The winsomeness of human mind: One brisk walk a day keeps dementia away

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

The human mind is the most advanced technology. I've always thought the mind is 'the brain in action'. If you get your head knocked off with a hammer you'll lose your mind for a while. A dead person has no mind. Mind is processed by the brain when our sensations like smell or pain collect information from the environment, and change them to electrical signals, which travel through the nervous system to the brain, which in turn decodes and sends further signals forward to any part of the body by releasing chemicals (neurotransmitter). It's like our voice is changed to electrical signals and back to sound on the telephone.

For the working mind, studies go on to find how does the mind decline with old age and how to stop it. Brain scans show when our mind is failing our brain cells are dying of old age. The newest research from Canberra University, Australia (British Journal of Sports Medicine, April 25 2017) has found exercising for at least 45 minutes several times a week, or even one session of moderate aerobic and resistance activity is enough to boost the mind power in people aged over 50. This is regardless of their current state of brain health.

The research seem to be orientated to weight-lifting exercises that in my experience, could only been done in the "early old age" of 50 -60 years. So, not to waste time for the "elderly old age" in choosing the best, I suggest a pleasingly lo-fi exercise suggested by Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK. He says exercise doesn't have to mean spending lots of time in the gym.

The best thing is to stick to an exercise programme that you enjoy. However, a brisk walk is better for the brain than for example, a spin on a bicycle, because the impact of the foot hitting the ground sends backward-flowing pressure waves up the arteries, helping blood circulation to the brain.

The ageing human anatomy like any physical object, becomes fragile. I used to play badminton, squash, golf, and do push-up exercises, after I settled in my profession. In my 60s I had a rowing machine and then a cycling machine, which I couldn't use regularly, as one ligament or the other in the knee, elbow or shoulder joint could not take the repeated strain, and I had to lay off for weeks at a time. Ultimately, I fell back to being a fair weather walker. Now, with due respect to my old age, I walk only in the heated big supermarkets, up and down the aisles, in company of my wife in her weekly shopping trips.

It's good to know anyway, what these researchers find out, taking months and years. We hear many news about brain function, how it deteriorates as we age, and how memory loss can be delayed by taking omega 3 and other stuff, which often end up discarded.

The Canberra group concluded, although previous research had found benefits from aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, jogging or fast walking, the new analysis was the first to identify the key role in boosting brain function played by resistance training, such as weights or core strength activity.

Other researchers, since the beginning of this year, have been claiming how we can boost our memory by "engaging the visual part of your brain, or with a bit of fresh air, like clearing your mind, while trying to improve your golf swing in the fairway. They also recommend for over-50s to have a post-lunch snooze and a good night's sleep, to prevent your brain from ageing.

In March 2017, researchers from Cornell University, New York, found a link between rich-fibre diet (Indians eat it all the time with no known benefits) and a lower risk of brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's. Dietary fibres, they say, trigger the gut the production of fatty acid called butyrate, which blocks the enzymes involved in dementia. It's no-brainer.

Elderly folks like myself, worry about becoming gaga. This isn't unreasonable. Four of my colleagues have gone loopy. Many friends had died from stroke with mental aberration because of hypertension. Doctors know they are preventable from happening. Researchers say brain deterioration can also be averted. It's worth a try. There's no harm. The best way to shore up your neurones is to try simple tips taken from scientists working on the frontline of research.

A research, led by Joseph Northey at the University of Canberra, advises "Even exercising on one or two days of the week seems to be effective, but the most important thing we find is the intensity of the exercise. It should be moderate, but aiming to get some vigorous intensity in there as well."

Another research published on April 20 2017 in the PLOS (Public Library of Science)Medicine, led by Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia at the University of Exeter, England, has analysed data from 2,315 mentally fit participants aged over 65. She says losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life, but It's important that we understand how and why this occurs, so people can take effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.

She says: "People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher 'Cognitive reserve' [mind's resistance to brain damage] . This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient. It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent."

A newer research is the effect of pollution on the brain function. Pollution in our cities from car fumes and power plants could increase the risk of dementia by 92 per cent, according to a study in the journal of Transitional Psychiatry. Microscopic particles generated by fossil fuels may be inhaled directly to the brain (I don't know how), where and anti-inflammatory response, could over time, exacerbate Alzheimer's disease. University of Southern California has also suggested that dangerous levels of pollution in cities could actually be responsible for a fifth of dementia cases. The risk is particularly high for women.

Following my previous recount, it's advised by experts to take up a new hobby when you retire. Any mental challenge is good plus anything that broadens your mind, such as travelling, learning to paint. Learning a new language seems to be the best, says Dr Gareth Cuttle, neuroscience, Royal College of Psychiatrists, England.

In March 2017, an Edinburgh University report found that spending five hours a week learning a new language, regardless of fluency, helped defer the onset of a type of (frontotemporal) dementia by six years, and Alzheimer's and stroke-related dementia, by more than three years.

For the benefit of Joe Public. Brain is divided into three major parts: (1) 'Brain stem' that connects the spinal cord with the upper brain (cerebrum). It controls reflexes and involuntary processes like breathing and heart rate; (2) Cerebellum, behind the brain stem and below the cerebrum (for balance and coordination); and (3) Cerebrum, the largest part of the brain consisting of two equally sized hemispheres, connected by a large bundle of nerve cells called corpus callosum (Einstein was supposed to have the biggest).

The outer surface of the Cerebrum is called cortex, about 3.3mm thick (for higher processes like memory and learning). The cortex is divided into smaller areas called lobes: (1) Frontal; (2)Parietal; (3)Temporal; and (4)Occipital. More important centres like vision are at the back half of the brain and one in front.

These lobes have specialised nerve cells called 'neurones' (100 billion, which after the age of 20 when the brain matures, begin to die @70 million a day. They process and relay electrical signals via long 'axons' (like live wires) that lie underneath the cortex to communicate with one another across 'synapses'.

A synapse is a structure that permits a neuron to pass (1) electrical and (2) chemical signal to another neuron. When electrical signals travel down the axon, at the end of which are 'vesicles' (pouches) that store a brain chemical called 'neurotransmitter', which communicates information throughout our brain and body. The brain uses this neurotransmitter to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe or your stomach to digest.

Neurons also have short extension cables called 'dendrites' that receive incoming signals from other neurones (like neutral wires). When the electrical charge with messages arrives at the axon terminal it causes the vesicles to fuse with the terminal's cell membrane, spilling out of the cell into the synaptic cleft (gap). These are neurotransmitters that make their way across the synaptic cleft to the next neuron's dendrite, which now develops an electrical charge that travels to the next neuron. The process continues. That's how the mind functions.

As scientists work out for us, we need to work out our brain regularly so that we don't go mindless in our old age before the brain goes caput.

* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The write is based in the UK; Email: irengbammmsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com ; Website:
This article was posted on May 17, 2017.

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