Exercise could slow progression of Alzheimer’s risk factors

Regular exercise, shown to be beneficial in improving mood and memory, might also inhibit the development of biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease, among those at risk, new research shows.

According to Ozioma Okonkwo of the University of Wisconsin, the findings detail how physical exercise among older adults at risk of Alzheimer’s could lessen age-related altercations in biomarkers. “Our research shows that, in a late-middle-age population at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, physically active individuals experience fewer age-related alterations in biomarkers associated with the disease, as well as memory and cognitive functioning,” said Okonkwo.

In one study, as part of the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, 317 participants were evaluated. At the start, all participants were between 40 to 65 years of age and regarded as free of any cognitive impairment. Researchers focused on health, biological, and lifestyle factors correlated with the neurodegenerative disease and follow-up assessments were initiated every two to four years, according to the study.

In an effort to measure numerous biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease, researchers instructed all participants to take a questionnaire regarding their physical activity and to undergo brain scanning. The data of those younger than 60 years of age was then compared to a sample of older participants. The findings indicated an increase in cognitive impairment and biomarkers correlated with the neurodegenerative disease among the older participants.

“The most interesting part of our research is that we now show evidence that lifestyle habits – in this case regular, moderate exercise – can modify the effect of what is commonly considered a non-modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s, in this case aging,” Okonkwo explained.

In two other studies, both of which utilized the Wisconsin-based registry, researchers zeroed in on aerobic fitness. In one of them, 95 participants were rated using polygenic risk scores based on the identification of certain genes associated with Alzheimer’s. Researchers also studied how changes in biomarkers occurred as a result of a genetic risk, and its potential correlation with aerobic fitness. The results determined that more aerobic fitness was correlated with a reduction in biomarkers for the disease.

In the other study, 107 participants exercised on a treadmill to measure their oxygen uptake efficiency slope. MRI scans were then taken of participants, in which it was again found that increased aerobic fitness led to similar results.

“Overall, these studies suggest that the negative effect of aging and genetic risk on Alzheimer’s’ disease biomarkers and cognition can be lessened in physically active, older adults at risk for the disease compared with their less active peers.”

The findings will be presented at the 2019 American Psychological Association Convention in Washington, D.C.