We love it when life’s little things add up to something big — like socking away a few bucks every week in a vacation-club account or flossing your pearly whites before you hit the hay each night. But here’s a doozy that didn’t get the front-page attention we think it deserved: Taking care of “little” health glitches now could slash your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later by 40 percent.
Turns out that sweating the small stuff — updating eyeglass prescriptions; clearing up skin and foot problems; getting chronic sinus infections, arthritis, leaky bladders and digestive disorders treated; even making sure dentures fit and hearing aids work — makes a huge difference. A major new Canadian study has found that each ignored problem boosts your risk for brain trouble by 3 percent. Having eight to 12 untreated little health issues boosts them by 30 percent to 40 percent. That’s large!
It’s also a shake-up, for three reasons. First, these “little things” aren’t what most of you, or us docs or even brain scientists, focus on in terms of protecting our gray matter. Second, brain benefits could be just the motivation needed if you’ve been dawdling about taking care of a small health nag. Third, this study points out a potent new way to keep what you’ve got upstairs in great working order.
Why does it work? For one thing, staying mentally active keeps your brain connections as fast as an iPad’s. When your vision and hearing are sharp, your body’s nimble and you’re not flustered by, say, bladder leaks, you’re eager to catch a new play, take a haiku class or learn Esperanto between flugelhorn lessons. But the benefits don’t come just from brain stretching.
Investing in your own get-up-and-go keeps you physically active, too, which showers your cranium with brain chemicals that encourage new links between neurons. That brings us to more brainy news: Daily activity protects your gray cells even if you’re at high risk for dementia. And even if you can’t do much; an easy walk, light housekeeping or puttering in the garden still cuts the threat by 16 percent. Do a little, and soon you can do more.
Suddenly, you’ll find that you can do some serious exercise for 20 minutes three times a week, and that yields a bonanza: a bigger hippocampus! Yep, it grows your key memory center.
Meanwhile, clearing up infections and treating arthritis stomps down inflammation that can scratch, dent and ding your arteries and brain cells.
There’s no cure (yet) for Alzheimer’s. But don’t wait. In addition to sweating the small stuff, these proven steps can protect you from this thought-robbing, YOU-erasing disease:
The YOU Docs — Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic — are the authors of “YOU: Losing Weight.” For more information go to www.RealAge.com.