While a number of clinical and laboratory studies have shown regular exercise can improve brain function, memory, and learning in Alzheimer’s patients, the results have not been dramatic.
But a new, unpublished study indicates that the inconclusiveness of past studies may have stemmed from the fact that researchers only examined the benefits of a specific type of exercise — such as swimming or use of a treadmill — rather than calculating the intensity and duration of the activity.
In the new study, which included 876 individuals about 78 years old, researchers graded the intensity of exercise by calculating the calories expended per week, instead of merely assuming that a particular exercise was sufficient.
The exercises included swimming, hiking, jogging, dancing, tennis, calisthenics, and biking. They found that the greater the intensity of the exercise per week, the larger the person’s brain volume, which correlated with a better outcome.
Previous studies have found that people who exercise regularly, even those without neurological diseases, have larger brain volumes — especially volumes of gray matter. It has also been noted that a lack of exercise is the most powerful risk factor in predicting one’s overall odds of suffering from dementia.
Physical exercise is also known to play a major role in prevention and reversing insulin resistance in cases of Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which are factors in the development of dementia.
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