Apr 18, 2012

Daily Physical Activity May Reduce Alzheimer’s Disease Risk at Any Age

The research found that people in the bottom 10 percent of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely (2.3 times) to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of daily activity.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Dotty at 89
She looks better now
doesn't she?
I read about the research below with great interest. Great interest for a simple reason. The first decision I ever made in regards to my mother and her condition was to take her into the gym. Into the gym for the first time in her life at the age of 87.

I used the words "in regards to my mother and her condition" because I made that decision before she was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's disease. I made that decision while I was doing an enormous amount of research, up sometimes until 3 AM.

I made the decision based on the positive affects that exercise has on the brain even in people that are "old". There was very little research on Alzheimer's and exercise at the time, some, but not much.

I also made the decision to go into the gym because I already understood that I was going to need an enormous amount of energy to care for my mother, and I needed a way to reduce the stress that comes along with caregiving.

At the time my mother was getting up in the AM at 1:30 and 4:30. Every night. She would get up, open the door, take a few steps, look around, and then come back. Usually at 1:30 she would get something to eat. This also helps explain why I was up late doing research. I figured, I am getting up anyway.

I never stopped my mother, or tried to deter her from walking out the door. I did pay attention though, just in case she decided to take off. I can't tell you why I never stopped her, or lectured her. Good instincts I guess.

It took a few years, three I think, before I cured her of that problem. She no longer gets up in the middle of the night. Although, I suspect she might after I write these words. I am supertitious about what I say. Which also explain why in my business career I was very tight lipped.

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Daily Physical Activity May Reduce Alzheimer’s Disease Risk at Any Age

Daily physical activity may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, even in people over the age of 80, according to a new study by neurological researchers from Rush University Medical Center that will be published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The results of our study indicate that all physical activities including exercise as well as other activities such as cooking, washing the dishes, and cleaning are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Aron S. Buchman, lead author of the study and associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush. “These results provide support for efforts to encourage all types of physical activity even in very old adults who might not be able to participate in formal exercise, but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle.”

"This is the first study to use an objective measurement of physical activity in addition to self-reporting,” said Buchman. "This is important because people may not be able to remember the details correctly.”

To measure total daily exercise and non-exercise physical activity, researchers from Rush asked 716 older individuals without dementia with an average age of 82 to wear a device called an actigraph, which monitors activity, on their non-dominant wrist continuously for 10 days.

All exercise and non-exercise physical activity was recorded. Study participants also were given annual cognitive tests during this ongoing study to measure memory and thinking abilities. Participants also self-reported their physical and social activities.

Study participants were individuals from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing, longitudinal community study of common chronic conditions of old age.

Over a mean of 3.5 years of follow-up, 71 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.

The research found that people in the bottom 10 percent of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely (2.3 times) to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of daily activity.

The study also showed that those individuals in the bottom 10 percent of intensity of physical activity were almost three times (2.8 times) as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top percent of the intensity of physical activity.

“Since the actigraph was attached to the wrist, activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards and even moving a wheelchair with a person’s arms were beneficial,” said Buchman. “These are low-cost, easily accessible and side-effect free activities people can do at any age, including very old age, to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s.”

The number of Americans older than 65 years of age will double to 80 million by 2030.

“Our study shows that physical activity, which is an easily modifiable risk factor, is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This has important public health consequences,” said Buchman.

Co-authors of the study from Rush are Patricia Boyle, PhD; Li Yu, PhD; Dr. Raj C. Shah; Robert S. Wilson, PhD; and Dr. David A. Bennett.

The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Robert C. Borwell Endowment Fund helped fund the study.

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room