July 30, 2013
Exercise Boosts Brain Function For Those With High Alzheimer’s Risk
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease that exercise could improve cognitive function for people at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
The team said that exercise could improve the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory, particularly for individuals at risk for Alzheimer's. Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals a more substantial memory loss and often preceeds an Alzheimer's diagnosis. The new study provides hope for those diagnosed with MCI, and is the first research to show that an exercise intervention with older adults improves not only memory recall but also brain function.
"We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency - basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task," says Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland in College Park.
"No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise."
During the study, two groups of physically inactive older adults were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking guided by a personal trainer. Both groups improved their cardiovascular fitness by about 10 percent at the end of the intervention, and also enhanced their memory performance and neural efficiency.
Researchers had the participants identify famous names and measured their brain activation when they engaged in correctly recognizing the name of a celebrity.
"The task gives us the ability to see what is going on in the brain when there is a correct memory performance," said Smith.
Tests and imaging were performed both before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans after the intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The exercise intervention also showed improved word recall when people were read a list of 15 words and asked to remember and repeat as many as possible.
"People with MCI are on a very sharp decline in their memory function, so being able to improve their recall is a very big step in the right direction," said Smith.
The researchers conclude that exercise may reduce the need for over-activation of the brain to correctly remember something. This is good news for those who are looking for something they can do to help preserve brain function.
Another group of scientists reported last week that they found key molecular pathways in the brain that lead to late-onset Alzheimer's disease. This discovery could play a role in the development of drugs for the common non-familial form of Alzheimer's disease.