Mind and Body

Staying Active May Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Older adults who putter in the garden or around the house may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than retirees who spend their time on more sedentary activities.

Photo of older woman with potted tomato plant

That's what a recent study suggests. Although the research doesn't prove that exercise prevents Alzheimer's, it does hint that an active lifestyle is good for your brain - something that previous studies have also suggested was true.

Even if you can't exercise formally, increasing all kinds of movements may help in the long term, says lead author Aron Buchman, M.D., at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Monitored activity

The study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 716 people who did not initially have dementia. Participants' average age was 82, and 602 of them were women. Researchers tracked their activity for up to 10 days with a device called an actigraph, which measures movement. The actigraph picked up usual forms of exercise, such as walking and swimming, but also monitored when people fidgeted or moved around the house.

The researchers then tracked the participants for about four years. By the end of the study, 71 people had signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Those among the 10 percent of participants who were most active had an 8 percent likelihood of developing signs of Alzheimer's over the time period in which they were followed. The risk jumped to 18 percent among the 10 percent of participants who were the least active.

More research needed

Dr. Buchman says the study doesn't prove that activity cuts the risk for Alzheimer's, because it's impossible to know which comes first: little activity or brain problems. "The whole issue of whether there's a causal relationship between physical activity and cognition is one that needs to be sorted out," he says.

One drawback of the study was the overwhelming number of women who participated. Because of this, the results might not apply to the population at large. In addition, the actigraph devices didn't distinguish among the different activities performed.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Alzheimer's Association - Stay Physically Active

CDC - How much physical activity do older adults need?

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - Alzheimer's Disease Information Page

June 2012

Ideas for Exercise

Finding ways to get exercise as you get older is a smart and easy way to stay fit and improve your health. Exercise is just as important in your older years as when you were younger.

Getting exercise isn't as time-consuming as you may think. For general health benefits, you'll need about 2.5 hours a week of walking, running, or other activities that get the heart pumping faster activity. Add in muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week, and exercises that help improve your balance and flexibility.

Add a little "elbow grease" when doing chores and these regular activities will count as a workout:

  • Cleaning the house

  • Raking leaves in the yard

  • Gardening

  • Mowing the lawn

  • Sweeping and dusting

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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