Regular Exercise May Lower Your Alzheimer’s Risk by up to a Third

March 30, 2022

Staying physically fit may lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 33 percent, according to a new report. Veterans who were the most fit were a third less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their inactive peers. But any increase in fitness appeared to provide benefits for the brain, the study found.

“One exciting finding of this study is that as people’s fitness improved, their risk of Alzheimer’s disease decreased,” said study author Dr. Edward Zamrini, of the Washington VA Medical Center in Washington, DC. “It was not an all-or-nothing proposition.”

For the study, researchers tracked 649,605 veterans whose average age was 61 for nearly a decade. None had Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia at the start of the study period.

They underwent treadmill tests to assess their heart and respiratory fitness. Based on those results, they were ranked in five categories ranging from least fit to most fit. Those in the most fit group completed the equivalent of about two hours of brisk walking or cycling per week, while those in the least fit group were pretty sedentary, getting little regular exercise.

Over an average follow-up period of nine years, the veterans who were most fit were 33 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who were least fit. But even moderate levels of fitness lowered the risk. Those who were in the second most fit group were 26 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s; those in the moderately fit group were 20 percent less likely to develop the disease; and those in the low-fit group were 13 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than their least-fit peers.

“The idea that you can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by simply increasing your activity is very promising, especially since there are no adequate treatments to prevent or stop the progression of the disease,” Dr. Zamrini said. The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in April.

The findings add to a growing body of research showing that physical activity is good for the entire body, including the brain. Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise helps to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for dementia. The findings extend research showing that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Regular exercise may also help to lower levels of depression and anxiety and lead to sounder sleep, which may likewise help lower Alzheimer’s risk.

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation continues to fund critical research into the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s, which may one day lead to more effective treatments for the disease. But until a cure is found, healthful lifestyle measures, like taking a daily walk, may help to curb or slow the onset of dementia.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Edward Zamrini, Yan Cheng, Peter Kokkinos, et al: “Cardiorespiratory Fitness Is Protective Against Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders.” American Academy of Neurology 74th Annual Meeting, to be presented April 2, 2022.


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