Eat Well, Keep Healthy and Stave off Dementia

That time of year again! I know I traditionally give out a few detox ideas to repair part of the hangover and over indulgence damage you may have inflicted on yourself over the holidays; however this year I thought I would use a different angle. Instead of just giving some detox ideas which I know some of you may quickly forget before slipping back into your bad habits, maybe you could actually keep up the good work all year round? What if I told you that you can not only be more healthy but also improve your chances of staving off the onset of dementia? Maybe you can live with those extra kilo’s around your midriff and resign yourself to accepting those growing bags under your eyes as part of your faces character; but what about dementia? I suspect it is something you have not thought too much about or something you are just too worried to think about, perhaps as you have witnessed a family member or a friend descend into its dignity stealing clutches?

Black and White older person
Photo by Neil Moralee

Like a vast array of ailments Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is strongly linked to lifestyle. This is actually new thinking because until recently dementia was viewed as a disease mostly independent of lifestyle. Doctors believed that people marked out for the condition would in all likelihood develop it come what may. New evidence now suggests that this is only true for the relatively few people who do carry an increased predisposition for the disease in their genes. Most cases of dementia are not like this. The report from a landmark study, carried out over 35 years at Cardiff University in the UK concluded that lifestyle changes can ultimately make a big difference. The results showed that non-smokers who kept their weight down, took exercise, ate well and drank sensibly had a 60% drop in dementia and cognitive decline. The study of 2500 people also concluded that there were 70% fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Doug Brown, who is the Director of the Alzheimer’s Society, recently said: “What’s emerging is that what is good for your heart, in terms of lifestyle, is also good for your head… … The prize is significant. If we can delay the average age of onset of Alzheimer’s by five years it would reduce patient numbers by a third.” I don’t know about you but if I am destined to get it that extra 5 years of lucidity would be well worth the small sacrifice needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Getting your Five a Day is a good start but also try and think of the quality of those five portions of fruit and vegetables. I know it is not always easy in our busy lives to take time to consider the benefits of each individual portion. If it is in stock at your local supermarket it’s got to be healthy… right? No not always. Here I am not just arguing the benefits of organic over non-organic. There is now a rapid economic-evolution in the type of fruit and vegetables that are available to us – especially from the supermarket giants. They know that most people prefer slightly sweeter varieties as opposed to the perhaps slightly bitter varieties of days gone by. Take the humble grapefruit. As a kid I was never too fussed with them until one day instead of the usual white variety I tasted a pink one. It was a lot sweeter and only about half as bitter so the next time I saw both varieties in the shops I naturally opted for the pink over the traditional. I was aware that people put forward the grapefruit as something healthy to eat but I, like most of us had no idea that it was the very bitterness of the fruit that made them so healthy to eat.

A variety of grapefruit
Photo by Woodleywonderworks

To most supermarkets increasing sweetness by breeding out the bitterness in things like brussel sprouts, broccoli and fruits like grapefruit is a great idea because they sell more product. However, there is a cost. When scientists talk about the healthiness of these types of fruit and veg and in things like green tea, dark chocolate and red wine it is that bitterness in these things, in the form of chemicals called phytonutriants that gives them their health benefits. Phytonutriants are toxic in large doses but in normal doses they are very healthy. Naringen is the phytonutriant found in white grapefruit, which has proven anti inflammatory and anti ulcer properties. It can also reduce the growth of breast cancer cells and help beat cervical cancer. Yes the ever sweeter pink variety still contains some naringen but it has much less and it is reduced even further with every new generation of grapefruits specially bred to lean towards sweetness instead of bitterness.

Happy New Year to all of you – Eat well and stay healthy!


After Writing that Novel: What Now?

Once again I find myself in that twilight world between books or as someone who occasionally mixes his metaphors just to annoy: in that no-man’s land. It is an odd place, a place you have looked forward to arriving at for several months if not years; a place where you thought you would feel the shackles of the project you have been encased in quickly fall away. And yet, in that lightness of spirit as your final draft is batted back and forward between you and your editor, something else arrives. Instead of the nagging guilt you get when you stop working deep in the process of either creating – sometimes before you have even delivered your last book – an odd malaise begins to descend. This uneasiness comes quietly. At first, whispering in your ear like a lover waking you from slumber but soon it begins to hector you, politely at first, until before you know it, it is screaming across a room full of people at you: What Now!? You need to write, get writing, if you don’t start writing soon then you are no longer a writer, you are in danger of becoming that midwife of a million good intentions and still born books: a Procrastinator.

Don’t I deserve a break? Now I have stopped teasing and tweaking my last story like a plate-spinner, who has kept a few dozen plates spinning precariously aloft for years – am I not entitled to a rest? Am I not entitled to that final thrill of stopping and letting the crockery smash all around me? A reasonable answer, when the sun is streaming through my window and the last of my pomegranates are waiting in the garden to be picked is: yes of course you are. But at 4am, that annoying time that drags me from sleep far too often nowadays, the answer is less forgiving, less accommodating, less reasonable. You could stop but: You may forget that other story – you know the one you promised to consider; or, you could stop but, you might lose that drive and never write again; or, you could stop but… Welcome to the duel world of the fiction writer.

In the end it’s about trust of course, trusting yourself. Although the infuriating voice, that subconscious noise that declares it knows you better than you know yourself may be entitled to worry – it is after all the voice of the epic struggle that got you off your ass and into writing in the first place – it is not always right. In its over compensation of not allowing you a moments peace to slip out of the hard built habit of telling a story, it can also become a hindrance or even a danger. For where do the new ideas come from if you are always immersed in a story? Yes ideas do come but they have little chance to take root, as more often than not they are jotted down and put in your own little slush-pile to sift through at a later date, a later date that all too often never comes if you immediately flick from one project to the next.

Reality and the now is something that needs a little time, a little respect if we are once again to become the truly blank canvas we need to become in order to start building our new story, our tale from nothing upon. A Blood Red Moon has taken me almost 4 years to write and in that time many things have happened: friends have come and gone or more sadly died, wars have started and ended but all too often everything was subservient to the story that filled my head every morning. Although I love the story I’ve created (and hope you will to!) the fact it was set a century ago, meant my own reality has been skewed beyond what writing something more contemporary may have done. I took breakfast and walked every morning then spent the next 4 or 5 hours in an unfolding drama from a hundred years ago. Then I would have lunch and try and switch back to the present although not always successfully. Sometimes, perhaps in company or at the pub, the talk may be of politics or football or the tittle-tattle of a small village but my thoughts far too often drifted back to half forgotten wars and the family drama’s of my long dead characters, who were just as alive for me as if they were sitting beside me. Such is the schizophrenic lot of a writer.

Maya Angelou quote

The answer, my answer perhaps not yours, is to ignore that guilt inducing voice and to just get right away from myself and any familiar surroundings. Then, and only then can something new be conceived, something new and exciting can be born. I say exciting because whatever you decide upon must not only sustain you in those first exciting weeks of creativity, when the story rushes onto the page but it must also be still worth persevering with many months or even years later, when you’re quite sick of hearing the story and the voices of even your most interesting characters. My last story was born during a grand tour of South America. I am hopeful my next one can be born in the sunshine of my approaching winter trip to south east Asia. If not then perhaps my hectoring conscience will have be proven right all along. Perhaps my writing days are at an end. Then what? Back to sculpting or painting… possibly. Maybe living in one reality, instead of two would be nice for a change. But do writers ever really retire? Yes we can stop writing but what happens when your nagging voice turns up one day with another fresh and exciting idea? As the late Maya Angelou once said:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Happy Holidays and good luck to you all in 2016. I hope those of you who are still looking finally do find your muse.