Tia Powell MD

Dementia Reimagined

Some Things to Hate About the Super Bowl

Love the Super Bowl but hate the health message it sends? Here's what to do.

Posted Feb 03, 2019

OK, I'll admit it: I don't really hate the Super Bowl. It's fun to watch athletes who are great at what they do. It's fun to get together with friends and share in the excitement. Some of the ads are great, though some are irritating. But the Super Bowl is essentially our national day of celebrating everything that promotes dementia, and that I hate. What am I talking about? Here is my list of how the Super Bowl promotes dementia.

 Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum, Wikimedia Commons
Source: Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum, Wikimedia Commons

1. CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Football can cause this devastating brain disease through repeated concussions. Attempts to deny and obscure the connection have further tarnished the reputation of football and those who promote it. It's hard for me to see fine athletes crash into each other without wincing. Even with better training and attempts to limit the damage, football is a contact sport. It's impossible to completely protect the head from injury.

2. Sedentary pass-times. The athletes are on the field. One hundred million Americans are not; they are spending a day sitting, inside, watching other people exercise. If you want to slow down the development of cognitive decline, don't make this a habit. Spend your Sunday off the couch, walking, working out, or doing anything that gets you moving.

3. Snack time. Standard Super Bowl snacks promote the worst dietary choices Americans make. Salty, fatty, sugary. Lots of preserved and packaged items. Not a fresh fruit or vegetable in sight. A brave few try to introduce healthier snacks, but this can be dangerous to the chef and is generally greeted as a good way to ruin a great day. Traditional game-time snacks are the opposite of what you need to promote long-term cognitive health.

4. Daytime drinking. A modest amount of alcohol is consistent with a healthy lifestyle. Starting early and sticking with drinking all day is not. The Super Bowl only happens once a year, which is lucky. A weekly day of drinking is not safe for anyone. For women, safe amounts of daily alcohol intake are smaller than for men, even controlling for size. For women, a glass a day seems to be safe; more is not, especially on a regular basis.

So what to do if you love the Super Bowl but also care about your health? Watch the game if you want—it only happens once a year. But having watched it, double down on living right. Get out and move. Start this week to work off that sedentary Sunday, and find a way to exercise that you like and can make into a habit. Think about how you eat. Bring more fresh fruits and vegetables into your regular diet, and dial down on fried food, fats, salt and preserved items. Find out if you are at risk for diabetes—a simple blood test can tell you. Get your blood pressure checked. If you are overweight, work on it but don't obsess about the number. If you move more and eat better, both your heart and brain will thank you. Enjoy the big game, but make a resolution to fight and win the game of better health for your brain. That's worth celebrating.