Tag Archives: mental

Bradley Cooper, Mental Health & Exercise

Bradley-Cooper-Mugshot

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Dementia and mental illness are not the most common subjects of Hollywood Blockbusters, but their have been some notable exceptions, for example the excellent performance of Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook depicting someone with Bipolar Disorder.

As a fitness professional and as someone who lost my father to dementia (I wrote in a previous blog, “Dementia: I lost my father, don’t lose yours” about my very personal experience with Alzheimer’s disease) the link between exercise and diet is one that really interests me.

Since my last blog on this topic then, there has been new evidence linking diet and exercise to the avoidance of dementia, an illness that is reaching epidemic proportions in our aging population.

A recent study by the University of California has concluded that high levels of “bad” cholesterol are linked to the presence of abnormal brain proteins that are seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Whereas previous studies have linked high cholesterol to Alzheimer’s, this is the first direct link between cholesterol levels in the blood to the concentration of amyloid plaques, the hallmark of this degenerative disease, in the brains of living patients.

The study reached the conclusion that whilst effects were small to moderate, over a prolonged period they can make a significant difference in reducing the prevalence of Alzheimer’s. Eating foods such as lentils, garlic, oily fish and avocados, and avoided saturated fats can help to lower “bad” cholesterol levels.

Another study reported in the US at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that physical exercise is as important in reducing the risk of dementia as keeping the mind active. By simply taking a brisk walk three of four times a week can effectively grow back the brain. The study involved 120 people aged 60 to 80. Half of the group had a brisk walk for 30 to 45 minutes three to four times a week. The other half only did light stretching exercises. After the 12 month test period, cognitive tests and MRI scans showed that the group who walked had a 2% growth of their hippocampus region of the brain, the part that is crucial for memory, and a similar growth in the pre-frontal cortex, the area involved in decision making and social behaviour. By contrast, the people in the other group showed a reduction in brain size which is in keeping with the “expected” rate of decline in the elderly.

It is not clear yet exactly how exercising can make the brain grow and improve brain function, but it is possible that the increase in blood flow improves the oxygen supply to the brain. Another possibility is that exercise encourages growth genes to trigger new connections between neurons.

Neural plasticity is a growing area of interest to science, and studies such as this one clearly show that the brain is able to grow well into old age, and that the “inevitable” decline in function is not as inevitable as was once thought.

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Dementia. I lost my father, don’t lose yours

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This is a very personal and difficult blog for me to write, but one that I really want to share with you all. No pictures, just my honest, heart-felt story.

Dementia, even in 2013, is still a dirty word to many people and misunderstood by many others. It “remains one of the last bastions of stigma and fear when it comes to illness” as the UK health secretary very succinctly put it. This week in the UK press there has been a lot of headlines about it as David Cameron headed a G8 conference on the subject on Wednesday the 11th December. The result of this was that the G8 pledged that they would find a cure by 2025, treating it in the same was as HIV/Aids and cancer

My story is a typical one, nothing special when dealing with this terrible disease. My father started showing symptoms a few years ago. The usual forgetfulness and unusual behaviour. The disease soon progressed to the point where he didn’t recognise me. This thought still makes me cry to this day. If you want to understand what dementia can do, try imagining one of your parents looking at you like a stranger, and worse with mistrust and even fear in their eyes. I witnessed my father not only lose his mental capacity, but also his dignity. The care he received from one of the UK’s so-called leading healthcare providers was a disgrace and only made the whole situation worse. The night my father passed away, I had a horrible dream. I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach to find that I had slept through a call from the hospital telling me I should get to his bedside immediately as he wouldn’t make it through the night. I will regret missing that call for the rest of my life, but maybe it saved me the pain of seeing him pass away. I can instead remember saying good night to him the night before and kissing him on his forehead as he was in a peaceful, drug-induced sleep.

Labelled the 21st Century Plague, dementia is going to become part of more and more people’s lives. About 800,000 people in Britain currently suffer from it, and this figure is predicted to double by 2050, with cases around the world projected to triple to 135 million by the same date. Currently, there is no cure with health services only able to try to help people live with their disease rather than cure it. This makes it all the more important to reduce the risks of developing it in the first place. Research is increasingly showing that five key components of healthy lifestyle can ward off a range of conditions including heart disease, diabetes and dementia. A recent 35 year study found more evidence to confirm this. So what are the five key components?

1) Regular exercise
2) Eating fruit and vegetables
3) Staying slim
4) Light drinking
5) Not smoking

So not rocket science then, and something that everyone can do. As Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said “we have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head….. healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia”.

I still cry when I think back to what happened to my father. Whilst the world’s leading countries have finally woken up to this global issue (some cynics might say their attitude has been clarified by the threat of enormous costs associated with treating sufferers), by taking five simple steps, we can all help to reduce the risk of my story becoming your story, or your children’s story. Trust me, however difficult you might think those five steps are, the alternative could be ultimately worse.

Here are some links to recent articles I have written about the connection between mental and physical health, and about depression. New studies are confirming the links every week.

http://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/exercise-is-only-one-part-of-total-fitness/

http://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/bradley-cooper-mental-health-exercise/

http://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/lets-talk-about-depression-part-1-is-it-real/

http://thechrishuntblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/depression-part-2-positive-thinking/