Julia Louis-Dreyfus 1.13.1961

Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s disease’

Stress Reduction Tip #2: Breathing

10.25.13

Who knew that something so simple could reduce stress?!

 

Yes, we are talking about breathing. Let’s face it, many of us Menopaused Minds are so frazzled because we’re often carrying a lot of stress around with us. Not only is stress unpleasant, but it can really take a toll on our bodies and minds. In fact, recent research has found that high levels of stress in middle age can increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. From the ordinary daily stressors (managing your hectic schedule, refereeing kid’s fights, work demands, etc.) to life’s whoppers (aging parents, divorce, unemployment, etc.), being stressed has become the new normal for so many of us. The great news is that we are doing something every day, every minute, without even thinking, that can help moderate your body’s response to life’s challenges.

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Breathing has been scientifically proven to be an effective stress reducer. But not just any breathing, we’re talking about deep breathing. Why is that? Our bodies’ stress responses are hardwired physiological reactions that served to protect us back in the early days of humans. Stress is what told us that we were in danger–usually in danger of not having enough food or the danger in becoming something else’s food. The body has two opposing systems that regulate our basic bodily functions (like breathing, organ function, etc.): sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When we’re in danger, the sympathetic nervous systems kicks in and we go into fight/flight/freeze mode to survive. Our hearts race, certain “non-essential” organ systems shut down  and blood rushes to our muscles in preparation to run away. Once the danger is no longer a threat, our parasympathetic system starts up and basically calms the body down, slows our heart rate, cues the shutdown systems to go back online, etc.

 

The fight/flight/freeze mode was okay when it was short lived – when we needed it because we were being chased by a lion. The problem is that now our stress tends to be more chronic. So, we end up being stuck with our sympathetic nervous system in overdrive. Our body gets tired and glitchy. We get sick more, our energy drops, we’re more irritable, and we even have a harder time losing weight, either from eating more to cope with stress or due to the body holding onto fat b/c of the perceived threat to survival!

 

So, how is breathing going to help? When we engage in deep, slow breathing, we actually cue our parasympathetic system that we’re not in life threatening danger and we can chill out.  Your breathing is strongly tied to our heart rate. Ever notice how when you get worked up about something, either fear or anger, your heart rate picks up, and your breathing becomes faster. So, deep breathing helps slow down the heart, muscle tension eases, pain can even decrease, blood pressure goes down, and mental alertness increases, and even the pH of our blood changes. The amazing thing about all of this is that you can get results even with doing as little as 3 or 5 minutes of deep breathing!

 

Want to try it?

Here’s a very basic example of a 3 minute breathing practice :

(adapted from Breathing, Stretching, Relaxing Program, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System–yes, veterans are doing this and they love it!)

 

Sit upright and gently maintain a natural spine alignment with your hands resting comfortably on your lap.

 

Either close your eyes or gaze at something on the wall or floor.

 

Breathe normally and just notice your breath. Notice how the air feels sweeping into and out of your nose. Notice how your body moves with each breath. Notice the pace of your breath, the length of each inhale and exhale. Your mind might wander. If it does, just bring your attention back to your breath.

 

Start to breath more deeply, from deep down in your abdomen. Count your inhale and exhale length and try to get them to match. Once they’re in sync, try breathing this way three times.

 

The key to stimulating that parasympathic response is to spend some time breathing out longer than you breath in. For example, you can practice by counting your breath rate, say 1, 2, 3, 4 in, and 1, 2, 3, 4 out, a few times. Then do 1, 2, 3, 4, in, and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 out, a few times. You can work your way up to a count of 8 out and then back down to 4.

 

Here are more resources on breathing exercises and guided practices:

UCLA Mindfulness Research Center
Dr. Weil Guided Breathing Exercises
6 Breathing Exercises to Relax  in 10 min or Less (TIME)

 

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How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain: Not Saying We Told You So

4.20.12

 

More news about how exercise is so great for your brain!

 

Check out this week’s New York Times Magazine for a great piece on how exercise can actually make you smarter! Yes, even for those of us with Menopaused Minds!


Menopause Mind Proof: Not Losing Memory, But Brain Works Harder

12.8.11

Although we’ve been convinced that the Menopause Mind is real for a while now, hence this blog, finding empirical support for the connection between menopause and memory declines has been as easy as finding those car keys you left in the fridge.

 

Well, it seems like we’re both right and wrong. The Los Angeles Times just ran an piece on the findings of a recent study designed to examine whether or not post-menopausal women complaining of memory problems performed significantly worse on memory tests than women who did not share these complaints.  Researchers at the University of Vermont and Vanderbilt used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of 22 women while they worked on various memory tasks. It turns out that the performance of the 12 women who complained of memory problems on these tests was no different from that of the 10 women who claimed that their memory was fine.

But, the researcher’s also found that the brains of the complainers were much more active than the non-complainers. Specifically, the action was increased in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in intellectual functioning and working memory, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in a variety of autonomic  functions (think blood pressure,  heart rate) and cognitive functioning including decision making, learning and emotion.

 

So, what does this mean for you? Even though you feel like your memory is shot  (the subjective experience of menopause mind), it may not really be that bad (your objective memory ability), but your brain is probably working overtime to compensate for memory slips.  To us, this translates to the following:  if you feel like you have memory problems, they probably exist, but your brain kicks into high gear to make up for them. Keep in mind that this study was done with 22 women, all of whom were post-menopausal. They did not compare post-menopausal women with pre-menopausal women  This does not yet support the theory that physiological changes during menopause cause memory deficits. But it seems we’re one step closer to grasping the workings of the mind’s mysterious metamorphosis during and after menopause than we had been–although not entirely there.

 

The LA Times piece also includes a discussion of the findings from another recent study that examined hormone changes and brain matter. To put it very simply, they examined the brains of women before and after a brief round of hormone therapy (increased estrogen). They found an increase in the density of grey matter after hormone therapy. This suggests that hormones may influence brain’s functioning by playing a role in how much grey matter–the more grey matter, the better your cognitive functioning. But it’s still unclear what exactly is going on.  The University of Vermont and Vanderbilt researchers plan to test hormone therapy as a way to improve memory among the complainers.  Or, maybe they’ll just get them to stop complaining. We’ll keep you posted.

Memory Tip #1 Stop Worrying!

3.17.11

Feeling like your memory has gone MIA? It may be time to… get over it!

Memory declines with age and a few “menopause moments” are completely normal. Now, if you are still thinking: my memory is REALLY bad or I’ve completely lost it …PLEASE STOP!


The worst thing that you can do is to become self-critical. Don’t beat yourself up every time  you’ve forgotten something you think you should have remembered.  All this worrying about your memory and feeling like you’re not as good as you should be can lead to anxiety and depression, both of which are bad for your brain.


In fact, emotional distress can make your memory worse!


If you are very worried that you’re having memory problems or others have complained to you about your memory, you may want to get tested. Ask your primary care physician to refer you to a neuropsychologist for a neuropsychological assessment (doc-speak for memory testing).  A good neuropsychological assessment will take a few hours, but in the end, you’ll have a good sense of how you are performing when compared to other people your age. A word of warning: neuropsychological assessments are expensive. Find out what your insurance will cover before you’re left with a colossal bill, more stress, and even worse memory!


If you are willing to become involved in research you can often get a free neuropsychological assessment at your local Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). These centers are funded by the National Institute on Aging and located throughout the US at major medical institutions.

Here at the University of Southern California our ADRC is part of our Memory and Aging Center (MAC) with locations in Los Angeles, Downey and Rancho Mirage. If you want more information about our center, link to our website or call Nadine Diaz, MSW at (323) 442-7600.


Improve Your Menopause Memory With Exercise

1.29.11

If you think that as you get older your brain cells slowly die and there is nothing that you can do about it – you’re wrong!


There is a way to create new brain cells … aerobic exercise!


Aerobic exercise can create new brain cells in the region of the brain that is critical for memory – the hippocampus. It’s the hippocampus where learning new information and retaining it takes place.  In fact, it’s where Alzheimer’s disease begins.


The Salk Institute in La Jolla can be thanked for discovering the initial link between exercise and new brain cell growth.  Researchers compared adult mice who ran on hamster wheels to those who didn’t. The mice who ran on the wheels developed significantly more new brain cells in the hippocampus.


But the key here is that the exercise must be aerobic!


To  improve your menopause memory you need to get out there and huff and puff.  Increasing blood flow and getting oxygen to the brain is how this all works. With increased blood flow to the brain comes more oxygen and more growth factors from all over the body that contribute to the birth of new cells, including brain cells. And, as I tell my patients, walking the dog and stopping at every tree doesn’t count as aerobic. You’ve got to break a sweat at least 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up into smaller chunks of time, like  20-25 mintues a day or 50 minutes three times a week. For brain cell growth, the magic really seems to happen after exercising regularly between 3 and 6 weeks.


Now, I know exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea– finding the right form exercise is critical to both staying injury-free and motivated. My favorite form of aerobic exercise is the elliptical machine. It was designed to be easy on the knees and you can use it rain or shine.  With your arms and legs going and your ipod plugged into 80s music, you can feel like you’re dancing.  The problem is that you may also feel like singing.  As my husband likes to point out, I may be wearing headphones but he isn’t.  If you have balance problems or physical difficulties, you can try a recumbent elliptical machine.  You sit while working out so there’s no danger of falling. My patients have told me that they used them in physical therapy and were hooked in no time. If you have access to a pool (an indoor pool if you’re in those chilly climates), you can also try jogging in the water.


When the weather is nice (or if you don’t want to buy a piece of exercise equipment that costs more than your first car)  power walking is a great form of aerobic exercise. Bend those arms, pump them like pistons, bend the knees and step lightly heel to toe to save your knees.  You may look like you urgently need a restroom, but just think of those new brain cells…and toned legs!


So stop complaining about your menopause memory, get an okay from your doctor and get out there! Aerobic exercise is one of the best things you can do for to keep your brain fit.