Exercise Slows Progression of Alzheimer's, and Improves Stroke Outcomes

Exercise helps delay the progression of Alzheimer's, as well as improving stroke outcomes

New research, published in Neurology (2012; [78], 1323–29), adds to the growing evidence that physical activity can reduce cognitive decline and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The significance of this particular study is that it measured total daily activity using actigraphy instead of relying on self-reporting by study subjects. Self-reporting is not always accurate, whereas actigraphy provides an objective method of monitoring movement. (A small actigraph unit, worn like a wristwatch or heart monitor, measures motor activity.) Study findings showed a clear relationship between higher levels of overall physical activity and lower rates of cognitive decline. More good news from this research is that increasing activity helps even when people are over the age of 80, since the average age of study subjects was 82.  Moreover, every movement counts—even activities as simple as cooking, playing cards or washing dishes. Subjects included 716 older men and women without dementia who were participating in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, based at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The majority of participants were women, and subjects volunteered to take part, so findings were not necessarily representative of the general population.  That being said, just six months of increased physical activity was shown to improve memory, language, thinking and judgment problems by almost 50 per cent!

Exercise Improves Stroke Outcomes Toronto researchers have found that the proportion of stroke patients with at least mild cognitive impairment dropped from 66 per cent to 37 per cent during a research study on the impact of exercise on the brain.  "People who have cognitive deficits after stroke have a threefold risk of mortality, and they're more likely to be institutionalized," says lead researcher Susan Marzolini of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. "If we can improve cognition through exercise, which also has many physical benefits, then this should become a standard of care for people following stroke." Forty-one patients, of whom 70 per cent had mild to moderate walking problems requiring a cane or walker, followed an adapted aerobic and strength/resistance training program five days a week.  Exercises designed to imitate daily life included walking, lifting weights and doing squats.  The research team found significant improvement in overall brain function at the conclusion of the program, with the most gains in attention, concentration, planning and organizing. Muscular strength and walking ability also increased. Marzolini emphasizes the need to give people with stroke-related impairments access to exercise programs. "Modified exercise programs are desperately needed -- they can be adapted for people following stroke, and we think they can provide huge health benefits." If someone in your life has experienced stroke, do your best to access an adapted exercise program that is designed for those who have mobility issues.  The Canadian medical system is one of the best in the world at delivering acute care but when it comes to rehabilitation, advocacy for your loved one is often necessary.  Exercise is almost always included in treatment plans for cardiovascular disease, but unfortunately often excluded in the follow-up care for other conditions. References: Keller, Joy (September 2012).  More Evidence That Physical Activity Lessens Cognitive Decline.  IDEA Health and Fitness Association. Science Daily (October 1, 2012).  Exercise Improves Memory, Thinking After Stroke, Study Finds.