Study: Active Seniors Less Likely to Develop Alzheimer's Disease
Daily physical activity—not necessarily exercise—could help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay. A study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology suggests that cleaning house and doing yardwork, for example, are linked to a reduced risk of developing the disease, even in people over 80. Researchers analyzed 716 people with an average age of 81, tracking their activity levels and their brain health. They found that protective activities included washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, gardening, and even playing cards. Compared with the most active study participants, those with the lowest levels of overall physical activity had more than double the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. "An active lifestyle may be good for you," study author Aron Buchman, an associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told HealthDay. "Even if you can't exercise, increasing all kinds of movements may be beneficial in the long term."
How to Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease
Charles Snelling spent six years taking care of his Alzheimer's-stricken wife, Adrienne, helpless as he watched the disease steal his college sweetheart. In March, after six decades of marriage, Snelling killed his longtime partner, and then he killed himself. Both were 81. "After apparently reaching the point where he could no longer bear to see the love of his life deteriorate further, our father ended our mother's life and then took his own life as well," his children said in a statement. "This is a total shock to everyone in the family, but we know he acted out of deep devotion and profound love."
Indeed, Alzheimer's disease unleashes a devastating, sometimes unmanageable burden. It is a leading cause of disability and death, with numbers poised to explode in coming years as the older population grows. (Symptoms typically first appear after age 60.) By 2050, an estimated 16 million people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia, and roughly 5.4 million Americans are currently living with the condition, according to a March report by the Alzheimer's Association, a nonprofit advocacy group. One person develops Alzheimer's every second. It's the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, and the 5th for those age 65 and older. And there's no cure. "We should be very worried," says Reisa Sperling, director of the Center for Alzheimer's Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
In 2011, President Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act, a law aimed at raising Alzheimer's profile, increasing funding for research and fighting Alzheimer's with an intensity equal to that in the war against cancer and heart disease. The hope: to wipe out or at least better treat Alzheimer's by 2025. Officials are frustrated that, while death rates from stroke, prostate cancer, breast cancer, heart disease, and HIV declined between 2000 and 2008, the death rate from Alzheimer's jumped by 66 percent. [Read more: How to Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease]
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Fight These 4 Causes of Aging
Benjamin Franklin once declared that "we get old too soon and wise too late." Applying a little wisdom, though, may keep you from aging before your time. "Only about 5 to 20 percent of the aging process has to do with our genes," says Jonny Bowden, a nutritionist and best-selling author of numerous books including The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. "The rest has to do with how we treat our bodies, which determines whether, like a light switch, we turn the good genes on and the bad genes off." His book identifies what he calls "the four horsemen of aging," which are thought to be dangerous processes that age our bodies and are triggered by the foods we eat and the lifestyles we lead. Conquer these four horsemen, Bowden contends, and you can slow down the aging process and help stave off heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (An added bonus: looking younger than your peers at your high school reunion.)
1. Free radicals. Similar to the way rust attacks a car, free radicals—chemically unstable molecules—attack our cells and damage our DNA, a process that many experts believe accelerates aging. Free radicals are also known to increase the risk of cancer. You can't, unfortunately, completely avoid these molecules—they're present in the air you breathe—but you can limit your exposure to them, says Bowden, by avoiding things like cigarettes, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils which have been banned from many foods), excess sun exposure, charred meats, and other sources. Bowden also recommends buying organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible to limit your exposure to pesticides and herbicides, which also contain the harmful molecules. If you can't afford to go completely organic, try to at least buy the following foods organically: peaches, apples, blueberries, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, spinach, kale, and potatoes. Last year, the Environmental Working Group found that these "dirty dozen" contain the highest level of chemical residue when compared to other kinds of produce. That being said, fruits and vegetables are also chock full of antioxidants, which are thought to neutralize free radicals, so you should still aim to get five servings a day, organic or not. Those with the highest amount of antioxidants include prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, and kale. [Read more: Fight These 4 Causes of Aging]