Physical Activity Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk

Physical activity is essential for maintaining good blood flow to the brain, and a new groundbreaking studyshows that even moderate amounts may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’sdisease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline. It is a neurodegenerative disease, which means there is progressive brain cell death that happens slowly over time. The disease can strike anyone.
New Evidence
Previous researchhas found that older adults who engage in regular physical activity have increased blood flow to the brain and improved memory. In the new study, scientists took a closer look at brain structureto find out if exercise could slow the progression of the brain shrinkage that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It is thought that the disease silently increases the rate at which the hippocampus, the part of your brain involved in memory processing, atrophies. While some brain shrinkage is a natural part of aging, in people with Alzheimer’s disease this process is greatly accelerated.
For the study, researchers recruited almost 100 older men and women, aged 65 to 89. The researchers were specifically investigating the effect of physical activity on adults who had a high genetic risk for developing the disease. Genetic testing among the participants determined that about half of the group carried the specific gene, APOE epsilon4 allele or the e4 gene for short.
In the study scientists divided the volunteers into four groups based on their e4 status and exercise habits. One group included those people with the e4 gene who did not exercise; a second group consisted of those with the e4 gene who did exercise; and the other two groups consisted of those without the gene who did or did not exercise regularly.
The scientists then did brain scans on each volunteer focusing on the hippocampus. They repeated the scans again at the end of 18 months.
The results after just this brief period of time were startling: The volunteers with the e4 gene who did not exercise showed significant shrinkage of the hippocampus. On average, this area of the brain shrunk by 3 percent! However, in the people with the e4 gene who did exercise regularly there was almost no brain shrinkage. The volunteers who did not carry the gene and who did or did not exercise showed little change to the hippocampus.
How exercise was protecting the brains of the people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease remains unclear. What is clear is that exercise is protective for the brain and counteracts some of the negative effects of the e4 gene. The researchers emphasize that while many of us do not carry the e4 gene, everyone has some chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Exercise and Your Brain
According to the researchers, exercise is one of the most promising non-pharmacological treatments to improve brain health. Aerobic exercise improves the amount of oxygen you consume, which improves blood flow to the brain and helps to prevent brain cell loss. In addition, physical activities that involve mental activity like planning a walking route or making choices, improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking function.
If you have not exercised for some time, check with your healthcare provider before starting any new physical activity. If you are healthy enough to exercise, choose activities that are suitable and enjoyable. Local community or sports centers often provide a range of organized exercise and physical activity sessions such as tai chi, swimming, and dance. Walking, gardening and housework are also good forms of exercise.
If exercise can reduce your risk for developing this devastating disease, why not make a commitment to get up and get active.