Keep Active to Stay Sharp

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that staying physically active may help improve brain function in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Walk for your life

Because physically active people are less likely to experience cognitive decline later in life than sedentary people, the new study tested if a physical activity program could reduce the rate of decline in 170 older adults who were at increased risk for dementia.

The people were divided into two groups. One group received educational materials about memory loss, stress management, healthful diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking; the other group was encouraged to engage in at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity physical exercise for six months. Brisk walking was the most commonly recommended type of exercise.

People in the exercise group were walking about 9,000 more steps per week and had better cognitive function by the end of the six months than people in the group receiving usual care. The benefits of increased physical activity continued to be seen for another year after the study was completed.

“Unlike medication, which was found to have no significant effect on mild cognitive impairment, physical activity has the advantage of health benefits that are not confined to cognitive function alone,” commented the researchers.

What you can do to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease advances with age, and increases when a family member has the disease. While you can’t do anything to change your age or genetic make up, there are some factors within your control.

• People who have sustained a serious head injury have a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Make sure to wear a helmet while biking or participating in high-impact sports, and always wear your seatbelt in the car.

• A healthy heart is vital for proper brain function. High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol can increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Maintain a healthy weight, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week, and see your doctor regularly to make sure that you are on a comprehensive plan to keep your heart and brain healthy.

Says David Peterson of Rhode Island, “As a person who has a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, I’m particularly interested in this study. It seems that more and more, good health comes down to responsible living.”

(JAMA 2008;300:1027–37)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.