Increasing Physical Activity may Help Elderly From Developing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: Study

According to a study led by Rush University Medical Centre, those elderly who perform more than average daily movement are able to maintain a much stronger memory and thinking abilities than the people who show less physical activity even though if they are experiencing any biomarkers or indications of dementia. These movements can include various exercises and other physical activities. The study got published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology on January 16, 2019.

Dr. Aron S. Buchman, lead author and professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush University Medical Center said: “We measured levels of physical activity in study participants an average of two years prior to their deaths, and then examined their donated brain tissue after death, and found that a more active lifestyle may have a protective effect on the brain,” said “People who moved more had better thinking and memory skills compared to those who were more sedentary and did not move much at all.”

As per the researchers, the daily movement can help the patients to develop a cognitive reserve which in turn aids them in maintaining good memory and thinking skills even though when they are facing some manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.

Comparison of the Data for 454 Adults

For carrying out the study, 454 elderly were selected out of which only 191 were suffering from dementia. For the analysis, all the patients were asked to perform several physical and memory based tests to depict their health for consecutive 20 years. For further research, the participants agreed on the agreement of donating their brain after the death of an average age of 91.

Approximately before 2 years of their death, researchers from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center asked them to give attendance of their activity through an accelerometer. This small wrist device had the capability to note even the smallest activity like brisk walking to vigorous exercise all day. According to the analysis of the study, stronger thinking and memory was linked to a greater amount of daily activities. Also, the study showed that people who have better motor skills were linked to having better thinking and memory skills. The motor skills are linked to a good response to coordination and movement.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “What’s fascinating about this research is that it suggests physical activity might not slow down dementia related changes in the brain, but could help the brain cope with these changes.”

“Exercise might help by strengthening the connections between brain-cells – referred to as cognitive reserve – which makes our brain more resilient to the changes that cause cognitive decline. The link between exercising and lowering your risk is becoming more and more established, but the question we need to answer now is how to help people incorporate more activity into their daily lives.”

“This is why we have campaigned hard to have NHS mid-life health checks include recommendations on dementia risk reduction. For anyone concerned about keeping their brains healthy in later life, we encourage eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, and getting that step count up.”

Smaller Number of Activities Contributes in Producing a Larger Effect on Dementia Rates

As per the analysis for every 68% increase in physical activity, the patients reduced the chances of developing dementia by 31%. While on the other hand, those patients who increased their motor skills by 68% decreased the chances of up to 55%. According to Buchman, the analysis of the tests showed that there was an average of 8% difference in the scores scored by the participants for their physical and motor abilities.

The patients’ brains were carefully analyzed after they left the world for studying lesions or biomarkers of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease if there is any. The results remained the same when the tests scores were compared to the intensity of lesions in the participants’ brain. One of the amazing findings was that the researchers found similar results in those people who had dementia and people who did not develop this disease.

It was quite shocking as the relation between the high amount of activity and strong memory was thought to be unrelated to biomarkers and lesions of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise may Help in Shielding your Brain from Different Health conditions

Buchman said: “Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health, and our study shows it may have a protective effect on the brain. But it is important to note that our study does not show cause and effect.” He further explained, “It may also be possible that as people lose memory and thinking skills, they reduce their physical activity. More studies are needed to determine if moving more is truly beneficial to the brain.”

There were some drawbacks of the study; one of them was that the study did not track or had the previous data about the physical activities of their early life. This might have played a significant role in protecting the brain from several health issues. Secondly, the study clearly did not mention the specifications of exercise as one might be able to bring more health benefit over another.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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