Even Minimal Exercise Reduces Alzheimer’s Risk
Sadly, despite incredible advances in our ability to treat so many challenging health threats, we are virtually empty handed as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease. So, it really makes sense to do everything we possibly can to learn about preventative strategies. We have spoken so often about the deep science that relates dietary choices to Alzheimer’s risk, how elevated blood sugar represents an important modifiable risk factor, and how little genetics actually plays into the picture.
In addition, over the years, we have emphasized the importance of physical exercise as it relates to Alzheimer’s risk and even progression. We have reviewed the research that shows how exercise is associated with a fairly dramatic risk reduction for Alzheimer’s disease when comparing groups who exercise versus those who do not.
It is with this in mind that a new study bears review. The research, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Network portal, is entitled, Association of Physical Activity Level with Risk of Dementia in a Nationwide Cohort in Korea. The study analyzed 62,286 participants, 60% women, who were aged 65 or older and had no evidence of dementia at the onset of the study. The individuals were followed from January 2009 until December 2013. Each participant was assessed using a standardized, self-reported questionnaire at baseline that evaluated their level of physical activity in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration.
The average follow-up was 3 ½ years. During this time, 6% of the participants developed dementia. The level of exercise was divided into quartiles from lowest, meaning no exercise, to highest meaning highly active. As predicted, comparing the highest level of exercise group to the lowest showed a dramatic difference in terms of dementia risk. Those who engaged in the most physical activity had a remarkable 28% reduction in dementia risk. But what was even more interesting was that comparing the lowest level of exercise to the second level meaning minimal exercise, as in 10 minutes twice a week, still imparted a benefit of a 10% risk reduction. This was seen regardless of age, gender, and even after correction for other comorbidities.
The important conclusion of the study is that even a very low level of physical activity has benefits in terms of being associated with a reduced risk for dementia. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and as mentioned, this is a situation for which there is no treatment. As such, we need to do everything we can to encourage even modest physical activity in those at risk for dementia. In that we are all at risk, this means that we should extend this recommendation to everyone. And by all means, this isn’t something that should just be started in our later years, but rather should be a lifelong lifestyle modification, especially when we consider the fact that the seeds are sewn as a relates to Alzheimer’s disease some 20 to 30 years prior to clinical manifestation.