People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience brain shrinkage during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease according to a new study published in the July 15 issue of the journal Neurology.
The study was conducted by researchers out of the University of Kansas School of Medicine. The researchers compared the brain sizes and fitness levels of 64 individuals who were free of dementia and 57 patients who had recently been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
The fitness of the participants was measured using VO2-peak which is a measure of an individuals ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise. It is generally thought to be one of the best measures of cardiovascular fitness.
Physical fitness was not found to be correlated with brain size in patients without Alzheimer’s disease. In those who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease however, high levels of physical fitness were associated with both larger brain and white matter volumes.
Normal brains tend to reduce in size as a person ages, however in Alzheimer’s disease the rate of brain shrinkage is much faster than in normal brains. The researchers found that those with Alzheimer’s disease who were not physically fit experienced brain shrinkage at four times the rate of Alzheimer’s patients who were physically fit.
The authors concluded that physical exercise might allow recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s sufferers to maintain brain function and continue to live independently for much longer than might be the case for sedentary individuals.
The research team plans to continue following the participants of this study for a further two years in order to see how cognitive ability and brain volume in Alzheimer’s patients correlates with physical activity over time.
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