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Alzheimer's disease is one of the most rapidly-growing and deadly diseases. It is also difficult to reverse or stop the disease. Also, it is commonly believed that our cognitive abilities decline as we age.
When considering their cognitive futures, it makes sense that many people feel an inexplicable fear. There is a big question mark beyond 65 years old: Will I ever get it? Or will I be lucky?
Similar: Alzheimer's and dementia: How to detect and prevent them
According to brain scientists, most people don't have luck.
Prevention is the magic pill
Although there is no cure, Alzheimer's disease can be slowened by lifestyle changes.
Dr. Dean Sherzai is a clinical neurologist and co-director at Loma Linda University's Alzheimers Prevention Program. He has created a five-component lifestyle intervention treatment that he shares with patients.
There are people who come to us with early signs or subjective impairment. Then there are people who have mild cognitive impairment or MCI. Sherzai explained that we also have people who have more advanced symptoms. We provide them with interventions and give them advice about lifestyle changes that they can make. Then we watch what happens.
Also, see: Does a lack of sleep cause dementia?
Get better brain health by exercising
Exercise is one of the five components Sherzais' lifestyle intervention. He recommends that you implement it first.
When we try to change behavior in a population, we want to make small changes that people can see immediately. Nothing is better than exercising. Sherzai stated that it is easy to implement and measurable, with quick returns.
His patients feel much better after a few weeks of regular exercise. They also have better sleep quality and their blood sugar and lipid profiles are better. Sherzai explained these are just a few of the indirect ways that exercise can reduce Alzheimer's risk. Each of those factors is associated with higher disease rates.
He also identified three direct connections between exercise and better brain health.
The first direct benefit is increased blood flow to the brain. This delivers more oxygen as well as nutrients.
Exercise increases blood flow to brain, which in turn delivers more nutrients and oxygen. The second direct benefit is that it simultaneously flushes out inflammatory and oxidative elements from the brain quicker. Sherzai stated that cognitive decline begins in the vascular system. Exercise is the best thing for this.
It also flushes out inflammatory and oxidative elements faster. Sherzai stated that cognitive decline begins in the vascular system. Exercise is the best thing for this. The third direct benefit is an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), which Sherzai claims is similar to growth hormones for neurons but is specifically important for maintaining neuronal connections.
Which type of exercise is best to improve brain health?
Although brain scientists agree exercise is beneficial for cognitive decline prevention, scientists are still unsure if one type of exercise is better than the other. However, scientists are beginning to investigate this topic. Multiple studies have proven that both resistance and aerobic training can have significant cognitive benefits.
Sherzai suggests that you do exercises that involve the legs.
A study published in July 2021 by the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that participants aged 55-80 who had been previously classified as MCI were able to perform better on memory tests when they walked at moderate to high intensities.
TsubasaTomoto, from the Department of Neurology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, was the researcher on this yearlong study that focused on the brain's vascular function before and after exercise intervention.
The aerobic training increased cerebral vascular motor responsiveness (CVMR), while stretching (the control) had no effect. Tomoto said that an increase in CVMR was also associated with higher memory scores.
Texas's study used moderate-to-high-intensity continuous exercise for the results. However, other studies have shown positive results with High-Intensity Interval training (HIIT) as well as resistance training.
A 2020 Australian study, published in NeuroImage: Clinical, found that resistance training for six months not only improved cognition but also protected an area of the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease for up one year.
Participants aged 55 years and older completed three sets of eight repetitions each of five exercises, three times per week. These exercises included the leg press, chest press, knee extension, standing hip abduction, and standing leg press. They were performed on pneumatic resistance machines.
You can see: What can I do for my friend with dementia?
It is important to be intense
Although there are many types of exercise that can protect against Alzheimer's disease, most of them tend to be quite intense. Sherzai said that there may be a limit to how intense an exercise can be, beyond which there is no additional benefit or harm. The general rule is that the more intense your workouts, the better.
Sherzai stated that both aerobic and anaerobic exercise work well, but must be hard enough to get your blood pumping.
He recommends that you do exercises that involve the legs. It makes it more healthy.
Sherzai suggests that even if you are not able to do strenuous or moderate activity, light exercise can still have direct and indirect benefits for your brain. It's not one or another, it's a matter of degrees.
According to new research, there are 5 ways to lower your risk of developing dementia.
Here's the takeaway: Get active! You should exercise as often as possible, as hard as you can, and for as long as possible. Your brain will be grateful.
Rashelle Brown, a freelance writer and long-time fitness professional, has hundreds of published and online bylines. NextAvenue and Active Network are regular contributors. She is also the author of Reboot Your Body, Unlocking the Genetic Secrets for Permanent Weight Loss (Turner Publishing). Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @RashelleBrownMN.
This article was reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org, Inc. 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc.
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