The Importance of Exercise for Alzheimer’s Prevention and Management

Pharmacological-based treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have been in the spotlight for the last decade, but what about exercise for Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that leads to memory loss, cognitive decline, and eventually an inability to perform daily tasks.

With an aging population and a growing number of individuals affected by Alzheimer’s, it has become increasingly important to identify effective prevention and management strategies.

Studies show that one such strategy is exercise, which has been shown to play a crucial role in maintaining brain health and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The Link Between Exercise and Alzheimer’s Prevention

Numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between exercise and improved cognitive health.

How Exercise Protects the Brain

Research indicates that regular physical activity can significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Here’s how exercise can protect the brain:

Improved Blood Flow

Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, providing essential nutrients and oxygen that support brain health and overall cognitive function. [1]

Encouraging New Brain Cell Growth

Physical activity stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the growth and maintenance of brain cells. [2]

Reduced Inflammation

Exercise helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain, which can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. [3]

Benefits of Exercise for Alzheimer’s Patients

Continuing with the points above, here are the proven benefits of exercise for Alzheimer’s management and prevention.

Enhanced Cognitive Function

Regular exercise has been shown to help slow down cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, improving memory, attention, and executive functioning. [4]

Improved Mood and Reduced Depression

Physical activity can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety often experienced by those with Alzheimer’s, promoting a more positive mood and overall well-being. [5]

Better Sleep Quality

Engaging in regular exercise can improve sleep patterns in Alzheimer’s patients, resulting in better sleep quality and reduced nighttime agitation. [6]

Increased Physical Strength and Endurance

Exercise can help maintain and improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which is crucial for Alzheimer’s patients to maintain independence and reduce the risk of falls. [7]

The Best Exercise for Alzheimer’s Prevention

“Exercise” doesn’t have to mean spending an hour in the weight room (unless that’s what you enjoy doing!). There are plenty of options to choose from.

Here are some of the most effective types of exercise for Alzheimer’s:

Aerobic Activities

Aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, increase heart rate and improve cardiovascular health, which in turn benefits brain health.

Resistance Training

Strength training exercises, like weightlifting and bodyweight exercises, help to maintain muscle mass and improve overall physical function.

Balance and Flexibility Exercises

Practices such as yoga and tai chi improve balance and flexibility, which are important for maintaining mobility and reducing the risk of falls.

Suggested Exercise Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Prevention

Experts recommend engaging in the following types and duration of aerobic exercise:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity OR
  • A combination of both

Muscle-strengthening activities should also be included. Ideally, you would want to do strength training at least two days per week.

Additionally, incorporating balance and flexibility exercises into your routine can further support brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention.

What does this look like as far as a schedule goes?

Start off easy to build the habit. Try exercising (e.g., going for a walk) for 30 minutes every day. Once this becomes routine, you can build from here, incorporating more time and intensity.

Overcoming Barriers to Exercise

Let’s address some of the common challenges faced by older adults and Alzheimer’s patients:

Physical Limitations

Older adults and Alzheimer’s patients may face physical challenges that make exercise more difficult, such as limited mobility, pain, or weakness.

Lack of Motivation

Maintaining motivation to exercise can be especially challenging for individuals with Alzheimer’s, who may struggle with memory issues or apathy.

Fear of Injury

The risk of injury or exacerbating existing health problems can cause hesitation and reluctance to engage in physical activity.

Strategies to Overcome These Challenges

Here are some ways to overcome these challenges:

Discovering Enjoyable Activities

Finding activities that the individual finds enjoyable and engaging can boost motivation and make it more likely they will stick to a regular exercise routine.

Engaging Family Members and Caregivers

Involving family members and caregivers in the exercise routine can provide essential support, encouragement, and assistance, making it easier for older adults and Alzheimer’s patients to overcome barriers and stay active.

Collaborating with a Healthcare Professional

Working closely with a healthcare professional, such as a physician, physical therapist, or coach can help tailor exercise programs to individual needs and ensure safety.

We’re Here for You

Experience the power of a devoted caretaker, ally, and friend by your side as you navigate the complexities of managing and preventing Alzheimer’s.

Don’t let Alzheimer’s challenges stand in the way of reaping the rewards of exercise and a healthier lifestyle. We’re here to support you!

Embrace your journey towards enhanced health and an enriched quality of life by scheduling a free consultation with our seasoned healthcare professionals today.

Together, we’ll conquer Alzheimer’s hurdles and celebrate your victories!

References

  1. Tomoto T, Verma A, Kostroske K, Tarumi T, Patel NR, Pasha EP, Riley J, Tinajero CD, Hynan LS, Rodrigue KM, Kennedy KM, Park DC, Zhang R. One-year aerobic exercise increases cerebral blood flow in cognitively normal older adults. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2023 Mar;43(3):404-418. doi: 10.1177/0271678X221133861. Epub 2022 Oct 16. PMID: 36250505; PMCID: PMC9941859.
  2. Sleiman SF, Henry J, Al-Haddad R, El Hayek L, Abou Haidar E, Stringer T, Ulja D, Karuppagounder SS, Holson EB, Ratan RR, Ninan I, Chao MV. Exercise promotes the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) through the action of the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. Elife. 2016 Jun 2;5:e15092. doi: 10.7554/eLife.15092. PMID: 27253067; PMCID: PMC4915811.
  3. Beavers KM, Brinkley TE, Nicklas BJ. Effect of exercise training on chronic inflammation. Clin Chim Acta. 2010 Jun 3;411(11-12):785-93. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2010.02.069. Epub 2010 Feb 25. PMID: 20188719; PMCID: PMC3629815.
  4. Di Liegro CM, Schiera G, Proia P, Di Liegro I. Physical Activity and Brain Health. Genes (Basel). 2019 Sep 17;10(9):720. doi: 10.3390/genes10090720. PMID: 31533339; PMCID: PMC6770965.
  5. Singh B, Olds T, Curtis R, et al. Effectiveness of physical activity interventions for improving depression, anxiety and distress: an overview of systematic reviews. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Published Online First: 16 February 2023. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2022-106195
  6. Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. doi: 10.1155/2017/1364387. Epub 2017 Mar 26. Erratum in: Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510. PMID: 28458924; PMCID: PMC5385214.
  7. Momma H, Kawakami R, Honda T, et al. Muscle-strengthening activities are associated with lower risk and mortality in major non-communicable diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2022;56:755-763.

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