The Cronicle Herald in Canada published an article on the benefits of (Nordic) Walking, improving brain's resistance to Alzheimer's. This is a very interesting reearch study.
Walking improves brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s
Walking isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, but a researcher who studied people with cognitive impairment says it might improve the brain’s resistance to the disease and slow the decline.
Those who walked eight kilometres a week had a slower progression of Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment over five years than those who did not, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.
Patients were recruited from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which began in the late 1980s, and involved clinical measurements each year, questionnaires about physical activity and — about 10 years into the study — a brain scan.
As well, participants were given a mini-mental state exam, or MMSE, to check for cognitive decline.
The study looked at 299 healthy adults and 127 cognitively impaired adults in Pittsburgh, including 44 with Alzheimer’s and 83 with mild cognitive impairment.
"We asked the question, ‘If you’re walking a lot at the start of the study, were you better off in terms of your brain volume 10 years later?’" said study co-author Cyrus Raji of the department of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
"People who walk five miles (eight kilometres) a week had a slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, and a slower rate of cognitive decline over five years," he said in an interview.
"And this is reflected by test scores that only went down one point over five years in the individuals with cognitive impairment who walked five miles a week versus five points over five years for those who don’t."
Individuals with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease who walked the eight kilometres a week also had better preservation of areas of the brain that are important in memory and learning, such as the hippocampus, the frontal lobes and the temporal lobes, he said.
The findings for patients with cognitive impairment were released Monday, but Raji and his colleagues reported results for the healthy adults last month in the journal Neurology.
"What we found out in the group that was cognitively normal at the time of brain imaging was that their brains were bigger than the people who hadn’t walked as much," Raji said.
"In the 299 people who didn’t have Alzheimer’s at the time of brain imaging, walking six miles (about 10 kilometres) a week preserved their brain with aging."
The study was observational. A more definitive study would randomize people, and prescribe that half of them exercise and see what happens, he said.
But Dr. Robin Hsiung, assistant professor with the neurology division of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia, cautioned that you could never come to a cause-and-effect conclusion from these findings.
"Some people may argue that maybe those people who have a bigger brain are more active in the first place, so it’s not the exercise that caused the preservation of the brain volume," he said. "It’s (that) those people who are destined not to have cognitive impairment tend to have more physical activity."
"It’s very hard to tell cause-and-effect. You may just argue that people with Alzheimer’s who already have a shrinking brain will not want to walk, so you don’t know if it’s just those people who are healthy who have a normal brain volume are much more active than those with Alzheimer’s. So the findings are interesting, but it does not prove cause-and-effect."
Still, he said there’s good reason to exercise.
"It’s cheap and it’s much better than picking drugs that have side-effects, and it probably has many good effects, whether it’s related to your brain health or not."