April 17, 2007
A couple hours a week of moderate activity allowed seniors with Alzheimer's who were living in a nursing home to boost stamina and better carry out everyday activities than those who did not receive a structured exercise program. Those with Alzheimer's who participated in the fitness program showed slower physical deterioration than their more sedentary peers and were performed better on tests that measure walking, strength, balance, and flexibility.
The findings, from French Scientists at Hospital La Grave-Casselardit in Toulouse, France, add to a growing body of evidence that exercise is good not just for the body but for the brain as well. A rigorous study from 2003, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that a home exercise program eased depression and boosted physical vitality of those suffering from Alzheimer's. [See the article, "Exercise Boosts Mood, Performance of Alzheimer's Patients."] People with Alzheimer's who got regular physical activity showed greater stamina and better general functioning and mood, even two years later.
In the current study, scientists studied 110 elderly men and women with Alzheimer's living in nursing homes. Their average age was 83. Some were assigned to the exercise program, which focused on an hour of walking, strength, balance, and flexibility training twice a week. Others continued to receive routine care. By the end of the study, one year later, those who had completed the training were able to walk faster and did better on strength and balance tests. The results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Exercise Good for Everyone
Another study published in that journal found that exercise benefits healthy older seniors as well, and not just those with Alzheimer's. Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago found that for healthy seniors with intact memory (average age 80), the risk of becoming disabled fell 7 percent for every hour spent each week being physically active. Regular physical activity also greatly cut the risk of dying.
Exercise also allowed older adults to better carry out everyday activities like walking short distances, eating meals, getting dressed, preparing meals, shopping, and housekeeping.
Regular physical activity boosts blood flow to organs throughout the body, including the brain, and may provide an extra boost for those with or without Alzheimer's, the research suggests.
And it's never too early to get off the couch. Numerous studies show that walking and other moderate exercise benefits men and women regardless of age. For more information, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, February 2007.