By the year 2050, Alzheimer’s cases are predicted to increase by at least four times. This is partially due to people living longer, and Alzheimer typically strikes older people. Currently, there is at least 5.2 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s. Every 71 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s, and in the future, 10 million baby boomers are expected to develop Alzheimer’s.
The first extensive test of exercise on the aging brain revealed that swift walking caused small improvements on mental tests for seniors with memory problems. The results were posted on September 3rd in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Although this small Australian study showed modest results, it backed up observational studies that showed possible mental benefits from physical activity.
According to experts that were not participating in the study, the results of exercise were as good or better than those shown with drugs approved to help with mental function in Alzheimer’s disease.
The authors in the study did warn that the findings don’t prove that exercise will produce significant improvement in how the brain functions or uses memory. They also said that the results of this study should not be used to suggest that exercise reduces the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The authors cannot confirm how exercise might influence brain function; one speculation is that it improves blood flow to the brain. Brain imaging showing any changes in blood flow associated with exercise was not used in this study.
The people that participatedÂ in this study involved 85 Australian Â adults aged 50 and older. They were assigned 2 1/2 hours of weekly exercise, usually brisk walking, for six months. Their exercise was recorded in diaries and they also received phone calls and newsletters encouraging them to stay with it.
They were asked to stay active even after the first six months. A control group of 85 people were used who were not asked to exercise during the testing period. The exercise group did about 20 more minutes of exercise than the control group.
After a six month period, the exercise group performed 1.3 points better on a 70-point scale of brain function than the group that didn’t exercise. These effects lasted for 18 months.
The costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias amount to more than $148 billion each year and the disease is now the sixth-leading cause of death.
This study brings a bit of positive news for anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s. Hopefully there will be plenty more studies that will help in dealing with this debilitating disease.