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Alzheimer's workshop stresses mind-body workouts

Mon Jun 20, 2005

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Can you remember a new telephone number 10 seconds after hearing it? Do you walk 10,000 steps a day and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables?

A new workshop put together by the Alzheimer's Association says mental, physical and social workouts are the best ways to lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

While new drugs and therapies offer some promise for the brain-destroying disease, there is no cure for Alzheimer's and not even a good treatment.

So the hope is to prevent people from developing it in the first place.

"People are really starting to worry," said Elizabeth Edgerly, who leads a "Maintain Your Brain" workshop for the non-profit association.

"They forget their car keys, they forget to pick up their child at school and they think, 'uh-oh, is this the early sign of Azheimer's'," she told a news conference.

Alzheimer's can progress slowly or quickly but always robs patients first of their memory, then of their ability to care for themselves. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 4.5 million Americans have the disease.

But with the aging of the U.S. baby-boom generation -- born between 1946 and 1964 -- this number could explode to between 11.3 million and 16 million by 2050.

"Finding a treatment that could delay onset by five years could reduce the number of individuals with Alzheimer's disease by nearly 50 percent after 50 years," the Association says.

While genetics and age are big, unalterable factors, many other risk factors can be adjusted. So the group has started a campaign to help people make the changes themselves.

COMMON SENSE AND SCIENCE  

Detailed on the Internet at http:/www.alz.org/maintainyourbrain/overview.asp, the program is a reminder of what studies have shown: People who exercise regularly, who have social connections, who have mentally challenging jobs or hobbies, who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and who keep a healthy weight have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Much is common sense. People who age healthily tend to be active, Edgerly said.

"There is clear-cut research that shows people who challenge themselves on a regular basis and don't sit in front of the television for hours a day do better," Edgerly said.

Mentally challenging tasks include memorizing a seven-digit telephone number and recounting it later, word games, puzzles or playing or coaching sports that require strategy.

Exercise can include walking half an hour, five days a week. The Alzheimer's Association recommends people wear pedometers and walk 10,000 steps -- 5 miles -- a day.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can also raise the risk of Alzheimer's, and one Swedish study found that obese people are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's.

All this may be because blocked or poorly functioning arteries cannot get vital blood to the brain, experts say.

"If you know what is good in your diet as regards your heart health, you will be on your way to knowing what is good for your brain," Edgerly said.

That includes plenty of green, leafy vegetables, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseeds, walnuts and fatty fish, and dark-colored fruit.


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