Even simple exercise may help aging brain, study hints

Aug 1, 2022, 8:29 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 9:06 am
FILE - High school students run at sunset as they practice for the track and field season Monday, F...

FILE - High school students run at sunset as they practice for the track and field season Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, in Shawnee, Kan. New research hints that even simple exercise just might help fend off memory problems. While physical activity helps keep healthy brains fit, it's not clear how much it helps once memory starts to slide. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

New research hints that even a simple exercise routine just might help older Americans with mild memory problems.

Doctors have long advised physical activity to help keep a healthy brain fit. But the government-funded study marks the longest test of whether exercise makes any difference once memory starts to slide — research performed amid a pandemic that added isolation to the list of risks to participants’ brain health.

Researchers recruited about 300 sedentary older adults with hard-to-spot memory changes called mild cognitive impairment or MCI — a condition that’s sometimes, but not always, a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Half were assigned aerobic exercises and the rest stretching-and-balance moves that only modestly raised their heart rate.

Another key component: Participants in both groups were showered with attention by trainers who worked with them at YMCAs around the country — and when COVID-19 shut down gyms, helped them keep moving at home via video calls.

After a year, cognitive testing showed overall neither group had worsened, said lead researcher Laura Baker, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Nor did brain scans show the shrinkage that accompanies worsening memory problems, she said.

By comparison, similar MCI patients in another long-term study of brain health — but without exercise — experienced significant cognitive decline over a year.

Those early findings are surprising, and the National Institute on Aging cautioned that tracking non-exercisers in the same study would have offered better proof.

But the results suggest “this is doable for everybody” — not just seniors healthy enough to work up a hard sweat, said Baker, who presented the data Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. “Exercise needs to be part of the prevention strategies” for at-risk seniors.

Previous research has found regular physical activity of any sort may reduce damaging inflammation and increase blood flow to the brain, said Alzheimer’s Association chief scientific officer Maria Carrillo.

But the new study is especially intriguing because the pandemic hit halfway through, leaving already vulnerable seniors socially isolated — something long known to increase people’s risk of memory problems, Carrillo said.

It’s a frustrating time for dementia research. Doctors are hesitant to prescribe a high-priced new drug called Aduhelm that was supposed to be the first to slow progression of Alzheimer’s — but it’s not yet clear if it really helps patients. Researchers last month reported another drug that works similarly — by targeting amyloid plaques that are an Alzheimer’s hallmark — failed in a key study.

While amyloid clearly plays a role, it’s important that drugmakers increasingly are targeting many other factors that can lead to dementia, Carrillo said, because effective treatment or prevention likely will require a combination of customized strategies.

One example of a new approach: Sometimes in dementia, the brain has trouble processing blood sugar and fats for the energy it needs, John Didsbury of T3D Therapeutics told the Alzheimer’s meeting. His company is testing a pill that aims to rev up that metabolism, with results expected next year.

Meanwhile, there’s growing urgency to settle whether steps people could take today — like exercise — might offer at least some protection.

How much and what kind of exercise? In Baker’s study, seniors were supposed to get moving for 30 to 45 minutes four times a week, whether it was on a vigorous turn on the treadmill or the stretching exercises. That’s a big ask of anyone who’s sedentary, but Baker said MCI’s effects on the brain make it even harder for people to plan and stick with the new activity.

Hence the social stimulation — which she credited with each participant completing over 100 hours of exercise. Baker suspects that sheer volume might explain why even the simple stretching added up to an apparent benefit. Participants were supposed to exercise without formal support for an additional six months, data Baker hasn’t yet analyzed.

“We wouldn’t have done the exercise on our own,” said retired agriculture researcher Doug Maxwell of Verona, Wisconsin, who joined the study with his wife.

The duo, both 81, were both assigned to the stretching classes. They felt so good afterward that when the study ended, they bought electric bikes in hopes of even more activity — efforts Maxwell acknowledged are hard to keep up.

Next up: Baker is leading an even larger study of older adults to see if adding exercise to other can’t-hurt steps such as a heart-healthy diet, brain games and social stimulation together may reduce the risk of dementia.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE — Giorgia Meloni holds an Italian flag as she addresses a rally in Rome, Saturday, Oct. 19, ...
Associated Press

Far-right Italian leader Meloni rides popular wave in polls

ROME (AP) — With a message that blends Christianity, motherhood and patriotism, Giorgia Meloni is riding a wave of popularity that next month could see her become Italy’s first female prime minister and its first far-right leader since World War II. Even though her Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots, Meloni has sought to […]
24 hours ago
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, wearing a face mask arrives at Court of Appeal...
Associated Press

Top Malaysian court orders ex-PM Najib to begin final appeal

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s top court ordered former Prime Minister Najib Razak to begin his final appeal Tuesday after rejecting his request to throw out his graft conviction and 12-year sentence over potential judicial bias. Najib has sought to introduce new evidence that would spark a retrial on grounds that the high court judge […]
24 hours ago
Police officers and workers remove the wreckage of a bus that collided with an oil tanker along a h...
Associated Press

Bus rams into fuel truck in eastern Pakistan, killing 20

MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — A passenger bus rammed into a fuel truck on a highway in eastern Pakistan before dawn on Tuesday, igniting a fire that killed at least 20 people, police and rescue officials said. According to the officials, the accident happened near the town of Jalalpur Peerwala in Punjab province. The bus was […]
24 hours ago
FILE - A security officer stands next to the ship Navi-Star which sits full of grain since Russia's...
Associated Press

Ukraine’s Black Sea deal also helps Russian farmers, economy

With much fanfare, ship after ship loaded with grain has sailed from Ukraine after being stuck in the country’s Black Sea ports for nearly six months. More quietly, a parallel wartime deal met Moscow’s demands to clear the way for its wheat to get to the world, too, boosting an industry vital to Russia’s economy […]
24 hours ago
FILE — Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks' employees union election...
Associated Press

Starbucks asks labor board to halt union votes temporarily

Starbucks on Monday asked the National Labor Relations Board to temporarily suspend all union elections at its U.S. stores, citing allegations from a board employee that regional NLRB officials improperly coordinated with union organizers. In a letter to the board chairman and other officials, Starbucks said the unnamed career NLRB employee informed the company about […]
24 hours ago
The Lost Mural hangs in the entryway of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, in Burlington, Vt., July 29, 2022. T...
Associated Press

Long-hidden synagogue mural gets rehabbed, relocated

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A mural that was painted in a Vermont synagogue more than 100 years ago by a Lithuanian immigrant — and hidden behind a wall for years– has been termed a rare piece of art and has been painstakingly moved and restored. The large colorful triptych painted by sign painter Ben Zion […]
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
Even simple exercise may help aging brain, study hints