According to Professor Nicola Lautenschlager at The University of Melbourne, vigorous physical activity could reduce the number of Alzheimer’s cases by up to 30 percent.
The neurodegenerative disorder has been linked to an accumulation of proteins, such as amyloid plaques, dangerously linking together to form the fourth leading cause of death among the elderly.
Whilst there is still no cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s that appears to reduce its affects once it has taken hold, there are certain lifestyle changes and choices that can affect how these proteins work.
These amyloid proteins may begin massing together up to 30 years before clinical symptoms emerge, says Lautenschlager. Whilst this is scary information it also allows this new research to form an exciting, and informative approach to preventative treatment.
“You can make a difference on the concentration of these pathological proteins just by modifying your lifestyle,” says Lautenschlager.
Studies have shown that people with high levels of physical activity, compared to those with low levels of activity, have a lower risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Lautenschlager recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week to be devoted to physical activity as a preventative measure.
However, not all exercise is created equal according to Lautenschlager. When it comes to creating the best environment for protein fighting, it takes sweat, and a lot of it, to combat the build-up of amyloid’s in the brain.
“You have to work up a sweat and you have to have more intensive breathing,” says Lautenschlager. “So it’s not the stroll with a walking buddy where you have a chat or you stop at every corner with your dog. You have to walk fairly fast, so we call that moderate to vigorous.”
She also adds that combining exercise with resistance training like pilates and weightlifting can be even more beneficial.
In 2008, Lautenschlager published a study involving 170 seniors with memory deficits. These participants were encouraged to walk for 150 minutes a week for six months, with a control group of the same size, doing no exercise.
‘What we found was, really to our surprise, how striking the effect was,’ she says. ‘The cognition was clearly much better than in the control group.’ More promising, the benefits had a lasting effect. ‘Even a year later you could still see the effect.”
However, according to Lautenschlager, not all studies prove that exercise is the winning factor. ‘It’s not consistent,’ she says. ‘So you have negative and positive findings, but we have increasingly more often publications which show that regular physical activity can improve cognition.’
Whilst studies will continue to rise from the foundations of Lautenschlager’s study into cognitive vitality, she stresses that diet – now more than ever, has a huge impact on how our brains degenerate over time and is increasingly being viewed as an important factor in reducing the risk of dementia.