Orleans, LA, USA. A more extensive biography can be found here.

PubMed Citation of Study Discussed:
 2011 Feb 15;108(7):3017-22. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1015950108. Epub 2011 Jan 31.  Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.
Erickson KI1Voss MWPrakash RSBasak CSzabo AChaddock LKim JSHeo SAlves HWhite SMWojcicki TRMailey EVieira VJMartin SAPence BDWoods JAMcAuley EKramer AF.

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