Regular exercise has already been linked to a number of health benefits, and now there’s new evidence that exercise can actually help prevent Alzheimer’s and improve cognition in people who already have the disease.
One study, which was presented at the July 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International conference, showed that people with Alzheimer’s can reduce some of the symptoms of the disease and improve mental processing through regular exercise.
The study involved 200 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; participants were divided into one group that engaged in a 16-week exercise program and one group that didn’t exercise regularly. After a brief phase-in period, participants in the active group exercised for an hour three times a week, getting their heart rates up to 70 to 80% of their maximum (considered a moderate to intense activity level). At the end of the 16 weeks, participants in the exercise group exhibited less anxiety, irritability, and depression--and better cognition--than those in the sedentary group.
Another recent study examined the effects of regular exercise on older adults with mild cognitive impairment and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Participants in this study were divided into a group that performed simple stretching exercises and a group that exercised at 70 to 80% maximum heart rate for 30 to 45 minutes four times a week. Looking at participants’ cognitive function tests, brain imaging, and levels of Alzheimer’s proteins, researchers found that those in the rigorous exercise group improved the flow of blood to the parts of the brain responsible for memory and higher mental processing, which allowed them to perform better on the cognition tests. Researchers also found that those in the exercise group experienced a slight decrease in the protein associated with Alzheimer’s.
These new studies are highly encouraging, as they suggest that it is possible to combat Alzheimer’s in people who are at high risk for developing the disease and those who have already been diagnosed with the condition. Currently, Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 5.3 million Americans of all ages and is the 6th leading cause of death in our country. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is the only cause of death in the top 10 that cannot yet be prevented, cured, or slowed. If researchers continue to study the effects of exercise and encourage people with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment to participate in regular rigorous activities, the prognosis for Alzheimer’s could dramatically improve.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and medications used to manage Alzheimer’s visit our Aging Conditions Page.