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An abundance of scientific evidence demonstrates that exercise benefits physical health and improves cognitive function in people of all ages. A new study has found that aerobic exercise improves brain glucose metabolism and executive function in older adults who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
Impaired brain glucose uptake and metabolism are pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, and their manifestation typically precedes the onset of clinical symptoms. Impaired brain glucose uptake also plays a causal role in tau tangle formation, another hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Executive function involves higher-level cognitive skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. A person who experiences loss of executive function may have problems with planning, organization, flexible thinking, social behavior, decision making, emotional control, and concentration.
The randomized, controlled, exercise intervention involved 23 cognitively normal, sedentary adults between the ages of 45 and 80 years old who had a family history or genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Eleven of the participants engaged in a moderate-intensity exercise program in which they walked on a treadmill three times per week for 26 weeks. The remaining participants made no changes to their physical activity levels.
At the end of the study, the participants who engaged in the exercise program experienced improved cardiorespiratory fitness and improved brain glucose metabolism in the posterior cingulate cortex region of their brains. They also spent less time engaged in sedentary activities compared to those who did not change their activity levels. Furthermore, the adults who exercised demonstrated improvements in their executive functioning. Other recent research suggests that aerobic exercise, especially if it includes high-intensity interval training, has the potential to enhance memory in older adults.
Taken together, these findings suggest that lifestyle modifications that include exercise may be beneficial in improving cognitive function in people at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, sauna use mimics the effects of exercise and may be useful in reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. Learn more in this clip featuring sauna expert Dr. Jari Laukanen.