Could Physical Fitness Treat Alzheimer’s?

Could Physical Fitness Treat Alzheimer’s?
Exercise apparently creates what researcher Fred Gage called, “Lobes of Steel.” Exercise releases damaging stress hormones which stay lodged in the brain longer than elsewhere in the body and is responsible for shrinking the hippocampus which is smaller in the Alzheimer’s brain. But even more impressive; Exercise creates new neurons and enhances connections!

The latest findings according to a study published in the July 15, 2008, issue of Neurology state that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients in the early stages are larger in those who are physically fit than those who do not exercise! “People with early Alzheimer’s disease who were less physically fit had four times more brain shrinkage when compared to normal older adults than those who were more physically fit, suggesting less brain shrinkage related to the Alzheimer's disease process in those with higher fitness levels,” said study author Jeffrey M. Burns, MD. This means more cognitive skills and better life quality for longer. The study points out that exercise increases brain volume and more brain volume in an Alzheimer’s patient means better cognitive performance.

On the flip side there is no clear cut proof that physical activity may be beneficial for persons with dementia. “Due to the small number of studies we have not been able to demonstrate this,” said Dorothy Forbes, an associate professor with the faculty of health sciences at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada.

Consider that a great deal of Alzheimer’s research is geared toward drug therapy and in our society we are used to that genie in a bottle. Something as basic as a healthy diet and physical fitness would not turn a profit for drug companies. With that said, we return to the argument of nature versus nurture. How much of our genetic legacy is expressed or suppressed based on our environment?

What should you do?
The way I see it: Physical exercise is a huge component of healthy living for the cardiovascular system, the skeletal system and the immune system. Exercise reduces anxiety and makes you feel happier. Anyone who exercises enjoys the endorphin rush of a natural feel-good chemistry and as a result, more emotionally balanced. An Alzheimer’s patient can swim, walk, or do supervised group exercises. In fact, those Alzheimer’s patients who exercise have fewer colds. A caregiver who exercises with an Alzheimer’s patient reduces the stress of the patient along with his own personal stress! So if the studies have been small, and there is no clear causal link as of yet, what harm could exercise do? Try it and see!
For more information on on Alzheimer's treatment read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show

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