An expert panel concluded that regular participation in physical activity is associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report recently published in BMC Public Health.
The panel also determined that exercise may also improve the lives of those who have Alzheimer’s disease.
Kathleen Martin Ginis
“When the WHO Physical Activity Guidelines for older adults were developed in 2011, they were based on evidence showing that physical activity can prevent over 20 chronic health conditions. However, there was not enough evidence at that time to conclude that that dose of exercise could prevent cognitive decline or dementia. As a result, claims couldn’t be made about the benefits of physical activity for these purposes,” Kathleen Martin Ginis, PhD, School of Health & Exercise Sciences, University of British Columbia, Kelowna, Canada, told Healio Family Medicine.
To fill in this information gap, Martin Ginis and the other members of the panel — made up of experts on topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, exercise, epidemiology, behavior change, cognition, aging, and guideline development — reviewed data from more than 150 research articles about the impact of physical activity on people with Alzheimer's disease. The panel wrote that increases in gait speed, endurance, lower extremity strength, mobility, balance and physical strength were among the physical outcomes in these studies; and that improvements in cognition and mood and decreases in agitation were among the psychological changes noted. “Our research showed — by looking across all research conducted on this topic — that physical activity can indeed be useful for preventing or managing Alzheimer’s disease. By spreading this message, some adults may now be more motivated to be physically active because of this potential benefit,” Martin Ginis told Healio Family Medicine.
Martin Ginis also said that the findings should spur several conversations between primary care physicians and patients.
“Physicians should be asking if their patients are currently meeting the physical activity guidelines — 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity plus 2 or more days per week of strength-training. If not, they should be encouraged to do so,” she said. “Physicians should also ask if patients are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s disease. If so, they should be informed that research evidence indicates the benefits of routine participation in physical activity for preventing and managing Alzheimer’s disease.”
The impact of Alzheimer’s disease continues to grow: Martin Ginis and colleagues wrote that the number of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide is expected to increase from 30.8 million in 2010 to more than 106 million in 2050. Also in 2050, they wrote, it is projected that one in 85 adults worldwide will be living with the disease.
In addition, the CDC recently announced that the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease increased 55% between 1999 and 2014. – by Janel Miller
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.