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  • Claire Harrison

Physical Exercise and Alzheimer's Disease



It's well known that physical exercise can be of great value to our mental health, but research suggests that it can benefit the brain too. Understanding the importance of integrating active behaviour into our lifestyle for overall health is crucial at any age, but particularly for the elderly who are more at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a disease mainly affecting individuals aged 65 years and over.


Several studies looking at the effect of aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your heart rate) in middle-aged or older adults have reported improvements in thinking and memory, and reduced rates of dementia.


Regular exercise including jogging, walking, biking, stretching, swimming, and skipping may prevent and/or slow down the progression of brain disorders and metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension, which are risk factors of diseases affecting the brain. Regular physical exercise enhances the endurance of cells, tissues, and organs to oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body which can lead to cell and tissue damage), increase energy metabolism, abnormal or excessive formation of blood vessels as well as the synthesis of neurotrophins which regulate development and function of vertebrate nervous systems. All of these help to bring about the development of new neurons, muscle development, memory improvement, and brain plasticity which are important in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease


Several studies have looked at middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise on their thinking and memory in later life. Combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30%. For Alzheimer's disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45%

One particular study looked at health behaviours of over 2,000 men in Wales, and followed them for 35 years. Of the five behaviours that were assessed (regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, healthy body weight and healthy diet), exercise had the greatest effect in terms of reducing dementia risk. Overall, people who followed four or five of the above behaviours were up to 60% less likely to develop dementia.


In the short term, aerobic exercise can also improve the performance of healthy adults on thinking tests. Pulling together the results of 29 clinical trials, a month or more of regular aerobic exercise resulted in improvements in memory, attention and processing speed when compared with regular non-aerobic exercise such as stretching and toning.


A literature review found 27 studies looking at the effect of physical activity on brain function in people over 60 years of age. In 26 of the studies there was a clear link between physical activity levels and cognitive performance, suggesting that exercise might be an effective way to reduce cognitive decline in later life.


What does physical activity look like?


In general, the research refers to aerobic exercise performed for a sustained period of time, perhaps 20–30 minutes done several times a week and maintained for at least a year.


However, physical exercise does not just mean playing a sport or running. It can also mean a daily activity such as brisk walking, cleaning or gardening. One study found that the risk of Alzheimer's disease can be reduced by daily physical tasks such as cooking and washing up.


Gyrotonic is a gentle and supportive method of exercising for anyone looking to start a fitness regime but is worried about their fitness levels or who may have contributing health issues such as arthritis. Why not give us a call and we can talk through the best start for you and your journey to better health.

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