In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, here is my article on Alzheimer’s Disease and exercise from Springfield Cares Magazine.

Exercise and Alzheimer's Disease
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photo by Stephen Heron

If I could give you a prescription for something that could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease would you take it? If I recommend a treatment for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease without unpleasant or dangerous side effects would you ask the doctor about it?

When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, exercise is medicine.  While most references to Alzheimer’s prevention focus on keeping the brain active and agile, more and more research is emphasizing the importance of physical activity. Exercise is proving to be not only an effective tool for prevention but also an important part of treatment for those living with the disease.

Exercise should be part of your prevention plan for two key reasons. First, exercise is a critical component of weight management. Despite most people’s efforts to lose weight without it, exercise is a vital in creating a negative energy balance to facilitate weight loss and in maintaining a healthy body composition. Being overweight, particularly carrying the weight around the middle or having an “apple” shape, is a key indicator for late onset Alzheimer’s disease. Central obesity is typically defined by two measurements:

  • Waist circumference: Measured at the smallest part of the stomach, above the belly button but below the xiphoid process (lower part of the sternum).  A measurement below 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women is considered ideal.
  • Waist to Hip ratio: Ratio of waist circumference to hip circumference (measured at the largest part of the hips).  For women your waist circumference divided by your hip circumference should not be greater than .08, for men it should be no greater than 1.0.

Recent research from Columbia University indicates that, even after adjusting for other factors, waist to hip ratio was the best predictor of risk of late onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Central obesity is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which also pose an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.   Combining regular physical activity with a balanced healthy diet is the most proven and effective strategy when it comes to weight management.  Your action plan: Use a tape measure to find your waist circumference and waist to hip ratio.  Reduce your waist, reduce your risk.

The second reason is even if the scale doesn’t move in the right direction your regular workout can still have protective benefits. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego recently published a study that outlined various reasons why exercise, independent of weight loss, proved to be an effective preventative therapy. Their hypothesis included the effects of exercise on the following Alzheimer’s disease risk factors:

  • Blood flow to the brain
  • Management of diseases that effect vascular function, such as diabetes and hypertension
  • Stress

With all three, exercise had a positive effect and decreased the risk of Alzheimer’s disease even among those with a greater than average genetic risk.  Your action plan:  Make 30 minutes of physical activity part of your daily routine.  Anything you enjoy that gets your heart rate up works, just do it.

Perhaps best of all, exercise can provide benefits after diagnosis. A study published this year in the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences indicated that those whose treatment included regular physical activity had improvements in cognition, mobility and ability to perform activities of daily living.  Alzheimer’s patients also feel the psychological benefits of exercise of improved mood and stress reduction.  Your action plan: If caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, insist on physical activity as part of the treatment plan.

If you are interested in learning more how exercise can be an effective prevention tool for not only Alzheimer’s disease but type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other diseases and chronic  illnesses be sure to visit for more information and action steps.




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