Exercise Stops Alzheimer's Better Than Drugs: Study

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 05:49 PM

By Nick Tate

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Lacing up those sneakers may be the better than popping pills, when it comes to fighting Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the key conclusion of new research by the University of Maryland School of Public Health that found regular, moderate exercise improves memory and cognitive function in people at risk for Alzheimer's in ways no drug can.
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The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, provides new hope for individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — a tell-tale precursor to dementia. Lead researcher J. Carson Smith, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, found that brain activity associated with memory can improve after as little as three months of a moderate exercise program.
"We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency — basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task," said Dr. Smith. "No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise."
Memory loss associated with Alzheimer's is one of the greatest fears older Americans face. A diagnosis of MCI can indicate a greater risk for the brain-wasting condition, for which there is no cure.
For the study, two groups of physically inactive older adults — one of which included those with MCI and the other with healthy brain function — participated in a 12-week exercise program involving regular treadmill walking and guided by a personal trainer.

The results showed both groups improved their cardiovascular fitness by about 10 percent, as well as their performance on tests of memory and brain function, as measured by brain scans.
The study participants followed recommended exercise guidelines that urge seniors to engage in moderate intensity activity —  strenuous enough to increase heart rate and sweat, but light enough to carry on a conversation — of at least 20-30 minutes most days of the week (for a weekly total of 150 minutes).
To measure the impact of exercise on the brain and memory, Dr.Smith and colleagues had study participants identify the names of famous older celebrities — such as Frank Sinatra — and measured their brain function while doing so.
"The task gives us the ability to see what is going on in the brain when there is a correct memory performance," Dr. Smith said.
Brain scans taken after the exercise program showed improved efficiency and function in those areas of the brain involved in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease.
"People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction," Dr. Smith said.
The research team now plans to conduct additional studies on the impact of exercise on brain function, focusing on it can delay the onset or progression of Alzheimer's.

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