I have had a number of posts over the years on the importance of diet and exercise and their beneficial effect in helping to avoid medical issues or just in being healthy. This one is back to the healthy effects of physical activity in actually reducing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research presented at the last meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association showed a direct link between regular exercise and an improvement in blood flow as well as reduction in the amyloid and tau levels in the brain that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s erosion of cognitive function. All of this works to not only stave off the debilitating cognitive impact of Alzheimer’s disease, but other forms of vascular dementia as well.
Every 67 seconds in America, another person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, so how can exercise help in warding off this condition? Research reported by scientists in Perth, Australia, followed individuals and their “brain amyloid load,” a measure which increases with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. They grouped these patients into two types based upon level of exercise. The exercise group was comprised of those who exercised 150 minutes or more a week, and the low exercise group was those individuals who reported fewer minutes of exercise weekly.
Overall, there no differences in amyloid between the two groups, but when researchers looked specifically to those who had the genetic potential for Alzheimer’s, they found that those with this genetic marker in the low exercise group were significantly higher in their levels of brain amyloid. As they more closely examined both exercise groups across those with and those without the markers, it appeared that those who exercised more were able to slow the accumulation of amyloid despite having the genetic predisposition. All of this is preliminary information, and it is yet to be seen if exercise can really delay the ultimate onset of Alzheimer’s among people who have the genes that predispose them to the condition…or for how long and by how much. It also is yet to be determined what kind of exercise may be most beneficial, but it appears that cardiovascular exercise may show the most promise.
One physician at the conference also adds that so far there are no side effects from exercise which is a lot more than can be said of most FDA-approved medications for cognitive impairment. That this kind of rigorous exercise also manages blood sugar levels is an additional benefit, but the lower blood sugar levels may also be reducing another risk factor for reduced cognitive ability – reducing risk for type 2 diabetes. There is more “lifestyle” research in motion, so please stay tuned…more to come. These early results show real promise.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.