Regular weekly exercise sessions could delay brain deterioration in people at high risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Research by The University of Texas Southwestern shows that people who had an accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain – the amino acids crucially involved in Alzheimer's disease – experienced slower degeneration in a region of the brain crucial for memory if they exercised regularly for one year.
Amyloid beta is the main component of the amyloid plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
While the research found that exercise did not prevent the eventual spread of toxic amyloid plaques – blamed for killing neurons in the brains of dementia patients – the findings suggest the possibility that aerobic workouts can at least slow down the effects of the disease if intervention occurs in the early stages.
"Currently, doctors can't prescribe anything if you have amyloid clumping together in the brain," said Dr Rong Zhang, who led the clinical trial.
"If these findings can be replicated in a larger trial, then maybe one day doctors will be telling high-risk patients to start an exercise plan. In fact, there's no harm in doing so now."
Published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
, the study compared cognitive function and brain volume between two groups of sedentary older adults with memory issues.
One group undertook aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes four to five times each week, while another group only took part in flexibility training.
Both groups maintained similar cognitive abilities during the trial in areas, such as memory and problem-solving.
Brain imaging, however, showed that people from the frequent exercise group – who already had amyloid buildup – experienced slightly less volume reduction in their hippocampus, a memory-related brain region that progressively deteriorates as dementia takes hold.
"It's interesting that the brains of participants with amyloid responded more to the aerobic exercise than the others," Zhang added.
"Although the interventions didn't stop the hippocampus from getting smaller, even slowing down the rate of atrophy through exercise could be an exciting revelation."
• To read the full report on the survey, click here