Ann Romney knows all too well just how important exercise is in maintaining proper neurological health. The former Massachusetts First Lady was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. To help others battling with neurologic diseases, she’s teaming up with Maria Shriver’s Move for Minds event at Boston’s Equinox Sports Club to promote brain and body fitness, as well as to raise funds for the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.
Romney will lead an intimate panel discussion on the topic with lifestyle and health experts at the event, which will also include a special fitness class aimed at improving the mind and body through cardio workouts and meditation. A marketplace will be on site as well, where attendees can learn more about brain healthy nutrition.
We chatted with Mitt Romney’s better half about this weekend’s event, plus how she used exercise to treat her MS.
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The goal of the workout class is to spark neural activity. How important is exercise when it comes to brain health?
I found maintaining a regular exercise schedule has been a huge benefit to my health. The class at the event is designed to challenge your brain to figure out and learn new movement patterns to stimulate neuro transmitters in the brain. Enhancing this with cardio vascular exercise either separately or in conjunction, increases oxygen and blood flow supply to the brain, speeding cognitive function.
How did exercise play a role in your treatment process?
When first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, I didn’t have the energy to open the mail much less exercise. After undergoing treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the disease and my symptoms subsided, but I still didn’t feel well. Only through physical activity did I find renewed strength and energy. I had to start slowly but as the days passed, I could do more and more. Exercise made all the difference in my recovery.
The fundraising efforts will benefit programs focused on fighting women’s Alzheimer’s. Do you feel like that disease isn't discussed as much in the context of women suffering from it?
Maria has been at the forefront on the issue of women and Alzheimer’s. While it was her father who was diagnosed, the more she investigated and learned about this fatal disease, the more aware she became that Alzheimer’s seemed to disproportionately impact women. What was an instinct on her part at first now has considerable scientific backing. We do not know why women are at increased risk for getting this disease, but researchers now know it’s more than just the fact that they live longer.
The health sector is obviously a big part of Boston. What are your thoughts on area institutions and their efforts in combating these types of diseases?
The work being done in and around Boston to further research and advancements in the neurologic disease space is truly amazing. I am especially proud of the team working under the leadership of Howard L. Weiner, MD, and Dennis J. Selkoe, MD, at the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In October 2014, Brigham and Women’s Hospital launched the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, a global collaboration in medical research to accelerate treatment, prevention and cures for five of the world’s most complex and devastating neurologic diseases: multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease and brain tumors. More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from these neurologic diseases. In the fall of 2016, the center was relocated to the new Building for Transformative Medicine, which brings leading clinicians and scientists together under one roof to collaborate, provide outpatient care, conduct sophisticated imaging tests, and perform research.
Is there anything you hope people take away from Move for Minds?
I want people who suffer from neurologic diseases to know that there is hope. Genetics are not your destiny. There are lifestyle choices you can make now that can protect your brain as you grow older. Move for Minds will explore many of those lifestyle choices, we hope many will join us in this journey.
If you go:
June 4, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., Equinox Sports Club, 4 Avery St., Boston, thewomensalzheimersmovement.org