The latest information comes from researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who looked at 317 late-middle aged adults and determined that those who exercised five times a week or more had fewer of the age-related changes in the brain that are associated with the disease, and did better on cognitive tests.
Age remains the single greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, greater even than having the gene found in many people with the disease, the study confirmed. But “what we have shown here is that physical activity diminishes the deleterious influence of age,” said Ozioma Okonkwo, an assistant professor of medicine at the school who led the study.
People who exercised had less accumulation of “beta amyloid plaque,” the proteins that build up in the brains of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. They had less shrinkage of the hippocampus and less reduction in use of glucose in the brain, two other symptoms of the disease. And they had fewer neurofibrillary tangles, twisted fibers inside brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s. When researchers tested the people who worked out, they did better on memory and visual-spatial tests.
An increasing amount of research has shown that exercise can help hold off Alzheimer’s disease, including this July study that The New York Times called “inspiring.” The University Wisconsin research, published in November in the journal Neurology, adds strong evidence from examinations of the subjects’ brains to support that conclusion.