Can Mental and Physical Activity Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

It was widely believed that physical and mental activity can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but according to the most recent study, that might not be the case.

The Study of Effect of Physical and Mental Activity on Alzheimer’s Disease

Study’s lead researcher was Dr. Keith Johnson, co-director of the Neuroimaging Core at the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

For this research, Johnson and the team of scientists collected information on the current and lifetime mental and physical activity of 200 people who didn’t have any problems with their memory. The average age of participants in the study was 74.

Participants had MRI and PET scans so the scientists could monitor the level of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain. Additionally, these scans measured the metabolism of the brain and inspected whether the hippocampus (part of the brain) decreased*.

The results of this study were published in the journal Neurology, and they revealed that the history of mental activity was associated with high intelligence and good performance on tests related to mental performance. However, mental activity wasn’t related to markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Moreover, people who exercised their brain by stimulating mental activities had higher IQ, but the scientists did not find any link between high mental or physical activity and signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, according to Johnson, this research was limited because it did not follow participants over a longer period of time and more studies are needed to confirm the findings from this one.

Alzheimer’s Disease – How it Affects our Brain?

Alzheimer's disease Info

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease which destroys memory and other highly important mental functions in the brain. It can cause dementia – group of brain disorders which is indicated by the loss of social and intellectual skills. The changes in mental function can be severe and can have a significant impact on person’s day-to-day life.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

According to scientists causes of the Alzheimer’s disease are outcomes from a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. However, causes of this disease are still not fully understood but disease’s influence on the brain is obvious.

Alzheimer’s disease kills brain cells; which leads to decreased* volume of the brain. There are two types of abnormalities linked with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Plaques – Are actually clumps of beta-amyloid protein and these clumps can destroy brain cells in a few different ways, e.g. interrupting the cell-to-cell communication in the brain.
  • Tangles – system of brain cells depends on the functionality of protein called tau. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, threads of protein tau are twisted into abnormal tangles which interrupt the transport system in our brain whose purpose is to carry nutrients.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Symptoms of Alzheimers disease

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are:

  • Increasing* forgetfulness and confusion
  • Difficulty to organize thoughts
  • Repeating same sentence or question time after time
  • Forgetting conversations, events, appointments
  • Forgetting the names of children, spouse, friends, family members, even objects
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to understand the surroundings
  • Difficulty to make judgments and decisions
  • Forgetting how to perform basic tasks e.g. bathing, dressing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changed sleeping pattern
  • Delusions etc.

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Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s disease

risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease

Risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Age – The greatest risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease is in people older than 65.
  • Genetics – The risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease is higher if your relative, parent or sibling, has this disease too.
  • Gender – Women are more prone to Alzheimer’s disease than men, most likely because they usually live longer.
  • MCI – Or Mild Cognitive Impairment; people diagnosed with MCI have higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
  • Past head trauma – People who suffered severe head trauma in the past are at higher risk for getting Alzheimer’s disease.

Do I Just Have To Stop with Physical and Mental Exercise?

No, not at all. Even though the results from this study showed that physical and mental activity doesn’t play a part in developing or reducing* Alzheimer’s disease it is still recommended to exercise regularly and to keep your brain “busy”. Why? It is because mental and physical activity can help your brain stay in “shape” in older age. Additionally, Johnson said the findings of this study should not be taken as a reason not to exercise your body and mind anymore, mostly because numerous studies have revealed that physical and mental activity has a lot of benefits on the brain function.

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Conclusion

Even though the most recent study showed there was no link between physical and mental activity and Alzheimer’s disease its findings shouldn’t be used as one more reason not to exercise or improve* cognitive function. After all, the study was limited and in order to confirm the results the new research that will follow people for a longer period of time has to be conducted.

Read Also: How Does Your Brain Changes With Age?

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Author

Expert Author : Ashley Stein (Consumer Health Digest)

Ashley Stein holds a bachelor's degree in education from the Birmingham-Southern College in United States. She is a health content writer and editor. She used to work as a content editor for leading online websites including blogs and journals. Her areas of specialization include writing educational and health articles. She is contributing to Consumer Health Digest for the past 4 years.