Even Gardening or Dancing May Cut Alzheimer's Risk
Any regular physical activity is linked to a healthier brain, study suggests
By Steven Reinberg
FRIDAY, March 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Regular physical activity, including gardening or dancing, may cut Alzheimer's risk by as much as 50 percent, a new study suggests.
Researchers who analyzed lifestyle habits and brain scans of nearly 900 older adults found that any activity that gets you moving on a regular basis seems to help the brain increase gray matter. This, in turn, may keep dementia at bay, they suggested.
"Any type of physical activity that burns calories -- from jogging to gardening to walking to dancing -- is associated with more gray matter in the brain," said lead researcher Dr. Cyrus Raji. He is a postdoctoral researcher in radiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"The most important thing is that it's regular," Raji said.
More gray matter means a healthier brain and correlates with a reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease, Raji said.
Alzheimer's disease, a progressive brain disorder, affects 5.1 million Americans and is predicted to increase significantly over the next 30 years. Because there is no cure, Raji said the focus needs to be on prevention.
The report was published March 11 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
The study doesn't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship between aerobic activity and gray matter growth, one expert noted.
"It's just an association," said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association. Nevertheless, exercise is important, Hendrix said. "What's good for your heart is good for your brain, which includes exercise," he added.
Hendrix said that the sooner you become physically active, the better. "Exercise should be part of your lifestyle," he explained.
While fear of dying from a heart attack hasn't motivated people to exercise, perhaps the prospect of dying from Alzheimer's disease is scarier and more motivating, Hendrix suggested.
"With Alzheimer's disease, it's a long, slow, painful way to die," he said.
For the report, Raji and colleagues collected data on 876 seniors who took part in a long-term cardiovascular health study of people aged 65 and older. At age 78, on average, the participants had MRIs to measure the size of their brains, and answered questions about their memory and physical activity.