If you want to improve your memory function, it’s time to go the distance! Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have discovered that if you are at risk of Alzheimer’s and exercise at medium-intensity daily, you are less likely to develop the disease.
The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, set out to measure the effects of physical activity on patterns of glucose metabolism in the brain. Why study glucose metabolism? In many patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s, certain areas of the brain transform sugar into energy far more slowly than they should. Reduced glucose metabolism may therefore be a key factor in the causes of dementia.
To set up the experiment, researchers selected 93 cognitively healthy adults with an average age of 64. All participants had at least one parent with Alzheimer’s, at least one gene mutation associated with the disease, or both. This meant that every volunteer for the study was at a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Every participant had an initial PET scan and was required to wear an accelerometer, which measured daily exercise. No one had to change his or her levels of physical activity, as scientists wanted to measure each person’s normal routine.
Over the course of a week, researchers collected data on participants’ exercise levels and took regular PET scans of their brains. Importantly, they paid close attention to areas of the brain that typically have reduced glucose metabolism in Alzheimer’s patients. They also paid attention to how much exercise the volunteers were getting, and used data from the accelerometers to place them in either a light, moderate, or vigorous exercise group.
After analyzing the data and adjusting for variables that could affect the results, the investigators made an important discovery; moderate exercise was associated with good levels of glucose metabolism while light exercise was not. In a secondary analysis, researchers found that a sedentary lifestyle also did nothing to improve metabolism in the brain. Vigorous physical activity was associated with better glucose metabolism in just one region of the brain, the hippocampus (which is responsible for learning and memory).
It’s not just the University of Wisconsin that has come to such conclusions. These findings are backed by the Alzheimer’s Association, which states that regular physical exercise may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. The main reason? Exercise increases blood and oxygen flow in the brain. This in turn helps the brain receive nutrients more quickly and get rid of waste more quickly.
Previous research has also shown a definite link between Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. In fact, approximately 80 percent of people who develop Alzheimer’s also suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other heart diseases. It makes sense, then, that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly may not only help you treat or prevent cardiovascular disease, but also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.
So, what’s the magic amount of exercise that counts as moderate? According to the research, you’ll need a little over an hour per day. Participants who had at least 68 minutes of daily exercise at a moderate level had better glucose metabolism than those who spent less time exercising or did lighter physical activity.
This is great news: You don’t have to vamp up your training like a superhero to improve your brain health! A brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride will do just fine. As long as you’re getting about an hour of exercise a day, you should reap the benefits.