Science

Keep moving to stave off effects of dementia – study

New research suggests that even small amounts of exercise may protect against effects of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

Older people who move around more – even if they are just doing housework – may protect themselves against the effects of dementia, research has shown.

Scientists studied the donated brains of 454 deceased older adults, 191 of whom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Prior to death they had undergone thinking and memory tests over a period of 20 years. Their average age at death was 91.

At an average of two years before death, each participant was given a wrist-worn accelerometer that monitors activity.

Working round the clock, the device recorded everything from walking around the house to fitness routines.

The study found that higher levels of daily movement were associated with better thinking and memory skills.

The pattern remained the same even when the researchers took account of the severity of damage seen in the brains.

Study leader Dr Aron S. Buchman, from the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: “Our research team measured levels of physical activity in study participants an average of two years prior to death, and then examined their brain tissue after death, and found that moving more may have a protective effect on the brain.

“People who moved more had better thinking and memory skills compared to those who didn’t move much at all.

“We found movement may essentially provide a reserve to help maintain thinking and memory skills when there are signs of dementia present in the brain.”

Dr James Pickett, head of research at the charity Alzheimer’s Society, said: “What’s fascinating about this research is that it suggests physical activity might not slow down dementia-related changes in the brain, but could help the brain cope with these changes.

“Exercise might help by strengthening the connections between brain-cells – referred to as cognitive reserve – which makes our brain more resilient to the changes that cause cognitive decline.”

The findings appear in the journal Neurology.

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