Alzheimer’s is one of the most devastating diseases a person can experience, and at the same time, the least understood. While great advances have been made in the treatment and diagnosis of the disease, there are still many things about its causes and progression that we do not understand.
Recent studies have discovered a possible link between consistent exercise and the disease. Is it possible that staying active could reduce an individual’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s?
Benefits of Physical Activity
Everyone, no matter their age or physical condition, can benefit from regular physical activity. Regular cardio exercise improves heart health, reduces the risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and helps to improve bone and joint health. It also has mental health benefits, improving confidence and self-esteem. It helps improve mood and decreases the impact of depression.
Of course, not everyone can run on a treadmill or do other high-impact cardio exercises, but there are a great variety of exercises for older individuals or people who lack the mobility to participate in traditional exercises.
How Can This Affect Alzheimer’s Disease?
A study released in mid-2015 at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference reports that in patients diagnosed with the early stages of the disease, moderate or high-intensity workouts can help slow symptom progression. In long-term projections, this may also help to improve overall cognitive function, decrease the degenerative impact of the disease.
This isn’t an easy exercise regimen – it requires patients to exercise for 30-45 minutes while working hard enough to keep their heart rate between 70 and 80 percent of its maximum.
Tau Protein Reduction
One of the biggest impacts that a moderate to intense exercise regimen has for patients with Alzheimer’s is a reduction in the tau protein. During later stages of the disease, the protein tau can collapse, killing brain cells and in some cases accelerating the decline of the patient. High tau levels are one of the most prominent indicators of late-stage Alzheimer’s.
A study done by the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that after six months, a group of individuals who performed moderate to intense aerobic exercise experienced significant reductions in their tau protein levels, which led to improvements in cognitive function.
Social Benefits of Exercise
While exercise has myriad health benefits, for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, it can also have a large number of social and mental benefits as well. Joining an exercise group, such as a dance class or a gym, can not only encourage you to keep up with your physical health, it also allows you to make friends and foster relationships that can help improve your mental and cognitive health as well.
Additionally, exercising in a group is safer if you’re worried about falling or injuring yourself during or after exercise because there will always be someone there to catch you if you fall. If you’re worried about falling, don’t exercise alone.
While the studies linking exercise and cognitive health are still in their infancy, there are enough positive results to consider adding a moderate to intense exercise regime to your weekly schedule. Make sure you discuss it with your doctor before starting any new exercise, to make sure you’re healthy enough for physical activity.