Everyday Activities Might Lower Alzheimer's
WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests
that elderly people who move around more -- even gardening or
puttering around the house -- are less likely to develop
Alzheimer's disease than more sedentary seniors.
The study doesn't confirm that being active lowers the risk of
Alzheimer's, an age-related degenerative brain disease. It's
possible that another factor explains the link; perhaps the very
early stages of Alzheimer's cause people to slow down.
Still, the findings suggest that "an active lifestyle may be
good for you. Even if you can't exercise, increasing all kinds of
movements may be beneficial in the long term," said study lead
author Dr. Aron Buchman, an associate professor of neurological
sciences at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago.
Previous research has pointed to a possible link between
exercise and healthy brains. "Cardiovascular conditioning gets our
hearts to pump oxygen and nutrients to our brain cells, which helps
them communicate more effectively and protects neural health," said
Dr. Gary Small, a brain researcher and director of the Longevity
Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was not
involved with the study.
By 2030, it is estimated that the number of Americans older than
65 will double to 80 million. Given this surge, the authors say the
new study has significant public health implications.
In the study, researchers wanted to see if simply moving around
-- not necessarily working up a sweat -- might make a
The study looked at 716 people without dementia -- average age
82, including 602 women -- whose activity was tracked for as many
as 10 days with the help of a device that measures movement. The
device, called an actigraph, picks up traditional forms of
exercise, such as walking and swimming, but also monitors when
people fidget or move around the house, said study lead author
"It's like a wristwatch and is pretty nonobtrusive," he said. "They wear it 24 hours a day."
The researchers then watched to see what happened to the
participants. Over an average of almost four years, 71 developed
signs of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers analyzed their
statistics to see if the risk of the illness was higher or lower
depending on the activity levels of the participants back when they
wore the devices.
Those among the 10 percent of participants who were most active
had an 8 percent likelihood of developing signs of Alzheimer's over
the time period in which they were followed. The risk jumped to 18
percent among the 10 percent of participants who were the least
Buchman acknowledged that it's impossible to know which comes
first: little activity or brain problems. "The whole issue of
whether there's a causal relationship between physical activity and
cognition is one that needs to be sorted out," he said.
One challenge to understanding the link between exercise and the
brain is that an ideal study would need to assign some people to be
more active and others to be less active. And, according to Dr.
William Jagust, a professor of neuroscience at the Helen Wills
Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley,
then they'd need to be followed for a long time to confirm whether
activity (or lack of it) makes a difference.
The study appears online April 18 and in the April 24 print
The authors acknowledged some study limitations. Because the
study volunteers included so many more women than men, the results
might not apply to the population at large, they said. Also, the
devices didn't distinguish among the different activities
For more about
Alzheimer's disease, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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