Your Brain: Move It, Use It, or Lose It!

by DavalosMcCormack on January 13, 2010

If your idea of a good workout is driving around a golf course in a cart and playing a round of golf, say bye bye to your brain! A new study says to help protect your mind against the ravages of dementia you need to up the ante a bit. But the good news is you don’t have to do too much more, just get out of the cart and walk!

In one study, done by the lovely people at the Mayo Clinic, researchers found that moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later can reduce the risk of memory loss or other mental problems. At the other end of the scale, in a study out of the University of Washington School of Medicine,  researchers found that people who already have those mild cognitive problems can reduce them or even reverse them, just with some vigorous exercise. Cool eh!

If you want to read the specific details of the studies the research is published in the January issue of Archives of Neurology.

What’s important is that both point to the role that exercise can play in reducing or even reversing memory problems as we get older.  In both cases the researchers were focusing on a condition called mild cognitive impairment, that’s a kind of interim stage where you have trouble remembering things, or learning new things, it’s not normal but it’s not completely losing your marbles. While you might think what’s the big deal, the big deal is that every year around 10-15 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment develop dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, compared to only one or two percent of the general population.

So if getting out of the golf cart and walking can help save your brain, what the heck are you doing sitting there! Get up and move it.

High Blood Pressure, Dementia and Older Women

And if you are looking for another way to reduce your risk of dementia, here’s one, lower your blood pressure. A new study found that older women with high blood pressure are at increased risk of developing brain lesions that can lead to dementia later in life. And while this study was just done in women there’s no reason to think the findings don’t also apply to men.

Researchers with the Women’s Health Initiative followed some 1,403 women over the age of 65 over the course of eight years. At the beginning of the study the women all had their blood pressure measured and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They underwent similar tests at the end of the eight years.

They found that women who had high blood pressure at the beginning of the study (140/90) had significantly higher amounts of what they called “white matter lesions” in their brain at the end of the study. Those lesions have been shown to interfere with the ability of nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other. There is also evidence indicating that the greater the number of lesions in white matter, the bigger the risk of dementia.

So, want to keep your brain healthy? Then keep your body healthy. A great way to lower your blood pressure is a diet low in sodium, rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of exercise. Simple eh!

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