The rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia are estimated to double every 20 years. On average a person is diagnosed with dementia every 3.2 seconds. In the face of such sobering statistics a new study offers some hope; it suggests that physically active people are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have no magic bullet cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Our focus needs to be on prevention.”– Cyrus A. Raji, MD, PhD, UCLA
Can Exercise Prevent Alzheimer’s?
The research was conducted by UCLA Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh. It involved 876 Americans with an average age of 78 at the end of the trial. The subjects underwent MRI scans and performed cognitive tests periodically over five years. They were also surveyed on how much time they spent in physical activity, to gauge each person’s weekly calorie expenditure.
Analyzing the data showed that being more physically active was correlated with larger brain volumes in the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. Significantly, this includes the hippocampus, which plays an important role in consolidating information from short-term to long-term memory. The hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to be damaged from Alzheimer’s disease.
It didn’t matter what form the exercise took, simply burning calories helped people to grow more grey matter in their brains. A lot of the exercise taken was gentle and aerobic in nature, such as swimming, gardening, walking, dancing and golfing. The active participants cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in half. Roughly a quarter of the total participants showed symptoms of mild cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s, but these too showed increased brain volume from exercise.
“Our study is one of the largest to examine the relationship between physical activity and cognitive decline, and the results strongly support the notion that staying active maintains brain health.” -Dr. James T. Becker, Pitt School of Medicine
This was not the first study to find a possible link between exercise and Alzheimer’s, but it is one of the largest. Dementia tends to strike at an age where we begin to slow down and become less active. While the study does not prove that exercise can protect your brain, it does show a strong correlation.
Exercise is probably the closest thing we have to a magic bullet for a myriad of conditions. And we don’t have to wait until our seventies to start! However, to be safe, you should always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime and always introduce more physical activity gradually.
Must read: Want more tips on how to keep you brain in tip-top condition as you age? Read The Aging Brain
Alzheimer’s Disease Quick Facts
Globally, nearly 47 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
This figure is set to double every 20 years
It is most common in Western Europe and North America.
Nearly two thirds of sufferers are women
One third of Americans aged 85 or older have the disease