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Ask Dr. Nandi: Aerobic exercise may delay and improve Alzheimer's symptoms

Posted at 5:49 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-29 17:49:38-05

Alzheimer’s is a devastating condition that can rob people of their ability to think clearly and make decisions. It’s become the sixth leading cause of death in America.

More than five and a half million Americans are currently living with this disease, most of them over age 65. In the next thirty years, that number is supposed to triple.

More research is desperately needed if we’re going to put a halt to this trend. But researchers made some progress recently when they reviewed 17 different studies examining the effects of training programs on brain function.

It turns out that aerobic exercise may play a crucial role in keeping Alzheimer’s symptoms at bay. 

When researchers reviewed the literature, they found that people in the control group who did no exercise at all showed declines in brain function. Those who worked out in some way or other showed small improvements.

But interestingly, it was the folks who only did aerobic exercise fared the best on tests. Their scores were up to three times higher than the people who did a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise.

Here are my prescriptions. 

  1. Make sure to get your heart pumping a few times a week with some sort of aerobic exercise. 
  2. Limit your intake of sugar and saturated fats. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. 
  3. Spend time with your tribe. Maintaining strong social connections is critical to longevity. 
  4. Remain mentally active to slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 

The World Health Organization recommends two and a half hours per week of moderate exercise, like walking, and 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise.

It also recommends that people over 65 perform muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

But of all these, it turns out that the most important for preserving cognitive decline seems to be aerobic exercise like walking, running, or riding a bike.