Alzheimer's disease runs in my family, and I'm worried that I'm at risk. I've heard that making healthier lifestyle choices—like physical activity and healthy eating—reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's. Can exercise really help prevent Alzheimer's?
More than 50 million individuals suffer from Alzheimer's disease worldwide, and pharmaceutical giants project that nearly 100 million more people will be diagnosed with the disease by 2050. Alzheimer's disease disrupts connections between brain cells, leading to cell death. Over time, this diminishes an individual's ability to remember, think clearly, and use good judgment.
When family members develop Alzheimer's, your risk of developing the disease increases. However, having a family member with Alzheimer's doesn't always mean you'll develop the disease. Here's how exercise can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Can exercise prevent Alzheimer's?
In 2017, a review published by USC–LA revealed that as many as one in three cases of Alzheimer's disease were preventable through lifestyle changes. Scientists found that seniors who engaged in aerobic exercises showed significantly better cognitive function than those who practiced both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. The study also showed that seniors who practiced any type of exercise demonstrated better cognitive function than those who didn't exercise at all.
How does exercise prevent Alzheimer's?
Studies show that individuals who practice regular physical activity are less likely to experience a decline in cognitive function. Exercising multiple times a week for 30 to 60 minutes promotes sharp thinking, reasoning, and learning skills.
For individuals with mild Alzheimer's disease, exercising can improve memory, reasoning, judgment skills, and overall cognitive function. Exercising can also help delay the start of Alzheimer's for at-risk individuals or slow the progression of the disease.
Exercise has been shown to create biochemical changes, which “clean“ the brain's environment and restore nerve cell health. Exercise also leads to restorative changes related to the disease pathology of Alzheimer's, improving nerve cell growth and connectivity in the hippocampus. Additionally, exercise increases blood flow to the brain and counters the loss of brain connections that occurs due to aging.
What is aerobic exercise?
According to the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, practicing a half-hour of aerobic exercise four to five times a week can prevent or slow cognitive decline in elderly adults at risk for Alzheimer's. Additionally, the World Health Organization recommends that individuals over the age of 65 engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity weekly to prevent dementia. Aerobic exercise involves any type of cardiovascular training, including brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling.
If fitting exercise into your busy schedule seems like a challenge, try ditching the car. Biking to work can help you squeeze workouts into your schedule, and you'll show up to work feeling refreshed. To find a bike-sharing service near you, conduct a simple Google search, like “bike sharing in Bayonne, NJ.“
Aerobic exercise can also be done at home with little to no equipment. Before beginning any workout, always warm-up for five to 10 minutes. Try jumping rope or jogging around your neighborhood. If you have access to a gym, try swimming or using an elliptical.
To learn more about Alzheimer's disease, including the most common signs of the disease, visit The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. If a family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the Foundation's caregiving and treatment resources can help you figure out how to move forward. All in all, practicing regular physical activity can reduce your risk and slow the progression of the disease.