Exercise & Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

The New York Times just reported on a fascinating study published in the May edition of Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in an article entitled, “Can Exercise Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk?” by Gretchen Reynolds. By examining people aged 65-89 who possess a gene related to Alzheimer’s development, APOE epsilon4 allele (e4 gene for short), the hypothesis that even moderate amounts of exercise or physical activity can help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease is confirmed.

The study was based on relating the following factors:

  • Researchers suspect that it takes years for Alzheimer’s to actually present symptoms in patients.
  • People with the e4 gene have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Elderly people with the e4 gene who exercised were shown to have better brain functioning than those who did not exercise.
  • Brains of people with Alzheimer’s have hippocampi, a part of the brain necessary for memory processing, that are more shrunken when compared to those in similar age groups without the disease.

The study divided almost 100 men and women between 65-89 years of age into four groups:

  1. Those who have the e4 gene and do exercise.
  2. Those with the e4 gene that do not exercise.
  3. Those who do not have the gene and do exercise.
  4. Those who do not have the gene and do not exercise.

The e4 gene and exercise

After 18 months, the group who had the e4 gene and exercised had the same normal hippocampi as the two groups who did not have the gene while the group who had the e4 gene and did not exercise saw significant atrophy.  Obviously, this has tremendous implications for those who have the e4 gene.  An exercise regimen is an absolute must for those who have the e4 gene way before any signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.

Whether you know you have the e4 gene or even just a family history of Alzheimer’s or neither, with all the research indicating the benefit of exercise, it would seem prudent on many levels to incorporate it into your weekly routine.