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New research suggests moderate exercise may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's

As more drug trials for Alzheimer’s disease fail to provide the benefits researchers hope for in the fight against Alzheimer’s, many are looking toward non-drug therapy for treating and even helping prevent Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to research on how Alzheimer's risk is impacted by sleep and diet, research also points to exercise as a key factor.

A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease claims that people who participated in more moderate physical activity were more likely than those who participated in less activity to exhibit a healthy glucose metabolism in their brains.1 Researchers believe this shows that regular, moderate exercise may protect human brains from Alzheimer’s disease and that this may even be true for people who are genetically at risk for contracting the disease.

The Connection Between Exercise and Alzheimer’s

The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study followed 93 adults whose average age was 64. All participants had at least one biological parent with Alzheimer’s disease, at least one gene variation that is linked to Alzheimer’s disease or both, putting them at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s. At the time of the study, none of the participants were displaying any cognitive impairment that could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

For one week, the researchers measured the participants’ daily activity with an accelerometer, and each participant received PET scans that measured their glucose metabolism in several brain regions. The researchers found that the participants who did at least 68 minutes of moderate physical activity per day had better glucose metabolism in all areas of the brain measured than did the participants who did less exercise. Slow walking and sedentary activities did not appear to have any effect on brain metabolism, and, on the other hand, vigorous activity led to improved glucose metabolism in the hippocampus, but not in other regions of the brain.

This is an important finding because people who have Alzheimer’s disease also tend to have low or depressed glucose metabolism in certain areas of the brain. While poor glucose metabolism in the brain isn’t the only sign of Alzheimer’s disease, there is evidence that a healthy glucose metabolism can help delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

How Exercise Impacts the Brain

When it comes to brain glucose metabolism, moderation is key. You don’t have to start running marathons or doing extreme, vigorous exercise in order to get important health benefits for your brain. However, light-intensity exercises do not seem to have the same protective benefits as moderate-intensity ones.

These study results do not prove a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between a healthy glucose metabolism in the brain and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but they do demonstrate health benefits of moderate exercise that may be able to help even those at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

It also shows that we are not always prisoners to our genetic makeup. Aging research on brain health shows us again and again just how important our everyday health decisions are for achieving healthy longevity. Even with a family history and other risk factors, we can all do something to help prevent cognitive decline and improve our brain health.



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