There are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer's in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association. As the population of the country grows and ages, it's predicted that more than 16 million people will be diagnosed with the disease by 2050.
This condition is difficult for the people who develop it, as well as their loved ones. Its causes are not fully known, which has hindered researchers' abilities to develop a cure. As a result, people with Alzheimer's may be able to slow the onset of symptoms once they're diagnosed, but will eventually succumb to the extreme memory loss, communication disruptions, personality changes and confusion that comes with the middle and late stages of Alzheimer's.
Fortunately, there are some steps people can take to reduce their risks of developing this cognitive disorder. Diet and exercise can play a significant role in brain health, and new research shows that some types of physical activity are more effective than others.
"Moderate-intensity exercise includes activities like taking a brisk walk."
The benefits of moderate-intensity exercise
A new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who do more moderate-intensity exercises and not light-intensity exercises may have a better chance at preventing Alzheimer's, according to information published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. The study examined middle aged or older participants, as well as those with a genetic predisposition to the disease. By measuring participants' activity levels with accelerometers, they were able to determine that people who engaged in moderate-intensity exercises had improved glucose metabolism in their brains. This could be important for preventing Alzheimer's, as people with the disease have weakened and depressed glucose metabolism.
Moderate-intensity exercise includes activities like taking a brisk walk, whereas a slow walk would be light activity, and running is considered vigorous. Light biking or cycling and water aerobics can also be moderate-level workouts.
"This study has implications for guiding exercise 'prescriptions' that could help protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease," said Ryan Dougherty, a co-author of the study. "While many people become discouraged about Alzheimer's disease because they feel there's little they can do to protect against it, these results suggest that engaging in moderate physical activity may slow down the progression of the disease."
Along with a healthy exercise routine, a balanced diet and proper nutrition can also greatly improve brain health and slow the development of cognitive diseases.
The connection between Down and Alzheimer's
While Alzheimer's is more likely to impact older adults, there are other indicators that can increase a person's risk for developing the disease. People with Down syndrome, for example, are more likely to develop Alzheimer's or similar types of dementia.
People living with Down are more susceptible to younger-onset Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association. People with Down are more likely to start developing brain plaques in their 40s than people who don't have the syndrome. Though scientists have yet to determine the exact cause for all brain plaques, they have known connections to Alzheimer's. These protein buildups can suffocate healthy brain cells, leading to the cognitive declines found with dementia.
While it's not yet known exactly why people with Down are more likely to develop Alzheimer's, it's important that people living with this syndrome take preventative measures to ensure healthy brain aging. Engaging in regular moderate-intensity exercises for at least an hour a day – which is more than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guideline of 150 minutes per week – along with proper vitamin and nutritional intake, can help people with Down slow or stop the onset of Alzheimer's, allowing them to live longer, healthier lives.