Science News

Fitness protects brain in Alzheimer's patients

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who are more physically fit had less shrinkage in areas of the brain that are important for memory, researchers said on Sunday.

Yoga practitioners perform sun salutations in Sydney in this file photo from October 10, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Fitness and exercise have been shown to slow age-related changes in the brain in healthy people. The latest finding suggests people with early Alzheimer’s disease may still benefit.

“The message is essentially if you have Alzheimer’s disease, it’s not too late to become physically fit,” Dr. Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council, said in a statement.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City studied the relationship between fitness and brain volume in 56 healthy adults and 60 adults with early Alzheimer’s disease. All were over the age of 60.

The researchers measured cardiovascular fitness based on treadmill tests that measured oxygen consumption. And they measured brain volume using magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scan, looking specifically at the size of key brain areas associated with memory, including the hippocampus.

The results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Chicago.

In Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to sustain damage.

They found that people who had early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and were physically fit had more brain volume in areas that are important to memory that people with the disease who were less fit.

“This is the first study to get an inside look into specifically where these changes occur in the brain. We’re able to locate the changes associated with fitness to the actual memory region, the hippocampus, which is a key area for Alzheimer’s-related atrophy,” Robyn Honea, who led the study, said in a statement.

The same group earlier this month reported that exercise helped preserve overall brain volume in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

In a separate study, Australian researchers found people with dementia who took part in a 12-month home exercise program directed by their caregivers had fewer falls and better quality of life.

Researchers from Western Medicine, Nedlands, Western Australia, found that people who took part in an exercise group fell significantly less often and had better balance than people who got ordinary care.

“Targeting this high-risk group may be a relatively cost-effective way of having a significant impact on the overall rate of falling in the elderly,” Megan Wraith, who led the study, said in a statement.

Editing by Vicki Allen