January is usually a time of renewed commitment to improving one’s health. Diet and exercise are at the top of the list. While we know that exercise helps strengthen bones and muscles, reduces stress and the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, there’s another reason: physical activity benefits the brain.

According to Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D. with Mayo Clinic, “Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function, have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly have improved thinking among people with vascular cognitive impairment.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and while the disease currently cannot be cured nor the progression of memory loss be stopped, some treatments can reduce the symptoms.

“It is evident that both physical and mental exercises can reduce the chances of getting Alzheimer’s and slow down the worsening process of the disease among those who are already suffering from it,” says Parama Roy Chowdhury in her CouncelHeal.com article, Alzheimer’s Patients Can Slow Memory Loss Process by Regular Exercise.

She cites research led by Dr. Marie-Christine Pardon, School of Biomedical Science, The University of Nottingham, UK, which found “that the hormone CRF or corticotrophin-releasing factor, which is mostly produced in excess when a person is stressed or depressed, has a positive effect on the brain… It was also found that the amount of CRF is significantly lower in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s.”

“Overall, this research provides further evidence that a healthy lifestyle involving exercise slows down the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and opens avenues for the new interventions targeting the altered CRFR function associated with the early stages of the disease,” said Dr. Pardon.

Brain Size Matters The hippocampus, the part of the brain that is involved in the formation of new memories and learning, begins to shrink in late adulthood.

Sportrec.com in its article, Does Exercise Improve Memory, notes the results of a 2011 study in which participants, ages 55-80, walked for 30 minutes three times a week, while others performed a stretching routine. At the end of seven weeks, the study found those who participated in walking had improved memory function due to the increase in volume of their hippocampus.

In another 2013 study published in the journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, sedentary adults ages 57 to 75 were separated into an exercise group and a wait-list. The participants exercised on a stationary bike or treadmill for an hour, three times a week. After the 12-week study, those who exercised improved their memory performance, brain health and physical fitness. The stretching group did not improve their memory.

How Much Exercise  A well-rounded exercise routine should include resistance training and cardio exercise such as light walking or jogging. According to the Mayo Clinic, “short 30-minute exercise sessions have been proven to be beneficial.”

Start with 10 to 20 minutes of brisk walking or weight lifting once or twice a week and gradually increase your workout. Always consult your doctor prior to beginning any exercise routine.

For more information, contact Alzheimers Coachella Valley at (760) 776-.3100.

Sources: 1) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/alzheimers-disease/faq-20057881; 2) https://www.counselheal.com/articles/3571/20130125/alzheimer-patients-slow-memory-loss-process-regular.htm; 3) https://www.sportsrec.com/406604-does-exercise-improve-memory.html

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