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Fun Activities to Keep your Brain Healthy

Home > Adelaide > Health and Fitness | Hobbies
by Sandy (subscribe)
I love life and enjoy it to the max, especially getting out and about, writing, taking zany art photos and playing my mandolin.
Published April 15th 2012
Alzheimer's is one of the most dreaded diseases of all. Over the years, we have heard it is associated with a build up of plaque in the brain, it is a degenerative process mainly involving destruction of neural connections, there may be a genetic link and there is no cure. Take the "brain tour" at Alzheimer's Association for a remarkable explanation of the disease, the statistics and a look at early warning signs, medications and therapies.

Blood vessels in a human brain.

Over the age of 85 our chance of getting Alzheimer's increases dramatically and most cases of dementia over 65 are caused by Alzheimer's. With the world's burgeoning population the need for a cure increases for both humanitarian and for economic reasons as we prepare to cope with rising costs of health care for the aged. The number of Alzheimer's sufferers world wide is over 35 million and rising which brings us to the million dollar question: Is there a cure for Alzheimer's?

Comparison of a normal and diseased brain from
Comparison of a normal and diseased brain.

So far possible cures have been mooted but nothing substantial to date; however, an article in the journal "Science" on 9 February offers a glimmer of hope with results of research carried out by a team in Cleveland's Case Western University led by Gary Landreth and his graduate assistant, Paige Cramer. The paper reveals the startling effects that the drug, Bexarotene (TargretinTM) has had on mice suffering with the same build up of beta amyloid plaque in the brain and the same behavioural and cognitive degeneration that occurs in humans suffering from Alzheimer's. Within 72 hours of the drug being administered to the diseased mice, 50% of the plaque area was reduced, neural circuit function had improved and there was rapid reversal of lost cognitive, social and olfactory abilities, with the mice regaining their ability to build nests and regaining much of their sense of smell.

The neuron forest which is damaged by Alzheimer's taken
The neuron forest which is destroyed by Alzheimer's disease.

Before we get out the champagne to celebrate this breakthrough we need to understand that the results from murine or mice tests may not be duplicated in human trials. However, the drug is already being used on humans as a treatment for the cutanous T-cell lymphoma, a rare skin cancer, which means that instead of waiting decades for approval, tests for its efficacy on human Alzheimer's will begin much sooner. Landreth hopes to start clinical trials within the next six months.

The fact that a drug has been found that cures the symptoms in mice augurs well for the finding of a cure for Alzheimer's in humans, even if this particular drug Bexarotene proves to be yet another disappointment. A word of warning though; this drug is not yet approved or deemed safe for general use in humans so do not be tempted to take the drug or offer it to a forgetful neighbour. Taken the wrong way, with other medications or in the wrong dose could mean sudden death. For information check out the warnings at Dementia Today.

While we are waiting for a cure it seems sensible to be as healthy as we can to perhaps ward off the onset of this disease for as long as possible. The Ancient Greeks had it right; a healthy mind in a healthy body. From what I have gleaned from life and through research is that the secret to health, besides the genetic factor, is to keep active and happy.

We all know the things to avoid like the plague. Smoking, drugs and too much alcohol would be on top of the list, with white sugar, white flour, trans fats, added salt, many vegetable oils, fatty meats, soft drinks, artificial colours and flavours and perhaps aspartame not far behind. Fish, lean white meat, red meat and cheese in moderation, olive oil, salads, vegetables, fruits, tofu, grains, couscous, milk, yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and bibi would generally get a tick of approval.

Nutritious food could help to ward off Alzheimer's. Photo by Keith Weller (Wikimedia Commons)

There are other positive things we can do to keep healthy and hopefully ward off Alzheimer's, Heart Disease, Obesity, Hypertension and Diabetes to name a few of the "biggies". For optimal health we need to keep hydrated with at least 8 glasses of water a day, get 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night, do regular sport and exercise and get 15 minutes of sun on bare skin every day.

Keeping active is a key to keeping the mind healthy. The old adage of 'use it or lose it' could still apply. There are various ways of keeping the cogs turning such as doing puzzles including crosswords, cryptic crosswords and sudoku. However, there seems to be a connection between happiness and health so finding a mental or physical activity that you could share with others could maximise both health and enjoyment. There are many ways to incorporate both. You could play bridge, chess, scrabble, mah jong, join a friendship group, go bushwalking with friends, do something you haven't done before, learn a musical instrument, do some volunteering work, join a choir or enrol in a course at University.

If longevity is a yardstick for health then playing Contract Bridge seems to be the way to go with many people nearing 100 still actively playing the game. In fact, one wonderful lady, Jean Lilleyman, who will be 104 years of age this year still plays and wins at bridge at the same club she founded when she was a spring chicken of 70. Jean participates in all the bridge club's social events, even dancing if she has brought the correct shoes! Jean confided that the secret of her longevity is to play bridge, have a glass of sherry every day at 5.00pm and go on the exercise bike for a half an hour every morning.
Jean Lilleyman is 104 this year and still winning at Bridge
Jean Lilleyman is 104 this year and still winning at Bridge.

Bridge caters well for older people as they can play when less mobile, hard of hearing or after laryngectomy, as the bidding and play is "silent". One of the much loved characters of the game, Ian Sutherland, who had a laryngectomy several years ago has maintained a sense of fun and a love of life through the support of his friends at his local church and the great friendships he has made at the bridge table.

Ian loves life and Bridge, despite a laryngectomy several years ago.
Ian loves life and enjoys a good game of Bridge

Although it is a great game for seniors, there are many wonderful juniors in the ranks who go on to play nationally and internationally with many becoming the teachers, and there are millions of players of all ages world wide. The recent Australian Open Pairs was won by the Milne team with an average age of 25.
Australian Open Team winners have an average age of only 25 from
Winners of Australian Open Teams won by the Milne team with an average age of only 25.

Most clubs offer lessons as well as their regular daytime or evening sessions. Some play socially and others in the more competitive environment of a club. Bridge is popular on cruise ships with lessons and games provided with expert teachers and directors on hand to impart their knowledge of the game. There are many online clubs including Bridge Base Online, Step Bridge and Bridge Club Live.

Often friendships are built up across continents with reciprocal visits. Tourists, even if they don't speak the language, are able to find a ready group of friends all speaking the same bridge language of Standard American, Acol or Precision. Many retirees who take up bridge find it so enjoyable that they wonder why they hadn't taken it up years before.

It doesn't matter what hobby or interest you follow, the secret is to maintain a healthy diet, do lots of exercise, nurture friendships and keep happy while we look forward to that cure for Alzheimer's which could be almost around the corner.
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Why? Take the brain tour at to gain an understanding of this debilitating disease and look at ways to avoid it by eating a healthy diet, living an active and happy lifestyle and taking up a hobby like Bridge.
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