For years, researchers have pushed regular exercise as a means to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, even in people genetically predisposed to develop dementia. However, a new study from the UK suggests that vigorous exercise may not reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and that it may even cause the disease to progress further.
Learn more about this study, the effects of exercise on brain health and the risk of Alzheimer’s.
While previous studies have shown that regular exercise can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, human trials have been too small or too short to understand the implications of exercise on brain health.
A new study from the UK involving nearly 500 participants examined the effects of exercise on dementia. The average age of participants was 77 years old and all participants had mild to moderate dementia symptoms. The researchers randomly assigned 329 people with dementia to complete four months of supervised aerobic and strength training workouts. The group attended group workouts in a gym for an hour or an hour and a half two times a week. They also completed exercises at home for an additional hour each week. Researchers also had a control group of 165 people with dementia to continue usual care with no additional physical activity.
One year later, the exercise group showed slightly worse cognitive function than the control group. Researchers caution that the difference may be too small to be significant but there was no improvement in the exercise group – even if it wasn’t made worse by a statistically significant margin.
Lead Study Author, Sarah Lamb, of the University of Oxford, says, “High-intensity exercise is unlikely to cure or reduce the symptoms of dementia.”
Sandra Bond Chapman, Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, says the findings are surprising. “The most surprising finding is that physical exercise could potentially be a detriment since the dementias progressed a little more rapidly with exercise.”
She goes on to say, “I suspect this is because the limited cognitive resources of people with dementia might be further depleted with the added burden of having to do exercise. This finding adds to our caution in overstating the benefits of exercise on cognitive function for those with dementia.”
However, other researchers caution that while exercise may not slow dementia, it still has benefits for older adults and other studies have also shown evidence that exercise of moderate intensity can protect against cognitive decline.
Joe Northey of the University of Canberra in Australia cautions, “Although the current study didn’t show benefits to cognition, physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle is still likely to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases which can also negatively impact a dementia patients’ quality of life.”
How has exercise impacted you or a senior loved one’s risk of Alzheimer’s? Share your stories with us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
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