We are living much longer and that means more and more of us are going to fall prey to the “epidemic” of dementia and Alzheimers. In fact, a third of us who are 65 or older will die of it.
This “scary fact” is the starting point for Ashland chiropractor and wellness author John Kalb’s new book, “Keep Your Marbles: You Game Plan for a Healthy Brain.”
After age 65, most of us notice we’re forgetting names, appointments and the location of our phones. It gets worse with time, even if you don’t officially have dementia — but you can slow or even reverse cognitive decline, Kalb contends.
It’s done with a regimen of brain fitness that includes basics of exercise, nutrition, eu-stress (“good stress”) and sleep, but adds an “inner game” of mindfulness, brain games, nature immersion, good social networks and working with the wisdom that is our due as elders.
This strategy, gathered from decades in his healing profession, as well as scores of footnoted scientific reports, spawns Kalb’s dozen BrainSavers:
• Exercise. Sitting is the new smoking. Eighty percent of us sit up to 10 hours a day and this is as harmful as smoking. Workouts, a couple hours a week, are proven to cut dementia risk and shrink anxiety, depression, strokes.
• Nutrition. Eat real food, not prepared or packaged. Lose empty carbs, bad fats, acids, sodium. Yes to fiber, veggies, fruits, fish oil, olive oil.
• Sugar is the “main culprit” behind heart attacks and triggers inflammation in heart and brain. It is found mainly in high fructose corn syrup. Lose the fat and cholesterol phobia. Fats are vital for brain health. Bad fats are in junk like hot dogs, pastries, fried foods, refined vegetable oils.
• Your three pounds of intestinal flora (friendly bacteria) are vital to neurotransmitter health, immunity and fighting inflammation, anxiety and depression. Antibiotics and excessive cleanliness harm flora. Eat fermentable foods — yogurt, probiotics — and expose yourself to dirt, gardens and nature.
• Supplements. Our soils are depleted. We need “supps.” Avoid cheap ones. Very important are Vitamin D, omega fish oils, magnesium-calcium, the “workhorse” Vitamin C.
• Brain challengers. Keep learning every day. Learn French, painting, chess, guitar, fencing, new dances, sudoku, public speaking. Question your deeply held beliefs.
• Emotional-social connection. We evolved for millions of years in cooperative tribes, not as competitive warriors. It’s really “survival of the kindest.” Feelings of isolation (very common) are unnatural and are harmful to the physical, mental, emotional health of elders. Emotional literacy skills — recognizing, responding to emotions in self and others — can be improved. Seek, savor life’s “uppers” — happiness, joy, awe. These are as critical as diet and exercise. So, go hike in groups, have potlucks, board games, join groups of common interest.
• Sleep and nap. This is when the brain takes out the garbage of the day. Nap 20 minutes between 1 and 3 p.m. Crash gently, with no screens, meals, booze in the hour before sleep.
• Mindfulness, meditation or “relaxation response” is simply taking time to be in present awareness, experiencing your mind as it is, without judgment and without thinking you can blank out everything. Follow your breath. Benefits are “almost too good to be true”: increased memory, sense of well-being and creativity, and less anxiety, pain and inflammation.
• Nature. Being in the boonies supports our intuitive and ancient knowledge of the importance and interconnectedness of all life, thus boosting brain function, immunity, mood. Walk, bike, hike — even just sit in a park.
• Stress. It’s gotten a bad rap as “the silent killer,” but it’s good and part of life if not overdone. The stress response has been fight-or-flight, but it’s really more like a Swiss Army knife, with many choices: learn from the challenge, tend-and-befriend others, learn resiliency. A lot of stress comes from “the fixed mindset of trying to look good, be intelligent and never make mistakes.” What works is “I have a growth mindset and learn from any mistakes. That mindset plays a big role in health and how much we benefit from exercise.”
These 12 BrainBoosters work, according to Kalb, but he cautions one mustn’t attack them like a mountain, which calls for intense will-power. Do some, not all, he says, and gradually move them into your lifestyle without guilt and self-sabotage.
Kalb’s book is a simple, straightforward and effective recipe for doing what no modern medicine or “magic pill” can do — win (or at least make gains) over dementia.
“They’ve tried to find the silver bullet, but haven’t,” he notes. “These steps are about how to live better now with a natural lifestyle.”
Kalb will give a talk at Ashland Public Library at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.