Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. There are currently no cures or treatments for the disease.
However, a study from the January issue of The Archives of Neurology suggests a simple way to prevent or alter the course of Alzheimer’s. Even better, the suggestion is free, and involves no trips to the doctor or pharmacist. Exercise. A daily walk or jog is believed to help some people prevent or reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
For the experiment, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recruited 201 adults, ages 45 to 88, who were part of a continuing study at the university’s Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Some of the participants had a family history of Alzheimer’s, but none, as the study began, showed clinical symptoms of the disease. They performed well on tests of memory and thinking.
After a variety of tests and brain scans, the pool was narrowed down to 56 participants who test positive for APOE-e4. Everyone carries an APOE gene, but scientists have determined that those with a particular variant of the gene, e4, are 15 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
For the participants without the APOE-e4 gene, there were few differences in brain plaque between those who exercised and those who did. For participants with the APOE-e4 gene, a significant difference was found in brain plaque based on physical activity. The carriers of the APOE-e4 gene who reported walking or jogging for at least 30 minutes five times per week had brain plaque accumulation similar to the study participants without the -e4 gene.
In other words, the APOE-e4 gene carriers reversed their inherited risk for developing Alzheimer’s by working out.
But the findings came with a downside, too. An overwhelming majority of the people in the study did not exercise, and for them, an inactive lifestyle seemed to be accelerating the accumulation of amyloid plaques. Those with the e4 variant who rarely or never exercised had the most plaques, putting them at heightened risk for the memory loss of Alzheimer’s in the years to come.
While many questions remain unanswered about Alzheimer’s, the benefits of exercise continue to play a part in all areas of overall health.
NeuroTrials Research is currently conducting a study on Alzheimer’s disease. Learn more.