Alzheimer's can also be prevented with lifestyle. In particular, as emerges from a very recent article just published, moderate physical activity, if performed regularly, is able to delay or even prevent the onset of this neurodegenerative disease. The study is available online in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology thanks to the work of an American team (Gaitan et al, Front Endocrinol, 2021).
Alzheimer's and physical activity
Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease caused by the accumulation of particular proteins, beta amyloids and tau, which are toxic to brain tissues. In recent years, much research has been devoted to trying to understand how to prevent Alzheimer's, even with diet and lifestyle. Thanks to animal studies, it has been possible to hypothesize a role played by physical exercises. In fact, it was possible to observe that in rodents physical activity increases the neurogenesis of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is first affected by degeneration, and synaptic plasticity. In humans, exercise increases the volume of gray and white matter, blood flow and improves memory. However, to date, there were no studies capable of objectively studying the possible benefits of physical exercise on the brain through indicators and blood tests. Precisely to fill this gap, the researchers of the study we are talking about today developed an experiment in which they analyzed the trend of particular markers and cognitive capacity.
For this purpose, 25 volunteers, average age 65, were recruited, all without symptoms of an onset of cognitive decline but with a high risk, identified on the basis of genetic investigations, of developing Alzheimer's disease. The study participants were divided into two groups. The first group was used as a control while the second underwent sessions of aerobic physical activity, particularly brisk walking on the treadmill, for 26 weeks. At the beginning and at the end, the volunteers were subjected to tests to evaluate cognitive function, in particular memory and attention, and to blood tests. In particular, the researchers focused on an indicator, myokine cathepsin B, or CTSB, a substance that tends to decline in the event of cognitive decline. CTSB is believed to reduce the number of beta amyloid plaques and therefore studying CTSB levels can be useful to understand the role of exercise in counteracting Alzheimer's disease.
Physical exercise counteracts neurodegenerations, conclusions
What emerged, at the end of the study, is that aerobic physical activity, therefore any protracted activity of moderate intensity such as a swim but also a brisk walk, increases CTSB values. Not only that, these increases in CTSB were also accompanied by improvements in cognitive function, learning and memory in those who had exercised compared to the control group. So, here is another proof that lifestyle can help to counter if not even prevent degeneration, even those affecting the brain.