Study finds exercise can guard against dementia.
Physical activity may be the key to slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
New research has found that high levels of exercise protects against the cognitive decline and brain tissue loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital found that high levels of daily physical activity help to slow the pathological process whereby Alzheimer’s develops, a process called b-amyloid (Ab)-related cortical thinning. Exercise may also help in preserving gray matter (brain matter) in regions of the brain that Alzheimer’s affects.
In addition, the study found lowering vascular risk factors may offer additional protection.
“One of the most striking findings from our study was that greater physical activity not only appeared to have positive effects on slowing cognitive decline, but also on slowing the rate of brain tissue loss over time in normal people who had high levels of amyloid plaque in the brain,” said the study’s head author Jasmeer Chhatwal.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia; it affects up to 70 per cent of all people with dementia. There is not yet a cure. Dementia is the single biggest cause of disability in Australians aged 65 or older. Almost half a million Australians are living with the disease in 2019.
In this longitudinal study, researchers worked with 182 ‘clinically normal’ participants from the Harvard Aging Brain study over a period of eight years. The average age of the participants was 73. Some of the participants had been deemed at high risk of cognitive decline.
All participants underwent baseline and follow-up testing. This included Aβ positron emission tomography data, medical data to determine vascular risk and MRI data. The researchers also measured cognitive abilities every year.
Researchers monitored the participants’ physical activity with pedometers to count steps.
“Beneficial effects were seen at even modest levels of physical activity, but were most prominent at around 8,900 steps, which is only slightly less than the 10,000 many of us strive to achieve daily,” said study co-author Reisa Sperling.
The results showed that greater physical activity helped protect against the processes associated with cognitive decline and neurodegeneration (brain tissue loss). This was also the case for people without symptoms or previous risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
The study’s conclusion notes: “These findings suggest that engaging in physical activity and lowering vascular risk may have additive protective effects on delaying the progression of Alzheimer disease.”
This study represents more evidence that exercise is beneficial throughout life, especially for the elderly. It’s never too late to take charge of your health.
Rabin, J.S. et al (2019.) ‘Associations of Physical Activity and β-Amyloid With Longitudinal Cognition and Neurodegeneration in Clinically Normal Older Adults.’
JAMA Neurol. Published online July 16, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.1879