Preventing Alzheimer’s

For May’s cover story, I wrote about Southern Illinois University’s efforts to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Brent Bohlen, a retired state worker and current exercise enthusiast, is an unlikely person to be speaking to doctors at a high-level conference on Alzheimer’s disease held this month at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. But several of those researchers say he may have discovered an effective form of prevention against the devastating illness.

Bohlen is leading the racewalking movement in Springfield, and has trained more than 100 people in the sport. Racewalking is an official Olympic sport which involves walking at a brisk pace without lifting both feet off the ground at the same time. Last summer, 40 residents formed an official racewalking club, with 15 participating in half-marathons this spring. Some club members were sedentary a year ago, he says.

Bohlen has been an athlete since he joined the junior high track team at the tender age of eight. So when bad knees forced him to give up basketball in his early 50s, Bohlen sought a new low-impact workout in form of racewalking.

“There’s no reason what’s happening in Springfield couldn’t happen anywhere,” he says. “We just need to get the word out.”

Bohlen became interested in racewalking after discovering it didn’t bother his knees, reading the book Younger Next Year and attending the Illinois Senior Olympics.

“The confluence of these events changed the way I look at exercise,” Bohlen explains. “Then they began to change my life, and now they’re changing the lives of others in Springfield and elsewhere.”

Bohlen authored the book Boomerwalk, published last March as a guide to racewalking for aging baby boomers. Like the authors of Younger Next Year, he wanted to assure his generation that physical fitness is still possible during aging.

“I used to think that once you hit about 50, you just hit a physical decline and there’s nothing you can do about,” he says. “But with the proper exercise, you can stay at a high physical level until your 80s and beyond.”

Bohlen told his story at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s third annual Alzheimer’s Disease Conference May 11. The conference, hosted by SIU’s Center for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders, stressed that healthy living is a key to preventing Alzheimer’s, dementia and other health problems.

For the full story, click here.

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