Exercise and Alzheimer's

Can 10,000 Steps a Day Keep Alzheimer’s Away? The Science of Exercise

By Mylea Charvat | February 21st, 2023

According to a leading neurology researcher, getting at least 10,000 steps per day can decrease your chance of getting Alzheimer’s by as much as 60 percent.

Because there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and 99 percent of Alzheimer’s drugs in drug trials fail, those at risk for Alzheimer’s — for example, people with common genetic biomarkers — are turning to science-backed lifestyle modifications to keep Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia at bay. 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.

Some important points about the relationship between exercise and brain health:

  • 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 can change the relationship between a person’s genotype and their risk of dementia — for the better.

Studies show that regular exercise
delays the chances of getting Alzheimer’s by
more than 20 years in ApoE4 carriers.

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.

UPDATE: 00:39, 21 February, 2023 — This article from September 2017 has been updated with new information to help our readers.

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2 thoughts on “Can 10,000 Steps a Day Keep Alzheimer’s Away? The Science of Exercise

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