Regular exer­cise appears to slow the pro­gres­sion of Alzheimer’s in mid­dle-aged peo­ple at risk of the dis­ease, accord­ing to research pre­sented at the annual con­ven­tion of the American Psychological Association.

Ozioma Okonkwo, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of med­i­cine at the University of Wisconsin pre­sented results from sev­eral stud­ies, includ­ing one that fol­lowed 317 at-risk patients for years.

Many stud­ies show exer­cise helps increase blood flow to the brain, bring­ing needed oxy­gen and nutri­ents to all areas, includ­ing those that help sup­port the for­ma­tion of new mem­o­ries and the growth of new brain cells.- Carol Hahn, a com­mit­tee mem­ber for the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation

Although par­tic­i­pants over­all showed more phys­i­cal signs of Alzheimer’s, known as bio­mark­ers, as they aged, the effects were “sig­nif­i­cantly weaker” in older adults who engaged in the equiv­a­lent of at least 30 min­utes of mod­er­ate exer­cise five days a week.

Carol Hahn, a com­mit­tee mem­ber for the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, said the newest stud­ies con­firm the role of exer­cise in main­tain­ing a healthy brain.

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“Many stud­ies show exer­cise helps increase blood flow to the brain, bring­ing needed oxy­gen and nutri­ents to all areas, includ­ing those that help sup­port the for­ma­tion of new mem­o­ries and the growth of new brain cells called neu­rons,” Hahn, who is also a nurse, said.

“This increase in neu­rons is thought to lead to improve­ments in mem­ory, lan­guage abil­ity, and atten­tion while delay­ing the onset of cog­ni­tive decline,” she added.

Okonkwo and his col­leagues exam­ined 317 peo­ple enrolled in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, an ongo­ing obser­va­tional study of more than 1,500 peo­ple with a fam­ily his­tory of demen­tia.

Registrants were cog­ni­tively healthy and between the ages of 40 and 65 years at the time of enroll­ment. Researchers logged their ini­tial bio­log­i­cal, health and lifestyle fac­tors asso­ci­ated with the dis­ease and con­ducted fol­low-up assess­ments every two to four years.

All par­tic­i­pants answered ques­tions about their phys­i­cal activ­ity and under­went neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing and brain scans to mea­sure sev­eral bio­mark­ers asso­ci­ated with Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

The researchers com­pared data from indi­vid­u­als younger than 60 with older adults and found a decrease in cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties and an increase in bio­mark­ers in the older group. However, the effects were much weaker in seniors who engaged in reg­u­lar, mod­er­ate activ­ity.

“Being phys­i­cally active should be incor­po­rated through­out our lives,” Hahn said. “Meeting the rec­om­men­da­tions in the 2018 phys­i­cal activ­ity guide­lines for Americans can lead to improved cog­ni­tion, reduced risk of demen­tia (includ­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease) and many more long-term health ben­e­fits.”

Hahn added that she fre­quently col­lab­o­rates with clients to find some phys­i­cal activ­ity they enjoy, can rou­tinely do and will build into their lifestyles.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money, join a gym or take an orga­nized class,” Hahn said. “Do some­thing you enjoy — go for a walk, rake the leaves or play ten­nis with a friend. Learning a new skill and being socially active is also good for the brain.”




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