“You can do a lot with the right exercise and diet,” says Dr. Ramin Manshadi of Manshadi Heart Institute.
The published sports cardiologist and professor is currently working on a new book, one that explores the connection between physical exercise and optimum cognitive health. “Once we hit middle age, the area of the brain that controls memory begins to shrink by up to two percent each year.” And as he explains, exercise can slow the shrinkage, and continuous exercise can promote growth.
Three specific benefits of exercise directly improve brain function—an increase in cerebral blood flow, promotion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and protection against amyloid plaques. Laymen’s terms, please…
“When you exercise, your brain receives more blood, oxygen, and nutrients,” Dr. Manshadi explains. Thus, increasing your cerebral blood flow.
BDNF promotes the survival of nerve cells, and stimulates new nerve cell growth. The protein also increases communication between nerves and neurotransmitters, as Dr. Manshadi notes. Studies report that people with Alzheimer’s have low levels of BDNF. The good news? Long term moderate exercise (3-6 MPH on a treadmill) or short term vigorous exercise (6+ MPH) for 30 minutes has been shown to increase BDNF within controlled medical studies.
“Because of this, we tell patients with Alzheimer’s to exercise as much as possible and for as long as they can. It can enhance the area of the brain that is damaged, and slow the effects,” Dr. Manshadi notes.
Though the cause of Alzheimer’s is unsure, amyloid plaques are a prime suspect, as they accumulate between nerve cells in the brain. “Plaques kill nerve cells in the area of the brain called the hippocampus, which controls memory,” Dr. Manshadi explains. A major issue today, Alzheimer’s is the 6th cause of death in the United States, and it’s prevalence in people over 65 years old doubles every five years. “Risk factors are similar to those of heart disease—poor diet, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. So, what’s good for the heart also benefits the brain,” Dr. Manshadi notes.
The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease studied high-risk patients (those with one parent with Alzheimer’s, or 1 gene link) that have not yet been diagnosed. They broke them into groups and instructed each to perform either light, moderate, or vigorous exercise. By studying the glucose metabolism in the brain (a sign of healthy brain activity) the study determined moderate exercise can delay onset.
Beyond exercise, Dr. Manshadi recommends the Mediterranean Diet, and the Americanized DASH Diet—both promote fruits, veggies, nuts, fish, and olive oil, and cut back on sweets, red meat, and saturated fats. Rush University in Chicago reports that a Mediterranean diet, on its own, can reduce Alzheimer’s by 53 percent.
Though there is no cure, “proper diet and exercise is beneficial to overall cognitive health, and strengthens nerve connections in the brain,” making it a valuable tool for anyone striving to stay sharp and inventive, and practice preventative measures.
For More Information:
Manshadi Heart Institute
2633 Pacific Ave., # 1, Stockton