Exercising several times a week could slow down the deterioration in the brain of those at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Carried out by researchers from UT Southwestern in Texas, US, the new study looked at 70 sedentary participants over the age of 55 with memory problems and split them into two groups.
One group were told to do aerobic exercise for at least a half an hour, four to five times a week, and the other group were told to do flexibility training. Both exercise programmes lasted for 12 months.
The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, showed that both exercise groups maintained similar cognitive abilities during the study in areas such as memory and problem-solving.
However, brain imaging showed that the participants who had an accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain – a sign of Alzheimer’s disease – and who did aerobic exercise for a year experienced a slower degeneration in the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is a region of the brain crucial for memory, which progressively deteriorates in those with dementia.
The researchers note that although the exercise did not prevent the spread of the amyloid plaques, which kill neurons in the brains of those with dementia, the findings suggest that exercise could at least slow down the progression of dementia if done early enough.
“What are you supposed to do if you have amyloid clumping together in the brain? Right now, doctors can’t prescribe anything,” said Dr Zhang Rong, who led the clinical trial.
“If these findings can be replicated in a larger trial, then maybe one day, doctors will be telling high-risk patients to start an exercise plan. In fact, there’s no harm in doing so now.”
He added: “It’s interesting that the brains of participants with amyloid responded more to the aerobic exercise than the others. Although the interventions didn’t stop the hippocampus from getting smaller, even slowing down the rate of atrophy through exercise could be an exciting revelation.”
However, he points out that more research is needed to determine if reducing the shrinking of the brain could also benefit brain function. – AFP Relaxnews