Walking and dementia

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Here’s one for my senior citizen counterparts who, like me, enters a room to get something, and completely forgets what it is he wants to get, or calls up someone on the phone to deliver an urgent message, and when the party answers, forgets what it is he needs to say.

This one from the Net: Two elderly gentlemen are playing cards on Saturday evening just as they have done for the past 50 years. Gus, the elder, had been having problems remembering what cards were what, and usually needed help from his wife. At the end of the card game, Red says to Gus, “You did very good tonight. You didn’t need any help at all. Why is that?” Gus replies, “Why, ever since my wife sent me to that memory school, I haven’t had any problems at all.” “Memory school? What memory school?” Gus thought for a moment, “Oh, what’s that flower that’s red with thorns? A really pretty flower. “A rose?”asked Red. “Yeah, that’s it!” Gus turns to his wife, and mumbles, “Hey, Rose! What’s the name of that memory school you sent me to?”

I came to Dumaguete in 2005 and in five days, I will be marking my fifth year in this place that I have grown to love and call “home.”

Proof of that love, I think, is the effort I have devoted to get children and youth involved in sports, and to actively participate in vigorous activities for their health, wellness, and formation.

With the assistance of friends from the MetroDumaguete Roadrunners Club, PE teachers, coaches, and staff of the FU Institute of Youth Sports for Peace (IYSPeace) that I helped established on July 7, 2007, and with the support and encouragement of FU President Mira Sinco and son, Dean, faculty, staff and students, I had made Dumaguetenos “become athletic” — in the words of a friend in Manila.

The year 2010 is most memorable for me. With the theme Wellness Generation, Apil Tanan, we succeeded in convincing many people in this University Town to take up walking as a form of exercise to combat obesity–and the potential health hazards that being “the country’s Motorcycle Capital” could inflict on residents of this City of Gentle People.

Riding on vehicles, instead of using one’s legs, makes one prone to a sedentary lifestyle, and susceptible to osteoporosis of the bones of the legs. This is the finding of recent researches.

For this piece, I would like to share interesting and valuable information about the effects of walking as a form of exercise to the aging brain of seniors. I hope that through this column, I can encourage the senior citizens of Dumaguete to join the Quarter Marathon for Wellness Challenge I have organized in tandem with the management of Robinsons Dumaguete.

This walk covers a distance of 10.5 kilometers which, if completed, will convince those who successfully walk the distance to make walking as a regular form of exercise.

A article by Martin Wainwright (guardian.co.uk, Oct. 13, 2010) titled Walking could protect brain against shrinking, US research says reported that American neurologists who monitored 300 volunteers for 13 years claim in a paper published in Neurology, the online medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, that “walking may protect the brain against shrinking and preserve memory in the elderly.”

The article cites the cases of historian George Macaulay Trevelyan who wrote in 1913 that he had two doctors: “My left leg and my right,” and legendary perambulators Alfred Wainwright, Benny Rothman, and the Guardian’s Harry Griffin, “who lived for a combined total of 268 years thanks, in their own estimation, to lives spent largely on foot and outdoors.” The research cited appears to show that the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is a potential defense against dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The researchers started monitoring the subjects in 1995, dementia-free people in Pittsburgh, who agreed to log their walks. Nine years later, followed by further testing in 2008, showed that those who walked the most, about nine miles ( 14.5 kilometers) per week–considered the “optimum distance for ‘neurological exercise’ — cut their risk of developing memory problems by half. The first round of scans showed that nine-mile walkers had larger brains than those who walked around for less. After a further four years, 116 volunteers — 40 percent of the sample — had developed some dementia or cognitive impairment, with the effects 50 percent greater on those who walked only short distances and on non-walkers.”

The optimum neurological distance of 14.5 kilometers can be covered by going around Robinsons Mall four times, five days a week.

As one ages, the brain shrinks and walking my help prevent or minimize this sign of aging and maintain thinking functions. This mild exercise reduces the risk of other diseases and conditions that can affect the flow of blood to the brain such as diabetes, heart diseases, and stroke. Walking increases the blood flow to the brain, while decreasing blood pressure, and may stimulate brain activity in seeing new sites, meeting, chatting, and socializing with other walkers, or just experiencing the joy and exuberance of being outdoors. Daily walking can be the best prescription of health as one qualifies for a senior citizen discount card.

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