Dr Raymond Schwartz is a leading Australian neurologist and has featured as a presenter in specialty retreats here at Gwinganna. Coming from a vast background in Neurology, Dr Schwartz is devoted to his field and delivers exceptionally valuable insights about preventing and managing disease through our lifestyle choices.
Extracted from our Wellness at Home book, explore his invaluable wellness advice on how to age well.
Written by: Specialty Retreat Presenter and Neurologist, Dr Raymond Schwartz MBBS; FRACP; PhD.
One of the most important organs in your body is your brain. The brain defines us and controls all of our physical bodily functions, thoughts, emotions, dreams and aspirations.
We now enjoy unprecedented education, prosperity, access to sophisticated healthcare and longevity. However, more sedentary lifestyles, reliance on technology and longer lifespans create equally unprecedented and considerable health challenges. Successful ageing requires two main strategies: staying alive and enjoying good health, wellbeing and independence.
Staying alive means preventing heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia, the four main medical causes of death in Australia. Be mindful of the powerful impact of genes, there is a lot you can do to achieve this.
To enjoy the best health, wellbeing, and independence, firstly, let’s look at what defines this. It’s really quite simple. The three main criteria are how you think, move, and feel, all of which are subserved by your brain.
Impaired attention, concentration and memory can significantly undermine your quality of life, wellbeing and independence. Similarly, your health, wellbeing and independence are impaired if you cannot get around or if you feel depressed, especially if you suffer a combination of these which is often the case. To make it easier to remember, I have simplified these criteria to the three ‘M’s’: mobility, memory and mood.
Next, we need to understand and learn strategies to improve mobility, memory and mood. There is an emerging and substantial body of evidence describing various strategies to optimise your brain function and maintain your mobility, memory and mood. These strategies include resistance training for mobility, maintaining your cognitive skills in various ways, and learning psychological strategies to improve your mood.
Finally, you need to empower yourself to implement and maintain these holistic strategies, which require continuing education, training and discipline. For example, you may need a personal trainer and/or Pilates instructor to learn a sensible workout to optimise your core and proximal muscle strength. You may need to undertake a new course at work or leisure activity such as bridge, upgrade your computer skills, or do Sudoko and crosswords to remain cognitively engaged. In addition, strategies such as biofeedback, meditation with mindfulness or cognitive behaviour therapy may be very helpful in managing anxiety and stress, which are powerful factors undermining your psychological and physical wellbeing.
Use this guide to help you:
- Exercise, both physical and cognitive, is essential to maintain our brain function. Aerobic interval-style exercise is important from a cardiovascular perspective, while resistance training maintains our balance and posture with age, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
- Stress is a powerful determinant of our health and wellbeing. There is growing evidence that reducing stress via strategies such as meditation has a positive influence on a variety of health outcomes, including cognitive performance.
- Sleep is like a battery charger replenishing or cognitive reserve. There is compelling evidence that sleep apnoea, for example, is associated with significant cognitive impairment. Ensuring that you get a good night’s sleep is essential for optimal brain function.
- You are what you eat. A sensible and well-balanced diet is essential to maintain your brain function.
- Genes are a powerful influence on our health and wellbeing. Knowing who we came from can therefore be a guide to our future risk of disease. Fortunately, epigenetics suggests that there is much we can do to mitigate the risk by modifying our lifestyle in a healthy and sensible way.
- Vascular disease is strongly correlated with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (which often coexist), the two most common causes of dementia. Strategies to optimise our cardiovascular health and keep our gut microbiome healthy have a significant positive impact on our brain function.
- There is abundant evidence that smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol undermine our brain function in a variety of ways, including cognitive, motor and behaviour functions. Moderating alcohol intake and stopping smoking is essential to preserving brain performance.
- Love is the key. Being surrounded by caring family and/or friends and remaining happy and socially engaged is very important for our physical and cognitive health and wellbeing.
- Finally, find a good doctor. In Australia, your doctor is the gatekeeper to our health system. Whilst we need to do our own thinking and take responsibility for our health and wellbeing, it seems sensible to enlist the help of a proactive doctor with a holistic approach to health management.