Exercise can prevent Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain
Age is considered the #1 risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD). The pathological changes in the brain of a patient with AD include abnormal beta–amyloid deposition in plaques and neurofibrillary tangles resulting in neuronal loss and shrinkage of the brain. These changes, however, can be seen as early as 30 years before clinical symptoms occur but increase as we age.
As of yet there are not any drug or medical treatments that have been shown to prevent or reverse these changes in the brain of patients with AD. However, a recent study just published in the November 2014 issue of Neurology showed that exercise lessens these preclinical pathological biomarkers of AD.
Prior to this recent study, we had multiple studies that showed the following: (1) exercise can help to preserve memory as we age; (2) exercise has been shown to improve cognition in patients who already have Alzheimer’s and (3) exercise can improve brain volumes, most specifically, in the memory processing areas of the brain, the hippocampus. This is the first study that specifically looks at the pathological changes of AD resulting from exercise.
This study looked at late middle-aged adults (ages 40-65 at entry) who were cognitively normal but at high risk for AD. They investigated whether engagement in physical activity lessons age association alterations in beta-amyloid accumulation, cerebral glucose metabolism, hippocampal volume and cognitive function. Being physically active was based on the American Heart Association recommendation of 30 minute of moderate exercise 5 days a week.
The study found was that the physically active individuals had less beta-amyloid burden, improved glucose metabolism, hippocampal volume, immediate memory, and visuospatial ability compared to physically inactive persons. This study provides more confirmatory support to the many other studies that show the beneficial effect of physical activity on the aging brain.
Since physical exercise has been shown to improve cognition, improve brain volumes and now decrease the age related disease markers of AD what are you waiting for? There is so much we do not have control over in our lives, but this is not one of them. You have the power to get and keep your brain fit and, potentially, prevent AD. If you do not know where to start I would be happy to help find a program just for you.
Okonwo, O. e. (2014). Physical activity attenuates age-related biomarker alterations in preclinical AD. Neurology , 83, 1753-1760.