Jan 16, 2010

Exercise Your Brain Or Roll the Dice ?

Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.

By Bob DeMarco


Exercise increases blood flow to the brain. This is a scientific fact that cannot be disputed. It was this simple fact they lead me to conclude that one of the first things I had to do in caring for mother was get her into a gym. My mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and I took her into the gym for the first time when she was 87 years old.

When I made the decision that this would be one of the best ways to slow the progression of Alzheimer's, the scientific literature supporting my decision was limited. Since then the numbers of studies supporting my hypothesis has increased dramatically.

I remain convinced that exercise is as important as any Alzheimer's medication for fighting Alzheimer's. For slowing down the disease.

Exercise clearly changes my mother's ability to walk, think, and the look on her face. If exercise has a dramatic effect on someone suffering from Alzheimer's, think about the effect it can have on someone without Alzheimer's-- meaning you.

Alzheimer's is about the brain. Simple to conclude. What can you do to improve your brain? Increase blood flow to the brain. Do exercises and activities that force you to use your brain. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, search Google, and Wii

For those of you caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer's I ask, are you consciously doing physical exercise and brain exercises each day? Are you doing them for yourself? If not, why not?

It is time to look in the mirror and ask, what is my brain going to look like when I am 75, 85, 90? Don't say, I am not going to live to 90. My mother said that all the time, over and over. She is now 93.

Are you rolling the dice? Think of it this way. When you go to Las Vegas and gamble at the "craps" table the odds favor the house (the casino). When you are not consciously engaging in physical exercise and brain exercises the odds favor Alzheimer's. In a casino you lose money. In Alzheimer's you lose you ability to do everything that involves your brain. Sooner or later.

Why gamble? Why not take control of your life?

People are living longer. This is another thing for you to think about.

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Exercise associated with preventing, improving mild cognitive impairment

Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment, whereas a six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise program may improve cognitive function in individuals who already have the condition, according to two reports in the January issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate state between the normal thinking, learning and memory changes that occur with age and dementia, according to background information in one of the articles. Each year, 10 percent to 15 percent of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia, as compared with 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population. Previous studies in animals and humans have suggested that exercise may improve cognitive function.

In one article, Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, and colleagues report the results of a randomized, controlled clinical trial involving 33 adults with mild cognitive impairment (17 women, average age 70). A group of 23 were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise group and exercised at high intensity levels under the supervision of a trainer for 45 to 60 minutes per day, four days per week. The control group of 10 individuals performed supervised stretching exercises according to the same schedule but kept their heart rate low. Fitness testing, body fat analysis, blood tests of metabolic markers and cognitive functions were assessed before, during and after the six-month trial.

A total of 29 participants completed the study. Overall, the patients in the high-intensity aerobic exercise group experienced improved cognitive function compared with those in the control group. These effects were more pronounced in women than in men, despite similar increases in fitness. The sex differences may be related to the metabolic effects of exercise, as changes to the body's use and production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone cortisol differed in men and women.

"Aerobic exercise is a cost-effective practice that is associated with numerous physical benefits. The results of this study suggest that exercise also provides a cognitive benefit for some adults with mild cognitive impairment," the authors conclude. "Six months of a behavioral intervention involving regular intervals of increased heart rate was sufficient to improve cognitive performance for an at-risk group without the cost and adverse effects associated with most pharmaceutical therapies."

In another report, Yonas E. Geda, M.D., M.Sc., and colleagues at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., studied 1,324 individuals without dementia who were part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. Participants completed a physical exercise questionnaire between 2006 and 2008. They were then assessed by an expert consensus panel, who classified each as having normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment.

A total of 198 participants (median or midpoint age, 83 years) were determined to have mild cognitive impairment and 1,126 (median age 80) had normal cognition. Those who reported performing moderate exercise—such as brisk walking, aerobics, yoga, strength training or swimming—during midlife or late life were less likely to have mild cognitive impairment. Midlife moderate exercise was associated with 39 percent reduction in the odds of developing the condition, and moderate exercise in late life was associated with a 32 percent reduction. The findings were consistent among men and women.

Light exercise (such as bowling, slow dancing or golfing with a cart) or vigorous exercise (including jogging, skiing and racquetball) were not independently associated with reduced risk for mild cognitive impairment.

Physical exercise may protect against mild cognitive impairment via the production of nerve-protecting compounds, greater blood flow to the brain, improved development and survival of neurons and the decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases, the authors note. "A second possibility is that physical exercise may be a marker for a healthy lifestyle," they write. "A subject who engages in regular physical exercise may also show the same type of discipline in dietary habits, accident prevention, adherence to preventive intervention, compliance with medical care and similar health-promoting behaviors."

Future study is needed to confirm whether exercise is associated with the decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment and provide additional information on cause and effect relationships, they conclude.

This is the link to the scientific abstract on Journal of Neurology --Effects of Aerobic Exercise on Mild Cognitive Impairment

Exercise May Stave Off Mental Decline

After six months, the patients who did high-intensity aerobic exercise had improved cognitive function compared to those in the control group. The beneficial effects were more pronounced in women than in men, possibly because the body's use of and production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone cortisol differed in women and men.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, Alzheimer's Reading Room