We need to change our habits to combat Alzheimer's. It's crucial for all of us, but especially for blacks and Latinos, who have a higher risk of this dementia than whites.
The 2010 report of the Alzheimer's Association highlights some jarring statistics. Currently, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, the seventh leading cause of death. By 2050, between 11 million and 16 million will have it.
And while age is still the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's, blacks have twice the risk of their white counterparts for developing Alzheimer's, and Latinos have 1.5 times the risk.
Scientists say that the higher risk for blacks and Latinos is at least partially linked to the vascular diseases that we have in disproportionate quantities -- hypertension among blacks, and diabetes among Latinos.
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Scary? Yes. Hopeless? No.
We shouldn't stand idly by when there are things we can do to minimize our risks. Doctors have told us for years that we can control high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. We can do this by eating right and exercising, and if necessary, by taking the proper prescriptions. If we needed more impetus for doing so, now we know that it can decrease our Alzheimer's risk. But it's up to us.
Growing up on the Texas-Mexico border, one song we frequently played at our celebrations had a chorus that repeated "a mover el bote ... a mover el bote." Basically, it's an exhortation to "move your booty" to the music. I don't recall all the lyrics, but I remember my family dancing, arms aloft and feet stepping to the rhythm. We never tired.
This recollection popped in my mind last spring as I listened to Dr. Kenneth Cooper speak at the Texas Alzheimer's State Planning Meeting. There, scientists, caregivers and health department officials moved to implement a five-year plan to deal with Alzheimer's in our state. Cooper, father of the aerobics movement in this country, spoke about the role exercise plays in brain health.
This isn't the first time I've heard about studies that show exercise (and diet, of course) is key not just to keeping the heart ticking, but also to keeping the brain working. Researchers say that as few as three months of regular exercise can cause the areas of the brain most susceptible to Alzheimer's to grow! Other studies show that exercise reduces symptoms of another disease of the central nervous system, Parkinson's.
I'm asking that you join me in taking back our health. Eat right. Drop those extra pounds. Rediscover that joy that comes with getting off your duff.
Just as we aren't meant to live off of Twinkies, our bottoms aren't meant to be glued to the couch.
If you aren't a regular exerciser, talk to your doctor and ask how you can begin to use your body again.
For a long time, I've known exercise maintains my sanity. Now I know it literally maintains my brain.
So what are you waiting for? A mover el bote!
Terrazas is a writer and photographer and former Nieman fellow. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.