Staying Active in Old Age is Associated with Reduced Alzheimer’s Risk

September 10, 2012

Seniors who get exercise every day may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study found. And it wasn’t just walking or vigorous exercise that provided benefit. Activities like cooking, cleaning or washing dishes led to a lower dementia risk, the researchers found. The findings appeared in Neurology, from the American Academy of Neurology.

Earlier studies have shown that staying active in middle age or later may reduce Alzheimer’s risk. This study looked at elderly men and women whose average age was 82 and found that daily activity provided benefits regardless of age.

“These results provide support for efforts to encourage physical activity in even very old people who might not be able to participate in formal exercise but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle,” said Dr. Aron S. Buchman, a study author and neurologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The study involved 716 elderly men and women who were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing study being conducted at the university. All were given annual exams to measure thinking and memory skills over the four-year study period. They also filled out questionnaires about their physical and social activities.

In addition, all the participants wore a device on their nondominant wrists that measured exercise and other daily activities 24 hours a day for up to 10 days. “This is important because people may not be able to remember the details correctly,” Dr. Buchman said. The device, called an actigraph and sold as Actical, is made by Philips Healthcare, a company in Bend, Oregon.

At the end of the study, 71 of the participants had developed Alzheimer’s disease. When the researchers compared activity levels to memory test results, they found that the more active someone was every day, the lower his or her risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Those men and women in the bottom 10 percent of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of daily activity. The study also showed that those who were least active were almost three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of intensity of physical activity.

“Since the actigraph was attached to the wrist, activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards and even moving a wheelchair with a person’s arms were associated with a lower Alzheimer’s risk,” said Michal Schnaider Beeri of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “These are low-cost, easily accessible and side-effect free activities people can do at any age, including very old age, to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

Physical activity has other benefits as well, including combating heart disease, falls, disability and depression, Dr. Schnaider Beeri adds.

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

Sources: A. S. Buchman, P. A. Boyle, L. Yu, et al: “Total Daily Physical Activity and the Risk of AD and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults.” Neurology, Vol. 78, April 18, 2012, pages 1323-1329.

Michal Schnaider Beeri, Laura Middleton: “Being Physically Active May Protect the Brain from Alzheimer’s Disease.” Neurology, April 18, 2012, Vol. 78, pages 1290-1291.


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