Could Exercise Hold The Key To Dementia Prevention?


Currently, more than 5 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s, a disease which accounts for up to 80% of all dementia diagnoses. While there is no cure for this condition and scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes someone to develop it, a new study has found that leading a healthy, active lifestyle may go a long way in preventing it.

German researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt recently released data stemming from a unique study that explored the connection between brain metabolism and physical exercise. A team of sports physicians and gerontologists examined 60 study participants, all between the ages of 65 and 85, during trials in which they used exercise bikes three times a week over a 12-week period. Scientists then used magnetic resonance tomography and magnetic resonance spectroscopy to see how the participants’ brain metabolism changed over the 12-week period as the intensity of their sessions varied.
Results showed that regular exercise had a positive impact on brain metabolism, specifically in terms of cerebral choline stability. This metabolite often rises in response to nerve cell loss, which is an indicator of dementia in its early stages. The control group, which did not undergo the same physical trials as the active group, displayed increases in their choline levels. The scientists concluded that an hour and a half of weekly exercise resulted in stable choline levels that otherwise could indicate dementia development.

Dr. Matura told Observer, “The main reason why we conducted this study is that there is currently no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and therefore Disease prevention is a very important issue. Aerobic exercise in particular seems to be beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly. There is still much to learn about the potential mechanisms behind the protective effects of physical activity on cognitive function.”

While modern science has provided many miracle marvels, the Fountain of Youth isn’t one of them. There are certain parts of aging that are inevitable. For instance, 40% of men will experience hair loss by age 35, and 21 million U.S. women are living with hair loss right now. However, now that seniors make up a record percentage of the population, more research is being done into medical conditions associated with aging.

Indeed, this recent dementia study isn’t the only one to explore the connection between exercise and cognitive function. A paper recently published in Scientific Reports showed that frail, older adults are nearly 3.5 times more likely to develop dementia than those who are not physically frail. And an Australian study found that walking and running may prevent brain shrink, particularly in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center.

Establishing a healthy lifestyle early on is key, of course. But less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity every week, meaning that there are likely too many seniors who live sedentary lives. Fortunately, there are now fitness classes being geared towards those who are already living with early stage dementia. One such class in the UK combines mild physical exercise with social aspects, games, and creative activities to help participants strengthen the abilities they still have an improve their quality of life.

While there’s certainly still a lot that experts don’t know about dementia, it seems that one thing is clear: being active certainly can’t hurt — and it could be at least be one piece of the dementia prevention puzzle.

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