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Do I Run or Sleep?

David Yon, October 31, 2017

Sunday, November 5th, at 4:30, we kick off Turkey Trot season with the Rex Cleveland Magic! Mile. It is a fast, downhill mile with a fun GWTC social waiting at the end. Rex Cleveland battled memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease, in addition to cancer, his last few years. He was the editor of the GWTC Newsletter for many years and an active runner for most of that time. Sunday’s run and social time is a salute to Rex and a chance to support the Alzheimer’s Project, Inc. It seems that no one escapes the impact of Alzheimer’s Disease now. But anyone who knew Rex would know, he would be mighty happy to see a crowd still celebrating his life with a good downhill mile race and social afterwards.

As I researched this week’s topic - Alzheimer’s, one thing was driven home with a sledge hammer – healthy life styles make a difference.  Time and again we see that while nothing provides complete immunity from the body’s malfunctions, a healthy lifestyle does improve the chances of a healthy life enormously. As scientists learn more about diseases and the impact of life style choices, there is more reason to believe there are ways to reduce the number and severity of many of the diseases that cause some of the greatest suffering and disruption in human life.  This time there were two fundamentals consistently showing up in this equation – sleep and exercise. Nowhere does this seem more interesting than when examining the impact of both on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. It is fascinating to see the developing body of research which supports the idea that good sleep and good exercise lead to better odds for good health. Makes you wonder some mornings which is the better choice – sleep a little longer or go for that run. (With a 4:30p.m. start you don’t have to choose for the Magic! Mile.

The scientific connection between “lack of sleep” and “unhealthy life style” is growing stronger these days. How many people do you know who get adequate amounts of sleep?  Well, the drum beat for sleeping 8 hours a night is getting louder and faster.  Mark Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks 8 is a good number, but in a recent radio interview he defined sleep deficiency as 6 hours or less. This sleep deficiency is associated with problems in concentration, memory and the immune system, and may even shorten life span.  And yes, there is growing evidence that a lack of sleep can leave the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease. "Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep (especially deep sleep), Iliff explains. And, at least among research on animals that don't get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.  The links may not be quite as strong with Parkinson’s as Alzheimer’s but they are there as well.

Mark Walker took dead aim at one of my favorite maxims – “I will sleep when I die,” when he noted after reading it, that "Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep."  It appears to be a good formula for dying early. Good scientists know, however, to ask the question whether it is sleep that leads to these diseases or the diseases that lead to lack of sleep.  The answer though is not always clear.
But before you decide to give up your morning exercise for a little extra sleep, consider the more exciting findings about the beneficial impact of exercise on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  The evidence is mounting fast that Physical Activity and Physical Exercise (defined as a more vigorous physical activity) have a positive effect on fighting these two diseases.  Study after study is now showing that physical exercise is a powerful instrument for slowing the de­cline in physical and cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Reductions in depressive symptoms and even mortality have been reported in dementia patients involved in PE pro­grams. Improvements in cognitive function were associated with improvements in postural and motor functions in exer­cise trials. (from Neurobiology of Disease, Volume 57, September of 2013).  There is a lot more related to Parkinson’s too – maybe that will show in a future column. I certainly can talk from firsthand experience. When I hear “neuroprotector,” I get excited.  While the studies are primarily in animals, they suggest that vigorous exercise remains a strong treatment regimen.

The mile race starts at 4:30 p.m. and runs from Golf Terrace Drive in Myers Park down to the Cascades Trail Bridge Crossing and finishes along FAMU Way next to Railroad Square.  You have plenty of time to sleep; and no excuse not to run. Participants are encouraged to wear whatever part of their Halloween costumes they want.  Register on Eventbrite. More information at under the link for Rex Cleveland Magic! Mile.  Or you can mail me at