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.

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.

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?

10 Reasons I’m Grateful for Alzheimer’s Disease

All that we behold is full of blessings.    ~  William Wordsworth

Yesterdays post about Alzheimer’s disease killing my mom was honest.  It wasn’t meant to be anything other than that.   I have experienced many emotions throughout the course of my mom’s disease.  I’ve been sad, frustrated, joyful, embarrassed, protective, impatient, scared and yes angry.  But I’ve also been grateful.  And of all the emotional ups and downs this disease brings — gratefulness is my gift and comfort to myself.

My mother is still on this earth, she is in good hands, and I get to tell her everything in my heart over and over again.

Yes, I am grateful for Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of Alzheimer’s . . . .

  1. My mom is free from the worries of the world and is generally happy.
  2. I am closer with my parents because I am more involved in their lives.
  3. I am also closer with my brother and sister who are my partners on this journey.
  4. I have a pretty good idea of how and when my mother will die — it’s a gift in disguise.
  5. I appreciate and treasure every moment I have with my mom, and those I love.
  6. I know how and why to strive for fitness and health — including brain health.
  7. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.
  8. I see the fragility of life, and I try not to take things for granted.
  9. I’m trying to live with intention and mindfulness.
  10. I have a good reason to run!

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are
conscious of our treasures.
      ~  Thornton Wilder

What Kind of Name is That?

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for almost a year now. It came to me on a run when I jokingly thought to myself “I should have a t-shirt made that says “Racing Alzheimer’s” on the back, because that’s what I’m doing out here.

Light Bulb. Racing Alzheimer’s?  Hmmmm . . . let me see.

I’m out running for my brain, I’ve completely changed my diet, I’m taking enough supplements to strangle a horse. I’m doing all this and more to stay healthy and (hopefully) protect myself from Alzheimer’s. The disease caught my great-grandmother, my grandmother and now it has my mom. I am quite literally racing Alzheimer’s.  I WILL write about it.

I’ll write about it because, who knows? Maybe I’m not alone in this.

Maybe I’m not the only one making a conscious effort to prevent Alzheimer’s. I know I’m not alone in having a parent with the disease. And there must be other baby boomers out there thinking the same thing — I COULD BE NEXT.

Maybe I can help you. Maybe you can help me. Or maybe we can simply support each other along the way.

What I know for sure is this: I AM racing Alzheimer’s disease. And while I’m doing everything I can to prevent it from catching me, I don’t plan on having any regrets if it does. There will be lots to write about.

PS. I DID have t-shirts made! What do you think?

Purple t-shirt with RacingAlzheimer's.com on the back

5K (Half Ass) Training cont’d

exhausted male runner with his head in a large bucket of waterYou would think going from 2 miles to 3 miles would be easy enough. It’s not. It’s almost like starting over. It’s how I felt going from 0 to 1 mile. The wall is hit, my body is done. Even as I write this, I’m feeling a little embarrassed because I’m still talking about RUNNING ONLY 3 MILES!

Sheesh! How hard can it be?!

I used to think that everyone could run 3 miles, except me. Kind of like the way I think everyone knows their times tables through the twelves except me. I mean, I know them, but I need extra time with the middle 8’s and 9’s because I was probably daydreaming about Shaun Cassidy that week in 4th grade, and I’ve struggled with them ever since.  I’ve come to find out that not everyone can run 3 miles. Why? Because it friggin far! Don’t believe me? Set your odometer the next time you’re in the car. Find a landmark, and start counting.

Now imagine running that!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m cutting myself a break lately. The idea that I “should” be able to run 3 miles has changed to, “Holy shit this is hard! If I can do this, I can do just about anything!”

So yeah, I’m doing my half ass training and 2.5 miles feels like my first mile.
3.1 is in sight, the only question is will I finish ugly or strong?

Blog Launch: I Am Not A Runner

My son loves to run.

Jake fell in love with running a few years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. He can run 40 or 50 miles a week with his eyes closed.  Well, not really.  But HE CAN RUN.  Me on the other hand, I enjoy WATCHING him run.  And feeding him when he’s done.

I am not a runner.

Then one day almost a year ago, upon returning from yet another run, my son asked, “so what are you doing mom?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, for exercise.”

“Nothing…?” (Said in a guilty, I know I should be doing something voice.)

He asked, “Why not?”

My stupid answer, “I don’t know.”

Then my son asked, “Why don’t you start running?”

“Me run?? I don’t know.”  Then something came over me.  I don’t know if it was a need to impress my runner son, or that it felt like a dare, but he was right, and he called me out. I was a flabby weak thing and I needed to do something.   So without thinking it through, I said “Okay.”

I started “running” (if you can call it that) in May 2011.  It was brutal.  Pure torture.  Running was so uncomfortable for me that I was honestly nervous about having a heart attack.  I couldn’t run a mile and barely half a mile.  During one of these grueling, huffing and puffing one mile crawls with my (by now) son the coach, I somehow agreed to run a 5K by the end of summer.  I don’t recall how this happened, but I remember we shook hands on it.  And there it was.  I just agreed to run 3.1 miles in a few months.  I must have been oxygen deprived.  I don’t go back on handshakes, so backing out or giving up was not an option.  I will do this even if it kills me!

Dear God, please don’t let me die running.  Thank you.
Boston Marathon 2011
Jake found me just before the finish of the 2011 Boston Marathon. A photographer captured this very proud and emotional moment.