Any type of physical activity may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Actical device study participants wear to measure levels of physical activity.

Results from new research by neurological experts at Rush University Medical Center suggests that elderly people who move around more — even gardening or puttering around the house — are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than more sedentary seniors.

Results from the study are published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology on April 18. 

The study, which is called the Study on Frailty in Aging (SOFIA) is a sub-study of a larger research project called the Rush Memory and Aging Project.  

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,” said Dr. Aron S. Buchman, lead author of the study and associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush. “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.”

To measure total daily exercise and non-exercise physical activity, researchers from Rush asked 716 older individuals without dementia with an average age of 82 to wear   a device called an actigraph, which monitors activity, on their non-dominant wrist continuously for 10 days. 

All exercise and non-exercise physical activity was recorded.  Study participants also were given annual cognitive tests during this ongoing study to measure memory and thinking abilities. Participants also self-reported their physical and social activities.

Over a mean of 3.5 years of follow-up, 71 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.

The research found that people in the bottom 10 percent of daily physical activity were more than twice as likely (2.3 times) to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top 10 percent of daily activity.

The study also showed that those individuals in the bottom 10 percent of intensity of physical activity were almost three times (2.8 times) as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as people in the top percent of the intensity of physical activity.

“Our study shows that physical activity, which is an easily modifiable risk factor, is associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.  This has important public health consequences,” said Buchman. 

Read the entire news release

Rush is still actively recruiting participants for the SOFIA study.  For those interested in becoming part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project and SOFIA, contact study coordinator Tracey Nowakowski at 312-942-2214.  Participants must be 65 years of age or older with no previous diagnosis of Dementia.

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