Exercising in middle age not only keeps the weight down and the heart healthy but can also cut the risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in high risk people, Swedish researchers said on Monday.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that people in mid-life who exercised at least twice a week had about a 60 percent lower risk of suffering from dementia than more sedentary people.
“This is the first study to show this long-term relation between physical activity and dementia later in life,” Dr. Miia Kivipelto, of the Aging Research Center at the institute, said in an interview.
The biggest impact was in people who had a genetic susceptibility to dementia, according to the study published in The Lancet Neurology journal.
“It seems that physical activity had an even more pronounced effect among those with the susceptibility gene apoe4, the most important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Kivipelto added.
Blood flow to the brain
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia in the elderly. It affects an estimated 12 million people around the globe. There is no cure for the progressive illness that robs people of their memory and mental ability but drug treatments may slow the early progression of the disorder.
Kivipelto and her team studied the mental health of nearly 1,500 people between the ages of 65-79 whose leisure activities had been monitored every five years from 1972 to 1987.
After re-examining the data in 1998 they discovered the active group, which did a physical activity that caused sweating and strained breathing, were less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s.
“We found that people who were active during mid-life and had leisure activities at least two times per week had a much lower risk for dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease,” she explained.
Walking and cycling were the most common forms of exercise in the study. The researchers found no link between the amount of exercise and the degree of reduced risk.
They do not know exactly how exercise decreases dementia risk. But they suspect it could be due to a direct effect on the brain and its messaging system and also by improving blood flow to the brain.
“It may promote brain plasticity by a direct effect on the brain,” Kivipelto added.