How Exercise May Stave Off Alzheimer’s

February 20, 2012

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. 

ImageHowever, 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.


Patients Dance to Hold Off Symptoms of Parkinson’s

February 2, 2012

In Bonita Springs, FL a group of Parkinson’s patients and their caregivers come together once per week to dance. While show tunes or Broadway music plays, patients and caregivers do improv moves, ballet techniques, and partner dancing.

The exercise helps to hold back muscle problems that are commonly associated with Parkinson’s Disease. For many people, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease comes as a shock, since symptoms are usually first passed off as a consequence of aging. In addition to decreased motor skills due to Parkinson’s, there are other difficulties a person may not notice at first. Bradykinesia, which slows down movements, and swallowing and speaking can prove more difficult over time.

Currently, there is no definite cure for Parkinson’s disease, which has an estimated 50,000 confirmed cases in the United States. The symptoms of the disease usually occur after the age of 50. However, there are some famous examples of early onset cases. Both actor Michael J Fox, diagnosed in his 30s, and current Texas A&M basketball coach Billy Kennedy, 47, have been open about their early onset, bringing a much needed spotlight to the cause.

As for the dancers, one patient believes the exercise is helping. “All the medications deal with the symptoms of the disease, but there is no cure. We have worked through the disease for 20 years, and I feel there is no better way to retard the progress of the disease than regular exercise,” said Chuck McEwen after a dance class.

Learn more about a new Parkinson’s research study in Atlanta. Another Parkinson’s study is currently pending.