Meditation Improves Immune System

Meditation is best known as part of the Buddhist and Indian Yoga traditions. It has now migrated and become more integrated into western civilization including the United States. Research has supported a relationship between meditation practice and positive health outcomes.

A recent study suggests that mindfulness meditation can promote health and cognitive function. The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science indicates benefits for improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function. The authors also explain the way mindfulness helps with our health.

Four key factors of mindfulness are proposed as important to our health: (1) attention regulation; (2) body awareness; (3) emotion regulation; (4) and sense of self. When integrated, these four factors may help with alleviation of stress.

Health and The Daily Meal

Socialization and mental stimulation are two of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® (see www.paulnussbaum.com). One practical tip I have advocated is having one meal a day with the family, friends, or even with new people. I believe this activity is not only social, it promotes story telling, communication, listening to music, use of utensils to consume healthy foods, and slowing down. One activity provides socialization, mental stimulation, nutrition, and even spirituality. Four of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® are accomplished with one 45 to 60 minute activity!

It was with great enthusiasm that I read an article in my local newspaper yesterday that outlined a new study detailing the benefits of eating a daily meal with the family. The benefits were particularly important to the emotional and cognitive health of children. The study was published in the American Journal of Pediatrics and supports the health benefits of a non-medical behavioral ritual of our society. The critical point is that we need to work to create and to respect the daily meal and to not let our “busy lives” interfere with this important and necessary daily tradition.

More Research on Lifestyle and Risk Reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

For the past decade or more I have advanced the idea that a proactive lifestyle can be beneficial to the human brain. I have not been the only one to discuss or study this point, but it remains a central focus of my work. There has been a rather robust collection of studies that have shown correlations between particular lifestyle behaviors and reduction in the risk of dementia. It was from these studies that I published my own proactive brain health lifestyle ® to include physical activity, socialization, spirituality, nutrition, and mental stimulation.

Criticism against the existing research on lifestyle and risk reduction of dementia has generally been that more controlled and randomized studies are needed to move from the correlational to the cause and effect. This is fair and represents ongoing efforts by many to show such a cause and effect. Lifestyle does matter for the brain as it does for the rest of our body.

A new study to be published in Lancet Neurology provides the latest support for lifestyle and reduction in risk of dementia, including AD. Indeed, according to this study, about half of the risk factors for AD are potentially changeable and that reducing them could substantially decrease the number of new cases of the disease worldwide.

Factors that increase one’s risk for AD that are modifiable include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, sedentary behavior, depression, and low education level. In the United States, the most significant modifiable factor is physical activity accounting for 21% of the risk for AD, followed by depression and smoking. Added together, the three factors account for 50% of the risk.

The authors of this study indicate that if these risk factors were decreased by just 10%, about 184,000 AD cases in the U.S. and 1.1 million cases worldwide could be prevented. A reduction of 25% on all seven risk factors could prevent nearly half a million cases in the U.S. and more than three million world-wide.

With 5 million cases of AD in the U.S. and nearly 35 million in the world, this analysis is significant as maybe as many as 50% of all AD cases could be modifiable and that by changing the risk factors increased quality of life could be achieved. This and more research will be published to further support the importance of a proactive brain health lifestyle for everyone.

Brain Health in the Summer

Summer is here in a big way splashing the heat and humidity upon us. This is a great time of the year to get outdoors and is far better than shoveling a foot of snow off the driveway. Being able to move outdoors is a great opportunity to expand our list of activities and to increase quality time with our brain health lifestyle ®.

Consider the following 20 activities as part of your daily routine:

  1. Take a daily walk and use Arookoo (www.arookoo.com) or a pedometer count your steps.
  2. Go swimming, as it is good aerobic exercise and will cool your body.
  3. Get the bike out and ride around the block a few times.
  4. Play some sports with the kids.
  5. Cook some fish and chicken on the grill.
  6. Enjoy a cool salad on the deck.
  7. Enjoy a glass of red wine.
  8. Read the book you have been holding.
  9. Kids get started on your summer reading.
  10. Go to a sporting event as a family.
  11. Go to the zoo as a family.
  12. Go to a theme park or water park.
  13. Enjoy a vacation together.
  14. Increase your hours of sleep.
  15. Get involved in a hot yoga class.
  16. Pray daily.
  17. Attend a formal place of worship with the family.
  18. Take a walk in the woods or on the beach.
  19. Plant your garden and clean the yard.
  20. Drink plenty of water.

Consider this a reasonably good start to a brain healthy summer! Take it one step at a time and your body and brain will thank you.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia according to a prospective analysis of more than 600 people free of cognitive decline. Of those studied, the risk of all-cause dementia rose 27% for every 10-decibel loss of hearing at the start of the almost 12-year study. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rose in a similar fashion, but did not reach statistical significance. The study appears in the February issue of Archives of Neurology.

The findings support the idea that social isolation caused by deafness may be part of the cause of dementia. This may be particularly true as the association to dementia was only seen for deafness above the level at which verbal communication was impaired.

Over a five-year period from 1990 through 1994, 795 participants had both hearing and cognitive testing as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Of these, the current study consisted of 639 people, ages 36 to 90, free of confirmed or suspected dementia.

The participant subset was followed until May 31, 2008, for a median of 11.9 years. During this time, researchers found 58 participants to be diagnosed with dementia from all causes, including 37 with AD. Most of the participants (456) had normal hearing at baseline with a mean age around 60, while 125 had mild hearing loss, 53 had moderate hearing loss, and six had severe deafness.

Interestingly, in the 15 years before the study period, those who developed dementia had an average yearly hearing loss that was nearly twice average for those who did not develop dementia.