People suffering from early Alzheimer’s disease can benefit from swift, repeated walks, a new randomized controlled trial shows. As the interest for therapeutic effects of physical exercise for people with Alzheimer’s disease keeps growing, a recent study published this February shows that aerobic exercise for those with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease can produce gains in functional ability.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas over a period of six months. Seventy six older adults who were diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s were recruited for this study, 68 of them remaining in the pilot trial until the end. All the participants that were chosen had the ability to perform light aerobic exercises and walk by themselves.
The participants were divided in two groups. The first one focused on a supervised walking routine while the second one – the control group – focused on light exercise through toning and stretching classes. Findings turned out very promising, especially for people in the walking group, but the improvement in terms of memory and thinking capacity weren’t as straightforward.
While some participants in the walking group scored higher on their cognitive tests than they did at the beginning of the study, others from the group, as well as most participants in the control group, showed the same test results. The participants that had better results on their cognitive tests also showed increased volume in their brain’s hippocampus – a part of the brain’s autonomic nervous system which is believed to be the center of emotions and memory.
Because the same type of physical program helped with thinking capacity in the participants with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers concluded that people with Alzheimer’s may be different than healthy people at a physiological level, thus responding differently – or not responding at all – to physical exercise.
Due to previous research that shows how older adults who exercise regularly have improved their memory in comparison to sedentary elderly people, it is believed that cardiorespiratory fitness may prevent or at least slow down Alzheimer’s disease. Active patients experience less atrophy in the hippocampus and tend to have better memory.
The study conducted at the University of Kansas enforces this theory, concluding that cardiorespiratory exercise is indeed associated with improved memory performance and leads to more volume in the hippocampus.
Most importantly, since the same participants in the walking group that scored higher on the cognitive tests were the same ones that also gained physical endurance during the study, an encouraging conclusion that the researchers made is that as elderly people’s fitness rises, Alzheimer’s progression slows.