Prof. Gerecke Shares How Diet and Exercise Can Protect the Brain Against Alzheimer’s Disease

a middle-aged white woman smiling in a white laboratory coat in a lab
Dr. Kim Gerecke

Since 1983, November has been designated National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior, and although there is no current cure, treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.

Dr. Kim Gerecke, associate professor of psychology and director of the neuroscience program at Rhodes, often presents lectures providing insights into healthy brain habits that are simple to incorporate into everyday life and that can have huge impacts in preventing diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Her primary focus is looking into therapeutic treatments that are available once those diseases become apparent in the brain as well as looking at lifestyle choices, which can help inhibit these diseases in the first place.

Her research has revealed that diet and exercise are the most effective in these preventative measures. Historically when it comes to exercise, humans have been very active in terms lifestyle due to the types of occupations held. It was not until World War II that individuals began working more desk jobs, and now with reliance on technology, they are becoming less physically active.

“The more sedentary we are, the less healthy our hearts are and the less healthy our brains are,” says Gerecke. However, this does not mean everyone should drastically alter their careers. Simple things such as taking the stairs or parking further away from the office are ways to become more active. Some individuals have begun using standing desks that provide flexibility to stand and move around while working. For retirees, household chores and gardening (45 minutes a day for four days a week) are simple yet effective methods of getting some type of exercise, according to Gerecke.

A good diet is key to keeping the brain healthy, and Gerecke says research has shown that a Mediterranean diet is actually one of the most ideal diets for the brain’s well-being. The base of the diet is fruits and vegetables, next is whole grains, and then protein from fish and healthy fats from nuts. Red meat is recommended no more than once or twice a month—which might be a challenge for any Memphian living in a city known for its delicious barbecue.

Although there still is no cure for Alzheimer’s, diet and light exercise can actually prevent the growth of plaques on the brain that limit cognitive function, according  to Gerecke. “The longer people incorporate these healthy practices, the better off they will be,” she says. “Any point that someone starts is sure to make a difference.”

By Lizzie Choy ’17

Updated 11/18/16: Read Dr. Gerecke’s article titled “These Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Prevent or Slow Alzheimer’s” published on the Wall Street Journal’s “Market Watch” site.