Different Types of Physical Activity Can Improve Brain Volume and Cut Alzheimer’s Risk

By Staff Sgt. Brian D. Lehnhardt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A new study shows that doing a variety of different physical activities from walking, gardening and dancing can increase brain volume and slash a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes problems with a person’s thinking, memory and behavior. It is the most common type of dementia. The symptoms of the disease will usually come on slowly and get worse with the progression of time, becoming severe enough to where an individual is unable to function on a daily basis.

The Study

The new study was done by researchers from UCLA Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh. It is the first to show that virtually any type of aerobic physical activity can improve brain structure and reduce a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The study was funded by the National Institute of Aging and the results were published in the March 11th, 2016 edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The team studied a long-term group of patients in a 30-year Cardiovascular Health Study, 876 in total, across four research sites in America. The study participants had longitudinal memory follow up, which also included standard questionnaires about their physical activity levels.

The research participants were an average of 78 years of age, also had MRI scans of the brain analyzed by advanced computer algorithms to measure volume of the brain structures, including those areas implicated in memory and Alzheimer’s such as the hippocampus. The physical activities done by the participants were correlated to the brain volumes and spanned over a wide variety of interests from gardening and dancing, to riding an exercise bicycle at the gymnasium. Weekly caloric output from these activities were summarized.

Lead study author, Cyrus A Raji., MD, PhD, of UCLA said, “This is the first study in which we have been able to correlate the predictive benefit of different kinds of physical activity with the reduction of Alzheimer’s risk through specific relationships with better brain volume in such a large sample.”

George Perry, PhD, Editor in Chief of Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, added” Currently the greatest promise in Alzheimer’s disease research is lifestyle intervention including increased exercise. Raji et al presented a landmark study that links exercise to increases in grey matter and opens the field of lifestyle intervention to objective biological measurement.”

Conclusion to the Study

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease currently affects 5.1 million Americans and is projected to rise to 13.8 million over the next 30 years.

Dr. Raji concluded the study by saying, “We have no magic bullet cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Our focus needs to be on prevention.”


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