As we age, one of the diseases we fear the most is dementia. Thankfully, promising new research shows proven methods of preventing, and possibly even reversing this condition.
Dementia describes a variety of symptoms, including memory loss, but it can also affect language and motor skills, intellectual functions, and our ability to make sound judgements. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which destroys brain cells, resulting in impaired and deteriorating memory with the loss of cognitive functions.
Based on my integrated lifestyle approach to achieving optimum health and wellness, I've outlined eleven steps that are designed to help improve cognition and reduce the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease:
(1) Regular Exercise
(2) Healthy Diet
(3) Dietary Supplements
(4) Mental Stimulation
(5) Engaging in Creative Endeavors
(6) Quality and Quantity of Sleep
(7) Good Oral Health
(8) Social Engagement
(9) Stress Management
(10) Avoiding Prescription Drugs that Increase the Risk of Dementia
(11) Avoiding Health Hazards
(1) Exercise and Balance: Choosing the Right Workout Can Fine Tune Your Brain
Exercise is recommended to ensure we don't lose lean muscle (sarcopenia) as we age, and it is critical for performing the basic activities of daily life on a physical level. New research has proven that exercise can also make us smarter.
Research is finding that different kinds of exercise have specific effects on the brain. In older adults, aerobic exercise performed three times a week for a year resulted in improved memory (including verbal memory) tests. Lifting weights helped improve problem solving and multitasking. When combined, there were improvements in executive function and associative memory (helping to link someone's name to their face).
In one study, 109 people with dementia were put into three groups. One group walked at a brisk pace for 30 minutes, four times a week. Another group walked twice a week and did strength training twice a week for 30 minutes. The control group sat on their butt. The combination group improved more in executive function than the aerobic or control groups.
Studies have found that some of the best ways to help improve working memory include running, surfing, and climbing trees. Dancing and strolling boosts creativity. Yoga can reduce stress. Playing sports can help improve long term focus. Running and yoga can help keep the brain young. Interval sprints can help curb food cravings, and lifting weights is best at helping with problem solving.
Studies indicate that reasonable levels of resistance training (with weights or resistance machines) can help maintain brain health while increasing muscle mass and improving strength. Combining resistance and aerobic exercise is ideal.
Jin Ji Du Li, "Golden Rooster Stands on One Leg"
While resistance and aerobic exercise is critical to maintaining and improving cognition and helping to avoid Alzheimer's disease, incorporating Jin Ji Du Li into your daily routine may be even more important. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that practicing Jin Ji Du Li daily can help improve mental function, memory, and quality of sleep by synchronizing internal organs and restoring body balance. It is also recommended for “cold feet,” neck and back problems, diabetes (and high blood sugar) and high blood pressure.
Researchers at Kyoto University asked about 1,400 people (average age 67) to stand with one leg raised and their eyes open for 60 seconds. After the test, the researchers scanned everyone's brain using magnetic resonance imaging. The researchers found that those who couldn't balance on one leg for 20 seconds had cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), though none were exhibiting classic symptoms. SVD is associated with stroke, dementia and Parkinson's disease.
The study found that those with the shortest balance times had the lowest mental performance. Those who were unable to hold the position for more than two seconds were three times more likely to die than those who could hold the position for ten seconds or more. If you can't balance on one foot with your eyes open for 20 seconds, you may potentially be at greater risk for dementia. Women the same age who could sit down and stand up more than 35 times in one minute, and who could stand on one leg for more than ten seconds, were at the lowest risk.
If practiced for one minute per day on each leg, Chinese specialists believe there to be tremendous health benefits from Jin Ji Du Li. If you have issues with memory loss, headaches, sleep, tinnitus, vertigo, or gout you may realize benefits from regular practice of this technique. I can tell you from experience that I've noticed significant improvements since incorporating this routine into my lifestyle, as I practice it each morning after I wash and shave.
Jin Ji Du Li Exercise
Stand on one leg with your eyes closed, either barefoot or with socks on. Your leg doesn't have to be held high, just a few inches from the floor is ok at first.
If you can't keep your balance for more than a few seconds, don't worry. With daily practice, you will eventually be able to stand on one leg for longer than two minutes, and as your times increase, your neural networks associated with balance, including your three sensory circuits -vision, proprioception (sense of body position) and your vestibular system (inner ear) will improve. Improvements in balance generally result in a more confident gait and a lower risk of falling, a significant risk factor for all of us as we age.
For some, starting with your eyes slightly open makes it easier, progressing to closing them as balance improves. I also recommend standing next to a wall or between a doorway at first to help prevent falls.
By integrating regular exercise into our lifestyle and working on balance through Jin Ji Du Li, we can improve our gait, physical health and mental acuity, making it easier to remember where we put our car keys.