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The Role of Exercise in Alzheimer's Prevention

Are you at risk for Alzheimer's? Learn how exercise may help keep this disease from appearing sooner.

The day a pill, injection or surgery is proven to be successful for curing Alzheimer's disease is one millions around the world are still waiting for.

In the meantime, prevention is key and a critical piece of the puzzle isn't a medication or therapy -- it's exercise.

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that typically affects individuals age 65 and older. This is a progressive condition, which worsens over time, directly impacting the memory along with cognitive reasoning and behavior. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, only measures that can be taken in the hope of preventing this disease or slowing its progression.

In Canada, approximately 500,000 people are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, and an estimated one in every 11 Canadians has Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. That number is expected to more than double by 2031. The society also reported women count for three quarters of Alzheimer's patients.

The Role of Exercise in Prevention

Regular aerobic exercise is good for the entire body, but research also shows its support of the brain. Exercising promotes proper blood flow, bringing oxygen to the brain and also increases the production of a certain chemical that supports the memory known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These actions promote proper brain function and may even help prevent brain cell loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals who are physically active on a regular basis are less likely to experience cognitive decline or develop Alzheimer's disease.

A study published in the June 2012 issue of the medical journal Neuroscience found individuals who exercised for at least 30 minutes four times a week (walking or jogging) for one month performed better on memory tests than they did when the test began. All the individuals were otherwise healthy when the test began but led sedentary lifestyles.

It's also beneficial for patients currently living with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.

This exercise doesn't have to be strenuous in terms of difficulty or time commitment. A study published this summer in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and conducted at the University of Maryland found walking on a treadmill at a moderate pace for 150 minutes (two and a half hours) a week total to be effective in improving brain function. Participants were better able to recognize famous names and scans showed their brains were using fewer neural resources to recall information. Other great forms of exercise include cycling, dancing and swimming.

Safety during exercise is also important for patients living with dementia. Wearing protective head gear and proper footwear and checking for safe walking paths to avoid tripping are crucial to avoid head trauma and other injuries.

Other Ways to Support Brain Health

There are other lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk for dementia. Here are some to consider:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Sleep between seven and nine hours a night.
  • Find ways to reduce stress.
  • Make sure your diet includes omega-3 essential fatty acids or try adding a fish oil supplement.
  • Consider adding a B complex or huperzine A supplement to your daily routine to keep acetylcholine levels within the desired amount and prevent cell loss.

Taking charge of your cognitive health may help you prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's. As always, speak with your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine and if you start noticing changes in your memory or thinking.

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