A new study published in the journal Neurology, has found that physical activity, including both exercise and activity from daily chores or activities of daily living, may significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, even if you begin becoming physically active after 80 years of age!
The study, by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, used a device called an “atcigraph” worn on the wrist to measure the level of physical activity of the study participants from all sources.
“This is the first study to use an objective measurement of physical activity in addition to self-reporting,” the lead author, Dr. Aron S. Buchman, associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told Medical News Today. “This is important,” he said, “because people may not be able to remember the details correctly.”
“The results of our study indicate that all physical activities including exercise as well as other activities such as cooking, washing the dishes, and cleaning are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These results provide support for efforts to encourage all types of physical activity even in very old adults who might not be able to participate in formal exercise, but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle,” Dr. Buchman said.
The study was published online in the April 18, 2012 issue of the journal Neurology.
The Study Methodology
As part of an ongoing prospective study called the Rush Memory and Aging Project, Dr. Buchman and his colleagues measured extent of daily physical activity, both from exercise and other routine daily activities, in a group of 716 seniors, who were an average of 82 years old. At the start of the study, the participants underwent cognitive tests, and none of them had dementia.
For a period of 10 days, all of the study participants wore a device on their wrist, called an actigraph, which measured their physical activity level. Right-handed participants wore the actigraph on their right writs, and left-handed participants wore the device on their left wrist.
The researchers recorded the data from the actigraphs, indicating both the extent and the intensity of the participants’ physical activity from all sources.
During an average follow-up period of approximately four years, all of the participants underwent an annual clinical examination including a battery of 19 cognitive tests to measure their cognitive abilities and memory, and also reported on their social and physical activities.
During the follow-up period, 71 of the study participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.
After controlling for other factors, the researchers’ analysis of the data found that the least physically active seniors (those in the bottom 10% of all study participants in terms of the extent of their physical activity) were 2.3 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease as those who were most active (in the top 10% in terms of their activity level).
The researchers also found that exercise intensity had an even greater affect on Alzheimer’s risk. The participants in the bottom 10% of the group in intensity of physical activity were 2.8 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease as those in the top 10% in physical activity intensity.
“Since the actigraph was attached to the wrist, activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards and even moving a wheelchair with a person’s arms were beneficial. These are low-cost, easily accessible and side-effect free activities people can do at any age, including very old age, to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Buchman, the principal study author, explained to Medical News Today.
“This suggests that people in their 80s who can’t participate in formal exercise still get a benefit by leading a more active lifestyle,” Dr. Buchman told Time. “You don’t have to get a membership in the local YMCA. If you walk up some more steps, stand up and do the dishes more, you stand to benefit because it’s incremental and adds up over the course of a full day,” he said.
“Our study shows that physical activity, which is an easily modifiable risk factor, is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. This has important public health consequences,” Dr. Buchman concluded.
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