Sweat Your Way to a Stronger Brain: How Exercise Fights Alzheimer’s Risk

Aging is a natural process we all go through and, as we do, our brains experience some shrinkage. Although a certain amount is expected, too much shrinkage can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is one simple activity that can help protect your brain and memory from excessive shrinkage: regular exercise.

How Exercise Helps Protect Your Brain

Engaging in physical activity can provide a protective shield for your brain against neurodegeneration which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Researcher J. Carson Smith explains, “We found that physical activity has the potential to preserve the volume of the hippocampus in those with increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, which means we can possibly delay cognitive decline and the onset of dementia symptoms in these individuals. Physical activity interventions may be especially potent and important for this group.”

The hippocampus is a region in the brain responsible for memory functions. With Alzheimer’s disease, one of the initial symptoms is memory loss, indicating that the hippocampus is being hit hard by the disease.

Exercise and Alzheimer’s Disease – The Research

In a study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic, four groups of individuals aged 65 to 89 were observed for 18 months. Those who engaged in regular exercise did not experience any loss of brain volume during the investigation. On the other hand, participants with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease who did not engage in any physical activities lost about 3 percent of their hippocampus volume.

Smith points out, “There are no other treatments shown to preserve hippocampal volume in those that may develop Alzheimer’s disease. This study has tremendous implications for how we may intervene, prior to the development of any dementia symptoms, in older adults who are at increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”

Choosing the Right Exercise for Brain Health

While any form of exercise can be beneficial for overall health, specific exercises may better target brain health. The following physical activities are known for their positive impact on cognitive function and brain health:

  1. Aerobic Exercise: Engaging in aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling for at least 150 minutes per week can help enhance cognitive function, reduce inflammation and minimize age-related decline in brain connectivity.

  2. Strength Training: Strength training exercises like weightlifting can increase blood flow to the brain and hippocampus, thereby promoting brain cell health and growth. Aim for strength training sessions at least two times a week.

  3. Balance and Flexibility Exercises: Activities like tai chi, yoga, and Pilates can improve both balance and flexibility as well as promote mental clarity and focus. Incorporating these exercises into your regular routine can provide additional brain health benefits.

  4. Mental Exercises During Physical Activity: To further boost your cognitive function, try incorporating mental exercises into your workout routine. For example, while walking or jogging, attempt to recite a poem or solve a puzzle in your head. This will challenge your brain and enhance mental sharpness.

The Takeaway

It’s essential to incorporate regular physical activities into your lifestyle as you age, especially if you have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Supporting brain health will not only delay cognitive decline and dementia symptoms, but it will also improve overall mental well-being and help maintain independence.

Consistency is key when it comes to exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day or a total of 150 minutes per week. Create a schedule and make it a priority, knowing you’re doing your part to contribute to a healthier brain and a brighter future.