I’m often asked “How do I know if what I’m doing will actually prevent dementia?” And it’s a legitimate question. It’s like asking how we know if exercising or eating healthy will actually prevent heart disease. After all, aren’t there plenty of examples of people who “did everything right,” who ended up dying of heart attacks anyway?
So the answer is that of course we can’t predict the future. But what we do know for sure is that there is robust scientific evidence showing that we can improve our odds of maintaining good heart and brain function through lifestyle measures like good nutrition, exercise, and quitting smoking. And that we can improve them further when we carefully monitor and control individual risk factors like blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol levels.
And when it comes to heart health, we don’t have to wait twenty years to see if what we are doing is actually working. We are now able to measure if there is atherosclerotic plaque building up in the arteries through noninvasive CT scans. But it turns out that seeing what’s happening in the coronary arteries is only part of the picture.
To get a more complete picture of how well the heart is functioning, we actually need to do a stress test. This is where we monitor the heart by measuring vital signs and electrodes as you exercise. The treadmill is programmed to take you through a sequence of gradual increases in levels of speed and incline, so that your heart is increasingly challenged as you m0ve through each stage.
Robust scientific evidence shows that we can maintain good heart and brain function through lifestyle measures
And even when no electrodes are attached, regular cardiovascular exercise gives us a pretty good indication of heart function under controlled stress. Whether we are walking or running, dancing or swimming, we are building efficiency or fitness in the heart muscle by providing a certain degree of challenge. It’s like when we build upper body muscle strength by gradually lifting more weights or doing more repetitions over time.
Assessing brain function
So how does this related to brain health? I was recently interviewed by master-certified life coach Rae Tsai for her podcast Asian Life Coach Collective, on the topic How To Improve Brain Function. We touched on many of the topics covered in iHealing Magazine articles, like engaging our minds to protect our physical brains.
We also discussed how quantifying your daily experience of brain function can give you a sense for how well you are doing in terms of taking care of your brain day to day . In other words, we can potentially gauge the effectiveness of our dementia prevention efforts by assessing day-to-day brain function, just as we use cardiovascular exercise as a way to determine how well we might be doing in terms of heart health. These are by no means perfectly correlated, but you get the general idea.
And while we have yet to come up with the treadmill stress test equivalent for brain function, we can certainly track our brain function ourselves. We tend to think of brain function as being either “good” or “bad,” but actually there are many shades of grey in between.
I like to target parameters like energy, focus, clarity, processing speed, stress level and mood
Because we experience our minds from the inside, we get to assess how our brains are functioning however we choose to. I tend to target parameters like energy, focus, clarity, processing speed, stress level and mood. But we are all different. The point is that we are most likely to learn more about whatever we choose to measure. And once we get an idea of how we are doing, we can decide what we want to do about it.
1, iHealing Academy Worksheet