Top 10 ways to dodge Alzheimer’s disease
Ronald Regan, Rosa Parks, Peter Falk and Aaron Copeland are four very different folks, all of whom had one thing in common: Alzheimer’s disease. In the U.S. it’s estimated that 5.7 million people have the condition, and the number is projected to hit 16 million by 2050.
Maybe not. A study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry analyzed current research and came up with the top 10 evidence-based risk factors for Alzheimer’s that you can avoid with lifestyle changes and medical care.
The risks are: lack of education; insufficient cognitive activity; obesity late in life; depression; chronic stress; diabetes; head trauma; high blood pressure in middle age; elevated homocysteine level (it increases the risk for artery damage and blood clots, and usually indicates a B12 deficiency); and low blood pressure on standing, also called orthostatic hypotension, which can cause dizziness, weakness and falls.
If any of those risk factors applies to YOU, take steps to regain control of your brain health.
■ Sign up for a class, challenge yourself with new interests.
■ Take steps with your doctor to address excess weight and control your diabetes (or better yet, reverse it).
■ Always get medical attention for any head bump or bang.
■ Start treatment for chronic stress and depression, and exercise 300 minutes a week. That eases depression and stress for many folks.
■ Reduce high blood pressure with weight loss, nutritional changes, medication and exercise.
■ Have a blood test to check your B12 level.
■ Adopt a Mediterranean diet.
■ And talk to your doc if you have frequent lightheadedness or dizziness upon standing.
Is your child at risk for premature heart disease? Nearly 60 percent are!
When you hear the Bee Gees plead, “How can you mend a broken heart?” we doubt you’re thinking, “Hmmm, that could be a good question to ask about my little kid’s ticker.” But an alarming new scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in the journal Circulation, reveals that almost 60 percent of U.S. kids don’t have healthy cardiorespiratory fitness, a key measure of physical fitness and overall health.
CRF is a measure of the capacity of both circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to the power centers in skeletal muscles’ cells. That’s how energy is produced during activity. In children, a low or unhealthy CRF leads to premature heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Plus, kids with lousy CRF are at increased risk for premature death from heart disease and stroke as adults.
If your child is overweight, obese or sedentary, ask your doc to assess his or her CRF using a cardiopulmonary exercise test. And start doing interval or HIIT training two or three times weekly with your child — that’s alternating bursts of vigorous activity with rest or low-intensity activity (for example, running fast for one or two minutes, then walking or jogging slowly for three minutes, and repeating five times). Measurable improvements can happen in a couple of months. Get retested, and keep it going.
Bonus! Boosting a child’s CRF also fuels kids’ brain power. Studies show it improves cognitive abilities and helps with concentration and attention. Win, win.
Do you get more fit from aerobics or strength training?
Brie and Nikki Bella are identical twins who entertained folks as a professional wrestling tag team for the WWE. Nikki says lifting weights works to trim her down and stay strong. Brie says staying fit takes a mix — say, a 14-minute barre routine on busy days and two hours at the gym when there’s time. They’re an example of what researchers from Australia found when they looked at how 30 sets of identical twins responded to endurance (aerobics) and resistance (strength) training.
Their study, published in the Journal of Physiology, reveals that the response to exercise is highly individual, even for identical twins. That helps explain why some people say “Sweating to the oldies” builds endurance and muscle, while others find it leaves them as untrained as when they started their ongoing routine — and why other folks find that strength training builds muscle and endurance, but aerobics don’t.
If you’re frustrated by how slowly you’re getting into shape, the study also found that almost everyone can improve fitness with the right exercise program. “Low-responders to one mode may be ‘rescued’ by switching to an alternate mode of exercise,” say the researchers. So, if after three months of aerobic or strength training, you aren’t much more fit than when you started, try switching. But we suggest you don’t abandon either workout style completely. Choose your core workout (three-plus days a week) and add in one or two days of the complementary style to avoid boredom and achieve maximum agility, strength and cardio fitness.
Early cognitive dysfunction linked to CVD, diabetes, smoking
In an episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer, who never completed high school, decides to take an exam to finally get his degree. The problem is, his lifestyle choices have made his memory a little shabby. “All right, brain,” he pleads, “you don’t like me and I don’t like you, but let’s just do this, and I can get back to killing you with beer.” At least Homer was smart enough to know his notoriously poor habits were hurting his academic performance.
A recent study, published in the journal Neurology, suggests cardiovascular disease (Homer had a triple bypass in season four), diabetes and smoking in middle age are reliable predictors of early decline in memory, executive function and processing speed.
The 2,675 middle-aged adults in the study took thinking and memory tests at its start and then at a follow-up five years later. Overall, people with all three risk factors were nearly three times as likely to experience a faster cognitive decline in middle age as those without the risk factors. Specifically, more than 10 percent of those with diabetes had an accelerated midlife decline in brain power, compared with 4.7 percent of those without diabetes. Nearly 8 percent of current smokers had faster cognitive decline, compared with 4.3 percent of those who never smoked.
The study underscores the importance of knowing your numbers — blood pressure, LDL cholesterol level, blood sugar and BMI — from your 20s on, and using your cognitive powers to discover the joys of healthy nutrition, physical activity and steering clear of all smoking.
Planting the seeds of longevity
Vegans and vegetarians are still pretty rare in the U.S. In a Gallup poll from 2018, only about 8 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds said they were vegetarians and 4 percent said they were vegans. Surprisingly, fewer young folks, 18 to 29, were off meat: 7 percent were vegetarian and 3 percent were vegan. Go figure.
Well, that’s what researchers did in a study in JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at the life-extending properties of a plant-based diet. They reviewed data on 400,000 U.S. adults 50 and older over a 16-year period and figured out that the risk of death fell 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women for every 3 ounces of plant protein they ate per 1,000 calories consumed.
But even a smaller bump in consumption of plant protein made a difference: Swapping 3 percent of calories from animal to plant protein was enough to reduce the risk of death for both sexes by 10 percent.
The most damaging animal proteins were red meat and eggs — and the best benefits came from cutting them out entirely. That’s what we’ve said in this column for the past 12 years, based on the data of the Stan Hazen at the Cleveland Clinic. That duo (plus processed meat) is so damaging because they encourage certain intestinal bacteria to produce inflammatory mediators that promote cancer, dementia, arthritis, heart disease and stroke. So gobble, gobble — not turkey, but tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, 100 percent whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.