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

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.

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 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

On your mark, get set . . . . .

GO!  The Shenandoah Apple Blossom 10K is less than 24 hours away!  I know I’m going on about this.  Forgive me.  I can’t help myself.  It’s just that I’m obsessed with running right now, and to me, this little 10K may as well be the Boston Marathon.  I never thought I’d be able to run 3 miles let alone 6.2 miles.  Okay.  I’ll stop.  Please don’t roll your eyes.

Here are a couple 10K photos from a few years ago.

Jake and Uncle Tony 2006
The Leonardis Clan 2008

The girls are missing from these photos, but they’ll be in ’em tomorrow!

 

“Someday” At My Door!

Joanne stretching her quads while leaning on a treeI’ve done the impossible by running (and finishing without puking) my first 5K in August 2011. I’ve run a handful of organized 5Ks since then and a “5 miler” in January. But I’ll be honest, I’ve been running just enough to keep my momentum, but not enough to improve. Until lately.

I’m training for a 10K in May!

Running the annual 10K where I live has been a whisper of an idea for about 10 years. I’ve watched family and friends run it while having that “someday” mentality for myself.

Well darlin’ — (knock knock) SOMEDAY IS HERE!

Hello SOMEDAY. Say hello to my little friend, Hal Higdon.

For those of you who don’t know, Hal Higdon is the go-to guy when training for your run. My son turned me on to him a few months ago and Hal has been with me everyday since I’ve been training. I selected the 10K Training Guide – Novice Program since I’m clearly not ready for the Intermediate Program and the Advanced training looks like it’s meant for someone who wants to win the darn thing.

The Novice Program is six days a week of cardio and strength training for 8-weeks. I’m in my 6th week, and at 49, I have never worked out this hard or often in my life. I finally understand what a runners high is as well as needing to get my workout in and I FEEL GREAT!

Thank you Hal Higdon.

Hello SOMEDAY!

*Note — this post was written 2 weeks ago while my website was under construction.  The 10K is on May 5th, 3 days away from this posting!

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

Running from my past to my future: My First 5K!

Three months ago I couldn’t run a mile, and I recently ran my first 5K!

I ran it on the perfect day and in the perfect place: August 6th in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Why perfect? Because I haven’t lived in Minneapolis for about 25 years, but it’s where my heart calls home. And, August 6th is the day my high school boyfriend lost his life to a drunk driver 32 years ago. It was a long time ago, but this tragic event impacted my life in numerous ways and “my first love” has been in my heart ever since. As I tend to add emotional sentiment to things, this little 5K was a sort of “coming full circle” event for me. I found it very poetic and even cathartic.

Huffing and puffing for 3.1 miles, my playlist steeped in the classic rock that my boyfriend and I loved, Van Halen, Zepplin and Rush (to honor the 1979 concert we saw together), was a nod to where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. From broken, lost and running from pain. To whole, present and running towards life and health.

Running. From enemy to friend. Hello new friend!
Jake and I standing under the 5K Start banner
Early morning, pre-race. One of us will win it and the other will be happy to finish!

Urban Wildland Half Marathon & 5K
Aug. 6th, 2011 Mpls. MN
Time:  33:34
Pace:  10:48