One of the most exciting findings to emerge in research about growing older has been the beneficial effects of exercise on the mind and the brain.
For obvious reasons depression is common in old age, sometimes due to loss of ability often due to the loss of someone who is dear. However, it is now clear that with a few exceptions the first response to depression is not the prescription of anti-depressants but social support combined with the promotion of activity. All activity is good for the mind, even activity that you do standing by yourself, but of course activity is even better when it is done with other people and here it is important to pay tribute to all those who run classes and groups for people with disabilities of all ages.
It is also important to pay tribute to the wonderful Health Walks which are organised by the Ramblers and funded by MacMillan Cancer Relief because of the evidence about the beneficial effects of walking for people with cancer. These walks which MacMillan generously funds for people with any condition are run by the thirty thousand volunteers who give up their time to encourage people who have lost the habit of walking or perhaps the confidence to go outside to get on their feet again and get the benefits of walking both physical and mental.
For the person who is depressed therefore any of the activities recommended in this book will be helpful perhaps a return to an activity they liked very much, such as swimming, but also taking up another activity such as Pilates or yoga or tai chi. The risk of suicide should not be overlooked and there is of course a reason for consulting the doctor but for everyone with depression activity is a therapy.
Probably few diseases are feared more than dementia which is now known to be a number of different conditions one of which is Alzheimer’s. When this approach is taken it becomes obvious that although we are currently unable to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and we do not have many effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease there are other causes of dementia which can be prevented.
NICE the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence published new guidance aimed at people in mid-life in 2015 emphasising that a change in lifestyle stopping smoking, better diet and more activity would reduce not only the risk of Type II Diabetes and heart disease, namely individual diseases but also in their words “disability and dementia”. It is now clear that in a significant proportion of people dementia is due to problems of the blood supply to the brain and that anything you do to reduce your risk of disease of the blood vessels, including heart attack and stroke will reduce the risk of dementia. This work is based on world class research led by Professor Carole Brayne Director of the Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge. Professor Brayne has shown that the incidence of dementia, the number of new cases developing is actually falling so the good news is – get more active and reduce the risk of dementia.