Every Bit of Physical Activity Helps

Alzheimers disease risk drops with increased levels of daily physical activity for seniors

(RxWiki News) Vigorous exercise isn't the only physical activity that improves your health. Even activities like playing cards or sweeping can offer protective benefits well into your twilight years.

A new study reveals that those with higher levels of physical activity each day - and those with a higher intensity of activity level - were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

"Keep your body active every day to keep your mind healthy."

Dr. Aron Buchman, MD, associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, led the study that looked at the impact of all forms of daily activity on a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Buchman and his colleagues measured the daily physical activity of 716 mentally fit seniors who were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a long-term study of chronic conditions affecting people as they age.

The average age of the participants was 82, and none had any signs of dementia. Each participants wore an actigraph on their wrist for 10 straight days. An actigraph is a device used to monitor a person's activity level. Both exercise and non-exercise physical activity, such as cooking or cleaning, was recorded.

Using an acitgraph is a more objective measure than asking people about their daily activity since they may misremember accurate information, though the researchers also collected self-reported information about the participants' physical and social activities.

Over an average of four years follow-up, each participant was also given annual cognitive tests to assess memory and thinking ability. The participants took 19 cognitive tests overall.

Over the follow-up period, 71 participants developed Alzheimer's disease.

"The results of our study indicate that all physical activities, including exercise as well as other activities such as cooking, washing the dishes and cleaning, are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease," Buchman said.

Those in the bottom ten percent of daily physical activity had a 2.3 times higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease compared to those in the top ten percent of physical activity.

Those whose activity was at a higher level of intensity reaped even more protective benefits. Participants' whose intensity level of activity ranked in the bottom ten percent had nearly three times the risk (2.8 times) of developing Alzheimer's compared to those in the top ten percent.

The association between a higher activity level and reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease remained even after researchers took into account the participants' physical, social and cognitive activities. They also took into account any chronic health issues or symptoms of depression among the participants and their motor functions.

"These results provide support for efforts to encourage all types of physical activity even in very old adults who might not be able to participate in formal exercise, but can still benefit from a more active lifestyle," Buchman said.

The actigraph measured even everyday activities that contributed to a person's daily activity level, such as cooking, cleaning, playing cards or using one's arms to move a wheelchair.

"These are low-cost, easily accessible and side-effect free activities people can do at any age, including very old age, to possibly prevent Alzheimer's," Buchman said.

The study does not show that exercising will prevent Alzheimer's, or that the exercise is what caused the lower likelihood of developing the disease. However, the association is strong enough that Buchman encourages all older people to remain active even in small ways as long as possible.

The study appeared online April 18 in the journal Neurology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Robert C. Borwell Endowment Fund. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 15, 2012