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Monique Keiran: Walking away from Alzheimer’s disease

Thousands of British Columbians will wake up tomorrow, put on their shoes and walk. They’re raising money through the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Walk for Memories. Funds raised support the society’s community programs.

Thousands of British Columbians will wake up tomorrow, put on their shoes and walk.

They’re raising money through the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s Walk for Memories. Funds raised support the society’s community programs.

The event’s signature activity and timing create an intriguing, synergistic combination.

Scheduled for the last Sunday in January, Walk for Memories comes on the heels of the week containing “the most depressing day of the year.” According to calculations first done in 2005 as a PR stunt for a British travel agency, we’ve survived 2013’s nadir.

The Monday of the last full week in January — last Monday — was it.

Phew. That was a close one.

The equation used to determine the fateful day accounts for factors such as weather, debt level, time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year’s resolutions and low motivation.

When the calculation was published seven years ago, scientists and mathematicians guffawed, then ignored it or pronounced it hogwash.

Yet the concept captures how many people feel at this time of year: unmotivated, tired, blue, with little relief to look forward to. And whether January makes us truly depressed or not, some research suggests clinical depression could increase your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

The Alzheimer Society’s strategy at this gloomy, blue time of year: get us outdoors; get us moving.

That is so right, on so many levels.

We are meant to move.

The complex, bio-chemical machines that are our bodies suffer when not used to move regularly. Ligaments shorten. Tendons tighten. Muscles atrophy. Fascia bind. Joints stiffen. Backs hurt. Bodies ache.

Things stop working. We move less and more gingerly as a result. We feel tired and low.

Desk jobs and extensive time spent in front of televisions or computers exacerbate the problem.

I marvel at how well our bodies function, given the hours, days, years of neglect we subject them to.

We must move to remain healthy.

We know it. The doctor has lectured us about it. Show a leash or say “walk” to a dog, and it’s clear from the wagging tail and wiggling behind that even dogs know it.

Regular exercise keeps us fit and flexible. It promotes co-ordination and balance. It makes us strong and combats weight gain. It helps protect against some cancers, and assists with metabolism, lowering risk of adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes, thyroid illness and other related diseases.

Type 2 diabetes increases your chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease.

What benefits the body benefits the mind. Exercise helps combat depression. Exercise — especially when done outside — is a low-cost, non-chemical counter to winter blues and mild cases of seasonal affective disorder, a common winter complaint thought to be caused by low levels of sunlight.

And, with a nod to Heart and Stroke Month starting Friday, exercise boosts cardiovascular health.

Strokes and vascular disease are another risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

In his reader-friendly 2011 synopsis of related research, the Alzheimer Society’s former scientific director emeritus, Jack Diamond, lists exercise as one controllable activity that lowers risk of developing this form of dementia. He says it also appears to slow the disease’s progression.

Hence, the Alzheimer Society’s Mind in Motion, a fitness and social program designed for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

Hence, the society’s Walk for Memories. Moving is good for you.

Of course, if you’ve been inactive or you have health problems, check with your doctor, who might suggest ways to start an exercise program and to avoid injury.

But whether you prefer to run, cycle, twist yourself into a yoga pretzel, lift weights, or participate in events like Walk for Memories or the Times Colonist Health Challenge … remember to get out and move.

Not just tomorrow: every day.

Just remember to do it.