So I’ve Been “Running”

When I began Racing Alzheimer’s, my intent was to share the latest research on how to be healthy so that you and I could hopefully avoid or delay dementia down the road.

I haven’t been very good at this.

With my mother moving into late stage dementia, this blog became more about racing her Alzheimer’s by helping her and being with her as much as I could.  Still, as I focused on my mom, I didn’t lose sight of the need to be healthy.  My “prevention intention” was never far away as I watched the progression of this disease in my mom.  Talk about motivation.

While there are no guarantees or proven ways to prevent dementia, there is nothing to lose and so much to gain for trying.  There are a number of ways to keep our brains healthy that are supported by solid research — and exercise is one.

So I’ve been “running.”

If you’ve followed my running posts you’ll know I am not a runner.  Uh, because running is hard?  Truth is, all exercise is hard for me — I just don’t like it.  But of everything I’ve tried, I enjoy running the most which is to say I hardly enjoy it at all.  It’s tolerable.  I’m not very good at it which is why I’ve been running so slowly it can hardly be called “running.”  Oxygen deprived lumbering is a better description.

So why do it?  Because study after study suggests exercise as an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  One Mayo Clinic study found:

Older adults who regularly engaged in moderate exercise five or six times a week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent compared with more sedentary people. Those who began exercising at midlife saw a 39 percent reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “It’s not clear how exercise protects the brain from Alzheimer’s, but research indicates several possibilities, including:”  1) increased brain volume, 2) improvement in brain connections, and 3) improved blood vessel health.   In addition, Harvard Professor John Ratey, M.D. says exercise is “Miracle-Gro for the brain” and the “single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.”

It’s kind of hard to say no to that.

I’ve been lumbering and training for a 10 mile race in October.  The Twin Cities 10 Mile is something I’ve wanted to do since I started lumbering in 2011.  It’s by lottery and I wasn’t selected last year.  So you can imagine my surprise when, barely able to run 2 miles, I found out I got in this year!   Yay!!?   After I settled down and let go of my fear, determination set in — and I started training.

I’m up to 8 miles now and my knees would like me to stop.

As grueling as the training has been, I’m thrilled to be running this race in my hometown, in my 50th year — the year my mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  I’ll run for my mom, and for me and for all my aging brain cells.   My son will be running the Twin Cities Marathon at the same time — 16.2 miles farther than me, and I’d like to think I can finish before him.

I’ll share other ways I’m Racing Alzheimer’s down the road, but for now, it’s all about the lumbering, and my knees, and my brain cells, while b r e a t h i n g, and taking one step at a time.

With Abundant Gratitude,

     ~  Joanne

Sweaty Sweethearts In The Huffington Post

A few weeks ago, Huffington Post sent a shout out for photos of couples exercising together.  So of course I obliged and sent in a picture of Vince and I before we ran the Shenandoah Apple Blossom 10K last May.

Here’s the HP article titled, “The Perfect Workout Partner: Why Couples Who Sweat Together Stay Together.”

Once you get through all the icky stuff about passion and blood flow, you’ll find Vince and I in the 9th photo.

Do you exercise with your partner and do you agree with the article?

I sent HP a nice, sweat-free pre-race photo, but I think this sweaty post-race pic tells a better story.

Middle-aged, Out of Shape, Incredibly Lazy Woman Begins Exercise Program

'Runners set records in 25th Army Ten-Miler 091005' photo (c) 2009, U.S. Army - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/When I decided to start running in 2011 it seemed like a crazy idea.  If you read “I Am Not a Runner,” you will know what I mean.  But a personal commitment to exercise had recently become a nagging whisper in my daily life, sounding something like “you need to exercise . . . you need to get healthy  . . . you need to mooove before you CAN’T MOVE ANYMORE!”

Oh sure, I tried to be a serious “power walker” (I could do that!), but I still wasn’t really moooving in that out of breath way that indicated I was working hard.  Then I read an article written by Oprah’s fitness trainer, Bob Greene, outlining “10 Reasons to Exercise,” where he suggested finding just one reason out of the ten that he offered to motivate me enough to do it.

And so I did.   I exercise for my brain.

Many of you know my story by now of the three generations of women before me with dementia.  You know that my mother is in the advanced stages of the disease, and that I would do pretty much anything to avoid this fate myself.  So when I found out that exercise slows the aging process, reduces cognitive decline and helps preserve memory, my lazy days were over — I didn’t have a choice, I would be a lazy fool if I didn’t exercise.

The idea of exercising for my brain has been helpful.  It’s been motivating because it feels just a tad more important than exercising for my butt or my thighs.   According to Mr. Greene, some other important reasons to exercise are:

1.  Fight disease                              6.  Alleviate joint pain

2.  Lose weight                                7.  Ease back pain

3.  Look better                                 8.  Improve sleep

4.  Gain energy                                9.  Fight aging

5.  Less illness                                10.  Love your kids

Bob Greene goes on to say,

Exercise is one of the most effective ways to fight aging. Regular workouts drastically reduce the loss of muscle and bone, and improve circulation. Exercise may also help reduce inflammation and stave off age-related diseases. As if that’s not enough, physical activity seems to have a protective effect against dementia, and may help improve memory and other cognitive functions. One Harvard University researcher called exercise “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”

Miracle-Gro for the brain?  Yes please!

I like Bob Greene’s easy to understand article on the 10 Reasons To Exercise, but if you want something a little meatier that offers scientific research indicating the benefits of exercise on the brain, you can go to this New York Times article or this Time Health & Family article.

Finally, I want you to know that exercising is quite often difficult for this middle-aged, out of shape, incredibly lazy woman.  I’m on again, off again and I still struggle to get to that place where exercise is a natural part of my daily life.  (In fact, I’m procrastinating right now!)  But I am motivated and determined to do the right thing for my body and my brain, by answering the whispers, and moooving!

Besides, it only sucks half the time, and the other half it doesn’t.

6 Reasons I Joined A Gym

I joined a gym! 

My feelings about this are somewhere between excited and terrified, but I’m looking forward to getting started.  I never considered myself an “exerciser” until 2011 when I began running and working out on a somewhat regular basis.  I got into it pretty quickly and found myself exercising four to five days a week which was unheard of for me — I felt great, went down a pant size, was signing up for 5Ks and a 10K — and then  . . .  I  . . . gradually . . .  stopped.  Well, almost stopped.  I still ran a little here and there, did sporadic floor exercises, “push-ups” on the stairs, squats while blow drying my hair, but it was all going to hell and my motivation was waning.

So I decided to join a gym.  Here’s why:

1.  Motivation.  I need to be where other people are working out.  It’s tough to stay motivated when I’m doing it alone.

2.  Weights.  After receiving poor results on a recent bone density scan, I have no choice but to begin strength training.

3.  Classes.  Yoga, Zumba, Cycle, Pilates, Boot Camp!

4.  The big 5-0.  I’m turning 50 this year.  Aaaaagh!  When? How? Must turn back time!

5.  Cost.  It’s crazy inexpensive right now at Gold’s Gym.  Maybe they have good deals where you live?

6.  Alzheimer’s Prevention!  Exercise and pumping iron are two of the best things I can do for my brain.  It’s a no-brainer. ; )

Also, see me in that batting cage?  It was a lot of fun, and it brought back memories of my softball days, but that was on Dec. 26th, two weeks ago, and I am STILL in pain.  I am so dog-gone weak that I have virtually no upper body strength, and I’m still paying for my batting fun.

I am weak.  I want to get strong.  That’s why I joined a gym.

Prevent Alzheimer’s + Free Bonus Gift!

I’ve often thought that when I’m “Racing Alzheimer’s,” I’m getting an added bonus of (hopefully) preventing other diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and even obesity.  I mean, my brain is the ultimate target of my efforts, but since my head IS attached to my body, well, my body benefits too.

That’s why I love this article titled “Having It All” by David Katz, MD.  In it he says, “No organ is an island; every organ is a piece of the organism, a part of the body. The health of each depends on the health of all.”  Dr. Katz also goes on to say there’s not ONE thing any of us can do to keep this beautiful organism healthy.  Rather, it’s a concerted effort of many things — clean and healthy eating, exercise, mental stimulation as well as mental calm like meditation.   Also, getting enough sleep.  And having social connections and loving relationships.  And not smoking.  And . . . you know the drill.

What disease runs in your family that you would like to prevent?  Focus on that, and chances are you’ll be protecting yourself from the other guys too.

A Kick In The Pants In My Mailbox

Do you ever put on your workout clothes and then not exercise?  Maybe you end up wearing them all day while doing everything but exercising?  Yeah, me too.  It’s amazing how much I can get done when I’m laced up and ready to go.  I’ve cleaned out the fridge, weeded gardens, plucked my eyebrows and vacuumed the entire house to postpone a work out.  And if you see me wearing my work out clothes in the grocery store?  You’d be correct —  I’m deep into avoidance.   I’ll admit, I’ve done this a fair amount of times — and yesterday was no different.

My gear was on and I was trying to decide between doing a dvd or going for a run.  Both would be tough at this point since I’ve been L A Z Y under my rock.  I couldn’t decide and so I checked my email, facebook and twitter accounts.  Still couldn’t decide so I cleaned the kitchen, watered plants, did the sudoku and got the mail.

And there it was.  A kick in the pants in my mailbox.

Personal mail in a handwritten envelope!   Like the crack rush I get when I have a new comment on my blog except NOTHING compares to snail mail.   The fact that someone bought a card and wrote in it with a real pen makes it so personal.  And touching.  It’s practically an extinct art form.

It was a card from a friend offering encouragement to just hang in there and keep running.  Telling me to take it one day at a time and to remember that “It’s better to run a slow 3 miles than stay on the sofa.”  This from a runner who can run half marathons meant a lot.  The timing was perfect.  I actually laughed out loud and thought how did she know?

I put the mail on the counter, stretched and ran out the door.

It was the fastest I’ve run in a month — and it felt great.

Two things I’ve taken away from this:

  • The old cliche JUST DO IT is true.  I’ve already made my decision to exercise regularly to keep my brain and body healthy.  Now I need to respect my decision and just friggin do it!
  • Kindness is priceless.  Unexpected, out of the blue kindness is even better.  I can’t wait to pay it forward.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp

When I read or hear news confirming the possibility of preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s I am renewed with hope!  The idea that my future can be influenced by the choices I make today is pretty powerful and it helps me stay the course of being an Alzheimer’s Warrior.

That’s why I love this recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune titled “10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp.” It offers clear and simple ways to love your brain, with exercise being the top two.   GET MOVING is #1 and says, “If you do only one thing to keep your brain young, exercise.”  This is my motivation — nothing has given me a better reason to lace up and break a sweat.  PUMP IRON is #2 on the list.   I don’t pump iron.  Yet.

The bonus?   A healthy brain is just ONE of the benefits of following this list.

Go to “10 Ways To Keep Your Brain Sharp” to learn more.

What are you doing to keep YOUR brain healthy?