Picture of Center for Cognitive Health

Center for Cognitive Health

Physical Activity Helps Delay AD Progression

We have all been told how important it is for our health to lead an active lifestyle. Physical activity has many positive health benefits, but research is showing that it also has a protective effect on your brain!

According to a longitudinal study published in the July online edition of JAMA Neurology, physical activity and the management of other vascular risk factors – such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation and smoking – battle the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Participants in this research were part of the Harvard Brain Study and were followed for up to 8 years. All of these individuals had positive amyloid PET scans and vascular risk at the beginning of the study. 

Physical activity was measured using pedometers that were worn around the waist, providing their mean steps per day. Participants also completed cognitive tests at baseline and throughout the study to monitor for decline. Amyloid levels were also monitored longitudinally for each participant.

Researchers found that modest regular physical activity (8,000-9,000 daily steps) was associated with slower brain volume loss over time and greater physical activity in those with high amyloid plaque burden protects against cognitive decline. 

The study also showed that the effect of physical activity on cognitive decline was independent of how well the subject’s vascular risk factors were being managed and controlled. These are two separate variables that have a profound influence on brain health that can be thoughtfully managed throughout life to promote brain health and longevity.

It is impossible to say exactly how much exercise is needed because every individual is different, but working to include modest regular activity into your daily routine will benefit you in the long run.

Not sure what to do for exercise? Keep it exciting! 

Rotate or have a good mix of resistance training, aerobic exercise, and mind-body exercises.

If you have not been engaging in any form of physical activity it’s not too late to begin! Just make sure to ease in to a routine and begin with gentle exercises to avoid injury. Over time you can increase the intensity of the activity or workout.

Here are some creative ways to get the body moving and get your steps in!

  • Find a walking buddy
  • Take a lunchtime walk
  • Park a little farther away at the store
  • Set an alarm to remind you when it’s time to walk or exercise
  • Look up walking exercise videos on YouTube
  • Take your dog on a walk
  • Take the stairs instead of elevators
  • Pace while watching your favorite TV shows, or take walk breaks during commercials
  • Dance!
  • Explore a new neighborhood/area with a friend or family member
  • Break it up, those small walks add up!
  • Walk in the mall 

What if I can’t walk?

There are still ways you can engage the body physically if you are unable to walk or have limited mobility. There are strength training and aerobic workouts that can be done in a chair. Great videos of these workouts can be found on YouTube that you can follow along and get your body moving!

Don’t forget that along with physical activity, you can also do other things to lower your risk of AD progression including stress reduction, proper nutrition, healthy sleep, social interaction, and maintaining stimulating hobbies/activities.

Gomes-Osman J. What kinds of exercise are good for brain health? [Internet]. Harvard Health Blog. 2018 [cited 2019Sep24]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-kinds-of-exercise-are-good-for-brain-health-2018050213762
Physical Activity Moderates Amyloid-Beta Burden in… : Neurology Today [Internet]. LWW. [cited 2019Sep24]. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/neurotodayonline/Fulltext/2019/08220/Physical_Activity_Moderates_Amyloid_Beta_Burden_in.6.aspx
Harvard Health Publishing. A Guide to Cognitive Fitness [Internet]. Harvard Health. [cited 2019Sep24]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/special-health-reports/a-guide-to-cognitive-fitness?utm_source=HHPBlog&utm_medium=link&utm_content=related-text&utm_campaign=referral
6 Pillars of Brain Health – Physical Exercise [Internet]. Healthy Brains by Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2019Sep24]. Available from: https://healthybrains.org/pillar-physical/