Could learning to dance the minuet or fandango help to protect our brains from aging? I am familiar with the advantages of brisk walking and weight training, but what about dancing? I have been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s and am open to try any activity or treatment that would slow the progress of the disease. I am a woman who still lives at home and can safely walk by myself and perform other types of light exercise.
– Tripping the Light Fantastic
Dear “Tripping the Light Fantastic”
e answer is an unequivocal YES. According to Gretchen Reynolds (New York Times, 3/29/2017) there may be something unique about learning a social dance. e demands it places
on the mind and body could make it unusually potent at slowing some of the changes inside our skulls that seem otherwise inevitable with aging. A new study recruited 174 healthy people in the 60s and 70s with no signs of cognitive impairment. Most were sedentary, although some occasionally exercised. All were tested for aerobic tness and mental capacities. ey were then divided into three groups. One group began a supervised program of brisk walking for an hour three times a week. e second group started a regimen of supervised gentle stretching and balance training three times a week. e last group was assigned to learn to dance.
ese men and women showed up to a studio three times a week for an hour and practiced increasingly intricate country-dance choreography, with the group shaping itself into uid lines and square and each person moving from partner to partner.
After six months, all the volunteers were tested again. By and large, everyone’s brain showed some signs
of “degeneration” of the white matter. However, one group showed an actual improvement in the health of some
of the white matter in their brains, compared to six months before. e dancers now had denser white matter in their fornix, a part of the brain involved with processing speed and memory.
To make a long story short, engaging in any activities involving moving and socializing can perk up mental abilities in aging brains. ose who took up dancing showed white-matter gains well beyond the other groups. e data provide another rationale for moving – and perhaps also learning to contra dance and sashay.
I know it’s not good to eat close to bedtime, but I get hungry. What are the least harmful things I can eat or drink, about an hour or two before going to bed? I am about 30 lbs overweight and lead a sedentary lifestyle.
– A Man who loves to Nosh
Dear “ A Man who loves to Nosh”
I know, I know, it is hard to resist late-night cravings! Roni Caryn Rabin (New York Times, 3/17/2017) recommends that you try to limit your bedtime nosh to 100 or 200 calories, 300 calories tops. Choose nutrient-rich items that may be lacking in your diet, like fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains or nuts, to really make those calories count. Combining carbohydrates with protein produces a filling, satisfied feeling, even from a small snack. If you’re in the mood for something salty and crunchy, air- popped popcorn may t the bill. In your case, it sounds like snacking before bed may just be a bad habit. Ask yourself “Are you really hungry? People often mistake thirst for hunger. Try drinking more throughout the day, and having more water or carbonated water with dinner. Before bed, try a glass of low-fat milk, hot or cold, non-ca einated tea or, best of all, plain old water.
The American Heart Association has released a scienti c statement on meal timing and frequency, and how they can contribute to weight gain and cardiovascular disease (Amby Burfoot, Vancouver Sun, 3/18/2017). Nighttime eating has shown increased obesity, metabolic syndrome and chronic in ammation among those consuming calories late in the day vs. earlier. Ask yourself, “Is it worth the risks?” Perhaps you can add some exercise into your lifestyle. is would give you the psychological boost which could replace the craving for food.