I was born in 1946 and so will be in the first group of baby boomers to enter the retirement years. This thought made me stand up and take notice of the importance of some changes I need to make. The Centers for Disease Control report ” the average seventy-five year -old suffers from three chronic medical conditions and takes five prescription medicines.” These Americans are suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer. Diseases of the brain, like dementia and stroke, can be added to the list of chronic disorders. Many Americans will live years beyond the life expectancy of 75 years. Some will be fairly healthy, but many with chronic diseases will live lives of limited quality.
Lifestyle behaviors like getting enough proper exercise, eating sensibly and not smoking can contribute substantially to the prevention of both diseases of the brain and chronic physical disorders.
Dr. John Ratey states, “In the long term Nurses Health Study on the aging of the brain, the Journal of The American Medical Association reported that 20 percent of women with the highest levels of energy expenditure had a 20 percent lower chance of being cognitively impaired on tests of memory and general intelligence.” This tells us that exercise very likely can improve our brain function.
What happens in the process of aging? As our bodies age, the stress on our cells damage them and it becomes more and more difficult to repair the damage. The proteins, which correct this damage, run out of steam and give out. Then the immune system takes over getting rid of the dead cells. This, in turn, causes inflammation and finally turns into chronic inflammation.
When the brain reaches a certain degree of inflammation, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of cognitive disorders may begin. Capillaries may shrink due to blood flow reduction and brain size can decrease.
What can we do to keep our brains healthy? Regular exercise is an excellent way! With exercise, your cells are better able to deal with stress and can make new connections.
Exercise can prevent brain dysfunction as well as improve damage already done. It’s never too late to start. We can’t do anything to stop aging. We all have a birthday every year and carry our genetic make-up throughout life. But we can take positive steps to improve our chances of living a long healthy life. Our ancient ancestors moved about regularly. They probably didn’t suffer from the chronic conditions so many of us do today.” We weren’t programmed to “sit around.” Exercise is a very good way to get started!
John J Ratey, Spark: Revolutionary New Science of Exercise And The Brain, 2008