Experts say that the key to preventing Alzheimer’s may lie in being physically active. Personal trainer Jason Anderson reveals the exercises that give your brain a workout as well as your body.
There is mounting evidence to show that exercise could be one of a number of lifestyle factors that protect against developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Physical fitness is also believed to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s. One study published in the journal Neurology in 2008 by Dr Jeffrey Burns of Kansas University USA found fit people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s had bigger brains than those who had done little exercise. It’s believed that exercise helps prevent brain shrinkage in Alzheimer’s and delay the onset of dementia symptoms.
How exercise helps
Exercise may protect you from developing Alzheimer’s disease in three ways by:
Increasing blood flow to the brain
Exercise may improve brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain; poor blood flow can impair memory and hasten the symptoms of dementia.
Helping to maintain your weight and promoting better insulin control
Insulin resistance can lead to obesity and diabetes, and may also be destructive for brain cells. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity, resulting in lower insulin levels, and the increased ability to store sugars (as energy) in the muscles and not in the fat cells.
Challenging the central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord)
Exercise can challenge the neuro-muscular system to control the body’s segments during strenuous whole-body movements. There are a variety of sensory organs in the joints and muscles that provide sensory information to the brain as to where the body is in time and space. The technical name for this is ‘proprioception’.
Alzheimer’s and insulin
Insulin is the primary hormone in the body vital for energy expenditure and storage. Prolonged insulin production, as a result of adopting a high-starch carbohydrate lifestyle, is also linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes and, due to the destructive behaviour of excessive insulin on the brain cells, it is also linked to Alzheimer’s.
Maintaining more consistent blood sugar levels by eating small, frequent, low-starch carbohydrate and fibre-rich meals throughout the day will help control insulin and obesity – but exercise can also increase insulin sensitivity.