Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Stave off Alzheimer’s One Dance at a Time

Going to line-dancing exercise class was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last year. It was by chance that I saw Ruth Dale’s offer of free line-dancing classes. I commented that it sounded like fun, and she encouraged me to try it.

At an SBW meeting later that same week, a few of us decided to check it out. Friday rolled around and I worried about my ability to learn a structured dance. In high school, I loved to dance, but I was mostly a free-form dancer. Or as my dance partner at a school dance observed, it looked like I was stomping on bugs.

First day of class, I caught on to a few basic moves—left vine, right vine. Some dances were easy to learn—the cupid shuffle. Others were more challenging for me—the watermelon crawl. The dance we learned this week—the wrong way—sums it all up.

I’ve been working especially hard on this dance since, “You’re going the wrong way,” was one of the few phrases Jim could say after dementia stole his language skills. This phrase was always directed at me, and it usually meant I hadn’t understood what he was trying to tell me.

Sometimes, I admit, I was actually going the wrong way. I like to do some heavy thinking while I drive. My radio is always on the Blend, and the music relaxes me and sets my mind in fast forward. This morning, I was indulging in some creative thinking, and as a result, I took the scenic route to the dietitian’s office.

The dietitian, Angela, is another good decision I made this year. She helped get me back on track after a two-year hiatus from healthy eating and regular exercise. Now, I have a second chance to get back on track after basically wrecking the train.

I give Angela credit for helping me “Fuel Up Right,” one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s “10 Ways to Love Your Brain.” Eating a balanced diet lower in fat and higher in fruits and veggies is a piece of cake. Ooops, no cake. Bad cake. Oh, well, maybe occasionally a sliver of chocolate cake.

What I’ve undertaken isn’t really a diet and exercise plan. It’s a lifestyle change. Behavioral strategies are an excellent way to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. A new lifestyle is my ticket to a healthier me—body, mind, and spirit.

1)      Body: Since I joined line dancing and pay attention to what goes into my mouth, I’ve lost eleven pounds. That’s not as much as I want to lose, but it’s a darn good start. I feel better, stronger, and healthier than I have in a long time. According to my physician, dancing builds stronger bones and improves muscle tone.
2)      Mind: Learning new dances exercises my mind. Brain stimulation helps stave off Alzheimer’s. My brain is on overdrive as I try to remember the steps to a complex dance. Ruth likes to challenge us with new dances. The variety of the dances keeps the class fresh, interesting, and, best of all, fun!
3)      Spirit: Line-dancing exercise classes have given me the opportunity to make new friends. We have laughed, cried, and prayed together. We’ve danced together in class and out-and-about. I’m so blessed to know these happy footed gals and guys!

Line dancing applies to several of the Alzheimer’s Association’s “10 Ways to Love Your Brain.” I’ve got “Buddy Up,” or be social, covered with my new friends!

Another way to improve brain health is to “Break a Sweat.” Well, this happens every time we dance. Tuesday evening, I complained about the room being cold when we first got there. By the time we finished dancing, I was fanning myself. Go figure.

“Stump Yourself” involves challenging your mind. I’m challenging my mind one dance at a time. Biggest question when Ruth tells us what dance we will be doing is, “How does that start?” After the first few steps, the brain usually, key word usually, kicks in.

How about “Take Care of Your Mental Health”? Depression is linked to mental decline. It’s impossible to be around my line-dancing friends and be depressed. In fact, that is the perfect place to go when things aren’t going right. Dancing and listening to music are two things that put me in that happy place before I can count to four.

Life isn’t all about dancing, or is it? Yes, I think it might be!

Copyright © August 2016 by L.S. Fisher

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