Richard G. Petty, MD

Integrated Health and Aging

An important principle of the emerging laws of health and healing is that anything helpful should help more than one system of the body at a time. So a diet that might help mitigate the effects of aging in the skin should also have beneficial effects on the major organs of the body.

So I was encouraged to see a new report indicating that cardiovascular health and a healthy lifestyle are associated with maintaining the health of our brains as we age. This is, of course, intuitively obvious, but it is always nice to see such things confirmed by empirical research.

The new report is from a multi-Institute collaboration of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. The chair of the committee was Hugh Hendrie, the Scottish-born professor of psychiatry from the University of Indiana, and the committee members were many of the most eminent people in the fields of aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

What is encouraging about this new report is that many of the factors associated with cognitive decline as we get older are eminently remediable: we have within our reach a set of potential interventions that could significantly reduce our personal risk of developing cognitive problems later in life. These are the things that we need to work on if we want to reduce our risk of developing cognitive decline later in life:

  1. Hypertension: There is excellent evidence that inadequately treated hypertension correlates strongly with cognitive decline.
  2. Physical activity: There is good evidence that elders who exercise regularly are less likely to experience cognitive decline. This is over and above the general improvement in quality of life that accompanies regular exercise. The earlier in life that we start, the easier it is to continue.
  3. Increased mental activity throughout life, including learning new things and going through higher education may benefit the health of the brain.
  4. Moderate alcohol use and the use of vitamin supplements also seem to be brain protectors, though the report does not specify which supplements.
  5. Social disengagement and depressed mood are both associated with poorer cognitive functioning, so it is important to be alert to signs of depression, and to maintain a social network. I discuss this in more detail in my book Healing Meaning and Purpose.

There are doubtless some genetic and environmental factors about which we can do little. But the idea that we now have a list of things that we can do to protect our brains is very exciting.

This report also signals another important change. In recent years we have seen the growth of Positive Psychology, the study of how to improve ourselves rather than the constant focus on psychopathology. This report calls for the research community to study health maintenance of the brain with the same energy that it has brought to bear on the study of diseases of the brain. To which I would add, that we must not just focus on how to maintain the health of the brain, but how we can enhance it’s function so that we can all reach and exceed our full potential.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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