New York Times (March 1, 2017): Frequent, Brisk Walks May Aid Those With Early Alzheimer’s

Publication Date: 
Wed, 03/01/2017

For some people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, frequent, brisk walks may help to bolster physical abilities and slow memory loss, according to one of the first studies of physical activity as an experimental treatment for dementia.

But the study’s results, while encouraging, showed that improvements were modest and not universal, raising questions about just how and why exercise helps some people with dementia and not others.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than five million people in the United States and more than 35 million worldwide, a number that is expected to double within 20 years.

There are currently no reliable treatments for the disease.

But past studies of healthy elderly people have found relationships between regular exercise and improved memories. Physically active older people are, for instance, significantly less likely than those who are sedentary to develop mild cognitive impairment, a frequent precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Physically fit older people also tend to have more volume in their brain’s hippocampus than do sedentary people of the same age, brain scans show. The hippocampus is the portion of the brain most intimately linked with memory function.

But most of this research has examined whether exercise might prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Little has been known about whether it might change the trajectory of the disease in people who already have the condition.

So for the new study, published in February in PLoS One, researchers at the University of Kansas decided to work directly with people who had previously been given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.