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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Exercise May Reduce Risk of Alzheimer's

Moderate Walking, Resistance Training Both Help Brain Health, Experts Find

Exercise and Alzheimer's Risk: Studies continued...

He found the 2% increase in hippocampus size. "Generally in this age range, people are losing 1% to 3% a year of hippocampal volume," he says. The changes in the size of the hippocampus were correlated with changes in the blood levels of the BDNF.

He also found that higher levels of fitness were linked with a greater size of the prefrontal cortex.

His advice? "Get up off the couch." Exercise, he says, is ''one of the most promising nonpharmacological treatments to improve brain health."

Resistance Training and Alzheimer's Risk: Study Details

Resistance training may help people who already have a condition known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) delay the onset of dementia, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, PhD, PT, assistant professor of physical therapy at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and University of British Columbia.

MCI boosts the risk of getting dementia, Liu-Ambrose says. "More than half will convert to a diagnosis of dementia within five years," she says.

Her goal was to see if resistance training or other exercise might stall that decline.

In her study, she assigned 86 women, aged 70 to 80, who had MCI to one of three groups:

  • Twice-a-week resistance training for an hour each session.
  • Twice-a-week aerobic training for an hour each session.
  • Toning and balance training for an hour each session.

She tested them before and after on such mental skills as attention, working memory, and everyday problem solving.

For instance, she says, they would look at the word "blue" printed in yellow ink. They would be told to call out the ink color rather than read out the word.

In real life, this skill might translate to remembering you need to take a different route to a friend's house because you plan to stop at the dry cleaner, she says.

She tested associative memory, too, which can become a problem with age. If you have trouble with associative memory, for instance, you may remember someone told you about a great sale at your favorite store, she says. "But you can't remember who told you."

Compared with the balance and tone group, those who did resistance training improved their performance on the test of attention and other tests and on the associative memory test.

The aerobic group had improvement in balance and mobility and heart health measures.

Resistance training may be a good workout for those who already have cognitive decline, Liu-Ambrose says.

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