As you probably know, we are in a health care crisis. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease continues to sky-rocket as people age and may reach crisis proportions. A national goal has been set to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s by 2020 or no later than 2025, with a lion’s share of this money going into drug research, which, while ongoing, has thus far has been elusive.
This focus entirely on drugs may be changing however, as the recent increase in the US budget highlights brain health education. The latest research into what is now referred to as non-pharma or integrative medicine, has been so robust that it has gotten the attention of the Alzheimer’s Association and many other leading organizations.
As discussed during the recent SharpBrains Summit, I first noticed a change at The White House Conference on Aging, to which I was invited last July, where both President Obama and The Surgeon General Vice- Admiral Vivek Murty, M.D., stated that a “culture of prevention” is vital. Moreover, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) the very next week in DC, at which I shared my work, non-pharma prevention research was highlighted more so than in the past.
The Finnish Interventional Geriatric Study To Prevent Cognitive Disability, also known as FINGER, is the largest research project in history on Alzheimer’s prevention. FINGER has revealed that following a complete brain health program magnifies the results and enhances cognitive function in individuals at peril because of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond that, in a recent edition of the Alzheimer’s Association journal, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the three lead articles were on diet and Alzheimer’s risk reduction. That particular issue also has an article about how poor sleep quality increases Alzheimer’s risk and another article about exercise and risk reduction.
It’s crucial to point out that the most important factor in protecting your brain health as you age is clearly to make it a priority. By waiting until problems develop, you’re putting your mental and physical health at risk. What we know already is that following these 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention, as promoted by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation’s (ARPF), is critical to prevention:
- 1. Diet: As mentioned above, nutrition can influence your brain health and Alzheimer’s risk. The research-proven plan to prevent deterioration in brain function is a plant-based, Mediterranean or MIND diet. In studies, evidence was seen that those who had unhealthy eating habits had approximately twice as much memory loss, while those subjects following a MIND Diet were able to .
- 2. Stress Management: Many studies, including a very recent one from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and my own paper published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in August 2015 entitled Stress, Meditation and Alzheimer’s Prevention, suggest that chronic, untreated stress, beginning in childhood and going throughout the life span, increases the risk for memory loss. Conversely, research on yoga and meditation has shown that aspects of brain performance, such as executive function and memory improve, cellular health is enhanced, and genetic expression is better in yoga and meditation adherents. Moreover, meditation has been shown to have a positive effect on mood and sleep, which as mentioned above, is a risk factor. The ARPF has championed meditation for Alzheimer’s prevention for over two decades and has studies published in many leading journals on a simple, 12-minute, brain-enhancing, meditation exercise called Kirtan Kriya (KK), which is fast, affordable, and effective. For more information on our work and to claim a MP3 of KK, please click here. In my view, an important activity to create brain health reserve is to perhaps awaken earlier each morning and use this time to start your day in a positive way with yoga, meditation, visualization, and prayer. I call this practice “Wake Up To Wellness.”
- 3. Mental and Physical Exercise: Cognitive Training has been shown to slow the progression of early types of memory loss, especially when used in combination with the other aspects of the 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention. Physical exercise is clearly another activity that must be done on a regular basis if you want to maintain a sharp brain for life. The recommended prescription is to do both cardiovascular exercise and strength training for a combined total of 150 minutes/week. I personally make physical exercise a high priority and utilize the services of a personal trainer to keep me on track.
- 4. Spiritual Fitness: Spiritual Fitness is a combination of Psychological (PWB) and Spiritual Well-Being (SWB). Our investigations reveal that elements of PWB such as acceptance, self-mastery, independence, sustained personal growth, positive relationships, and having a sense of purpose or mission convey protection against cognitive decline, probably by decreasing risk factors such as high cholesterol, depression, and inflammation. The final aspect of PWB, having a sense of purpose, has itself been proven to decrease the development of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early form of memory loss, which may progress to Alzheimer’s disease. SWB, the development over time of patience, awareness, compassion, and service to others without thought of reward for yourself, creates a high level of life satisfaction and peace of mind; sorely lacking in today’s turbulent times. Spiritual Fitness has been shown to protect the aging brain and slow cognitive decline.
The ARPF has been at the forefront of Alzheimer’s prevention for over two decades and has a bold new vision to solve the Alzheimer’s crisis: to make sure everyone on the planet knows about these scientifically-sound 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention.
Have a great 2016 and know that, by following these guidelines together, we can solve the upcoming Alzheimer’s crisis. Please help spread the word.
– Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, is the President of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation (ARPF), a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to prevent Alzheimer’s disease by funding research studies and providing educational outreach and memory screenings. Dr. Dharma is also Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Medicine at University of New Mexico School of Medicine.
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