Could medication mimic the effects of exercise? New research investigates gene therapy and drug combination.
Most of us understand that exercise is good for us. It can make us feel good and keep fit, and large studies have supported the idea that it reduces our risk of developing dementia. However, we still have a lot to learn about how physical exercise affects the brain.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, led by Dr Rudy Tanzi, are investigating whether they can bottle the benefits of exercise to boost our brains. They gave mice that had been bred to develop Alzheimer’s a combination of drug and gene therapy to see how this affected their memory.
Mice that were treated showed increased levels of chemicals that nurture the cells in their brains. Their minds were as sharp as those of mice who had spent hours running on a wheel, even if they hadn’t moved a muscle all day.
Don’t throw away your running shoes just yet, however – more research is needed and there are many other benefits of exercise that the treatment couldn’t deliver.
The mice in this study did not show any reduction in the toxic proteins that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The type of gene therapy used isn’t suitable for humans, and it will be some time before we can find out if the drug treatment may benefit people.
Exercise also has plenty of other positive effects, for people with dementia as well as those hoping to reduce their risk of developing it. This includes opportunities for social contact, a sense of achievement and chances to enjoy nature.
How to reduce your risk of dementia
Learn about simple lifestyle changes and how they can reduce your risk of dementia.