Daily physical exercise may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even in people over the age of 80, according to a study published in the April 18, 2012, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The study showed that not only exercise but also activities such as cooking, washing the dishes and cleaning are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” said study author Aron S. Buchman, MD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “These results provide support for efforts to encourage physical activity in even very old people who might not be able to participate in formal exercise but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle.”

For the study, a group of 716 people with an average age of 82 wore an actigraph, a device that monitors activity, on their non-dominant wrist continuously for 10 days. All exercise and non-exercise was recorded. They also were given annual tests during the four-year study that measured memory and thinking abilities. During the study, 71 people developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants also self-reported their physical and social activity. Buchman said this is the first study to use an objective measurement of physical activity in addition to self-reporting. “This is important because people may not be able to remember the details correctly,” he said.

The research found that people in the bottom 10 percent of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of daily activity.

The study also showed that those people in the bottom 10 percent of intensity of physical activity were almost three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of intensity of physical activity.

“Since the actigraph was attached to the wrist, activities like cooking, washing the dishes, playing cards and even moving a wheelchair with a person’s arms were associated with a lower Alzheimer’s risk,” said Michal Schnaider-Beeri, PhD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York in an accompanying editorial. “These are low-cost, easily accessible and side-effect free activities people can do at any age, including very old age, to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Robert C. Borwell Endowment Fund.

Notes about this Alzheimer’s disease research article

Contacts: Angela Babb & Rachel Seroka – American Academy of Neurology
Source: American Academy of Neurology press release
Original Research: Abstract for “Total daily physical activity and the risk of AD and cognitive decline in older adults” by A.S. Buchman, P.A. Boyle, L. Yu, R.C. Shah, R.S. Wilson, and D.A. Bennett in Neurology Published online before print April 18, 2012, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182535d35

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