Prevent dementia by staying active

The Good Life Letter

Friday 16th September 2011

  • Autumn leaves spell trouble until Lara works her magic
  • The latest research shows that in order to prevent dementia sufferers need to stay active
  • The trial that proves exercise can not only prevent dementia BUT can actually improve the condition

Now I know it's officially autumn.

This is a fact that every year becomes apparent to me not by virtue of the calendar or an inbuilt natural body clock or even the change in day length.

No, it has more to do with my neighbour's cherry trees.

You see when autumn is truly here something magical happens, at least it's a trick next door seems to enjoy.

The wind sets in just the right direction, the temperature hits just the right side of nippy and the air is just damp enough to place dew on the grass.

When these ingredients are all present, each and every one of his trees does a quick striptease and dumps their unwanted foliage all over my lawn.

I go to bed at night with a relatively tidy back garden, and awake to deep brown drifts of wet leaves.

Lara takes cover as I open the curtains and exclaim my delight, in words of less than one syllable (I know that's not technically possible but I think you know what I mean!)

I am faced with the prospect of two courses of action;

1) Roll my sleeves up, grab my rake and wheelbarrow and set to creating a heap of burning rubbish.

Or,

2) Praying with all my might that the wind will get up and blow the offending rubbish into some other poor soul's life rather than mine.

I always hold out hope for 2) but inevitably steel myself for 1).

This year is no different.

I had sat in my office for two days, brooding over cups of coffee - glaring at the piles of gently decaying mulch, willing them to take flight and go somewhere else.

Lara could stand it no more and gave me the impetus to start a bonfire...this time she didn't even raise her voice.

She was much more subtle; let me tell you her secret.

The cunning of a clever woman

I was in my office yesterday morning gently running through my considerable repertoire of garden-based curses when there was a rustling of paper as a sheet came under the door.

I have learnt through bitter experience that this is my dear wife's way of making her point.

If she has gone to the trouble of finding a research paper to get me to do something, then I had better admit defeat.

The female logic at work here basically goes like this...

"Don't bother arguing because here are the counter arguments to everything you are about to say...now get on with it Collins."

I picked up the document as if it was an unexploded bomb - indeed, almost fearing that its effect would be similar for my plan for the day (well the Rugby World Cup is on the telly after all!)

But I was genuinely surprised, and just a little upset that I had missed this story when it had first appeared last week, after all it concerned something which is close to my heart - dementia.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the United States have discovered that gentle repetitive exercise helps the brain function more effectively and encourages it to generate more connections across its synapses.

Specifically they stated that activities such as walking, gym workouts, shovelling snow and raking leaves were ideal to build more resilient grey matter.

Guess which bit of that Lara has run the highlighter through!

So, I set to and cleared the garden, and I have to say I actually enjoyed myself.

Just occasionally it does feel good to get the blood pumping, and the fat running, as I began to breathe heavily and perspire lightly. For someone who spends most of the day reading and writing reports it felt really good to turn round at the end of the day and see my garden restored to its former beauty.

It was a real feeling of achievement...and also meant that I could justify a glass of red wine and a piece of good steak for my dinner. I had earned it after all!

Exercise and dementia

After dinner I sat back and re-read the article and began to understand just how powerful some of the research team's findings were.

After trawling 1,600 published trials the scientists found 130 papers which had direct relevance to their field of research.

One of the neurologists, Dr J Ahlskog said "We concluded that you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favourably modifying these processes once they have developed."

Which is a very powerful statement to make because they are saying that their research shows that dementia can be prevented as well as its effects minimised by standard everyday exercises.

I realised that, between Mum and me, we had actually been putting Dad through his paces ever since he was first diagnosed with early degeneration.

For our part we wanted to keep his mind occupied and maintain his general health as we believed that this would help prevent any deterioration - little did we realise that we were ahead of the research curve.

I've spoken to Mum today and we have drafted a daily list of activity for Dad ranging from a gentle walk around the local park to a crossword puzzle or jigsaw.

And next year I have got him booked to come round and help me shift those damned leaves.

Every so often I am very grateful that I am married to such a devious woman...but only occasionally!

Yours, as always


 


 

 

 

 

 

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