Researchers have found that regular exercise is effective and more beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients than conventional drugs. The results from a study carried out by Dr Carson Smith at Maryland University in the US found encouraging results when exercise was carried out to the maximum physical level. Walking for 150 minutes a week at a pace high enough to make you perspire, raise your heart rate, but not too intense that you can’t hold a conversation, will offer significant benefits to your brain function.
Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “While there is currently no way to prevent dementia, the best evidence shows that regular exercise, along with eating a healthy diet, not smoking and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in check can help lower your risk.”
The researchers put people aged 60 to 88 on a programme of moderate exercise and after 12 weeks’ study the participants improved their neural efficiency, which means they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task. One of the first visible signs of Alzheimer’s is the inability to remember familiar names. So the participants were asked to identify famous people such as Frank Sinatra while researchers measured their brain activity.
The findings suggest that exercise could reduce the need for patients to overstress the brain while trying to remember something. The scans taken afterwards showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in 11 regions while participants correctly identified famous names. Those with improved neural efficiency also showed improvements in specific areas of the brain linked to Alzheimer’s.
Dr Smith said: “People with mild cognitive impairment are on a very sharp decline in their memory function so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction.”
The study is encouraging news for those who are looking for something simple they can do to help preserve brain function. Dr Smith has plans for a larger and longer study that would include more participants including those who are healthy but have a genetic risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s. His researchers hope to learn more about the impact of exercise on brain function and whether it can, in fact, delay the onset or progress of dementia. Dr Phipps said: “This small study provides a possible clue about one way in which exercise may benefit the brain. Although this research does not show that exercise can prevent dementia, further investigation to confirm these results and assess the long-term effects on the brain would be worthwhile”.
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