Study finds exercise prevents Alzheimer’s disease

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The Alzheimer’s Association reports that an estimated 6.2 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. Without medical breakthroughs, that number could more than double in the next 25 years.

Professor Fang Yu, Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science at Arizona State University, researched ways to potentially delay the onset of dementia. 

Yu’s 2021 study turned up promising results, demonstrating a number of positive effects of exercise in preventing and alleviating cognitive decline.

“Basically, exercise targets a number of risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. For example, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke,” Yu said.

But not only can exercise prevent things that lead to Alzheimer’s, it directly impacts the structure of the brain, “stabilizing the brain” against memory decline, Yu said.

When asked what kind of exercise is most effective, Yu said that the best results come from “vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise,” activities like running, but she said there is a growing body of evidence to show that resistance exercise, such as weightlifting, can be beneficial as well.

“Even in people who already have dementia, we found that exercise was very well received by this population. Their quality of life is much better, and it actually stabilized their cognition,” Yu said.

At the same time, she cautioned that not all forgetfulness that comes with aging is a sign of dementia, and stressed the importance of careful evaluation to find the cause of the mental decline.

“If you think you have some memory changes that are affecting you the best way to go about it is to get a medical evaluation, because often there are explainable reasons contributing to your cognitive decline, so if you get evaluated timely we can treat those,” Yu said. “One simple example is vitamin B6 deficiency, which happens to a lot of older adults. It leads to similar symptoms as Alzheimer’s disease, but you can totally replace that B6 and cognitively recover.”

Following up on the successes of the previous study, Yu is actively recruiting patients for a new study this year.

Professor Fang Yu, ASU Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science

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