Could walking up to 9,000 steps per day reduce the brain damage caused by dementia years before symptoms begin?
We know that exercise is good for our general health, particularly for our hearts. Research suggests that regular exercise could also reduce the toxic effect of proteins that build up in the brain as dementia develops.
Research at Harvard Medical School showed that healthy people who exercised often had less cognitive decline as they aged than those who didn’t.
Using brain scans, they observed less build-up of the amyloid protein that is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. They also found less evidence of brain shrinkage linked to cognitive decline, and the same people performed better in memory tests.
It is important to note that this was a short trial and none of the participants developed dementia within that time. For this reason, we cannot be sure that they would have a reduced risk of dementia.
Also, the researchers didn’t test for the build-up of tau protein, which matches up with cognitive decline and brain cell death more closely than amyloid.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said,
‘This study adds to previous research showing that people who are more active have a slower reduction in their memory and thinking skills as they get older, lose fewer brain cells and have less amyloid – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease – in their brain.
‘However, this can only show us that levels of physical activity are linked to brain measures.
'It doesn’t tell us that increasing activity would reduce your risk of getting dementia.'
'There are ongoing trials to see if increasing activity can prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and we eagerly await these results.
'Prevention is key, which is why we’re funding a variety of studies to better understand the different risk factors for dementia.
‘What this research does suggest to us is that staying active is no bad thing in keeping your mind sharp and your brain healthy.’