Writing this post requires that I also provide two confessions. First, the article that I refer to in this post was written by Melinda Wenner Moyer, illustrated by Tang Yau Hoong, and published in the November 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens – to the best of my knowledge, prior to today, I never subscribed to, purchased, or glanced at anything in the magazine. My mom shared the article with me. Second, the article is based largely on a study by the National Institutes of Health and a separate study led by Arthur Kramer, Ph.D. – I have not read either study. There is a third point, but it is more of a comment than a confession – the article, and both studies upon which the article is based, pertains to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in seniors. I chose to write about the article because Alzheimer’s disease is a brain injury and the strategies referred to in the article apply to the entire brain injury community.
You are not alone if you have forgotten where you parked, forgotten a person’s name, or misplaced something. However, you are not necessarily sentenced to life with a constantly worsening memory – you can exercise your brain, but it is up to you to switch on your brain. In her article titled “Switch on Your Brain,” Melinda Wenner Moyer notes that the following actions may help:
1. Kick the Couch Habit
2. Eat Mediterranean-Style
3. Seek Help for Hypertension
4. Commit Yourself to Calm
5. Learn and Try New Things
Kick the Couch Habit
Studies have shown the connection between physical exercise, such as walking, and the growth of the average walker’s hippocampus. If you are skeptical that a growth in the hippocampus translates to an improved memory, then it might interest you to know that according to Arthur Krammer, Ph.D., “Aerobic exercise may boost the activity of growth hormones in memory-related parts of the brain fueling the creation of brain cells, improving the connections between them, and nourishing blood vessels.” Find an exercise that works for you, change the exercise routine every few weeks, and commit to helping your brain.
Studies show that foods which are good for your heart may also be good for the brain. In her article, Melinda refers to a study, partially conducted by Nikos Scarmeas, M.D., in which “nearly 2,200 New Yorkers over age 65” who regularly ate Mediterranean-style meals were “40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease after four and a half years than volunteers who stuck to a traditional Western diet.” Neither the article nor the study concludes that a Mediterranean diet will cure Alzheimer’s disease or permanently improve memory; however, the information suggests a plausible connection. More information about Mediterranean recipes can be found here.
Seek Help for Hypertension
According to the article, “65 million Americans” are believed to have hypertension, but “only half realize that they’re affected.” Hypertension that is left untreated can “raise a person’s risk of dementia by up to 48 percent according to a study in the journal Neurology.” What the article and study suggest we do is have our blood pressure checked at least every two years, eat the right foods, and exercise regularly. We need to proactively engage in the activities that will reduce hypertension.
Commit Yourself to Calm
According to Moyer, stress causes the brain to pump out “cortisol and other fight-or-flight hormones” that can “short-circuit the memory-making process.” This fact should encourage everyone to regularly engage in some form of yoga, Pilates, tai chi, chi gong, or guided imagery to learn skills necessary to maintain a calm composure in any circumstance.
Learn and Try New Things
Although you are not likely to see me swimming in the Olympics, running in a marathon, or performing impossible stunts during a Cirque du Soleil show, I am constantly learning and trying new activities. Since my brain surgery, I have earned professional certifications, spoken at several events, provided consulting services to the management of large organizations, hiked local trails, and started this blog. According to the article, studies show that “people who routinely seek new experiences, acquire new knowledge, and engage in mentally stimulating tasks of any kind are up to 50 percent less likely to develop dementia than folks whose intellectual habits are less challenging.” As with the other strategies described in this post, everyone can benefit by learning and trying new things – you don’t have to be fighting a brain injury to benefit.
What exercise do you like best? How often do you exercise? Are you and your brain worth a little more exercise? What perceived obstacles are preventing you from exercising more often? What steps are you taking to eat foods that are better for your brain? What perceived obstacles are preventing you from maintaining a more effective diet? Are you proactively keeping your hypertension in check? What activity helps you remain calm when other people might get stressed? What do you enjoy learning? What have you tried since a brain injury changed your life? Please share your comments so others may learn from your experiences.
Thanks to tombothetominator, goingslo, and spcbrass for sharing their Creative Commons pictures via Flickr.