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Can 10,000 Steps a Day Keep Alzheimer’s Away? What Science Says About Exercise and Alzheimer’s

By | September 5th, 2017

Because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and drug trials have continually failed, those at risk for Alzheimer’s are turning to lifestyle prevention methods to stave off the disease. While some researchers are hesitant to make a connection between exercise and Alzheimer’s prevention, studies suggest that there is enough evidence to at least consider it. 

  • Epidemiological studies prove active people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease
  • Exercise increases blood supply to the brain

  • Animal studies show it also improves connectivity between nerve cells

Scientists agree that aerobic exercise could be a key factor in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to Harvard University’s Dr. Rudy Tanzi, when people take at least 10,000 steps per day, it can decrease the chance of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as 60 percent. The National Institute on Aging says that fact has been proved by epidemiological studies, which are observational studies looking at common factors about how or why a disease may occur. Those studies have found that active people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease.

Animal studies have tested the benefits of exercise for the brain and found it significantly improves connective function. This means exercise creates a better blood supply to the brain and better connectivity between nerve cells. A brain with good blood flow makes it more difficult for plaque to develop.

Exercise and Alzheimer’s prevention benefits have also been tested on the ApoE4 carrier community. Individuals with one copy of the ApoE4 gene have a double or triple increased chance of getting Alzheimer’s; those with two copies of the ApoE4 variant have a 91 percent chance of getting Alzheimer’s during their lifetime. Studies show that regular exercise delays the chances of getting Alzheimer’s by more than 20 years in ApoE4 carriers. Other research suggests that exercise moderated the relationship between genotype and the risk of dementia.

While there is growing evidence that exercise plays a role in Alzheimer’s prevention, experts still warn that there is no proven way to prevent or slow Alzheimer’s. Earlier this year, an expert committee appointed by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reported that no interventions – like exercise, brain games and diet – were “supported by high-strength evidence.” Randomized controlled trials of the effect of physical exercise on Alzheimer’s only sometimes showed benefit. However, the Alzheimer’s Association stands by exercise as a healthy lifestyle choice to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s, saying there is enough evidence that the public should not discount exercise as a way to delay or prevent the onset of dementia. In what was considered a landmark study, Finnish researchers found that a combination of diet, exercise and cognitive training improved the memory, executive function and overall cognitive health of participants after just two years.

Looking for more information about exercise and Alzheimer’s? We spoke to Banner Alzheimer’s Institute’s Pierre Tariot, one of the researchers studying a Colombian family with a near-certain chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease, on the role of lifestyle factors in Alzheimer’s prevention

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