Yes! Not only can exercise help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it’s also excellent therapy for those already experiencing symptoms of dementia. New studies show that vigorous exercise makes Alzheimer’s patients feel better. But exercise also makes changes in the brain that could indicate improvements, researchers told the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July.
“Regular physical activity can play a role in both protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and also living better with the disease if you have it,” said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association. “No currently approved medication can rival these effects,” added Laura Baker, who led one of the studies.
Baker’s team at the Wake Forest School of Medicine studied individuals with mild cognitive impairment for a period of six months. Half of the participants exercised vigorously four times a week while the other half only stretched for the same amount of time, four times a week. The exercisers showed measurable improvement in attention, planning and organizing abilities, as well as reduced levels of tau, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s.
In a second study, researchers in Denmark randomly assigned 200 Alzheimer’s patients to either do an hour of aerobic exercise three times a week or continue their normal lives for four months.
As with Baker’s group, they got participants up to 70-80% of maximum heart rate for at least half of each exercise session.
The exercisers had far less anxiety, irritability and depression than those who didn’t work out. They also scored significantly better on the Symbol-Digit Modalities test, which measures thinking and memory.
These results fit with an earlier study that found two years of exercising, eating healthier food and brain training can boost people’s memory function.
This is why regular exercise is such a big part of LifeCycles, our signature wellness program at CountryHouse. Residents benefit from a wide variety of daily physical activities, including our Walking Club.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. This number is expected to snowball as the population ages. There’s no cure, and current drug treatments do not work well. But regular exercise is something we all can — and should — do now to take care of our brains.