Exercise Could Prevent Twenty Per Cent of Dementia Cases

menopause midriff

Did you know that over 320,000 Australians are living with dementia. Unless there’s a medical breakthrough, that number’s expected to increase to 900,000 by 2050. About 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and another 1 in 5 have mild cognitive impairment and are at significantly increased risk of progressing to dementia.

Whilst there’s no cure for dementia, there are things you can do today, to reduce your risk. In fact about 50% of Alzheimer’s cases can be attributed to risk factors you can change.

About 13% of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide (that’s over 4 million people) can be attributed to lack of physical activity. In the USA that figure sits at 21% of cases – that’s over one fifth of Alzheimer’s cases in the US can be attributed to physical inactivity, and the figure for Australia is likely to be similar, given our modern lifestyle means we’re less active that we should be. So that means, by 2050, there will be 180,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease, who could have avoided developing it, simply by doing some regular exercise.

How does physical activity affect the brain?

This is an area which scientists are still learning about. What they do know is that:

  •  The brain grows new cells and connections between those new cells throughout our life, referred to as brain plasticity.
  • The brain needs a good blood supply to provide it with enough with oxygen and nutrients to function well.
  • Physical activity supports both these important aspects of brain biology.

Brain imaging has shown that people doing regular exercise of moderate intensity, have increased brain volume in regions important for memory, learning, concentration and planning, over people who are inactive.

They also have increased connectivity between brain regions, and they have better cognitive function.

And listen to this– oldies who are physically active have brain volumes and connectivity typical of younger adults. It is normal for the brain to shrink a little as we grow older, but this age-related shrinkage is reduced in people who do regular physical activity.

For healthy brain function, the blood vessels in the brain need to be healthy. Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity can damage blood vessels and lead to vascular disease in the brain, which is a big contributor to dementia. Physical activity helps to keep all blood vessels healthy, not just those in the brain, and it aids in the growth of new blood vessels.

The positive impact physical activity has on the brain can be seen both over the long term and the short term.

It seems that physical activity not only reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but it also plays a role in reducing the brain damage in those who are living with the disease. People with Alzheimer’s have deposits of a protein called Amyloid on their brain. In older adults who are physically active, there are less of the amyloid changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Some studies have investigated what happens when inactive people start exercising, and show that after 6 to 12 months of exercising, brain volume increases and cognitive function improves.

These effects have been shown across the age spectrum, including in children, so no matter what your age, exercising has the potential to improve the health and therefore the functioning of your brain.

So that’s just one more reason to get physically active now, and stay physically active. Your “golden years” can be amazing or you can run the risk of them being agonising for you and your family. You owe it to yourself to act now.

Brain Training For Junk Food Addicts


Do you crave chocolate, french fries, “Maccas”, or maybe a good old Aussie meat pie? Do you roam the house in search of your kids’ lolly bags – you know, the one they got from that party 8 months ago which you’re sure has something left in it. In short, are you a junk food addict?

If so, you’re not alone, but a recent study has shown that you may not have to live the rest of your life struggling with food cravings and addictions.

It’s possible to train your brain to choose healthier food options, and you won’t feel like you’re depriving your body of the foods it craves. When you train your brain correctly, you automatically begin to choose healthier food options. You won’t feel like you’re forcing yourself to choose healthier options, just because you know they are good for you, or you want to lose weight. You can start to lose weight without really trying.

A study conducted by Dr Susan Roberts, at Tuffs University studied 13 people, 8 of whom were already part of another weight loss study, and the remaining 5 formed the control group.

The study participants underwent brain scans, which showed that areas of the brain used for learning and addiction of the 8 enrolled in the weight loss study, were changing. Researchers believe this was because of the reward programme associated with the weight loss study.

Using positive reinforcement and rewarding yourself for sticking to eating healthy foods over addictive, unhealthy ones is the simplest way to retrain your brain.

It’s important to keep exposing yourself to healthy foods, as well as designing a rewards program for yourself. Any parent will know that in order to get kids to eat new foods, you need to keep serving it on their plate, regardless of whether they are eating it or not. It’s suggested that you may need to expose kids to a new food up to 15 times, before they’ll get accustomed to it.

And what do we do when our kids finally eat spinach for the first time? Why…we reward them with a lovely smile and words of encouragement don’t we? They see that eating that food is rewarding, so they keep eating it – well, at least for the most part.

So do the same for yourself. Start rewarding yourself with a holiday, new clothes, a new book, a walk in the park, a bike ride, twenty minutes to yourself, phoning a friend, buy yourself a bunch of flowers, send yourself a card of congratulations in the mail! Anything to train your brain to realise that choosing healthy foods over unhealthy ones is the right thing to do!

Running in the heat

Do you fell like you’re working really hard when you’re running in the heat? Do you feel like you’re putting in an 8 out of 10 for effort, but only getting to a 5 or 6 out of 10 with your pace? Watch the video to find out why. Read this article on running in hot weather, and pre-cooling for running in hot weather, to find out what you can do about it.

Well, you might FEEL like you’re working really hard, but you’re body is actually more likely to be working more conservatively than you realise.

The “central govenor” theory explains how your brain determines how much muscle you are able to activate if you are getting close to doing yourself harm -whether that be exercising in cold weather, hot weather, at high altitude, at dangerously low levels of glycogen…


Not Exercising. What does it cost you?

how do you spend your time

Are you sacrificing your opportunity to live independently in your old age?

We are all familiar with the concept of superannuation. You put money away now, invest it, and whacko the diddle-o, you have enough money to live on in your retirement (at least that’s the theory). Not many of us would disagree with this as a general strategy – investing some money now, for your future financial well-being. Instead of spending money now on handbags, shoes and every latest gizmo, you spend your money on something else – you buy an investment, whatever that may be, nurture it, and reap the benefits.

So what about when it comes to spending time? How do you spend your time? Do you spend it wisely (for the most part), or do you fritter it away on TV watching, internet surfing and social media stalking?

Do you spend your time getting that presentation for work absolutely 100% perfect, when 90% perfect would be just fine? Do you spend your time being the perfect mum, the perfect housewife, the perfect house cleaner? Or maybe you spend your time worrying so much about being perfect that you never actually get started on stuff that you really want to do, because you don’t think you’ll have the time to do it “perfectly”?

The fact of the matter is, whatever you do spend your time on, there is a cost. Not necessarily a financial cost, but the opportunity cost of what you could have been doing with that time. If you’re spending time staying up late at night watching the TV, it could cost you a good night’s sleep. If you spend your time crossing “ï”s  and dotting “t”s excessively at work, it might cost you time with your family.

If you spend time exercising, it costs you something. If you’re exercising, you’re not doing something else you could be doing. I guess that’s why people say they “don’t have time to exercise”.

It’s easy to see the opportunity cost of spending time exercising. It’s pretty immediate. Your thoughts might go something like this “I could give up my opportunity to exercise and stay here in my nice warm bed, or I could give up the opportunity to stay in my nice warm bed and spend some time exercising”. Sound a bit familiar?

We tend not to think about the opportunity cost of NOT exercising though.

If you’re not spending time on a regular basis looking after yourself, and that includes exercising, you are missing out on so many opportunities. Some of the opportunities you could be missing out on include maintaining strong bones, maintaining a good sense of balance (both important for independent mobility as you get older), feeling the joy of being able to run- just because you can, having a spring in your step most days, having your body in great working order and feeling like you could conquer the world (or at least your little part of it). You could be missing out on the opportunity of adventure travel, resigning yourself to travelling in tour buses when you’re older, rather than being able to explore foreign cities on foot for hours and hours, trekking in Nepal, kayaking down the Nile –not sure if anyone actually does that, but it might be cool, bike riding in Vietnam…

By not looking after yourself now, you are also putting at risk your ability to live independently as you get older.

By sitting on the couch now, you could be passing up the opportunity to be able to get on and off the toilet by yourself when you’re 80, to determine what you eat and when you eat it. If you’re not able to look after yourself, you’ll most likely be living in a nursing home, with pretty much all of your independence gone. My beautiful aunt, who at 82 lives in a local nursing home, can’t even determine what time she has her pre-dinner brandy. It comes with her dinner, in spite of her asking for it to arrive about 20 minutes before hand.

It’s the really simple stuff that we take for granted, that you could be giving up, by not spending your time wisely now. Exercising on a regular and frequent basis, and eating sensibly, is like making a little payment into your physical wellbeing superannuation fund.  A bit of weight bearing exercise to strengthen muscles and maintain bone strength, something to get you huffing and puffing a bit, and some gentle stretching and flexibility movements will help you to get the most out of EVERY year of your life, not just the first 60.

So, are you going to take the opportunity to spend a whole lot of time sitting around on your backside today, or are you going to take the opportunity to contribute to your physical superannuation fund, to strengthen your body to help you lead a happy, energetic and fulfilling life now and when you’re older?

It’s your choice.

Image courtesy of debspoon: freedigitalphotos.net

Are all sugars create equal?

honey and sugar

Honey vs Sugar

Last night when we were stretching down after a running training session, the discussion turned to honey and sugar and whether honey was ok, where sugar wasn’t. On the one hand, honey’s sugar, right? So if it’s all sugar, and it’s all pretty much empty calories, it’s all treated the same by your body.

Then on the other hand, there’s also the thought that honey is just “better” for you, so you can use liberally. Most of us sat somewhere in the middle of this spectrum

 Here’s a closer look at honey and sugar.

One of the concerns with sugar is that it infiltrates much of what we eat. Even the humble baked bean, or tinned tomatoes will have sugar added to them in many cases. You can find brands that don’t have added sugar, but you need to look closely at the ingredients label. Sugar adds flavour, acts as a preservative, and helps in the browning process, making foods look more appetising.

Sugar is implicated in our obesity epidemic-or is it?

One problem with sugar being added to foods is that it is empty calories. You’ll often read “there’s no nutritional value in sugar” which is actually not true. Anything that yields calories has nutritional value, and sugar provides 4 kilocalories of energy per gram. It’s a carbohydrate, which is a macronutrient. Unfortunately, that’s about where it’s nutritional value ends – if you’re looking for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, forget about sugar as a source.

Traditional thinking amongst nutritionist and dieticians about sugar goes something like this: “With sugar, you get lots of energy (aka calories), without feeling any “fuller”, so you tend to take in a larger number of calories for the same feeling of satiety, and no benefits of the micronutrients.  Sugar is therefore one of the culprits in our obesity epidemic, with all its associated disease risks”.

A 2011 research project questioned that traditional thinking, and created quite a stir. The study The Australian Paradox: A Substantial Decline in Sugars Intake over the Same Timeframe that Overweight and Obesity Have Increased  was conducted by Alan W. Barclay  and  Jennie Brand-Miller   There’s been terse debate surrounding some of the figures used as supporting evidence in this study. In 2012 independent researchers were commissioned to conduct further research and found the same thing as the original research…

that Australians’ per capita consumption of sugars has declined, whilst our obesity levels have increased.

You can read more here and here

Simple and Complex Carbohydrates

Simple sugars occur naturally in some foods. They are called “simple” due to their molecular structure. Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar. They are one-unit sugars. They include glucose, fructose and galactose.

Disaccharides are also classified as simple sugars, and are formed when two Monosaccharides combine. They include

Lactose: glucose and galactose
Sucrose: glucose and fructose
Maltose: glucose and glucose

With regard to your health, the real difference is where the sugar comes from. All sugars become simple sugars eventually in the body. Sugars consumed as complex carbohydrates (whole grains, legumes etc) and simple sugars found in fruits and vegetables, are accompanied by other nutrients-vitamins, minerals and other anti-oxidants, and often fibre. The micro nutrients are extremely important for good functioning of your body. Also, sugars consumed with fibre, whole grains and fats will be absorbed into the blood stream more slowly than simple sugars consumed with nothing else.

For example, fructose can be found in lollies and softdrinks – which lack health promoting nutrients, but fructose is also found in fruit.

Even though both foods contain fructose, fruit is the healthier choice – it’s not made up only of simple carbs – it contains fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. The fiber in fruit helps slow the digestion of carbs, which is why your blood sugar doesn’t spike as much after eating fiber-filled fruit like it does when you down a spoonful of sugar (or honey for that matter).

Vegetables and grains also contain some simple sugars in addition to their starches, mostly in the form of sucrose, but they give you heaps of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants too.

What is a sugar, and how do you track it down on food labels?

Sugar comes in many different forms. A clue to hidden sugars on food labels is the suffix ‘ose” such as Sucrose, Maltose, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, Galactose, Lactose, High fructose corn syrup, Glucose solids

Other ingredients which are sugars include Cane juice, Dehydrated cane juice, Cane juice solids, Cane juice crystals, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Buttered syrup, Carob syrup, Brown sugar, Date sugar, Malt syrup, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Dehydrated fruit juice, Fruit juice crystals, Golden syrup, Turbinado,  Sorghum syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Ethyl maltol, Maple syrup, Yellow sugar

Sugars in processed foods which are naturally occurring in some of the ingredients are going to be better for you than added sugars, but there’s no way of telling from the food label how much sugar is added sugar, and how much is naturally occurring in the food.

Let’s use the nutritional panel for Weetbix Apricot Bites as an example. (source from http://www.sanitarium.com.au/products/breakfast/weet-bix/apricot-bites )

Weetix Apricot Bites –

Carbohydrate (g) 30.6 68
– Sugars (g) 9.6 21.4
Dietary Fibre (g) 4.1 9

There are 68 gms of carbohydrate in total  per 100gms of Weetbox Apricot Bite

  • of which 21.4 gms are simple sugars (added or natural) – the ones that are one or two molecules and quickly pass into the bloodstream. From the panel, there’s no way of telling which are added and which are naturally occuring
  • and 9gms are dietary fibre,
  • leaving 29.6gms of complex carbohydrates per 100gms

Looking at the list of ingredients, will give you some clue as to how much of the sugar is added sugar, and how much naturally occurring in the food. But, you have to hunt around a bit. Ingredients are listed in order of volume (not calories they yieldd). So in Weetbox Apricot Bites, wholegrain cereals are the main ingredients, making up 69% of the Weetbix by weight. The next highest ingredient is raw sugar, but you’ll notice that there is more sugar further down the list, as highlighted.

Wholegrain cereals (69%) [wheat (63%), oats (6%)], raw sugar, concentrated apricot puree (4.5%), humectant (glycerol), invert sugar, sugar, honey (1%), minerals (phosphate of calcium, iron), salt, barley malt extract, wheat fibre, flavours, gelling agent (pectin), acidity regulator (citric acid), colour (paprika), vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, folate).

Let’s take a different scenario. Let’s pretend that cereals make up only 30% of the food, and other than that the ingredients list is the same as that above. Raw sugar might be say 25%  of the total weight, invert sugar 8%, sugar 3% , honey 1% and barley malt extract 0.5%. That adds up to a total of 37.5% of the weight of the food coming from added sugars, making the total volume of added sugars the highest volume by weight. There’s actually no way of knowing, looking at a list of ingredients, what the total volume of all added sugars is. Interesting…and frustrating!

But is honey any better?

Make no mistake, honey is a sugar, however some types of honey are not absorbed into the blood stream quite as quickly as other sugars, and they also have some antioxidant qualities.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure (on a scale of 0 to 100) of the extent to which carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels after eating. High GI foods are digested and absorbed quickly and lead to large fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which has implications for insulin production, sensitivity and pancreatic exhaustion (basically, we don’t want big fluctuations in our blood sugar levels). You can read more about the GI here

Here’s an extract from the GI (sourced from http://www.glycemicindex.com/index.php) which shows differing GIs for honey and sugar. The differences in the GI in sugar are due the different sources of the sugar. You can see they differ quite a lot. You can also see from the tables if you’re selective in the type of honey you choose, you can find some which are considerably lower on the GI than sugar is. Low GI is considered to be 55 or less, medium 56-69, and high 70 and above.

Sugar (Sucrose), 50 g portion 58 10 10 6
Sugar (Sucrose), 50 g portion 60 10 10 6
Sugar (Sucrose), 25 g portion 60 10 10 6
Sugar (Sucrose), 50 g portion 65 10 10 7
Sugar (Sucrose), 100 g portion 65 10 10 7
Sugar (Sucrose), 50 g portion 84 10 10 8
Honey, Yellow box (46% fructose) 35 25 18 6
Honey, Stringy Bark (52% fructose) 44 25 21 9
Honey, Red Gum (35% fructose) 46 25 18 8
Honey, Iron Bark (34% fructose) 48 25 15 7
Capilano Premium Honey, blend of eucalypt & floral honeys 51 25 21 11
Honey, Yapunya (42 % fructose) 52 25 17 9
Leabrook Farms Yellow Box honey 60 25 21 13
Honey, Commercial Blend (38% fructose), WA blend 62 25 18 11
Honey, Salvation Jane (32% fructose) 64 25 15 10
Clover honey, ratio of fructose: glucose, 1.09 69 25 21 15
Honey, Commercial Blend (28% fructose), NSW blend 72 25 13 9
Buckwheat honey, ratio of fructose:glucose, 1.12 73 25 21 16
Cotton honey, ratio of fructose:glucose, 1.03 74 25 22 16
Honey, type not specified 74 25 21 16
Tupelo honey, ratio of fructose:glucose, 1.54 74 25 21 16
Honey, type not specified 87 25 21 18

Some other facts about honey

  • Approximately 82% sugar, by weight.
  • Contains only trace amounts of vitamins and minerals.
  • Honey contains some antioxidants –the less refined the honey, the greater the antioxidant levels (as a general rule). Also, darker varieties tend to be higher in antioxidants
  • Its relative glucose and fructose content can vary quite a lot
  • The composition of honey depends on the environment that the bees collect the pollen from. antioxidant levels greatly

There have been quite a few studies done on honey. Some of the more interesting results I found were:

  • Honey raised blood sugar less than dextrose (glucose) and sucrose (glucose and fructose). It still did raise blood sugar, just not as much.
  • Honey reduced C-Reactive Protein (CRP) – a marker of inflammation.
  • Honey lowered LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides and raised HDL cholesterol. (which is a good thing)
  • Honey also lowered Homocysteine, another blood marker associated with disease such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s

The Verdict?

On balance, I’d say yes, but don’t kid yourself that you’re not eating sugar if you’re eating honey. Just like sugar, it should be used sparingly. If you’re healthy, active and are not overweight or obese, then having some honey probably won’t hurt you, and it’s at least better than refined sugar. Good for use in some occasional healthy(ish) home made treats.