Dementia is without doubt one of the most worrying and horrible diseases of our time. There is no cure and no way out once it starts. The impact on those affected and those who have to then provide the necessary care, is enormous and devastating.
Dementia is an umbrella term. It describes a wide set of symptoms including loss of memory and reasoning, mood changes and problems with communication. It can be caused by a number of illnesses the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.
However, and this however is one big whopping hallelujah, research shows a significant correlation between exercise and its potential to help maintain and improve our memory and slow down mental decline. It’s known as brain training. Like other bodily bits, as the adage goes; ‘use it or lose it’. So my loyal readers, no excuses, no buts, no nothings; JUST DO IT. Challenge your brain and your brain will endeavour to do its job in keeping your mind and body working more effectively and more efficiently, for longer.
Research also suggests that cognitively complex tasks, such as crosswords or Sudoku puzzles are also great but exercise is EVEN BETTER because of all the health benefits that go with it. These include; stronger more flexible muscles which give you greater dexterity, greater dexterity and ability gives you greater confidence which encourages you to move more efficiently and so you move more because its easier to do and so you move more, and so on and so on. Breathe. In a nutshell, exercise is a winner.
So what type of exercise can help?
If you are a foot shuffler i.e. you essentially potter around the house, to the car and around the shops (and there are a lot of you out there who have lulled yourself into a false sense of security, thinking because you are on your feet you are doing enough) listen up and take stock. You need to increase your heart rate to a comfortable point where you are out of breath but can still hold a conversation, most days for 20 minutes. It’s the cardiovascular challenge that is essential.
- This can be achieved by purposefully going for a walk simply for the sake of walking to gain the health benefits it offers, even if it’s just around the block. Walk tall and stride out with conviction.
- Dancing is incredibly useful too and liberating for the soul to boot. I don’t mean the geriatric side step shuffle routine. I mean throw caution to the wind and literally dance like no one is watching (and hope they’re not…)
- A few jogging steps or fast paced power walking dropped into an otherwise untapped stroll may be more for you.
- Marching on the spot and swinging your arms in full military fashion will soon have you breathing deeply and stimulating that brain to keep on doing what it should be doing.
- Throw and catch a ball, hoola hooping, choosing the rougher ground to walk on or choose the hills over the flatter ground when out and about.
- Repeatedly standing up and sitting down will soon have the best of you puffing a little faster.
- If you are feeling disheartened because your ability to walk or stride out is curtailed by health issues, repeatedly moving your arms and body to music in sitting or standing is still better than nothing at all.
All these missed opportunities I hear you cry.
It’s like cleaning your teeth…
It doesn’t matter how fit and active you were in the past it’s today that matters. You have to keep going, keep moving, keep challenging yourself and training your brain. It won’t do it on its own. There is no savings account that will pay out in the future. Let me be clear here, it’s today that matters and tomorrow and then the day after that and the day after that, ad infinitum.
The more you have to think the more your brain is challenged. The more your brain is challenged the more the brain’s electrical wiring is maintained. Hopefully I am helping to convince one or two of you that your future is more in your hands than you previously thought. So if you are now on the case (and I hope you are), when you start a regular dose of physical jerks, make your moves tricky and challenging while of course considering your safety at all times. Never challenge yourself beyond what you know to be safe for you.
Shake it up a little!
You may make great efforts to keep what flexibility you have by stretching regularly. And fantastic though this is because it will offer you value for money in keeping your muscles and joints in better shape, in terms of dementia, studies show that it has to be aerobic (of the increased heart beeping variety) to offer a better chance of the dementia demons being kept out at sea.
On the matter of shaking it up a little, just how good is your balance? The brain has to work really really really hard to keep you up on your feet and the harder you make this for yourself with an exercise, the harder your brain is worked. Can you walk in a straight line heel to toe moving forwards and backwards while looking around you at the same time? Can you walk upstairs with your eyes closed and not hold on? Can you stand on one leg and wave your arms and legs about? Obviously you need to know your own limits to ensure your safety but whatever your limits, challenge yourself because it is only you who can keep your grey matter alive and kicking.
You doing even a little bit for a few minutes every day would make me sleep better. Never ever ever EVER think it’s just a drop in the ocean and therefore not worth a jot. It may just be that drop that starts the overflow your brain is waiting for.