Regular exercise shown to reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease

Several recent studies suggest that regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease – an important finding for a condition that currently has no cure and few promising drug treatments.

“We already know that exercising in your 30s, 40s, and 50s reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases later in life,” says neurologist Dr. Mary Quiceno of UT Southwestern Medical Center. “But now we’re seeing evidence that people who are the most physically active even later in life show less brain shrinkage and other signs associated with dementia.”

In a study published in the journal Neurology, medical scientists examined brain scans from more than 600 participants and found that people in their 70s and older who were most physically active had less brain shrinkage and better cognitive function over a three-year period. Simply going for a walk several times a week was sufficient to promote positive cognitive benefits.

Another study published in Archives of Neurology reported that people between 45 and 88 years of age who carried a gene known to make them more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease mitigated their risk by exercising for at least 30 minutes five times a week.

“There are so many benefits to regular exercise, and one of them appears to be better brain health in our senior years,” Dr. Quiceno says.

One trial under way at UT Southwestern is investigating whether individuals with mild cognitive impairment – often considered a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease – can benefit from a regular fitness program. The study participants, who do not exercise regularly, will be placed in either a supervised, individually tailored aerobic exercise program or one that focuses on flexibility and strength training.

The UTSW researchers will track the effects of different types of exercise on both cognitive and cardiovascular health, as well as changes in certain proteins known to either damage or protect the brain.

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in neurology, including the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of neurovascular and neuromuscular disorders.

November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

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