Younger Next Year

Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life – Doctor Henry S. Lodge, Chapter 4

This blog is about a book, Younger Next Year, which I am presently listening to on Audible.  It is actually the second time I am listening to it, which is something I usually don’t do.  This philosophy is something Catherine and I have been living by ever since she was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and my recovery from Open Heart Surgery both back in 2014.

We met a couple on our last cruise in February of 2020 in the Caribbean on the Windstar Cruise Line.  David recommend the book, since him and his wife, Sue, who were also in great shape thought we could benefit from the thought process behind the book.  Most times we exercise any day we can and only take travel days off.  Even then we get our 10,000 steps in while waiting for our flights.

Dr. Henry Lodge provides the science. Chris Crowley provides the motivation. Through their New York Times bestselling program, you’ll discover how to put off 70 percent of the normal problems of aging—weakness, sore joints, bad balance—and eliminate 50 percent of serious illness and injury. Plus, prominent neurologist Allan Hamilton now explains how following “Harry’s Rules” for diet, exercise, and staying emotionally connected directly affects your brain—all the way down to the cellular level. The message is simple: Learn to train for the next third of your life, and you’ll have a ball.

We are listening to parts of it several times a day and really enjoy their irreverent sense of humor.  I highly recommend this book for those of you that are still trying to figure out how to get the best out of the last third of their lives.

I talk about exercise and the benefits for the brain in our upcoming book, Running All Over the World, our Race Against Early Onset Alzheimer’s several times.  Below is one chapter where I discuss the correlation between exercise and the benefits for the brain.

Does Running Slow Down Alzheimer’s? 

What is good for the heart is also good for the brain. —Robert Roca 

As we were running all over the world, dealing with physical, logistical, and financial issues, sometimes I couldn’t help asking myself, “Is this really helping Catherine?” 

Before I answer that question, here’s some context. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.8 million Americans have the disease. Alzheimer’s doesn’t just cause dementia: It kills more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Since 2000, deaths from the biggest killer, heart disease, have gone down 7.8 percent while deaths from Alzheimer’s have gone up 146 percent. 

Many people think of Alzheimer’s as genetic bad luck, but scientists have also been studying associations between Alzheimer’s and a variety of lifestyle choices. In the report, “Dementia and Risk Reduction: An Analysis of Protective and Modifiable Factors,” Alzheimer’s Disease International identified four categories of risk factors: developmental, psychological, lifestyle, and cardiovascular— all of which have been repeatedly linked to Alzheimer’s. 

Most doctors and nurses who treat Alzheimer’s patients now believe that common-sense lifestyle adjustments can help people avoid the disease or slow its progression. As Robert Roca, vice president of medical affairs at Baltimore’s Sheppard Pratt Health System said in an interview with the Woman’s Brain Health Initiative, “The good news is that if you take simple steps that are beneficial for your overall health, you can reduce your risk.” 

What is Good for Heart, is also Good for the Brain

We’ve all seen the PSAs about quitting smoking and the ads telling us to eat this or that “heart-healthy” food, but partly because we know less about it, there has been less public education about Alzheimer’s. As it turns out, some of the same choices and habits that protect against heart disease (including regular exercise) also protect against Alzheimer’s. “What is good for heart,” Roca said, “is also good for the brain.” 

Ann McKee, the associate director of Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center, agreed. “The brain and the heart actually have a lot in common. Both organs are responsive to what is going on in the rest of the body—and to our life experiences.” 

When it comes to treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, there are five FDA-approved drugs. Unfortunately, according to Robert Stern, director of the clinical core at Boston University’s Alzheimer Center “Medications can bring about some improvement for some people some of the time, but they don’t modify the course of the disease.” 

In fact, according to David Bennett, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the Rush University Medical School, “The best current tool involves not taking medication but building up resilience.” 

Cognitive Reserve

Bennett said that people who got more education early in life have a greater amount of “cognitive reserve”—a technical term for a variety of cognitive skills—which can help them compensate for the damage to their brains. And no matter how educated someone is, they can improve their resilience by learning new skills. In an article for Scientific American Mind called “Banking Against Alzheimer’s,” Bennett wrote steps that we can all take to age-proof our brains to make them more resistant to dementia: remaining socially and intellectually active, achieving goals that we set for ourselves, and even helping others. I would say that our nomadic lifestyle forces us to do all those things. 

It’s hard to say exactly how much benefit Catherine got from our constant flow of new experiences, but Yaakov Stern, a professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain who has published several papers on cognitive reserve, has said that “…experiences acquired over a lifetime can stave off dementia—often for several years.” 

What’s easier to say is the benefit she got from regular cardiovascular exercise. Aerobic exercise protects against Alzheimer’s through its impact on the heart, but it can also slow down the deterioration of the brain. In a neuro-imaging study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2007, Bonita L. Marks, a professor in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed that greater aerobic fitness was associated with more white matter integrity in several regions of the brain. A 2016 paper published in Alzheimer’s Dementia, by Dane Cook (not the comedian but a professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison) showed that regular physical activity can protect against temporal lobe atrophy. 

Regular Physical Activity

What does “regular physical activity” mean? One book I read called Cured has an entire section on Alzheimer’s and exercise. It turns out that merely exercising several times a week is not enough. It’s great to get your ten thousand steps a day, but to reap the true benefits, you need to participate in intensive exercise for at least thirty minutes at least four times a week. Other articles I read recommended an hour day at least six days a week. 

The science behind the need for this much exercise is complicated, but the bottom line is that you need to get your heart rate up, you need to sweat, and you need to be worn out when you’re finished. They say that it reduces the inflammation in the brain, which they feel is the root of the problem. As time goes on, I have read more and more about inflammation, and I have adjusted Catherine’s supplements to help with that issue. Since I’m not doing a clinical trial, I can’t give a scientific answer as to whether running helps, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. 

Our travels, coupled with our exercise routine, have given us the ability to run marathons and other various race distances so far. It will give us the ability to continue this lifestyle as long as feasible. 

I have found that it satisfies Catherine’s desire to regularly exercise, compete in races, and see new sites. It definitely wears her out so she can get plenty of sleep, which is highly recommended for people with Alzheimer’s. 

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