Tag Archives: brain health lifestyle

Life Expectancy in the United States

child.jpgRecent 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.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Rhythms, Nature and Brain Health

waterfall.jpgThe first sound we may perceive as a budding human being on planet earth is the heart beat of our mother. Our brain appreciates rhythm and harmony for stress tends to be limited in such situations. Breathing in a rhythmical manner is taught to reduce stress. Scuba divers describe the peace of being under water when they can hear their breathing in an otherwise quiet environment. Humans continue to migrate to the oceans as a form of vacation where waves provide a rhythm. Others venture to the woods where there is little to distract an inner peace.

These are a few examples of how nature provides our brains with environments that promote rhythm and perhaps stabilize the symmetry of our two brain hemispheres. Our typical daily life takes us out of rhythm and hence causes a stressful disequilibrium in our brain. Research on animals indicates that an environment that is too stimulating leads to slowed brain development. Our challenge is to be conscious of our own daily behavior and the types of environments we expose our brains.

Make it a goal to seek out environments that promote peace and rhythms for your brain. This will help to reduce stress by reducing the amount of stimulation that is not healthy. A walk in the woods, a stroll on the beach, or even witness to a sunset can be more health promoting than you might imagine. Anytime you become conscious of your breathing and surrounding in a safe environment is typically a healthy moment.

Lifestyle can Enhance Memory Function

Brain health is now a popular practice with more attention being drawn to this part of our being everyday. Dr. Nussbaum has proposed a 5 factor lifestyle to promote brain health to include (1) physical activity, (2) mental stimulation (e.g. brain games), (3) socialization, (4) spirituality, and (4) nutrition. While each of these factors has research-based activities that demonstrate a relationship to reduced risk of dementia, there has not been a study that measures the effect of all factors integrated into a comprehensive program.

Teaming with Emeritus Assisted Living, Dr. Nussbaum completed a six week pilot investigation on the effects of his brain health lifestyle on memory, mood, medical measures such as cholesterol, and quality of life. Twelve independent living and healthy adults (mean age 84) took part in the six week study and were compared to a control group of nine older adults. The two groups did not differ on age, education or other demographic variables. No study participants had dementia, psychiatric illness, or substance abuse.

Study participants completed one research based activity in each of the four factors on a daily basis and they consumed a special brain health diet for the nutrition factor. Controls simply lived their life with the same routine. Results include a significant improvement in delayed recall (20-25 minutes delay), reduced weight, enhanced quality of life as measured by self-report and staff based observations, and general knowledge of the human brain and brain health.

This is one of the first studies to look at the effects of a comprehensive lifestyle approach on brain health.

Just when I beat my Caffeine Habit!

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.

Another Reminder for Diet and Exercise

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!

What Exactly is a Stroke?

Stroke is a clinical term that describes cell death in the brain. Stroke is a permanent and can result in significant functional impairment and even death. There are two types of strokes. The first is the most common and is referred to as ischemia. Nearly 80% of all strokes are ischemic and involves a blockage of blood flow that results in cell death. The other 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic that involves a bleeding outward from a weakened artery wall. As the blood gathers increased pressure can be placed on the surrounding brain tissue causing additional damage to the brain.

Both types of stroke are dangerous and can result in deficits of language, attention, information processing speed, and motor skills. Risk factors for stroke include advanced age, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and poor diet. Typical preventative measures for stroke include the same protocol as used for the healthy heart. We have learned relatively recently how important blood flow to the brain is, particularly when we recognize that the brain commands 25% of the blood from every heart beat.

Chronic Stress and the Brain

It seems everyone knows what “stress” is and what it feels like. Most of us agree that stress typically does not feel very good and places the mind and body in a precarious position. We know many things can cause stress and some of the reaction of being stressed is subjective, based on a personal perception. These examples might include being in traffic, waiting for an elevator, waiting for the doctor, or having to deal with perceived incompetence. However, more life threatening stressors such as near death from a motor vehicle accident, child abuse, sexual trauma, war, etc. can impose a more chronic form of stress.

The brain reacts to stress by having a survival type instinct in which you will either run or fight the stressor. Some research indicates this is primarily a male response and that women may be better at actually working with the stressing agent to ameliorate the stress. Perhaps the latter is a more adaptive response to stress and might relate to the fact that women live longer than men.

If the stressor does not go away the effects of the stress can become chronic and result in a clinical condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic anxiety. Both of these conditions seem to have a hormonal component underlying them in which an explosion of hormones are released in the body—“stress response” and if not turned off can potentially do damage to the body and brain. Some of the hormones such as cortisol and glucocorticoids can actually cause potential damage to the brain.

Animal and some human studies indicate that chronic stress with the persistent hormonal issue described above affects the hippocampus, structurally and functionally. The hippocampus is critical to memory and new learning and it is not coincidental that persons with chronic anxiety or PTSD have memory problems.

Most people understand that it is important to first identify what causes their stress and then to try and develop more adaptive coping strategies to manage the stress in their lives. However, most people probably do not understand that such stress, if not managed can become chronic and may be a negative influence on brain function.

It is a good idea to take some time and list two or three things that represent your chief stressors in life. Once you do this identify how you are presently coping or managing these stressors and try to determine how you might better reduce the negative effects of these stressors on your body and life.