October 3, 2005

Exercise in middle age cuts Alzheimer’s risk – study

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Exercising in middle age not only keeps
the weight down and the heart healthy but can also cut the risk
of suffering from Alzheimer's disease, particularly in high
risk people, Swedish researchers said on Monday.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that
people in mid-life who exercised at least twice a week had
about a 60 percent lower risk of suffering from dementia than
more sedentary people.

"This is the first study to show this long-term relation
between physical activity and dementia later in life," Dr Miia
Kivipelto, of the Aging Research Center at the institute, said
in an interview.

The biggest impact was in people who had a genetic
susceptibility to dementia, according to the study published in
The Lancet Neurology journal.

"It seems that physical activity had an even more
pronounced effect among those with the susceptibility gene
apoe4, the most important risk factor for Alzheimer's disease
and dementia," Kivipelto added.

Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia in the
elderly. It affects an estimated 12 million people around the
globe. There is no cure for the progressive illness that robs
people of their memory and mental ability but drug treatments
may slow the early progression of the disorder.

Kivipelto and her team studied the mental health of nearly
1,500 people between the ages of 65-79 whose leisure activities
had been monitored every five years from 1972 to 1987.

After re-examining the data in 1998 they discovered the
active group, which did a physical activity that caused
sweating and strained breathing, were less likely to suffer
from Alzheimer's.

"We found that people who were active during mid-life and
had leisure activities at least two times per week had a much
lower risk for dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease," she

Walking and cycling were the most common forms of exercise
in the study. The researchers found no link between the amount
of exercise and the degree of reduced risk.

They do not know exactly how exercise decreases dementia
risk. But they suspect it could be due to a direct effect on
the brain and its messaging system and also by improving blood
flow to the brain.

"It may promote brain plasticity by a direct effect on the
brain," Kivipelto added.