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Exercise Linked to Slower Onset of Alzheimer's Disease

Jul 19, 2008
A study conducted by the University Of Kansas School Of Medicine reveals that Alzheimer's patients who exercise have larger brains than those who are out of shape.

About the Study

Of the 121 people in the study, all were over 60 years of age, and 57% of them already had Alzheimer's. The actual study itself involved fitness tests and brain scans. Each patient was evaluated using a treadmill to determine a level of physical fitness. Then each patient's brain was scanned to determine a level of brain shrinkage.

That is to say, the patients were analyzed at only one point in time for levels of fitness, white brain matter, gray brain matter, and total brain volume. The results clearly show that the patients who were classified as "in shape" had 4 times more total brain volume than those who do not exercise.

Comments From the Study Author

The author of the study, Jeffrey M. Burns, M.D., University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City, notes, "People with early Alzheimer's disease may be able to preserve their brain function for a longer period of time by exercising regularly and potentially reducing the amount of brain volume lost." Dr. Burns also mentions that, "Evidence shows decreasing brain volume is tied to poorer cognitive performance, so preserving more brain volume may translate into better cognitive performance."


In my opinion, we have to take the results of this study with a grain of salt. I am rarely happy with the way studies are executed, and this study just follows suit.

A better study would have been to monitor 1000 people from the ages of 50-70, for 10 years.

Patients should have been separated into 3 groups:

* 1/3 should exercise regularly according to an exercise program provided by the study

* 1/3 should not exercise at all

* 1/3 should not report whether or not they exercise until the end of the study, or in the case that they can not complete the study, they should keep records of their physical activity level from day 1

In this way we can see how physical activity affects the development and progression of Alzheimer's over a 10 year period. We could alleviate biases with the 1/3 blind study, and the 10 year duration would provide a much more data from which to draw conclusions about the effects of exercise relative to the development and progression of the disease.

From a study like this we could draw such conclusions as, "If you are over 50 and exercise 3 times a week for 45 minutes, you will have 75% less chance of developing Alzheimer's, and will be affected by the disease 75% less if you do develop it."

In conclusion, this is great news for people suffering with Alzheimer's, or for those who are genetically predisposed to developing it. I just think the study could be conducted a little differently to generate more useful and reliable data. From what I understand, Dr. Burns intends to monitor his subjects for the next 2 years, so I will be interested in finding out what he learns between now and then.

How Should An Alzheimer's Patient Exercise?

I definitely recommend 3 days a week, full body training. I would not typically recommend 5 rep sets for people in their 60s or 70s who have never weight trained before, but this type of program could be used while utilizing 75% machines, 25% free weights, and a 3 set / 10 rep scheme.

Basically, for those who are unable to use free weight pressing type of movements, just replace free weights with machines. Elliptical training and bike riding can be utilized, as well as a variety of circuit training equipment. Don't limit yourself just because you are afraid of squats and deadlifts; anything is better than nothing.
About the Author
Steve Hanson has 10 years experience in the fields of exercise science and sports nutrition. He writes articles on all forms of athletic training and nutritional theories. View the blog to learn more about your favorite exercise and nutrition topics.

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