Several years ago, my wife and I visited a longtime friend living in the memory section of an assisted living center. She was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, her memory was nearly gone, and she died shortly thereafter. However, her last words before we left that day were, “Don’t lose your memory.”
Alzheimer’s and dementia are affecting millions of people worldwide, and billions of dollars are being spent to find a cure without success. Recently, the FDA approved a prescription drug that might slow the progress of dementia, but it is not a cure. Also, the estimated cost of the drug is more than $50,000 per year.
As we age, it is normal to lose some short-term memory (I know this, at 90 years of age). If there is something you initially cannot remember but it later comes back, that is just aging. If it does not come back, that can be the onset of early dementia.
I want to share with you some published research from The Cooper Institute showing that a healthy level of cardiovascular fitness might help you avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Since 1970, we have followed the data of more than 100,000 patients who have come to Cooper Clinic at least 20 times over the past 45 years. We have successfully performed more than 300,000 maximal performance treadmill stress tests to objectively determine the role fitness plays in health and longevity.
One of the studies is called “The Cooper Institute Medicare Study.” It involved 28,000 patients (21% women) who were evaluated at Cooper Clinic between 49 and 50 years of age. These healthy people were then followed for 25 years and we obtained Medicare data from 65 to 75 years of age.
The only thing we studied was their level of fitness as measured by their treadmill performance, age and gender. We then compared the top 40th percentile level of fitness with those in the bottom 40th percentile. Several articles have been published regarding this project, but the one that created the most interest was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Feb. 5, 2013.
The conclusions of the study were as follows:
Midlife fitness levels seem to be associated with a lower hazard of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life, independent of cerebrovascular disease. There was a 36% reduction in Alzheimer’s and dementia in the top 40th percentile when compared with the bottom 40th percentile.
The question is asked, “Why should this have occurred?”
In a May-June 2019 Harvard Magazine article titled “Could Inflammation Be the Cause of Myriad Chronic Conditions,” the author states you can have a brain full of amyloid plaques and tangles, but if you do not have inflammation you are less likely to develop chronic diseases. Evidence has been mounting that common chronic conditions including Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, asthma, gout, psoriasis, anemia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, depression and Parkinsonism are all triggered by low-grade, long-term chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the root cause of the onset of the chronic disease process, but, if interfered with by an anti-inflammatory such as omega-3, one can reverse this pathology. Inflammation is measured by the C-reactive protein through a simple blood test.
Further, our research strongly suggests that controlling obesity and being physically active has a positive effect on lowering the rates of Alzheimer’s dementia, and very likely on reducing many of the major health problems we have in the world today.
This is one of many studies in which we showed the value of high levels of fitness in preventing disease. Other studies showed up to a 40% reduction in congestive heart failure and up to a 40% reduction in chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis.
The final important finding from this study, which was published in the American College of Cardiology in 2015, was this: Higher cardiorespiratory fitness in middle age is strongly associated with lower health care costs an average of 22 years later in life. The cost savings between 65 and 70 years of age was a 40% difference in the high fitness category compared to the bottom fitness category.
Finally, I am reminded of what it says in 2 Timothy 4:5: “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.”
Hopefully, I have given you recommendations to help you keep a clear mind and enjoy life for God’s glory until that final moment. This is a topic I will discuss in a future issue of Decision. ©2021 Kenneth H. Cooper
Steps to Prevent Alzheimer’s and Dementia
• Engage the brain daily: games, puzzles, learning new things, memorizing, improving computer skills.
• Sleep at least seven hours a night. Research shows people who sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
• Delay retirement (As Zig Ziglar once said: “We should not retire, we should refire!”).
• Socialize: Join a club or social group; attend worship services; volunteer.
• Eliminate all tobacco use.
• Eat healthily with a Mediterranean diet or at least five to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily.
• Take vitamins. At least 40 mcg of vitamin B12 daily; minimum 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily; and at least 1,000 mg of omega-3 daily/or two servings of fatty fish per week.
• Control coronary risk factors—what is good for the heart is also good for the brain.
• Exercise at least 30 minutes most days.
The Scripture quotation marked NLT is taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation.
Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., MPH, known worldwide as “the father of aerobics,” is the founder and chairman of Cooper Aerobics in Dallas and chairman emeritus of The Cooper Institute.
Above: Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, left, jogs with his son, Dr. Tyler Cooper, in 2008.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper