Everyone benefits from a healthier brain. Sadly most everyone reading this has cared for a loved one suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. I have. It's a devastating disease and the The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published a study in March of 2016 projecting the incidence of dementia to TRIPLE in the next 35 years.
This study also reports some good news, there is something YOU CAN DO to combat this disease, MOVE. Whether it be walking, dancing, biking, swimming, running or hiking, all forms of movement substantially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
While exercise has long been linked to better mental capacity in older people this research, tracked individuals over years, and included actual brain scans. Researchers at the UCLA, and other institutions analyzed data produced by the Cardiovascular Health Study, begun in 1989, which has evaluated almost 6,000 older men and women. The subjects complete medical and cognitive tests, fill out questionnaires about their lives and physical activities and receive M.R.I. scans of their brains. Looking at 10 years of data from nearly 900 participants who were at least 65 upon entering the study, the researchers first determined who was cognitively impaired, based on their cognitive assessments. Next they estimated the number of calories burned through weekly exercise, based on the participants’ questionnaires.
The brain scans showed that the top quartile of active individuals proved to have substantially more gray matter, compared with their peers, in those parts of the brain related to memory and higher-level thinking. More gray matter, which consists mostly of neurons, is generally equated with greater brain health. At the same time, those whose physical activity increased over a five-year period showed notable increases in gray-matter volume in those same parts of their brains. And, perhaps most meaningful, people who had more gray matter correlated with physical activity also had 50 percent less risk memory decline or of having developed Alzheimer’s after five years.
Cyrus Raji, a senior radiology resident at U.C.L.A., who led the study says, “for the purposes of brain health, stay as physically active as possible.” In this study the term “physical activity” included: walking, jogging and moderate cycling as well as gardening, ballroom dancing and other calorie-burning recreational pursuits.
The takeaway from this study is that physical activity might change aging’s arc. Quoting Dr. Raji, “If we want to live a long time but also keep our memories, our basic selves, intact, keep moving.”
If you’re sitting down while reading this, GET UP and ORDER AN UNSIT TREADMILL DESK.