Don't Want Alzheimer's? Exercise Your Butt Off!

Do crossword puzzles.  Read the daily newspaper (blog?).  Exercise.

These have all been recommended to those who wish to try to ward off Alzheimer's.  But exercise is the number one solution, experts have been saying for some time.

Now a new study proves it even more.  According to Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times, "Exercise may help to keep the brain robust in people who have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to an inspiring new study. The findings suggests that even moderate amounts of physical activity may help to slow the progression of one of the most dreaded diseases of aging."

 About 100 people between 65 and 89 were recruited for the study, many with a family history of Alzheimer's, making them more vulnerable to this dreaded disease.

Reynolds notes that scientists have discovered in recent years that people who harbor a specific variant of a gene have a substantially increased risk of developing the disease.

Genetic testing among the volunteers in the new study determined that about half of the group carried the gene, although, at the start of the study, none showed signs of memory loss beyond what would be normal for their age. 

For some time, researchers have suspected that Alzheimer’s disease begins altering the structure and function of the brain years or even decades before the first symptoms appear. In fact, part of the brain -- the hippocampus, a portion of the brain critical for memory -- shrinks.

Here's where the good news comes in.  Then some studies began to suggest that exercise might affect the disease’s progression. A brain scan in 2011, for instance, conducted by some of the same researchers from the new study clinic, found that elderly people with the suspect gene who exercised regularly had significantly more brain activity during cognitive tests than people with the gene who did not exercise, suggesting that the exercisers’ brains were functioning better.

In the study, researchers asked participants how often and intensely they exercised. "About half, as it turned out, didn’t move much at all," Reynolds reports. But the other half walked, jogged or otherwise exercised moderately a few times every week.

Upon further study, the members of the group carrying the gene who did not exercise had undergone significant atrophy of their hippocampus. It had shrunk by about 3 percent, on average.  But those
 who regularly exercised, however, showed almost no shrinkage of their hippocampus. "Likewise, both groups of volunteers who did not carry the gene showed little change to their hippocampus," she notes.

In effect, the brains of physically active volunteers at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease looked just like the brains of people at much lower risk for the disease, she quotes Stephen M. Rao, a professor at the Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging at the Cleveland Clinic,which conducted the study.

Meanwhile, the brains of sedentary people at high risk appeared to be slipping, structurally, toward dysfunction.

Researchers aren't quite sure how exercise affects the brain when it comes to Alzheimer's.  But wouldn't you think it's a pretty good idea to get up out of your chair and move around, anyway?

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