Can exercise help fight Alzheimer's disease?

Published: Mar. 6, 2018 at 3:37 PM EST
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Some people with a family history of Alzheimer’s are trying to prevent it, and not by popping pills.

Alzheimer’s disease already impacts more than 5 million Americans. Some of them inherited the disease from a parent or other relative.

Now, the question is, can it be prevented? And what is the key?

She wants to keep her heart and fitness in top notch shape, but Carol Hall thinks working out may also strengthen her defenses against Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s already hit her mother and her grandmother, and that family connection puts her at greater risk. She’s part of a national study to see if aerobic exercise, blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering drugs can prevent, or at least slow down, the disease.

“And I thought, 'Well, if there was something that I knew that I would perhaps come down with the disease, I wanted to know what I could do to stall it,'” Hall said.

We already know exercise improves our brain function. And now, researchers in Dallas want to see if Carol is right.

“That’s exactly the trial we are doing here," said UT Southwestern Medical Center's Rong Zhang, Ph.D. "We fundamentally believe what is good for your heart will be good for your brain.”

The professor and his team plan to monitor more than 600 adults in six medical centers in the United States during the next five years. The exercise program already is changing Carol’s look on life.

“I do think it has really made me realize that exercise is an important part of my life and should be an important part of everyone’s life, obviously, for good health,” Hall said.

So far, so good. Carol said her brain is working great, and there’s no sign of Alzheimer’s.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s yet, but knowing as much as possible about it can help patients and their families prepare for it.


REPORT: #2511

Alzheimer's: Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes a gradual and irreversible loss of higher brain functions, including memory, language skills, perception of time and space, and, eventually, loss of the ability to care for oneself. We recognize Alzheimer’s as the most common cause of the loss of mental function in people over the age of 65. As many as 4 to 6 million people in the United States have the disorder. Among individuals around the age of 65, 5 to 10 percent have Alzheimer’s, and this increases to about 10 to 15 percent among those in their 70’s, and to 30 to 40 percent among people 85 years of age or older. Given our aging population, it has been estimated that 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by the middle of this century unless we find a cure or preventive measures. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. Those who suffer from it experience frustration, anger, and fear as the disorder begins to strip away their abilities and memories.


ALZHEIMER’S AND EXERCISE: Contrary to popular belief, memory loss is neither a normal nor natural process of aging. But, if you want to maintain the strength and vitality of your brain as you age, you must take a proactive role. Regular physical exercise can reduce your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to a stunning 50 percent. Studies have shown that women from age 40 to 60 who exercised regularly were seen to have a dramatic reduction in memory loss and cognitive decline. Medical centers monitoring studies like this are the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Texas Health Resources, University of Kansas Medical Center, Washington University School of Medicine, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and Michigan State University. Carol Hall, a program participant, stated, “My increased energy is markedly noticeable. I have improved physical strength and fluidity of body movement which are applied to my daily life.” Hall continued, “The loss of weight has also resulted in a drop in my cholesterol level, which is now down about 40 points this last year. This, in turn, is a big boost to my circulatory system.” To see the best benefits of your exercise program, the latest research reveals that the magic number for maintaining cognitive fitness with age and preventing Alzheimer’s is to work up to a level of 150 minutes per week of a combination of cardio exercise and strength training


NEW ALZHEIMER’S RESEARCH: One of the major, relatively recent Alzheimer's discoveries is how the proteins that accumulate in tangled clusters in patients’ brains get that way. The proteins abnormally fold in on themselves over and over, destroying neuron structure and connectivity as the resulting amyloid mass builds into disruptive, suffocating clumps. Most treatments to date have attempted to directly reduce amyloid protein buildup, but the latest study started with a different question: what if the folding process itself could be interrupted and reversed? Enter the enzyme known as, cyclophilin 40 (CyP40). Normally it serves as a directional guide for proteins as they bend and fold. When that process goes wrong, as it does in Alzheimer’s, the enzyme is part of the problem. But, if made to work in reverse, it could undo the folding-gone-awry, or possibly prevent it from happening. In a mouse model, researchers from the University of South Florida did essentially that and found that CyP40 reduced the buildup of amyloid tau proteins by unraveling them. Once that was accomplished, the proteins became soluble and could be more easily removed via the brain’s immune response. That reduced the degeneration of neurons, leading to fewer symptoms of the disease.