Balancing My Brain on a 3-legged Stool: Keep that Blood Moving
Renovating an aging brain is one thing. Sadly, we have to do it with a brain that is supported by an aging body.
Eventually care for an aging brain becomes expanded, of necessity, to care for the whole body. What do you have to do to keep that brain not only ticking over but healthy enough to renew itself?
My previous research has convinced me that the most critical support the brain requires is oxygen-rich blood. Got to keep that heart and those lungs chugging along together to keep up the supply of around 3/4 of a litre of oxygenated blood every minute. The brain is only about 2% of total body weight but it needs 12% or more of the body's total blood supply. Brain cells are among the most sensitive in the body to the damaging effects of inadequate oxygen.
Recently that aging system began to let me down. Dare I say yet again? Have you ever noticed that living with an aging body is a lot like living with an aging house or an aging car? Seems like you're always having to fix one thing or another.
One day a few months ago I looked down and was startled to notice that my feet were not looking so lean and sinewy as usual. In fact they were beginning to look distinctly puffy.
To begin with I wasn't thinking about my brain at all. I was just worrying how I would get my feet into winter boots with heavy socks when the temperature started to drop. It reminded me of the bloating I experienced several years ago when I was in hospital for a few days and took on too much IV fluid. That swelling was so extreme it was humorous - elephant legs!
That's why I knew that my puffy feet could be cured by the simple diuretic pills I was prescribed back then. These are the so-called 'water' pills.
So off to my doctor to request some more 'water' pills. In a talk with her I learned the most likely cause of foot swelling these days is that my leg veins were getting just a bit tired after decades of heavy use. I started reading up on this new condition. I was a little horrified to learn that what I was experiencing is referred to as venous insufficiency.
Wow! the term venous insufficiency means pooling of blood in the lower extremities. That immediately raised images of blood having a hard time getting back to the heart and lungs. If it couldn't get back then it could not be refreshed and sent on to the brain. Starving my brain of oxygenated blood was a frightening thought!
The 'water pills' worked of course. But I became determined not to become dependent on them. After all, in my mind medications in general tend to become less effective with time. The body seems to become habituated to them. What would I do for my brain after the water pills stopped working?
What’s Happening Here?
I was forced to begin thinking through what was going on.
I had always been careless about the amount of salt in my diet. It makes so many foods so delicious and appealing. High salt content in the blood makes it harder for the kidneys to extract water. And that excess water was ending up in my feet.
I had to get that high salt down. The first and most obvious way was to reduce the amount of salt in my diet. Easier said than done, of course. But my wife was interested too and she could do a lot to help.
Another change was also worth a try. Increasing my daily water intake should help. The kidneys work to keep the level of water in the body at an optimum level. So drinking more water stimulates the kidneys to excrete more water into the urine. The result is the kidneys can 'flush' more salt out of my blood along with the excess water.
Assisting the Veins
Finally, I had to think about those aging leg veins themselves. To allow them to pump blood uphill they have an ingenious system of cup-shaped valves. The valves easily allow blood to flow upward and resist flow back down. When those valves get older they no longer do their job as well.
Fortunately the large muscles in the leg can act to help the leg veins. Each time they contract they kind of squish the leg veins, forcing blood upward. Muscle contraction helps those tired leg veins in their job of getting my blood back to the heart where it can do some good for the brain. Obviously more leg exercise every day was going to be part of the puffy feet solution.
In a nutshell, it worked (the shell of an unsalted nut, that is). I have taken no diuretics for months and my feet are once again trim, slim and ready for action; I call my system the 3-legged stool for brain support: a low sodium diet, a high daily fluid intake and lots of walking. And I’m pretty sure my brain is now more ready for action too.
How do you achieve a low sodium diet? Beyond the no brainer of not eating foods that have a high salt content, there’s lots of solid advice available online. My wife has been a genius at solving this one. She peers intently at that tiny print food manufacturers are required to include on their products. No food is accepted into our diet unless it has a low salt content. We eat more vegetables than ever. She performs daily mental arithmetic to ensure we ingest no more than 1200 mg of salt daily. Low salt cooking results in blander foods. But she has become a whiz at discovering safe sauces and savory dips. Those restore both taste and her considerable culinary prowess. She enjoys the challenge and she is feeling better on a low sodium diet as well.
Increased fluid intake? This was a tough one for me. It meant a big change in my daily habits. I have never been a big water drinker. I think I have probably spent most of my life in a slightly dehydrated state. Here's what I have to do now. I have a couple of oversize mugs. One is actually a beer mug I think. One has a capacity of 400 ml and the other holds 450 ml. At regular times throughout the day I fill one or the other and drink it down. The total adds an additional 2 litres (about half a gallon) to my diet daily. This will not seem like a lot to some of you. But it’s a struggle for me. That extra two litres is the hardest leg of my puffy feet cure. Thank goodness it works.
Increased exercise? I always thought I got enough using an exercise bike. I could easily achieve the recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise. Clearly however, new measures were called for. My wife and I took on a new, widely recommended challenge - 10,000 steps a day. And we've been doing it too. It helps to pay careful attention to pedometers. And we are supported all the way by an eager little dog who just loves going out for five walks a day. That makes for a total of about an hour and a half of daily walking. His company makes all that walking fun.
Dig Deeper Into This Topic
10,000 steps a day:
22 Proven Ways to Increase Brain Blood Flow: https://www.optimallivingdynamics.com/blog/21-proven-ways-to-increase-brain-blood-flow
Boost Your Blood Flow, Get Your Memory Back: https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/memory-rescue-blood-flow/
How To Increase Blood Flow To The Brain: https://bebrainfit.com/increase-blood-flow-brain/
Low sodium diet: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000109.htm
Venous insufficiency: https://www.drugs.com/cg/venous-insufficiency.html