Using Exercise to Slow Down Alzheimer’s
There is a study on proof-of-concept, utilizing brain imaging suggesting that exercising up to 5 days a week might delay Alzheimer’s progression in those who have toxic buildups of the protein beta-amyloid.
This research was done through a 1 year randomized controlled trial which was led by Professor Rong Zhang. The findings were published within the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Professor Zhang is affiliated with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center located in Dallas in Internal Medicine, Neurotherapeutics and neurology departments.
This trial was previously done on studying the relationship between dementia and exercise. One of these studies, that was reported by Medical News Today stated, that aerobic exercises can preserve brain health of those who have mild cognitive impairments.
This study also stated that regular exercise is able to maintain the integrity of the white matter in the brain, which is full of billions of nerve fibers and is linked to executive functions.
Recent research has studied the effects of exercise in 70 people who were over the age of 55. All of those who participated had amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which is a very common type of impairment which affects the memory.
All participants had increased levels of beta-amyloid, a type of protein that causes Alzheimer’s whenever these levels start to build up and become toxic.
When asked about the motivation for this research, Professor Zhang had rhetorically asked, “What should you do if you have amyloid that is clumping together in your brain? Currently, there is nothing to be prescribe.”
Benefits for the Hippocampus from Exercise
Professor Zhang and his colleagues started to monitor the effects of progressing, moderate to high intensity aerobic exercises on the cortical levels of the beta amyloid protein, brain volume, executive function, and memory.
The total brain volume was monitored as well as the volume of the hippocampus as a type of secondary outcome. The hippocampus is what mainly deals with memory and learning, and Alzheimer’s often severely affects this particular area.
The participants were then divided into 2 different groups. One group was involved with toning and stretching control activities while the other did aerobic training.
At the end of both trials, both groups had similar levels of cognitive abilities, especially when it came to problem solving and memory.
Although, the brain imaging stated that there were unique benefits for those who already had a build up of the beta-amyloid protein and were exercising regularly.
The hippocampus of these participants had decreased in size when compared to those who did not exercise at all.
Professor Zhang had stated how interesting it was that the those with amyloid responded to aerobic exercise more than the others.
Even though the interventions did not stop the hippocampus from getting smaller, just knowing that the rate of atrophy was slowed down using exercise is an exciting find.
More Research is Needed
However, it is emphasized that more research will be needed to know if the reduced atrophy will result in cognitive benefits.
This is a proof of concept study and definitive conclusions cannot be drawn as of yet, but the results are exciting but only at a certain degree.
If the findings can be replicated within a larger trial, then eventually doctors could be telling high risk patients to begin exercising, and there is no harm to tell them right now.
Being able to understand the basis for Alzheimer’s on a molecular level is important. The question still remains is can we translate this knowledge into molecular biology into an effective treatment. The medical community will keep looking for answers.
As of now, Professor Zhang is performing a national clinical trial that is investigating the link between dementia and exercise.
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