Steps to prevent memory loss

Could walking up to 9,000 steps per day reduce the brain damage caused by dementia years before symptoms begin?

Man walking along beach

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.’

Care and cure magazine: Autumn 19

Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
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Care and cure is the research magazine of Alzheimer's Society is for anyone interested in dementia research.
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4 comments

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I find David Walls' comment about exercise very interesting, and wonder whether there is any research evidence to support the idea of increasing physical exercise in order to reduce brain decay. Like David, I find that spells of exercise make me feel better, but of course that isn't very scientific! Now I've decided take as much exercise as I can, using my
'recumbent trike.' It's a 'reversed' t ricycle with a very comfy 'deckchair' seat, capable of going a long way without giving the rider a pain in the bum. So far I haven't ridden more than 10 miles in one go, but I feel that's not bad for a beginner of 75 with Alzheimer's Disease. Another advantage of the recumbent trike is that it can go cross-country, using our national trails rather than public roads. Anyone interested in these ideas is welcome to get in touch with me.

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Hi Martin,
Nice to hear from you - hope you're keeping well
Physical exercise can bring many benefits, for both people with and without dementia.
We have some information on out website here about physical exercise for people living with dementia, which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/exercise#content…
We also have some information on physical exercise as a risk factor for dementia, including details of some scientific studies that you may find interesting: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-preventio…
Glad to hear that exercising has had a positive impact for you, Martin. The recumbent trike sounds fantastic, and 10 miles is a brilliant effort - well done!
All the best,
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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We as humans must take drastic action now to put in place a holistic system of care, fully funded by society which will provide a 100% safe and caring environment ready for those when they need it. Not to be exploited for financial or political gain. We need to build communities so we all work together for the benefit of us all. Society must contribute according to the total sum of their wealth.

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I am 87. I've found getting a daily trip to the trash bin, then to the mailbox (about 944 steps total with a fall of 40 feet in elevation, and a return up about 40 feet, is a big help. I also found "squats", holding onto a cabinet, with both feet flat, then on the balls of my feet, help, as well. I do have dementia, and have found these exercises give me more peace, as "forgetting", etc. makes me panicky. Not scientific, but seems to work for me.

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