It has been known for a long time that exercise is healthy for the body. Research in recent years has also made evident its beneficial role for the brain.
Exercise has benefits beyond simply building muscle. It does more than only boost mood and energy levels; it also helps fight anxiety and depression and improves memory and problem-solving abilities. Additionally, studies1 have indicated that it guards against Alzheimer’s, delaying the start of the condition and reducing cognitive decline in people already diagnosed with it.
How does exercise work?
Regular exercise appears to be one of the best things you can do to lower your chance of developing dementia out of all the studied lifestyle changes. Perhaps, the simplest way for exercise to protect against Alzheimer’s is by enhancing cardiovascular health. Our other organs and blood arteries also benefit from a good sweat workout, which has benefits far beyond our hearts. These healthier arteries improve the connections between neurons in the brain, making it easier for nourishing oxygen to reach the cells, for waste to exit, and for the neurons to communicate (with one another). Additionally, increased heart and lung function may make it easier for the brain to take up glucose, supporting the health of neurons.
A study2 on mice has indicated that exercise can lead to the growth of new neurons in adulthood. Irisin, a hormone produced in the muscles during exercise, appears to be a primary player. This hormone has a unique ability that it can cross the blood-brain barrier, a tissue and blood vessel barrier that prevents dangerous substances from entering the brain.
Once inside, irisin aids in the brain’s production of BDNF, a neurotransmitter crucial to the well-being of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a hub of learning and memory in the brain, and it shrinks in Alzheimer’s patients as their health deteriorates. Stabilizing and safeguarding the hippocampus depends on its capacity to grow new cells and prune away connections that are no longer necessary, two activities that BDNF aids.
What kind of exercise is best to prevent Alzheimer’s?
When it comes to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and preserving executive function, aerobic exercise appears to be the best, according to research3. It may particularly help in slowing down the shrinkage in the hippocampus. In this trial, the brain scans of the group with people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who performed aerobic exercise for about thirty minutes, four to five times a week exhibited slightly less hippocampus shrinkage compared to the group that only did flexible training.
Aerobics may differ from other types of exercise in that it boosts vascular function or specific neuron growth and survival-promoting substances, which could lessen the harmful effects of amyloid plaques on neurons in the hippocampus.
Any exercise that raises your heart rate is a suitable candidate, including biking, dancing, swimming, and more. That’s because it may elevate levels of BDNF, promote blood flow, support blood vessels, and lower “white matter hyperintensities,” aberrant alterations that influence how the brain conducts electrical information.
What can exercise do?
Exercising several times a week for about half or one hour can:
- Help maintain thinking, learning, and reasoning skills in healthy people.
- Improve cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning, judgment, and thinking skills for people with mild Alzheimer’s or MCI.
- Delay the onset of Alzheimer’s for people at high risk or slow the disease progression.
- Increase the size of the hippocampus.
Alzheimer’s Research Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We provide the latest information and news about the illness and helpful tips to help caregivers cope with their daily caregiving challenges. We realize the most important thing that a caregiver needs is financial assistance. Therefore, we provide grants to caregivers to ease their financial burden. Caregivers can apply for grants here: https://www.alzra.org/grant-applications/.
You can also help caregivers in their endeavor by donating as much as possible: https://www.alzra.org/donate-now/#donate.