S3E10. The Road Not Taken

We just returned from a 5-day trip to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, where we watched the UConn Women’s Basketball team play in the Big East Tournament. Spoiler alert: They won!

We love getting away on little trips like this (it’s only a 4-5 hour drive from home) and immersing ourselves in something totally different from our normal routines. Watching 6 basketball games in 3 days in an arena with 8,000 screaming fans definitely qualifies as different.

On this trip, though, I became acutely aware of just how different it really is and what I did and did not do to maintain my normal brain-healthy routines. 

Let’s start with waking up in the morning. I normally drink matcha green tea steeped with lion’s mane mushroom powder, turmeric, rosemary, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin and a little black pepper. Obviously, there’s no way I’m going to find that combination on the road, so I suppose the best I could do would be to ask for green tea. But I didn’t do that. I had coffee with half&half and sugar every morning. 

Shame on me! What is it about being away from home that makes me want to break all the rules? For reasons unknown, there is something very satisfying about doing that. I rationalize by telling myself that a couple of days off of my regimen won’t significantly jeopardize my brain health. Looking ahead to our next trip, though, I suppose there would be no harm in mixing together my powders at home, taking them with me and then making my own tea every morning.

The hotel had a decent breakfast buffet and I really enjoyed their granola (made with sugar), yogurt (sweetened) with a mixed berries sauce (sugar again) and some fresh fruit. This concoction had a distant relationship to my usual granola feast (kind of like mice and humans both being mammals) but it clearly wasn’t the same. Once again, there is nothing stopping me from packing a bag of my granola and using the buffet offerings to complement it to get a little closer approximation to my normal morning meal.

But it wasn’t just the granola. Breakfast pastries were also offered and I’m incapable of resisting them. Knowing full-well that they are processed foods loaded with sugar and trans fats didn’t stop me from sampling them all. At home, I can make sure we don’t have them in the house so I can’t be tempted, but on the road, I haven’t the will power to abstain.

My normal morning routine includes doing word puzzles and half an hour of BrainHQ training. I did the puzzles, but bailed out on the training which seemed like work. I suppose I saw myself as being on vacation and just didn’t want to do anything that required mental effort. 

I could have brought my recorder and practiced each day, but I didn’t. I doubt I would have practiced even if I had brought it, though, as doing so would have been completely incongruent with the whole mind set of the trip. The same went for listening to classical music for an hour each day. 

The hotel had a fitness center and a pool, so I brought my workout clothes and a bathing suit. Nope…that didn’t happen either. I could have found time to hit the treadmill, but I didn’t want to be tired when game time came around. I had my priorities!

Most restaurants had vegan and/or organic options, so I made some effort to stay on track with my eating: a veggie hoagie (or grinder as they say in New England), fish tacos and a turkey sandwich. I had no justification, though, for scarfing down the pizza and chicken wings and chocolate brownie. And I’d rather not go into what we ate at the service areas on the New Jersey Turnpike.

I try to read for an hour each night before bedtime and I could have since I download books and read them on my computer, but I was too keyed up after the games to do that. The truth is, I was only interested in checking out the box scores, watching highlights and seeing the post-game interviews with the UConn players and coach on YouTube.

Fortunately, the bed was comfortable and we slept well. It occurred to me afterwards, however, that I could have brought the diffuser and lavender oil as they wouldn’t have taken up much room in the suitcase. I just might do that when we go to South Carolina in 2 weeks for the NCAA Regional Finals.

So although I missed a number of opportunities, there was a brain-health upside to the trip. I was exposed to cognitive challenges galore, from navigating our way around the cavernous, architecturally-stunning Mohegan Sun complex to absorbing the sights, sounds and energy of the live college basketball experience, from the pep bands and spirit squads to the players battling on the floor. It was invigorating and I’ve got to believe it more than made up for the incremental brain-health losses I might have accrued from abandoning my regimen.

In hindsight, I really don’t feel any guilt about bailing out on my daily routine. I mean, it was a get-away and when you get away, the purpose is to get away from your routine, right?

The bottom line here is that I don’t regret taking the path I took…not one single bit!


S3E4. Seventy-two…and counting

It was my birthday last Friday and so I suppose some reflections on the view from 72 are in order. 

Seventy-two is a funny age because I don’t think I ever had any expectations for it. After all, it’s not a milestone year like all the years that begin new decades. 

When I was in my late twenties, I thought getting old happened when you were in your fifties. I wrote this about a visit to my parents home:

“They’ve been grandparents for almost 2 years now. Grandparents twice over, that is, and a third expected momentarily. As I stepped through the doorway, I was met by a heavy-sweet menagerie of home-cooked aromas. Outside, it was a crisp spring afternoon; inside it was a trifle too warm. They had both mellowed in recent years, but just now, for the first time, I felt as though I were entering a grandparents’ home. They’re growing old.”

I was 22 and they were 52 and 53.

Back then, I thought 68 was synonymous with decrepitude. That was because elderly friends of my mother had lived with us for a while when I was 10 and the wrinkled husband, who was 68, spoke and moved slowly and only with a great deal of effort. I was delighted to have this image shattered when I sprinted past 68 four years ago.

From my current vantage point, though, it seems like all of us in our 70s are just middle aged. When a celebrity from our cohort dies, I think “Too young” or “Too soon.” When David Crosby died last week at 81, though, I didn’t react that way. He had lived a long and impactful life. I was sad to learn of his passing, but it seemed ok.

I am, nonetheless, growing old. I see it in the wrinkled skin on the back of my hands. I feel it in my bones. I can document it with the heart rate monitor on the treadmill.

A few days after I turned 50, I found myself jogging in a park near my home in Lexington, North Carolina. For  reasons long lost to me, I set a goal of running two miles (at any pace) every year until I was 80. At the time (2001), it seemed like a ridiculously impossible challenge. With each passing year, though, it has started to seem more do-able.

It’s now an annual tradition for me to take up the challenge right after each birthday. For many years it was no problem, but this year was different. I don’t know if it was because I’m getting older or the after-effects of COVID or just being out of shape or a combination of all of the above, but this year I struggled.

Fewer than 5 years ago, I could jog the full distance at a 6 mph clip. This year, though, I knew I couldn’t set the treadmill any faster than 4 mph, which meant it would take me 30 minutes to complete the challenge. 

I was already breathing hard after only ¼ mile and my pulse was up to 126. Just a year ago, my heart rate wouldn’t get up to 126 until I was 2 miles into my workout at a 4.5 mph clip.  

After 15 minutes—halfway there and 1 mile into the run—my pulse was up to 136. Last year that didn’t happen until after I had gone 3 miles.

I had to really push myself to finish the challenge, with my pulse climbing to 151 at the end. That just didn’t happen last year.

So I’ve got my work cut out for me. I know I need to establish a regular workout schedule to get in shape. I’m pretty sure, though, that I won’t be able to get back to where I was a year ago, probably due largely to a long-term COVID effect.

I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that. I had been harboring fantasies of running another 5k, but now I don’t think that’s in the cards.

I don’t like this new trajectory at all. I know I should be celebrating the fact that I’m 72 and I can run 2 miles, but a sense of foreboding is preventing me from taking that victory lap.

I’ll work on it.

On a brighter note, I spent my birthday indulging myself. For breakfast, I had a bagel and lox with all the trimmings, using lox that I had made myself. It was the lox of my childhood, brined instead of the smoked salmon you get at the supermarket. At noon I had an hour-long full-body massage and then feasted on lobster for lunch. That night, Sally and I had a birthday party for 2 in the apartment, with delivery pizza, ice cream sandwiches, music from Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a “1-hit wonder” joint gifted to us by a friend.

Life at 72 is pretty freakin’ good after all!


S2E52. The 2022 ‘Journey Awards’

The end of the year is traditionally a time to compile ’10 Best’ and ‘Best and Worst’ lists, so I thought I’d take a crack at it with some of the best and worst brain health events of the year for each of the 5 pillars of brain health. I thought about calling the list the ‘MOTYs’ for ‘Mistakes of the Year’ awards, but that didn’t seem to leave much room for celebrating the good news, so I went with the ‘Journeys’ instead.

Here they are:

1. Cognitive Challenge

There was plenty of competition in this category: playing computerized games on BrainHQ, traveling to foreign lands, reading books, writing this blog, and learning to play the recorder. As stimulating as they all were, I’m going with learning to play the recorder as the most rewarding cognitive challenge pursuit of 2022. It’s there for me nearly every day and it’s a rush to be able to play a piece or hit notes that I wasn’t able to master a month before. Learning to play meaningful melodies from across my lifespan never gets old. All in all, a pretty nice experience for a guy whose musical aptitude probably falls in the bottom twenty-five percent!

2. Exercise

One of my favorite lifetime brain health pursuits became an unexpected challenge. I was barreling along during the first three months of the year, working out 5-6 days/week, gaining strength, feeling great and losing weight. Then in April we went out to Minneapolis for the NCAA Women’s Basketball finals and I came down with COVID, which knocked me for a loop. It left me with a weakness that persisted for nearly 6 months. Working out was hard and definitely not enjoyable and I never got back into it consistently. My workouts now, when I do them, are shorter and slower. The weights I lift are lighter. So exercise definitely gets the ‘worst performance in a brain health pillar’ Journey Award for 2022.

3. Sleep

There really was only one contender for this award: my month-long experiment to change my circadian rhythm and sleep pattern in preparation for our Mediterranean cruise. It led to quite novel experiences, like going to bed at 6pm and waking up at 2am, but I think it worked. Upon arriving in Greece, I was tired pretty much when I was supposed to be tired and woke up within an hour of when I was supposed to wake up. The results, though, were somewhat confounded by the fact that I didn’t sleep at all on the plane and spent a couple of days recovering from that sleep deprivation. So now that I’ve figured out the circadian rhythm thing, I’ll have to work a little harder on the sleeping-on-the-plane thing next time we travel abroad.

4. Social Engagement

Thank goodness for Sally! She sets my social calendar and keeps me engaged. Without her efforts, I would definitely meet criteria for ‘hermit.’ But I don’t feel as though I’m meeting my obligations here. I enjoy being out with people and I enjoy listening to the conversations, but I’m finding myself talking less, so much so that Sally has commented on it several times. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that I’m not talking as much at home, either. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. My mind is going all the time, I can hear just fine, I don’t have any word-finding difficulties and I have no problem following conversations. It’s just that I don’t often feel the need to say anything. Isn’t that weird? Becoming more subdued and withdrawn are often listed as warning signs of an impending dementia and fall under the category of ‘personality changes,’ so there’s that. Come to think of it, I get frustrated and irritated more easily than I did a year ago, so maybe this is something to keep an eye on.

5. Diet

This is a no-brainer: the 2022 Journey Award for best brain health dietary contribution goes to granola! (See S2E50: Granola Revisited). On the other hand, there have been several notable lapses in my regimen. I gave up overnight fasting, not for any empirical reason, but just because I lost the will power to do so once I reached my weight loss target. And now Sally and I are treating ourselves to an ice cream sandwich nearly every night. Again, no reason to do that except for the sheer delight of indulging in a guilty pleasure. This year’s Journey Award, though, for the biggest diet disappointment, was my attempt to drink a small glass of red wine with dinner each night. I conducted a noble months-long search for a palatable, organic pinot noir, but alas, to no avail. As good as it was, I just didn’t like it. And to make matters worse, even nursing a 4-ounce ‘dose’ left me a little tipsy. I reviewed the recommendations on drinking red wine and the bottom line was if you don’t already drink, then don’t start. In my case, it appeared that the neuro-toxic effect of the alcohol was greater than the augmentation of resveratrol effect. Since I eat red grapes every morning in my granola and I’m not a fan of supplements, I dropped red wine from the menu. 

And that’s my brain health year-in-review best and worst list, the 2022 Journey Awards.

Thank you so much for reading the blog. I hope it’s been helpful, interesting and/or entertaining. If so, I’d appreciate it greatly if you’d recommend it to your friends and family at www.MistakesOnTheJourneyToNowhere.com. It might be a nice change for them from bingeing on Netflix.

Wishing you a happy and brain-healthy New Year!


S2E44. Greece!

We made it! We’ve spent the last several days island-hopping around Greece and as I write this we’re docking in Dubrovnik. I’ll be honest: I haven’t focused much (if at all) on brain health. I’ll assume you can understand why. Nonetheless, I’ll try to put together a few thoughts before heading out on our next excursion.

I felt I was prepared for the flight last Friday, having adjusted my sleeping and eating rhythms to accommodate 5 of the 7 hours we would cross during the flight. Serendipitously, Greece set its clocks back by one hour for daylight savings time the night we arrived, so I was gifted one more hour of transition time. What was left to absorb, then, was minimal: just 1 hour, or the equivalent of flying from Chicago to New York.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get much sleep on the plane. I used a neck pillow, lavender oil, loose-fitting clothes, and I ate a banana, but all to no avail. The engine noise, fellow passengers conversing loudly, and the impossible task of getting comfortable all conspired against me. Consequently, I was not a happy camper the next morning when we landed in Athens.

The good news, though, is that I don’t think I felt any effect of the time zone changes. Once I caught up on my sleep, I was fine.

Sally, on the other hand—having not made any effort at all to prepare for the time-shift—was…fine!

It seems that for both of us, the quality of the previous night’s sleep was far more impactful than the 7 time zones we had crossed.

Traveling is a brain-healthy activity because it presents a variety of unique cognitive challenges. Going on a cruise provides those opportunities in spades.

First off, there’s getting oriented on the ship. It took me several days to figure out how to find the important locations: our room, the different restaurants, and the theater. Oh, you could find your way around by reading the signage, but I wanted to be able to do it on my own.

First, I figured out that the various restaurants, although they were on different decks, were all at the back of the boat while the theater and the main lounge were at the front. These landmarks replaced north (theater) and south (restaurants) in my personal navigation system. Then I noticed that the even numbered rooms were ‘west’ and they got higher as you traveled from ‘north’ to ‘south.’ So as long as I could keep an image in my head of where the theater was (‘north’), I could figure out where anything else was whenever I emerged from an elevator.

Conversely, after only 2 days, Sally just knew which way to turn to get to where we were going.

Then there are the excursions with guides who present volumes of information along the way, on-board lectures, adjusting to at least a dozen different accents spoken by members of the crew, and absorbing the sights and vistas themselves. Add to that sampling new foods and meeting new people and you’ve created an intense synapse-stimulating environment.

On the other hand, maintaining a brain-healthy diet just ain’t gonna happen! I’ve been like a kid in the proverbial candy store pigging out at the buffets on sweets, pastries, carbs, meat and more alcohol than I’d consumed in a very long time. Leafy green vegetables? Nope. On the positive side, I am eating a boatload of fish and I’m making an effort to dose myself with fruits every morning at breakfast. I’m not at all looking forward to stepping on the scale when we get home.

We walk a lot on our daily excursions. Even though I don’t find myself breathing hard, I’ll assume that I’m getting my 30-minutes of cardio every day. There is a ¼-mile jogging track around the boat and a fitness center with treadmills and resistance machines, but I’m tired enough at the end of the day without pushing my limits with intentional exercise.

So I hope you’ll excuse me if I leave it at that for now and get back to the task of thoroughly enjoying this trip. I know…it’s a tough job…but somebody has to do it!


S2E17. Backsliding

The last 6 weeks have not been kind to the brain-healthy lifestyle to which I aspire. 

During the months that I was trying to lose weight, it seemed easy to establish new habits and maintain them. My motivation was clear and there was positive reinforcement when I weighed myself each morning. There was the added excitement of learning new things and implementing them as I went along. That went for food, sleep, exercise and learning to play the recorder. They were heady times, indeed!

There was a comfort in the routine that emerged, from my morning granola ritual to getting into bed every night at 10:30pm.  Every hour of my day seemed purposeful and, more importantly, healthy. 

All that began to change, though, after I reached my weight loss goal. I had to figure out how to stop losing weight. (Nice problem to have, eh?) I thought that just exercising a little less (i.e., burning fewer calories each day) might take care of it, but to my surprise, it didn’t. 

Although it wasn’t my intention, I stopped exercising altogether, which is obviously not part of any brain health plan. It began on the 3 extended weekends we were traveling to go to UConn women’s basketball games. Although all of our hotels had fitness centers where I could have worked out, I just didn’t feel compelled to use them. It was as if I were on vacation and exercising would have been akin to bringing my job with me. Strange, right?

Around the same time, I noticed that my body was starting to complain about working out. I was having fantasies about running 5k races again and trying to regain what little speed I had 5 years ago. It wasn’t long after I began increasing the intensity of my workouts that I tweaked something in my left hip. Then I noticed that there were a couple of spots in my shoulder and back that resented my weight workouts.

I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and that it would be smart, not brave, if I took a week or two off and let my body heal.

That was the plan I was implementing when COVID knocked me for a loop and kept me from working out for another two weeks.

But it wasn’t just about exercising. I went off my brain-healthy diet, too. 

Since we were traveling, we ate out all the time. For unknown reasons, I felt that this gave me license to eat anything. And I did: corned beef, bread with butter, cheese danish, deep-fried walleye, bratwurst, bacon, stadium pizza, french fries, coffee with half&half and sugar, ice cream…all the banned food groups found their way down my gullet.

It would have been easy to eat much more healthily as just about all the restaurants had vegan items on the menu. But when I saw them, a wave of ‘I can make that at home’ would sweep over me and I would move on to the taboo side of the menu. It wasn’t pretty. And it didn’t feel good, either.

Our sleep hygiene went out the window, as well. Instead of getting in bed at 10:30pm, we’d stay up as long as we needed to relax after the excitement of the basketball games. We’d get up whenever we got up. Intermittent overnight fasting went by the wayside, too, as did chilling the rooms down to the high 60s before bedtime because we didn’t have our heated sheets to jump into when the time came.

It’s not easy being brain-healthy on the road!

But now we’re home and healthy and I’m getting back in the groove. This week I made granola, sauerkraut and kefir and I’ve worked them all back into my diet. I faltered again, though, when we went out for dinner and I had a hamburger, of all things. But I’m doing better. Honest!

I had to start from ground zero with exercising by walking on the treadmill for half an hour. I was actually sore the day after my first workout! We’ve restored sleep hygiene to our life, and that’s a good thing.

We’ve got more trips planned in the months ahead and so I’m going to have to steel myself to maintain brain-health discipline while on the road. I don’t think my backsliding hurt my brain, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t help it, either. My sense is that I lost about a month in the long-term project of cleaning up whatever toxic waste sites that have amassed during my first 70 years. What I need to do going forward is to find a way to treat myself occasionally without running amok.

That’s probably easier said than done!


S2E1. Brain Resilience

Happy New Year and welcome to Season 2 of “Mistakes On The Journey To Nowhere!”

I thought I’d kick things off on a positive note with a discussion about brain resilience and cognitive reserve. The two terms are somewhat interchangeable and they both point in the same direction: factors that can protect us in the presence of dementia pathology.

There is a wealth of research associating the presence of beta amyloid and tau proteins with the occurrence of dementia. That is why many drug companies are searching for ways to remove these deposits as a way to slow down or eliminate them as a risk factor.

However, there is one finding that points in another direction. About 30% of those with high levels of these damaging chemicals (as determined by autopsy after their deaths) never developed dementia while they were alive. 

How can that be? Either the whole plaques/tangles/beta/tau hypothesis is wrong, or these folks possessed some quality that enabled them to function at a high cognitive level in spite of the damage that had been done to their brains. The latter appears to be the case.

So what is it that allows about ⅓ of us with dementia pathology to escape its ravages? As with most dementia research, the findings are correlational and not yet proven to be causal, but they all seem to lead in the same direction: it helps to grow lots of neurons and stimulate the production of synapses and neural networks throughout your lifetime. Later in life, then, when a given pathway is short-circuited by a chemical blockage, your brain is able to use an alternate route to complete the task. It’s a little like taking back roads when there is a car accident and traffic is backed up on the interstate.

The ability to do this is referred to as brain resilience or cognitive reserve.

As always, there seems to be a genetic component with some of us hard-wired to grow more connections and have larger brains. But, as always, a lot of it is environmental and behavioral, too.

Having gone to an academically stimulating elementary school is helpful. So, too, is having a college degree, as compared to those with only a high school education. Having a cognitively complex job (as opposed to performing manual labor or having a repetitive factory job) builds resilience. Learning new things at any age is protective.

Looking back over my life, it looks like I was very fortunate, indeed. I attended high-quality elementary and high schools and then received my undergraduate degree in Economics from Brown University. When I was 44, I returned to graduate school for my masters and Ph.D. in clinical psychology. That was 6 years of the most intense brain-stimulating work imaginable leading to a cognitively challenging career. 

In fact, I’ve re-trained 5 times over my life to pursue new careers (urban planner, performing arts center director, B&B host, clinical psychologist and political operative). And now I’m trying to teach myself how to play the recorder!

Let’s follow this building-more-brain-cells-and-connections path to promote resilience a little further. It’s not just lifelong learning that does it. It turns out that exercise also creates new connections in wide areas of the brain. Who knew? So it turns out that my running for 57 years probably also increased my cognitive resilience. Too bad it never made me any faster! 

BTW: exercise also helps promote the formation of the myelin sheath that protects the brain’s pathways which should, in turn, help reduce the short-circuiting we all experience from time to time because the electrical signal traveling down that pathway will have a greater likelihood of reaching its destination at full force.

(Caveat emptor: You might see ads for supplements intended to increase the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in order to facilitate these results. From what I can tell, the research is really preliminary on this and these products are jumping the gun a bit.)

So the very good news here is that the brain retains its ability to create new cells (neurogenesis) and to re-wire itself (plasticity) to the very end. By constantly seeking out new learning opportunities and exercising, we can increase our brain’s chances (resilience) of overcoming the insults we’ve inflicted upon it over the years.


S1E50. An Early Present

I can’t recall ever being this eager (and anxious) about my annual physical and blood tests, but this year is different. My last check-up was in June, shortly after I began changing my diet and exercising on a regular basis. My blood sugar (A1C) was hovering around pre-diabetic levels, I was taking medicine (a statin) to lower my cholesterol, I was overweight at 180 pounds and I knew I had to do something about it. And so I did.

My expectations were pretty high this time around. I took myself off the statin about a month into the new regime. That was a pretty risky bet on my part because the numbers showed it was clearly doing a great job, with my cholesterol coming in lower than ever before. But I wanted to test the theory that I could control it with diet and exercise without exposing myself to potential side effects of a statin. I had worked into my diet pretty much every food identified as raising HDL (good cholesterol) and lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and I was exercising an average of 60 minutes per day, 6 days per week. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had lost a shit-ton of weight!

The first thing I did in my new diet was to eliminate all added sugars. No more coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar in the morning for me; I switched to tea. I carefully read labels on everything I bought and rejected anything with added sugar. By the time I finished, there were only 2 items I was eating with added sugar: herring in wine sauce and seaweed salad, but I figured the benefits they provided far outweighed the costs of ingesting the trace amounts of sugar I was getting in the quantities I was eating. When I did need to sweeten something, I used stevia, but that happened infrequently because I soon discovered that the natural sugars in the foods I was eating satisfied any cravings I had for sweets.

I also eliminated all refined flours which are quickly converted to sugar in your bloodstream. I was convinced that my glucose and A1C numbers would show significant improvement.

All these dietary changes did not come without a modicum of anxiety. Was it possible that I wasn’t getting enough of some essential vitamins or nutrients? I had no idea, so I was looking forward to seeing if things like my calcium and protein levels were holding up.

I had my physical last week and the results were good. My blood pressure was 116/64, my pulse was 57, my BMI (body-mass index) was 22.8 (down from the overweight range and squarely planted in the ‘normal’ zone), and my oxygen saturation level was 99%. I don’t recall ever having a resting heart rate below 60 beats/minute, and that oxygen reading is as good as it gets (also a personal best for me). I took all this to mean that my exercise program was working. In terms of brain health, it meant I was getting plenty of oxygen and my heart was supplying it with ease. I could scratch high blood pressure, anoxia and obesity/belly fat off my ‘eliminating dementia risk factors’ to-do list.

The results of my blood work came in on Wednesday. Logging in to my account and clicking through to the report felt like opening a present on Christmas morning!

I made a beeline for the glucose and A1C page…and wasn’t disappointed. My sugar numbers showed a dramatic drop, so much so that I had exited the pre-diabetic zone and entered the normal range for the first time in several years. The diet was working! 

Next I checked my cholesterol numbers. The good news was that they were all in the normal range, albeit at the high end. I was disappointed, though, to see a noticeable spike in my LDL without the medication. My HDL showed a substantial rise, too, which is a good thing. I was a bit befuddled, to say the least.

I did a little googling and found that the more meaningful metric is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, in which higher HDL generates a lower ratio and a lower ratio is better for you. Mine was not that much different from the one I recorded when I was taking the statin, and better than prior years’ readings. So something good was apparently coming from my lifestyle changes. Nonetheless, I decided right then and there to add oats back into my granola to try to knock down that LDL number.

I scratched off my list diabetes and high cholesterol as dementia risk factors.  😀

Finally, I looked at a variety of other indicators to see if I was lacking in anything. Potassium, protein and calcium were all fine. So were all the other readings, but to be honest, I have no idea what they measure. Bottom line: I’m not depriving myself of anything important.

The icing on the cake, though, arrived yesterday when my doctor followed up with this message:

“Hello Wayne,

I received your lab results…Overall, your labs are good…Your cholesterol and A1C were all within normal range…No indication to initiate any medications at this time…Keep up the great work!”

What a nice present.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 


S1E49. Into The Homestretch

I had to reach deep into the back of the closet to snare the clothes bag that held my rarely-worn sport jackets and dress pants. I bought them shortly after moving in with Sally ten years ago because I needed something to wear for her niece’s wedding. I weighed 145 at the time.

Last month, while packing to attend the wedding of a friend’s daughter in North Carolina, I thought I might wear something from that bag, and I also thought that since I had lost 31 pounds and now weighed 155, they might fit.


The jackets fit fine, but it wasn’t even close when it came to buttoning the pants. The label said they were a 34″ inch waist, but if that was true, then I had a 37″ belly!

(It befuddled me because Sally had recently bought me some casual slacks (with elastic waists) that fit perfectly…and they were 34s. It’s a mystery I’ll have to solve another day.)***

Bottom line, though, was that I couldn’t wear those pants…and that pissed me off enough to motivate me to lose whatever weight necessary to get into them again…and to re-gain my boyish figure from when I was 60 and courting Sally.  😀

At that point, I had been dieting and exercising for six months and losing weight slowly but steadily. My weight had plateaued and so I needed to change something if I was going to drop another 10 pounds.

I couldn’t really eat less because I wasn’t eating all that much to start with. It’s not like I could give up Twinkies and brownies because I wasn’t eating anything with sugar or bad fats in it. And everything I was eating had a role to play in maintaining brain health, so there was nothing I felt comfortable cutting.

I was already using intermittent fasting as a weight-loss tool, so I couldn’t add that to my routine.

Since restricting caloric intake and intermittent fasting were not options, exercising more was the only path left open to me, so that’s what I did.

I had been jogging 11 miles/week and so I increased that to 21. 

I also added a set of exercises for my abdominals (a variety of crunches and planks). I figured that tightening up those muscles might pull my gut in without my having to hold my breath, and that could be worth a couple of inches right there. Make no mistake about it: it’s not that I covet 6-pack abs (which, by the way, I NEVER had). I just want to be comfortable in those pants.

Finally, I increased the weight on my strength training workouts in order to try to build a little more muscle mass. Muscles don’t just burn calories when you use them; they burn calories while resting, too, and that’s helpful. 

The science behind this is fascinating. It appears that your body will try to maintain a metabolism that fits your caloric intake while ensuring that you have enough stored fat to survive a period of food scarcity. 

You can see how this would have been adaptive during our specie’s hunter-gatherer millennia, but it’s a real pain in the ass today. When you burn off too much stored fat, your autopilot lowers your resting metabolism to conserve what’s left. That was the cause of the plateau I had hit at 155. Even though I was exercising to burn more calories, my resting metabolism slowed down to offset that, giving me a zero net change in weight.

By amping up my exercise routine and keeping my caloric intake constant, I would start to lose weight again. However, I only had but so much time to lose those 10 pounds before my metabolism adjusted once more. The race was on!

In the last 3 weeks, I’ve dropped another 5 pounds. I’m now in the homestretch: 36 pounds lost, 5 to go. The finish line is in sight, sometime around the middle of January.

Just for the hell of it, I tried those pants on again and…miracle of miracles…they fit just fine! So now I have clothes to wear for dressy occasions AND I’ve eliminated the belly fat risk factor for dementia.

*** It’s another day and I’ve solved the mystery! When I woke up yesterday morning, I recalled that those dress pants, although having a 34″ waist off-the-rack, had been custom tailored to fit my 32″ waist of 10 years ago. My new casual slacks, on the other hand, have a 34″ waist with the capacity to expand out to accommodate what was my 35″ waist in November. Voila! There’s the 3″ difference between the two pairs of pants and my (at the time) 35″ waist.


S1E42. Smart…Not Brave

In your 20s, 30s and 40s, you were often rewarded for taking bold steps. If you failed, bouncing back was hard work, but nonetheless do-able.

My sense is that at 70, though, I don’t have a lot of room for error. As the old adage goes, I need to be measuring twice and cutting once. Sally and I have coined a phrase that we use to remind ourselves of our new status whenever we face a choice with a potentially steep down-side: “Smart…not brave.”

So I put on sneakers before I climb a ladder instead of going barefoot. I use a cart to bring in the groceries instead of trying to make a single trip carrying all the bags in my arms. Although I normally walk the three flights of stairs up to our apartment, I’ll take the elevator when I’m carrying a package. Get it? Smart…not brave.

But nowhere is my new age-appropriate approach more visible than in my exercise routine.

I’ve been running/jogging on-and-off since I was fourteen. Up until now, my goal was always the same: run farther faster. That meant pushing myself in my workouts, running at an ever faster pace, and running greater distances.

My event in high school was the 2-mile. I was never any good at it, but I worked hard and earned the respect of my teammates. I scored enough points in track meets to earn my varsity letter in my junior and senior years.

In those days, it was all about guts and glory. Pushing yourself to go beyond your limits. There was a phenomenon we called ‘the rigs’ (short for ‘rigor mortis’) which occurred during the sprint to the finish when you had already given your all. Your arms and legs would refuse to respond to your screams to go faster. It seemed like you were moving in slow motion. You were helpless as other runners passed you.

It was a state of oxygen deprivation. Your heart can only pump so much blood to your muscles, but you had exceeded its limit…and you still had 100 yards to go.

If I were to exert that kind of effort today, it would probably be the end of me! Fortunately, though, there is no need to try because my purpose in running has now changed dramatically. It’s no longer farther faster. I’m now running to live longer with a high-functioning brain. That makes all the difference in the world.

I no longer need to work out at my maximum heart rate. Twenty to thirty beats per minute below that will more than suffice to guarantee a free-running and fresh supply of blood to my brain and thereby reap the cognitive benefits of exercise.

Consequently, the toughest part of establishing my new routine is to resist the temptation to add distance or to run faster in each workout. I have to keep reminding myself to be smart, not brave, and that the new goal is 150 minutes/week of exertion…not running a new personal best. In essence, the goal is now the workout itself and not my running performance on race day.

The new approach spills over into my weight training, too. Up until now, the goal of lifting was to support my running. There were certain muscle groups (e.g., the ones you use in the motion to pump your arms and to run up hills) that I wanted to be bigger, stronger, and to have more endurance.

The goal of weight training in a brain-healthy lifestyle, however, is not bigger and stronger muscles. The goal is to engage more neurons and to develop more synapses. You do this, not by lifting more weight, but by doing a variety of different exercises at a challenging but comfortable weight. There’s actually a study that found this approach to be more supportive of brain health than the traditional muscle-building type of workout.

As luck would have it, the upper body resistance machines in our fitness center are all constructed so you can do each exercise with both hands or with either hand separately, and there are usually two different grips you can use.

I take advantage of this design feature in order to engage as much of my brain as possible. I’ll do one set of 15 repetitions using both arms, and then 1 set of 15 each using my left arm alone and then my right arm alone. I’ll also vary the grip.

I’ve now been doing weight training for six months and this past week was the first time I increased the resistance. Smart, not brave, as I can’t afford to pull, tear or injure any of my body parts. I don’t even want to think about how long the recovery period might be. The beautiful thing, though, is that I don’t have to push the envelope anymore.

My final concession to my ‘smart, not brave’ approach is to work out four days in a row and then take a day off to let my body recover. I’ll be honest, though: I have to keep reminding myself that the goal is 150 minutes/week and not exercising every day.

So far, it all seems to be working. Once I finish losing all the extra weight I’ve been carrying (30 pounds gone; 10 to go), I know I’ll start thinking about running some 5k races in the spring. It will be interesting to see how I handle it. I hope I’ll be smart…not brave!


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S1E41. A Brain-Healthy Lifestyle Is…

…a full-time job!

When I first started learning about brain health back in May, I would come across the phrase ‘lifestyle changes’ pretty often. It referred to the likelihood that if you were a typical American, you would probably have to adopt several changes to your current lifestyle if you wanted to ward off cognitive decline and dementia.

These were things like changing your diet to minimize intake of sugars and saturated fats, and getting off your butt and exercising several times each week.

I thought: “Piece of cake…I can do this!”

I’ve been implementing those ‘lifestyle changes’ for about six months now and…you know what? Those changes make up the better part of my day! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I enjoy implementing the recommendations… but it’s turned into a full-time job.

Here is an accounting of what my new ‘lifestyle’ looks like from the perspective of the number of hours per day devoted to each of the five pillars of brain health:

1. Exercise: 1.7 hours. I’m working out six days each week. My workouts themselves take between 40-60 minutes, so I’m easily surpassing the 150-minutes/week brain health recommendation. But let’s add to that total my cool-down time (when I drink a pint of pomegranate juice mixed with filtered water) and the time it takes to shower. That gives me about 12 hours/week, or 1.7 hours/day devoted to my exercise regimen.

2. Diet:  2.0 hours. I’m still learning how to eat right which means that I’m still researching diet recommendations and recipes. Then there’s the grocery shopping, prep time (I’m now making my own granola and sauerkraut), cooking, and the actual eating. I’d say that this consumes an average of 2 hours each day.

3. Cognitive Challenge: 6.0 hours. I start my day by doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles. Figure 2½ hours there. I try to get half an hour of recorder practice in daily (but don’t always succeed) and then Sally and I listen to a vinyl album each night after dinner. Let’s call it 1 hour daily for music. Add another hour for reading books. I would like this to be a daily routine, but so far it’s more likely to be binge-reading the week before book club meets. I’ll add an hour for on-line activities like social media and reading the newspaper. Finally, I spend about half an hour each day thinking about, researching and writing this blog. If my math is correct, that adds up to 6 hours/day.

4. Social Engagement: 1 hour. This is my brain health weak spot. Compared to Sally who is out-and-about most of the day nearly every day, I am a veritable recluse. But I do manage to get together with others about twice each week. Although I work out in our apartment’s fitness center, there is rarely anyone else there. Same for when the pool was open. On nice days, my jogging path is the ⅓ mile loop around the building and I wave or say hello to everyone I see. On rare occasions, I will share the elevator with someone. None of this adds up to a ‘relationship,’ though, nor does it meet the criteria for ‘social engagement.’ So let’s be generous and round up to an average of 1 hour/day of ‘real’ social interaction with someone other than Sally.

5. Sleep: 9 hours. No…I don’t get 9 hours of sleep each night. It’s more like 7-8. But we do get in bed at 10:30pm and usually get up around 7:30am. This allows for time to fall asleep, wake up a few times in the middle of the night, lie awake for a little while in the morning before getting up, and still log the recommended 7-9 hours of solid sleep. It also facilitates our intermittent fasting schedule which has us stop eating at 7:30pm which is 3 hours before going to bed.

Here’s what it all adds up to:

1.7 Exercise

2.0 Diet

6.0 Cognitive Challenge

1.0 Social Engagement

9.0 Sleep

There you have it: 19.7 hours per day devoted to my newly-adopted brain healthy lifestyle. That leaves about 4 hours free for other pursuits. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I’ll admit that I allocate about 1½ of them to my nap!

Now the question is: What will I do with all that free time?  😀


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S1E34. The End Of Alzheimer’s Program

This week, I read the book so you don’t have to. Here are my take-aways:

Dr. Dale Bredesen is a leading advocate of a comprehensive approach to treating symptoms of dementia. The book The End of Alzheimer’s Program is an update of his 2017 publication The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline and includes lessons learned from 8 years of treating patients with the protocols he developed.

He rejects the notion of a single cause of Alzheimer’s and other dementias in favor of a holistic approach that focuses on the things your brain needs to function and the things that get in the way of its doing so. The program seeks to protect your brain and ward off cognitive decline by using diet and behavioral changes to support its essential activities while minimizing toxins that impair its ability to function properly.

He argues that the effort to find a drug that eliminates beta amyloid, for example, is misguided. You have to ask “How did it get there in the first place?” It turns out that beta amyloid is produced as part of the brain’s immune system to combat toxic invaders. So a remedy that is available to you right now is to identify the toxins (both chemical and biological, like rogue microbes that escape from you intestines and break through the blood-brain barrier) that are affecting you and eliminate them. Once you’ve done that, your brain’s immune response will not be triggered as often and you will not produce as much amyloid. It turns out you can manage a lot of this through diet.

Moreover, your brain has a natural way of removing beta amyloid after it has been created. It happens when you sleep. Therefore getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night can help ward off cognitive decline.

Bottom line: to a great extent, you can determine your own cognitive future by adopting a brain healthy diet and adding behavioral elements like exercise, sleep hygiene, stress management, cognitive challenge and social interactions.

Sound familiar?

He makes his case with meticulously documented references to the existing and emerging body of research and supplements it with case studies of people who were able to reverse their cognitive decline using his program. At times, it reads like an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “House” where the doctors are unable to cure the illness until someone discovers that a rare toxin is causing the symptoms. They eliminate the toxin and the patient recovers.

As it pertains to dementia, the idea that you can reverse symptoms is pretty radical and flies directly in the face of the old notion that dementia is an unavoidable part of aging. As Dr. Bredesen documents, though, there are a large number of dementias that can be traced back to chemical, environmental or behavioral causes that can be rectified.

Which brings us to his program. It begins with an extensive battery of tests to identify the pathogens that might be affecting you as well as determining your levels of good chemicals and compounds. Once these factors are identified, you can design a diet that will correct imbalances and eliminate neurotoxins at their source. Progress is documented through ongoing testing and tweaks are made as you chart your reactions to the changes you have implemented.

Most of the book is spent going into great detail about how your diet affects long-term brain function. I’ll admit, I glazed over at the extended paragraphs laden with scientific terminology describing the chemical compounds and intra-cellular functions that were involved. Although he says he intends the book for consumers, it seems his real audience is physicians who he hopes will adopt his program. I can see how the book would be a great resource for someone who is guiding you through the process, but it definitely contains way too much information for most of us. Nonetheless, there are plenty of general recommendations and steps you can take to get started.

The chapters on exercise, sleep, stress management and cognitive challenge are informative, brief and a lot more digestible than the diet section!

Finally, Dr. Bredesen emphasizes that dementia is a process that takes years to develop. Your brain does its best to ward off attackers and to clean up the detritus after each daily battle. Over time, though, debris piles up and at some point the accumulation begins to take a toll on your cognitive functioning.

The good news is that most of this seems to be reversible if you start working on it soon enough.


S1E29. Losing My COVID-20

“Decide how you want to die and eat accordingly.”

Those were my mother’s words to me when she was in her late 60s and living in Fort Lauderdale. It was the received wisdom of wealthy retirees who had a vested interest in living as long as possible.

At the time, my decision was to try to avoid dying from a heart attack as there is a history of heart disease in my family among the men on my father’s side, with an apparent expiration date of 60 years.  “Eating accordingly” translated into adopting a low fat, low cholesterol diet. For me, it was mostly a matter of reading labels and avoiding certain foods.

Nonetheless, it was quite a transition that I undertook in my 40s. It was a radical lifestyle change from my 20s and 30s when food was all about taste, variety and exploration. Pizza with extra cheese, sausage and pepperoni had been food for the gods. Now it was poison.  😦

In 1990, when I was 39, I wrote and self-published The Tyler Hill Bed & Breakfast Cookbook. I was aware at the time that it was probably the last full fat, high calorie cookbook that would ever be written. In the introduction, I wrote:

“I like things that look good and taste good, even if there’s enough cholesterol in them to clog every major artery into Manhattan. I don’t like — but understand and approve of — your need to substitute low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium ingredients if you must, even though it changes the taste. I think I’m middle of the road when it comes to cooking: I don’t insist on whole grains, but I’m not into junk food, either.”

I went on to rail against using artificial ingredients and products that contained unpronounceable chemicals. I ended my statement of cooking philosophy by comparing eating to having sex…and concluded that eating well was better!

Fast forward 31 years. Although I adjusted my cooking to be more heart-healthy, my weight yo-yoed in a predictable way. At 5’8″ tall, 155 pounds is a good weight for me. Each year, though, it creeps up to about 165 with most of that gain coming in the fall and winter when I tend to hibernate and stop exercising. Each March, I gather myself together, get back on my healthy diet, and start jogging again. By July, I’m back to 155 and feeling good.

That same pattern unfolded last year but there was a glitch: I was just beginning my descent from 166 when the COVID quarantine hit and the gym at the YMCA shut down. I wasn’t able to adjust my exercise routine and over the course of the next 12 months, I gained another 20 pounds: the infamous COVID-20 that hit a lot of us.

When this March rolled around, then, I was really worried about my weight which was at an all-time high of 186 pounds. I’d be out of breath after climbing the stairs and bending over to put on my socks was a challenge. It was time to get really serious about my diet and exercise…but there was a new wrinkle.

Not only was I dieting and exercising to avoid heart disease, but now I was concerned about maintaining brain health and warding off dementia, too. So I began reading up on brain healthy eating.

The good news is that all of the things that are heart healthy are also brain healthy. As a result, I didn’t have to eliminate a lot of things from my diet. It was disconcerting, though, to discover that some of the prior changes I thought were healthy decisions, like eating non-fat Greek yogurt, were on the brain food shit list: all milk products are out!

Whereas heart-healthy eating for me was mostly about avoiding certain foods, brain-healthy eating requires you to go beyond that and intentionally include a wide variety of foods in your diet. It gives a whole new meaning to the 60s mantra “Feed your head!”

I’m just at the beginning stages of exploring this new way of eating. The information in the reading I’m doing is pretty overwhelming, but I’m doing my best to simplify it: nuts, berries, wild-caught fish, shellfish, poultry, herbs, spices, beans, fruits, leafy greens and vegetables are good; beef, sugar, junk food, refined flours, milk products and anything that ever had a relationship with pesticides, antibiotics or hormones are poison. (Here’s a link to a video that provides a pretty good overview.)

So far, so good. I’ve been able to adhere to a good workout schedule, getting to the gym 5-6 days each week, I’m making the shift to more healthy foods and I’m having fun trying out new recipes. 

Bottom line: I’ve lost 15 pounds over the last 3 months with 16 more to go. When I get there, I will have 2 of the 5 pillars of a healthy brain lifestyle in place: diet and exercise. As always, maintaining my new habits through the year (and years!) ahead will be the greater challenge.


S1E21. One Hundred Fifty Minutes

I’ve been running—on and off—since I was 14 and a freshman in high school. I wasn’t fast, but I worked hard. I never ran a mile in under 5 minutes, but I did earn my varsity letter running the 2 mile.

In 1966, I was among the first joggers to run in the road. People used to yell ‘Get a horse!’ The more creative among them yelled ‘Get a car!’ In the winter, some would aim at me and I’d have to jump into a snow bank. We’ve come a long way in 55 years, haven’t we?

Over the years, I always felt better when I was running. In my 30s, I tried to run the sub-5 minute mile that had eluded me in high school. I got down to 5:35 and was chagrinned at how difficult it was to run a 75-second quarter mile when I used to run them with the greatest of ease.

In my 40s, my primary care physician sent me for a stress test. I was told that I had a ‘runner’s heart’ with thick walls that had built up over the years. Apparently, heart disease (which runs on my father’s side of the family) was not my biggest risk factor.

On my 50th birthday, I was living in Lexington, North Carolina, while doing my Ph.D. internship at the Hefner VA Medical Center. I was jogging in a park a block from my house when I got the idea of setting a goal for myself: I wanted to be able to jog 2 miles without stopping every year until I was 80. That was considered pretty far-fetched in 2001, but it was a motivator for me. Each year for the past 19 years, I’ve been able to check that box.

In my middle 60s, I was in good enough shape to run 5K events. My best time was 30:50.

Jogging has been my go-to exercise when I need to lose weight or manage my cholesterol. According to the research, it appears that it will help preserve my cognitive abilities, as well.

Of all the things we don’t know about dementia and age-related cognitive decline, one thing we do know is that regular exercise is protective. It may not reverse losses, but it does appear to protect what you have and slow your rate of decline.

The latest guideline I’ve found is to shoot for exercising 150 minutes each week, e.g., 30 minutes/day x 5 days. The criterion for calling it ‘exercise’ seems to be ‘huffing & puffing’ and/or ‘breaking a sweat.’ So it’s nice if you go out for a walk, but it’s better if you step up your pace. The goal appears to be to keep the 400 miles of your brain’s blood vessels open and pumping nourishment to your 86 billion neurons 24/7/365.

COVID-19 really knocked me for a loop. No, I didn’t get it, but it closed the gym where I worked out and I gained 20 pounds. So now I’m starting my comeback. For years, a good weight for me has been 155, but now, at 186, I weigh more than I’ve ever weighed before and, at 70, I know that’s not good. Being overweight and out-of-shape, I need to go at this with caution. 

The apartment complex we just moved into has a fitness center with a treadmill. Since I haven’t yet met my goal of being able to jog 2 miles this year, that’s where I’m starting. I began by just walking the distance. Next I plan on jogging ¼ mile as part of the 2-mile walk, and then raise that to ½ mile when I feel ready…and so on until I’m jogging the whole thing.

Just 5 years ago, a comfortable jog for me was at a 6 mph pace. Now, though, I see that I’ve slowed to 4 mph (15 minutes/mile). Jogging 2 miles will take me 30 minutes. Going 2 miles has me huffing & puffing & sweating, so this workout fits the healthy brain guideline. Now if I can just stay motivated enough to do it 5 days each week…

Post script: On Wednesday I discovered another way I can huff & puff and burn a few extra calories. We live on the 4th floor of our apartment complex. Getting there from the street level takes 3 flights of 19 stairs each. I doubt I’ll ever be able to walk up and down for 30 minutes, but doing it is definitely more heart and brain healthy than taking the elevator.

And then I saw someone much younger than I jogging around the complex. Each lap is probably about ¼ mile. 

It’s nice to know I have options!

S1E14. That Was Then. This Is Now.

I wrote this about my parents when I was 22:

‘They’ve been grandparents almost two years now. Grandparents twice over, that is, and a third expected momentarily. As I stepped through the doorway I was met by a heavy-sweet menagerie of home-cooked aromas. Outside, it was a crisp spring afternoon. Inside, it was a trifle too warm. They had both mellowed in recent years, but just now, for the first time, I felt as though I were entering a grandparents’ home. They’re growing old.’

When I wrote that closing line, I meant ‘old’ as a pejorative, not as a compliment.

My father was 52 at the time. He died at 60. My mother lived to be 85, developing dementia a few years before she died.

Paul Simon wrote this lyric into the song ‘Old Friends’ when he was 27 years old:

“Can you imagine us

Years from today

Sharing a park bench quietly?

How terribly strange

To be seventy”

Sally and I are 70. We quietly share park benches. It’s not strange at all.

On the other hand, Paul Simon will be 80 in October.

Our view of aging is curious, isn’t it? How must today’s 20-somethings view us? If we asked Paul McCartney today, would he say that 84 is the new 64? 

In any event, heading toward our ninth decade, the goal is to be active, engaged, wise and interesting…a group of adjectives we don’t normally associate with the degenerative effects of dementia. The good news is that there appear to be things we can do to increase our chances of achieving those goals and of sidestepping our worst nightmare. In fact, we can now reduce our risk of dementia by some 40% by adopting a brain-healthy lifestyle. We can fight back against the prejudices and preconceptions of our younger selves!

Spoiler alert: I’m not one for miracle cures or for buying into ‘secret information that you can’t find anywhere else.’ As a former psychologist and researcher, I trust the science and want to see multiple studies heading in the same direction before I accept a conclusion as valid. So here are 4 recommendations for which there is a body of evidence supporting their efficacy:

  1. Take care of your heart. Your brain depends upon blood flow to provide nutrients and remove debris. There are 400 miles of blood vessels in your brain. You want every inch of them pumping at peak efficiency to prevent neuron damage and maintain synaptic connections. Adopt a heart-healthy diet; keep your stress levels in-bounds; keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.
  1. Exercise. The current guideline is about 150 minutes of ‘huffing & puffing’ each week (e.g., 30 minutes/day x 5 days). Walking is fine, but you need to work up a sweat and breathe hard. Obviously, this is good for your heart, but I also suspect that its moderating effect on cognitive function is also related to the fact that it engages so many areas of your brain.
  1. Challenge yourself cognitively. Read books. Learn new skills. Change your routine. Solve puzzles. Take on-line courses or, better yet, once we are COVID-clear, take courses in person. There seems to be a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ aspect to how well our brains age, so try to be open to new experiences and challenges.
  1. Socialize. We are social animals and engaging with others engages our brain in ways well beyond any other activity. Just take a moment to think about all the ways you use your brain when sitting down for a meal with a group of friends. The complexity of negotiating a social context is stunning, invigorating, challenging…and fun! 

That’s roughly where the research stands today. You can reduce your risk of developing dementia by about 40% if you adopt a lifestyle that also happens to be associated with increased longevity. You get double the bang for the buck: more years and better years.

Bottom line: We don’t have to accept the dire predictions of our younger selves. We can marshal the resources that got us this far to get us through the final years of our journey in good stead. It’s definitely worth a shot.

All of which gives a brand new meaning to Bob Dylan’s 1964 lyric:

“…I was so much older then

I’m younger than that now.”


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