April 2018

Thursday, October 27, 2011


"What great for the heart is great for the brain." -- the poet Kabir

"How old is old?" my mother asked my ten year-old self. I stood in the middle of our 1970s kitchen--white floor with an indented squiggle design, black and white cabinets, red countertops. After some thought, I answered with confidence, "Sixteen."

My oldest niece Isabella turned old this week: she's sweet sixteen, and since she's aging, I'm dedicating this entry on self-care to her. She's gonna love it.

Yesterday, I attended my in-person brain tumor support group (I also belong to an online ependymoma support group. I need a lot of support.) A Virginia Mason hospital neurologist, Dr. Nancy Isenburg, gave a talk called, "Healthy Aging with Cancer" to open the meeting.

Though the title was about cancer and the talk focused specifically on brain cancer, much of the talk was really about healthy living and healthy aging (which I guess is really the same thing.)

Dr. Isenburg not only quoted a couple of poets (which wins her great credibility points in my book), but also shared some helpful information about living well, focusing especially on diet and exercise.

Though her talk was quite good, she didn't recommend ice-cream. She did recommend walnuts, which I figure is a recommendation for an ice-cream sundae as long as it has walnuts on it. It's better that way anyway. I think the cherry does not have a lot of vitamins anymore and is therefore optional. Chocolate syrup is must. So is whipped cream. But I digress...

In addition to walnuts, Dr. Isenburg recommended other elements of a Mediterranean diet: olives (yuck), olive oil, red wine (I think she said lots of it...oh no, that was "a little"), fish, and fruits (so I guess you should eat that cherry on your ice-cream sundae after all) and veggies.

These foods stimulate growth of the hypocampus, which is in charge of memory and shrinks with age. (Yes, your brain is shrinking.) The bigget benefit of exercise, she said, is metacognition. Not becoming depressed, or addressing depression, is also a big bene.

Though your brain does shrink with age, recent studies show that the brain does continue to produce new brain cells throughout our lives. This is good news.

For exercise, Dr. Isenburg recommended walking at least three times each week for at least 45 minutes each time. Dancing to music (no, Mom, watching "Dancing with the Stars" does not count) and juggling are especially good for you.

Brother Matt, get off of your bike from time to time and juggle. You'll be an excellent old man before you know it.

No, Sister Jen. Sorry. Juggling four kids' schedules does not count. Especially since one's a boarding school. Juggling bon-bons only counts if you throw them in their air.

A healthy heart, Dr. Isenburg said, reduces the risk of dementia, reducing the risk of Alzheiner's by half if you exercise 30 minutes a day. (2000 international units of vitamin D each day help this, too.) Fish, she said, is good, too (and it's good for lowering cholesterol and managing ADHD. It should therefore be on every school lunch tray, but I don't think those fried strips will count.)

Fat, Dr. Isenburg emphasized, is good for the brain. I brightened, thinking about my ice-cream sundae, and then she clarified that it needed to be certain kinds of fat: coconut oil and avacado oil are really good. Use peanut oil or coconut oil for stir fry.

All in all, it's pretty good news and follows common sense. Eat well and exercise. And drink a little red wine. And dance.

I heard recently from a blogger who's a veteran with cancer, and he thinks a lot about health issues with cancer. You can access his site at

1 comment:

  1. Mary - Thanks for sharing the advice and the inspiration. Juggling, walnuts and red wine when combined have to make for a wonderful day.


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