For months now, I have been sounding the alarm about brain health, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. I feel like I am standing at the crest of a hill, watching as legions of people march toward a cliff that is crumbling away, the closer they get.
That cliff is chronic disease, chronic pain, dementia, and limited mobility. I see a generation living unresponsive in wheelchairs and I am trying to do everything I can as a healthcare provider and wellness coach in this great and growing city to turn the tide.
Here’s the thing: the cliff we are headed for is totally preventable. People are dying of heart disease when they don’t have to. People are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel, asthma, psoriasis —and countless other inflammatory diseases — when they don’t have to. But we’ve been fed a lie for two generations about how we are supposed to eat, and hundreds of millions of people have believed it and are suffering as a result.
It starts with educating as many people as I can about the dangers of our current way of living. That’s what the blog (and my soon-to-be-updated website) is for.
Small Changes, Big Results
This is the foundation of my practice: if you are willing to make some small lifestyle changes, you can enjoy a long, healthy life. This isn’t my opinion or a happy dream of what life should be like. This is how people live in cities all over the world. We call them the Blue Zones, and when I read about them, I knew that the wellness culture I’ve been trying to cultivate here in Naples was possible.
Not just possible; critical for our long-term survival.
When you consider that 5 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and we add 700,000 new cases per year, then we have to make some changes. The biggest generation in the history of the world is now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, and their health is horrible! I strongly encourage you to read a book I have been teaching from for months. It was so eye-opening to me, and it brought so much clarity to what I was seeing around me: The End of Alzheimer’s by Dale Bredesen. A powerful read that will equip you to maximize your brain health into your golden years.
Making Right Choices
I was so thrilled when Southwest Florida was identified as a Blue Zone. That means we’re making right choices and moving in the right direction. But things change. My friend and colleague, Dr. Weiss has left his position as the head of NCH. He was a powerful advocate for healthy lifestyles and preventative medicine here in Naples, and his voice has gone quiet.
It’s up to you and me to roll up our sleeves and get the message out to our friends, family, and neighbors. Of course, like the crew leader on every flight says over the intercom: “be sure to secure your own mask before attempting to assist others.” We have to take responsibility for our own wellness. Not only to ensure our own longevity but to protect the message.
That’s part of why I choose to walk to work every day. I have to get my 10,000 steps in, but I also need to live the message. It wouldn’t be right for me to eat junk food and tell you not to eat junk food. I can’t sit in front of the TV all night and admonish you about the importance of “move right.” At 53, I still have a daughter to walk down the aisle someday. I still have patients and students that need some accountability in their wellness. I’ve got work to do, so I live what I teach.
I’m not chiseled like some of the fitness guys you see on YouTube, but I don’t need to be. That’s a modern distortion of wellness that has little to do with the way we were designed. My core muscles are toned for stability, mobility, and motor control and my heart is pumping at just the right rate and pressure. I’ve balanced my blood sugar. And I have the stamina to work all day.
What Are The Small Choices That Matter?
So, what are these small lifestyle choices we can make to protect our longevity?
I recently saw the latest list of 13 risk factors for dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other neurological diseases. On that list, there are some things you simply can’t control, like your age, gender, and your family’s health history. On the other hand, you have total control over most of them. Let’s look at the power you have to control your own destiny.
Your Sleep Habits
This is an area of research that has been exploding in the last couple of years. Your body was designed to sleep every single 24 hours. The more regular and consistent your sleep cycles, the more benefit you receive. Your brain literally boots down and resets like a computer, flushing out toxins, dead and malfunctioning cells, and other debris. The debris that doesn’t get flushed out lingers and forms sticky plaques over the neurons where brain activity happens (look up amyloid B deposits sometime if you can’t sleep). As these plaques form, your brain literally gets gummed up with toxic sludge that interferes with memory, critical thinking, and motor control.
Your Alcohol Consumption
Some people drink to forget. Eventually, it can catch up with you until you can’t remember things that are important to you. Over-consumption of alcohol is harmful to your liver, pancreas, kidneys, and your brain. To say nothing of your relationships, career, finances, and other areas of wellness. Remember, if your body is in great shape and your relationships are toxic, you’re not enjoying true wellness.
Your Tobacco Use
Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to suffer dementia. Smokers are more likely to suffer numerous health problems, from emphysema to stroke to heart disease and cancer. This should be obvious, but there’s always someone who gets on me for trying to make a big deal about smoking. It is a big deal. No matter what you want to believe about tobacco, it will kill you slowly. That’s not a matter of debate anymore. Even people who breathe in second-hand smoke have an elevated risk of dementia. Fortunately, when you stop smoking, the risk diminishes for both groups. So stop. For everyone’s sake.
Different experts have different opinions about why people with more education have a lower incidence of dementia. I tend to believe it is because they keep their brains more active with a wider vocabulary, broader experiences, and more topic points to link together. Those linkages create new pathways in the brain that branch out into new channels of knowledge and storage. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go back to college for an advanced degree. If you want to maximize your brain health, learn a musical instrument, learn to dance, learn to speak a new language. The neural pathways you’ll create are so powerful.
Your Physical Activity
Most of the deadly and chronic diseases Americans suffer from are linked directly to a sedentary lifestyle. We’re a culture of people that sit all day at work, sit in a car, and then sit on the couch at home. That’s setting us up for disease and early death. Just a few minutes of moderate exercise per day will help you manage your weight, your blood sugar, your mobility, flexibility, and motor control, your mood, your energy levels, your blood flow, your cellular oxygen levels, and your stress. We were designed to move, not to sit all day. While the research is still coming up with reasons, daily exercise is being linked more closely to brain health every day.
You knew I was going to go here, but this is where most of us mess up most consistently. Dr. David Perlmutter wrote a terrific book, called Grain Brain, that deals with chronic health problems so many people face as a result of eating too much grain, sugar, and other carbohydrates. The USDA health guidelines direct us to get as much as half our calories each day from grains and carbohydrates – the biggest food group in their pyramid. That’s upside down!! And it shows in the obesity epidemic, the Type II Diabetes epidemic, and the growing Alzheimer’s epidemic.
A Backwards System
Our food system is backward, and it’s ruining our health. If you will commit to eating more vegetables and more fat from healthy oils (olive, coconut, avocado), and eliminating as much sugar, grain, and processed food as possible from your diet, you will enjoy better overall health, better brain function, and little or no disease. The change from sick to well isn’t difficult, it’s just a little hard on our flesh. We are accustomed to being overstimulated by sugar and flavorings, so when we transition to healthy eating, there is a period of flavor readjustment that many people struggle with. Get through that transition and enjoy health as you’ve never known – well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.
The Heartbeat of My Practice
There’s so much more I could say about this. This really is the heartbeat of my practice. There are two important days in a person’s life: the day they were born and the day they find out why they were born. I found my reason: I’m here to sound the alarm and help people walk in the wellness I know they can enjoy.
Won’t you join me in this quest? Help me get the word out. Share this article on your favorite social media channel. This message isn’t difficult to understand, but it is counter-cultural. We’re going against the flow of what masses of people have been conditioned to believe. Our message can help rescue them from a life of sickness, but we’ve got to get it in front of people, and there are forces at work that want to keep them sick, depressed, and dependent on the pharmaceutical industry for survival.
Oh, and if you live in the Naples area, join me for our next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner in March. Bring a dish to shared enjoy some great people and a powerful message from one of my colleagues here in Naples. There are so many great people working hard to bring a wellness message to Southwest Florida, and it’s my pleasure to connect you with them every month. I hope you’ll join us. Look for the link on Facebook to RSVP.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas