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Physical Activity Delays Decline!
Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 8:28 PM
Joined: 12/6/2011
Posts: 3326

Ordinarily, I would post this study in the Clinical Trials board, but it is an "OMG, that's why" moment for me. I've exercised most of my life, and as you well know, Alzheimer's is genetic in my family and onset of symptoms appear in the late 40's and early 50's. My first symptom showed up when I was 62. I believe that my later onset may have been the result of my active lifestyle, according to this study: 


A study of older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease shows that moderate physical activity may protect brain health and stave off shrinkage of the hippocampus- the brain region responsible for memory and spatial orientation that is attacked first in Alzheimer's disease. Dr. J. Carson Smith, a kinesiology researcher in the University of Maryland School of Public Health who conducted the study, says that while all of us will lose some brain volume as we age, those with an increased genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease typically show greater hippocampal atrophy over time. The findings are published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.  






"The good news is that being physically active may offer protection from the neurodegeneration associated with genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Smith suggests. "We found that physical activity has the potential to preserve the volume of the hippocampus in those with increased risk for Alzheimer's disease, which means we can possibly delay cognitive decline and the onset of dementia symptoms in these individuals. Physical activity interventions may be especially potent and important for this group." 


Dr. Smith and colleagues, including Dr. Stephen Rao from the Cleveland Clinic, tracked four groups of healthy older adults ages 65-89, who had normal cognitive abilities, over an 18-month period and measured the volume of their hippocampus (using structural magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI) at the beginning and end of that time period. The groups were classified both for low or high Alzheimer's risk (based on the absence or presence of the apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele) and for low or high physical activity levels. 


Of all four groups studied, only those at high genetic risk for Alzheimer's who did not exercise experienced a decrease in hippocampal volume (3%) over the 18-month period. All other groups, including those at high risk for Alzheimer's but who were physically active, maintained the volume of their hippocampus. 


"This is the first study to look at how physical activity may impact the loss of hippocampal volume in people at genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Kirk Erickson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. "There are no other treatments shown to preserve hippocampal volume in those that may develop Alzheimer's disease. This study has tremendous implications for how we may intervene, prior to the development of any dementia symptoms, in older adults who are at increased genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease." 


Individuals were classified as high risk for Alzheimer's if a DNA test identified the presence of a genetic marker -- having one or both of the apolipoprotein E-epsilon 4 allele (APOE-e4 allele) on chromosome 19 -- which increases the risk of developing the disease. Physical activity levels were measured using a standardized survey, with low activity being two or fewer days/week of low intensity activity, and high activity being three or more days/week of moderate to vigorous activity. 


"We know that the majority of people who carry the APOE-e4 allele will show substantial cognitive decline with age and may develop Alzheimer's disease, but many will not. So, there is reason to believe that there are other genetic and lifestyle factors at work," Dr. Smith says. "Our study provides additional evidence that exercise plays a protective role against cognitive decline and suggests the need for future research to investigate how physical activity may interact with genetics and decrease Alzheimer's risk." 


Dr. Smith has previously shown that a walking exercise intervention for patients with mild cognitive decline improved cognitive function by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. He is planning to conduct a prescribed exercise intervention in a population of healthy older adults with genetic and other risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and to measure the impact on hippocampal volume and brain function. 


J. Carson Smith, Kristy A. Nielson, John L. Woodard, Michael Seidenberg, Sally Durgerian, Kathleen E. Hazlett, Christina M. Figueroa, Cassandra C. Kandah, Christina D. Kay, Monica A. Matthews, Stephen M. Rao. Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2014; 6 DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00061   



Mimi S.
Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:40 PM
Joined: 11/29/2011
Posts: 7027

Another study showed that strenuous exercise builds new brain cells. 

And yes, as I look around at my contemporaries, it's amazing the difference activity makes. 

Paul Hornback
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 7:40 AM
Joined: 8/9/2013
Posts: 584

I am in total agreement on the findings of their study. Exercise has made a tremendous difference in my life with EOAD. My doctors think that my daily exercise regime has helped slow my cognitive decline. I intend to keep exercising as long as I can in hopes of keeping my cognitive decline as gradual as possible.


Thanks for posting the study. I hope it stimulates people to start exercising daily. I walk, do aerobics, and do Tai Chi. It really helps!


God Bless, Paul

Iris L.
Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 1:02 PM
Joined: 12/15/2011
Posts: 18715

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Myriam, for posting this article! 

I, too, believe that exercise has kept me stabilized at this level.  For the years between 2003 and 2009, from when I first noticed worsening to when I began medication, I engaged in no exercise.  Although I knew about Best Practices and the benefits of exercise, I can truly say I have been diligent only since 2012.  But I can tell the difference. 

I don't like exercise.  But I can tell it works, so I do it.  I don't want time to pass and wind up in a facility and know that a bit of exercise could have saved me.

I also notice a difference getting better sleep.

Iris L.

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