Health Team

Researchers find exercise deters Alzheimer’s effects

Posted September 2, 2008 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2008 10:46 p.m. EDT

An estimated 26 million people live with Alzheimer's disease. Some experts believe that number will grow to 106 million by 2050.

Researchers are looking for a way to help delay the disease’s development and have found exercise may help.

Alzheimer's disease destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

“There might be a simple lifestyle factor which actually could help to delay the onset of dementia,” said Dr. Nicola Lautenschlager, a geriatric psychiatrist.

Australian researchers studied 170 men and women ages 50 and older who suffered from memory problems, but no other signs of dementia. One group engaged in moderate exercise for about 50 minutes, three times a week. The other group was not encouraged to exercise.

Participants who were physically active and who scored higher on cognitive tests chose either walking or aerobic exercise. A few people added strength training to their routines.

“Physical activity made a difference. So those who did the program had a better memory and a better cognition at the end of the intervention after six months,” said Lautenschlager, who helped author the study that appears in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Participants were given cognitive tests to assess their memories. Those who increased their physical activity scored higher and had a better memory, even a year after the intervention stopped.

“What we don't know is, at this point in time. what the mechanism is underlying this effect,” Lautenschlager said.

While researchers don't exactly know what's happening to the brain that allows memory to improve, they believe physical activity may actually help to protect the brain and could potentially delay the onset of dementia.