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Exercise Helps to Lessen Alzheimer’s Effects

Posted Sep 01 2013 10:08pm

Population-wide surveys routinely identify memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s Disease as one of the greatest fears among aging Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.  J. Carson Smith, from the University of Maryland (Maryland, USA), and colleagues studied two groups of physically inactive older adults (ages 60 to 88 years), who were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer, meeting the WHO Guidelines of a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.  Both groups – one which included adults with MCI and the other with healthy brain function – improved their cardiovascular fitness by about 10% at the end of the intervention. More notably, both groups also improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks. Further, the team administered cognitive tests and conducted brain imaging before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans taken after the exercise intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The brain regions with improved efficiency corresponded to those involved in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, including the precuneus region, the temporal lobe, and the parahippocampal gyrus.  The exercise intervention was found to be effective in improving word recall. The study authors conclude that: “These findings suggest exercise may improve neural efficiency during semantic memory retrieval in [mild cognitive impairment] and cognitively intact older adults, and may lead to improvement in cognitive function.”

J. Carson Smith, Kristy A. Nielson, Piero Antuono, Jeri-Annette Lyons, Ryan J. Hanson, Alissa M. Butts, et al.  “Semantic Memory Functional MRI and Cognitive Function after Exercise Intervention in Mild Cognitive Impairment.”  J Alzheimer’s Disease, 26 June 2013.

  
Exercise may improve cognitive function in those at-risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory.
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Tip #192 - Stay Connected
Researchers from the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA) report that social isolation may be detrimental to both mental and physical health. The team analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide US study involving 3,000 men and women, ages 57 to 85 years. They arrived at three key findings regarding the relationships between health and different types of isolation:

• The researchers found that the most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

• The team found that older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

• They determined that social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Separately, Rush University Medical Center (Illinois, USA) researchers studied 906 older men and women, testing their motor functions (including grip, pinch strength, balance, and walking) and surveying their social activity, for a period of 5 years. Those study participants with less social activity were found to have a more rapid rate of motor function decline. Specifically, the team found that every one-point decrease in social activity corresponded to an increase in functional aging of 5 years, translating to a 40% higher risk of death and 65% higher risk of disability.

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