While it might seem odd to write about breast cancer on a site dedicated to brain health, there are two compelling reasons to do so: First, many of us have a loved one who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and second, activity is one of the major components of the brain health lifestyle.
A recent study conducted at the Yale School of Medicine indicates women who stay active after being diagnosed with breast cancer have a better chance of surviving the disease. This includes those who take up exercise for the first time after diagnosis and even if the women just do a little exercise. This study reinforces many other studies that link exercise to reduction in risk of breast cancer.
Women who got the equivalent of two to three hours of brisk walking each week in the year before they were diagnosed with breast cancer were 31 percent less likely to die of the disease than women who were sedentary before the diagnosis. Further, two years after diagnosis, women who did any recreational activities at all had nearly 65% lower risk of dying then women who were inactive at that point. Women who got at least two hours of brisk walking in weekly reduced their risk of death by 67%. Perhaps most glaring is the study’s finding that women who decreased their physical activity after diagnosis were actually four times more likely to die of breast cancer than those who remained sedentary.
In all, exercise is an important lifestyle behavior for women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Another study has been published that supports a relationship between physical fitness and brain volume. This study explored the rate of brain shrinkage or cell loss in persons with mild Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects had their peak oxygen demand measured while running on a treadmill and this was related to their brain shrinkage as estimated by MRI scan.
Results indicate that those persons suffering AD who were more physically fit had less brain shrinkage than less-fit participants. Curiously, these same persons did not do significantly better on tests for mental performance. The authors suggested that there were not enough participants to see the difference in cognitive performance and that the study used only one measurement point which prohibited demonstration of a conclusion.
However, this study together with other research further underscores an important relationship between blood flow, cardiac health, and brain health (e.g. brain fitness).
The summer months bring warm weather, blue sky, and plenty of sunshine. For some, if not most, we may notice our mood becomes a bit happier. Is there a relationship between the sunshine and our mood? Probably, but why?
Some studies have reported a relationship between Vitamin D that is derived from sunshine and different physiological measures in the human body. Sunlight has also been related to mood with a disorder known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” in which those not exposed to enough sunlight can become depressed. Indeed, special lights have been prescribed for those with seasonal affective disorder to help their brains gain more ultraviolet exposure to lift their mood.
Sunshine also tends to come with blue sky, relates to an increased ability to get outside and move about in nature, and to recreate more. Each of these factors is important and is related indirectly to mood enhancement.
It is important to pay attention to your own mood and determine what environmental factors may help you feel happier. If sunshine and blue sky lift your spirits try to prescribe yourself increased time outside. You may feel more energy, higher sense of self and increased productivity.
Recent data indicates Americans are living longer than ever before as life expectancy hit 78.1 years in 2006. Rates for 14 of the top 15 causes of death fell in 2006 according the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most significant decline in cause of death was attributed to influenza and pneumonia that fell nearly 13% from the previous year.
Life expectancy of 78.1 is up from 77.8 years in 2005 representing a continued rise over the past decades. Women have a life expectancy of 80.7 years while men remain somewhat behind at 75.4 years. Racial disparities also exist with white women’s life expectancy at 81 years compared to 76.9 for black women. White men’s life expectancy was 76 years and black men at 70.
The top two causes of death include heart disease and cancer followed by stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases such as emphysema and then accidents. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Gains made in life expectancy represent an opportunity for continued years of quality of life. Getting started earlier in life with a proactive lifestyle (physical activity, brain fitness, brain games etc.) including that designed for the heart and brain can help to maximize the quality with the increased quantity of life.
I was very proud of myself recently when I generated enough determination to quit my perceived addiction to caffeine in the form of coffee. While it is true that I only consumed one cup of coffee in the morning to get my jump on the day, it is also true that my brain demanded that one cup. I know this because when I stopped or missed my cup of coffee I felt a bit sluggish and then the headaches set in if I did not get the fix for several days. We refer to this as an addiction, though some do not like to hear that word to describe their (my) behavior.
After nearly one month of not consuming any coffee and getting through the withdrawal symptoms, I pick up a new research discovery in the Journal of Neuroinflammation (volume 6, 2008) that reports caffeine blocks disruption of blood brain barrier in a rabbit model of Alzheimer’s disease. It seems caffeine consumed in the equivalent of one cup of coffee daily protects against high cholesterol diet induced increases in disruptions of the blood brain barrier, and caffeine might be useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
If high levels of serum cholesterol and disruption of the blood brain barrier are indeed underlying mechanisms in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s it suggests I need to reconsider starting my habit again!
The important message in the story is that we continue to monitor the new findings of lifestyle and brain health and change our behavior accordingly. This should not occur in an impulsive way. Rather, the negative effects need to be weighed against the positive effects of particular behaviors. For me, I think I will restart my consumption of coffee, but keep it to ½ cup a day. Moderation is typically a great idea. In the meantime, I will keep an eye out for replication of this finding on the relationship between caffeine and protection against Alzheimer’s.
What a great time to be alive if you are interested in your own brain and how to promote its health! With the daily reports of a new finding on how to promote brain health, the development of new companies with products for brain fitness (e.g. brain games), and with the boomers generating a booming interest in this part of their being, we really are in the “golden era of brain health.”
I am so very fortunate to have been involved with brain health more than a decade ago and to witness what I described then as the emerging “Brain Wave” that was coming. It is here and we will all be better for the fact that the human brain has found its way onto the radar screen of health.
A national and world wide discussion of the human brain with a focus on proactive lifestyle towards promotion of brain health is a great and needed thing. Dementia is a real problem and a growing concern. We have the ability to be proactive and to focus on an optimistic and positive path forward as we try to implement research-based behaviors to brain reserve. By building our own brain reserve across our lifespan we probably increase our chances of delaying the onset of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The next step to this growing brain wave is for the governmental bodies to pass legislation that incorporates national emphasis on the brain similar to what we have done for the heart; for health care payers to include incentives for leading a brain health lifestyle that might recognize lifelong learning, brain fitness, use of pedometers, diet, and meditation as critical ingredients to brain health, and for continued innovation in the business world to apply research to the market.
What a great day to be interested in promoting your own brain health!
A study published in online Neurology 3-27-08 indicates belly fat is linked to increased risk of dementia. Rachel Whitmer, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research noted that belly fat increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. However, her research on 6,583 men and women ages 40-45 living in northern
California found that belly fat was also related to increased risk of dementia.
Indeed those who were obese (30 pounds or more over a healthy weight) and had collected belly fat in their 40s were 3.6 times more likely to develop dementia during the 30 to 40 year study. Even those who were not obese, yet had extra weight around the waist or belly, were 1.8 times more likely to develop dementia compared to those who were lean all over.Whitmer stated that “it is not simply about weight, but where you carry your weight.” She noted that people who are predisposed to carry their fat in their belly region may be at risk. Fat cells in the stomach secrete hormones that may play a role in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and now perhaps dementia.
The good news is that anyone with belly fat in their 40s can adopt a lifestyle of diet and exercise that can reduce such fat and reduce the risk of disease related to the fat. Time to get moving and eating healthier!