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"Exercise Your Mind, Defend Against Alzheimer's

Exercise and Alzheimer

We all know the typical benefits of exercise: losing weight, lowering your risk for chronic diseases, and keeping your muscles, joints, and bones strong. But what many do not realize is that working out can provide more than just physical advantages. Physical activity can actually improve aspects of your brain health, including cognition and your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. This article will discuss the link between exercise and Alzheimer’s disease risk.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia is a condition characterized by a decrease in cognitive functioning, resulting in memory loss. Common brain functions that you utilize every day, such as recalling information, thinking, and reasoning, decline with dementia. Alzheimer’s represents the most common cause of dementia, making up between 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

While older age is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, it can occur in younger individuals. These cases are defined as early-onset Alzheimer’s. With time, Alzheimer’s disease worsens. While in the beginning memory loss may be minimal, it can progress to a stage where an individual cannot perform daily activities and requires care. Individuals with Alzheimer’s typically live four to eight years after initial diagnosis but may live longer in some cases (1).

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Two drug treatments are available that may slow progression of symptoms, benefiting both the patient and their caregivers (1). However, the efficacy of these treatments is limited, representing an unmet need within the Alzheimer’s community. The good news, though, is that some risk factors for Alzheimer’s are preventable, and certain lifestyle changes may protect against the development of cognitive decline. One of these includes physical activity, which will be discussed further in this article.

The benefits of physical activity

Regular exercise is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. It has benefits in both the short-term and long-term, providing a great way to maintain your wellness. These advantages include:

These are some of the most well-known benefits of physical activity, but what many might not realize is how exercise can support your brain health. In fact, working out can improve thinking, cognition, learning, and judgement. It can also reduce feelings of anxiety while lowering your general risk for anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems (2).

The link between Alzheimer’s risk and physical activity

Knowing that regular physical activity can provide cognitive benefits in the short-term has left many wondering about its long-term effects on cognition. The good news is that working out regularly is one of the best ways to lower your risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (3). Exercise can support cognition throughout your life, even in individuals with existing Alzheimer’s disease.

Mid-life exercise

Working out in middle-age can have profound effects on your risk for cognitive decline. An analysis of 22 studies demonstrated that routine physical activity lowered one’s risk of dementia by 30 percent and one’s risk for Alzheimer’s by 45 percent. Another study assessing greater than 2,000 men over a period of 35 years demonstrated that exercise had the most profound effect on lowering risk of dementia compared to other interventions such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a proper diet, low alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking (4).

Late-life exercise

If you are older in age, there is also evidence suggesting that physical activity later in life can also lower your risk of Alzheimer’s. One study found that individuals in the lowest 10 percent in terms of physical activity were twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s compared to those in the top 10 percent. Other studies have found that physical activity is correlated with less brain shrinkage and increased cognitive performance in older adults who exercised (4).

Exercise in existing Alzheimer’s disease

It is clear from research that physical activity can help prevent Alzheimer’s, but what about for those with existing Alzheimer’s? Several studies have sought to answer this question. One trial evaluated over one hundred patients with mild to severe Alzheimer’s disease. Some patients were treated with an exercise program involving two hours a week of walk, balance, strength, and flexibility training. Results indicated that those in the exercise program demonstrated slower rates of decline with regards to activities of daily living (ADL) (4). Experts postulate that the reasoning behind this is that exercise improves blood flow and neurogenesis (formation of new brain neurons) while increasing hippocampal volume (an area of the brain implicated in memory). Additionally, physical activity has lower side effects and increased adherence compared with medication (5).

Conclusion

You may have felt the short-term cognitive benefits of exercise after getting a good workout in, such as decreased anxiety. But research shows that these benefits extend beyond just the present, as physical activity can actually lower your risk of cognitive decline. If you are serious about improving your brain health and preventing Alzheimer’s disease, consider integrating exercise into your daily and weekly routine.

References

  1. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm#:~:text=Being%20physically%20active%20can%20improve,activity%20gain%20some%20health%20benefits.
  3. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/physical-exercise
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17302650/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7113559/
Author
David Bauder David J. Bauder, PA-C David Bauder, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant and the assistant medical director at Weight Loss and Vitality in Manassas and Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, DC; and Gaithersburg, MD. He enjoys helping patients optimize their physical and mental health to improve their overall well-being. He earned his physician assistant degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Afterward, he gained admission into the reputable graduate program for physician assistant studies at the University of Nebraska Health Science Center in Omaha. David has over 26 years of experience working as a physician assistant. He’s practiced in podiatry, family medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery, urgent care, and functional medicine.

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