If you’re an older adult, staying physically active may be an excellent way of reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new exercise and alzheimers study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center.
Dr. Aron S. Buchman, a neurological sciences professor and one of the lead researchers behind the study, said that the study indicates that all forms of physical activity, including traditional exercise in addition to activities like cleaning, gardening, doing laundry and cooking, can reduce Alzheimer’s risk in elderly adults.
Breaking Down the Lengthy Study
During the study, researchers from Rush University Medical Center analyzed 716 elderly individuals with an average age of 82. The subjects in the study were asked to wear an actigraph for a continuous 10 days. The purpose of the actigraph was to track the activity and movements of the participants. The subjects were also asked to report their social and physical activities, giving the researchers additional data to compare against the data produced by the actigraphs.
Finally, the participants were asked to take cognitive tests every year for 3.5 years. The cognitive tests were designed to measure the thinking and memory abilities of the participants.
Although none of the participants had Alzheimer’s or dementia when the study began, 71 developed Alzheimer’s by the time 3.5 years had passed.
The Effects of Physical Activity on Alzheimer’s Risk
After analyzing the data, the researchers determined that subjects who engaged in less physical activity than 90% of the other subjects were 2.3 times more at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who exercised more than 90% of the other subjects.
The researchers also determined that the intensity of exercise influenced Alzheimer’s risk. Subjects in the bottom 10th percentile of physical activity intensity were 2.8 times more at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than those in the top 10th percentile of exercise intensity.
Dr. Buchman said that since the participants wore actigraphs on their non-dominant wrists (in other words, right-handed participants wore the actigraphs on their left wrists), the researchers were able to record extremely low-intensity forms of exercise such as playing cards and cooking. Buchman said that these low-intensity activities still helped to prevent Alzheimer’s, just not to same extent as more intense forms of exercise.
Alzheimer’s is a Huge Problem for Older Americans
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as half of individuals over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. The disease affects approximately 5 million Americans in total.
The researchers said that their study lends credence to the notion that older adults should be encouraged by their doctors to engage in various forms of physical activity, even if those activities are low-intensity. Dr. Buchman also said that while other factors such as age and family history are primarily responsible for Alzheimer’s risk, physical activity is an easily modifiable risk factor that could have “important public health consequences.”
The researchers said that previous studies have also found a link between physical activity levels and Alzheimer’s risk, though theirs was the first to use a precise measurement tool.
Exercise and Alzheimers Risk: The Bottom Line
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center have discovered a link between physical activity levels and Alzheimer’s risk in older adults. According to the researchers, the least active subjects in their study were approximately 2.3 times more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease than the most active subjects.
The full text of the study is available online in the medical journal Neurology.