Is it inevitable? Is it just bad luck or bad genes? Is it an accepted form of aging; the memory loss, the confusion, the loss of independence?
The greatest health fear we face is no longer heart disease or cancer but Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 1 in 3 people now list Alzheimer’s as a bigger fear than even death itself. What’s more is that over half of those surveyed between the ages of 30-50 listed dementia as the thing they feared the most for their parents. The question becomes, what are we going to do about it?
UNDERSTANDING DEMENTIA AND ALZHEIMER’S
So is that it then? “Incurable and Progressive!”
Chances are if you are reading this now you believe in doing something for your health. Whether you are acting preventively or proactively, many of us have no intention of accepting this fate. What’s more, evidence has been emerging for the last couple of years that there are things we CAN do to protect ourselves from the cognitive decline as well as active steps we can take right now if some of the symptoms have already started taking root.
First off, there is a strong association between type II diabetes and dementia. The association is so much so, that Alzheimer’s is now being called Type III diabetes. If you have diabetes your risk for Alzheimer’s doubles. The exact triggering mechanism between diabetes and Alzheimer’s has not been conclusively proven yet but we know that both conditions share chronically high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and high levels of cellular inflammation. On the bright side, these are the exact things that our Right Intensity Training™ and Metabolic Comeback™ address. For more in-depth discussion, check out our previous posts on blood sugar and inflammation.
By reducing blood sugar, insulin resistance, and inflammation, we are slowing or preventing the destruction of our brain cells. This is crucial in allowing our body to go from defend and protect, to heal and improve. Neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, has written an outstanding book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar, that is a must read to fully understand the link between blood sugar and inflammation and cognitive decline. In the book, Dr. Perlmutter looks specifically at gluten as being a major trigger for dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The next crucial step is to stimulate the production of more neurons through a process called neurogenesis as well as protect the delicate neurological pathways that already exist. Exercise has been shown to do both. One of the significant by-products of Right Intensity Training™ is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein promotes the survival of nerve cells (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of these cells. This is a huge benefit to our type of training, and research bears this out.*
Our brain needs energy to function at its highest level. How we supply that energy goes a long way in determining the health of our brain and there are three ways for us to provide that necessary fuel.
- Consume glucose – This is generally done through carbohydrate consumption. We know that excess carbs creates blood sugar spikes and can lead to type II diabetes, a major indicator for people with dementia, so this may not be the best solution.
- Consume enough fat with few enough carbs that our body will convert the fat into ketones, the brain’s preferred energy source. (It’s worth noting that coconut oil, one of our preferred super foods, can be converted into ketones without our body going into ketosis. The dramatic effects coconut oil have continued to lead to more and more research being done and its significant health benefits.
- Lactate – The by-product of anaerobic metabolism, the sometimes (if not all the time) uncomfortable burning sensation we feel in our muscles during high effort exercise is emerging as a major source of brain fuel and may even be preferred over glucose.** This just checks one more box as to why Right Intensity Training™ is so beneficial and helpful in our fight to preserve our brain cells!
While there are still many unknowns as to some other causes of the loss of mental function, in dementia, there is a significant association with those who are diabetic and have cellular inflammation. We do know that somehow brain cells aren’t functioning properly, they are dying, and the neural pathways in our brain aren’t regenerating.
There are lots of great reasons and benefits to take advantage of the entire Metabolic Comeback™ program we have at The Exercise Coach®, but we are hard-pressed to find a better one than improving brain health. That’s exactly what we are talking about here. What we can do to preserve and stimulate brain cell growth and reparation in our brains starts with improving muscle quality. Thomas Edison once said, “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around”. Is there any better reason to continue to engage in our 20 minute workouts?
Read the rest of this series:
* See articles: Training augments resistance exercise induced elevation of circulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); Increased basal plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in sprint runners; and The effect of acute exercise on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and cognitive function.
** See articles: Lactate: the ultimate cerebral oxidative energy substrate?; Why Lactate Protects the Brain; and Lactate and brain function: How the body regulates fundamental neuro-hormone