Exercising More May Delay Symptoms of a Rare Form of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

150 minutes of activity a week could benefit brain health

We’ve known for years that exercise is good for our bodies. But more and more, experts are learning that exercise is good for our brains too.

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A recent study looked at how exercise can specifically impact people with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It looked at 372 people who had biomarkers for the rare form of the disease, known as autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease, or ADAD.

People with ADAD have a genetic change that gives them a 100 percent chance of developing Alzheimer’s before age 60.

How the study was conducted — and what the findings mean

Participants were divided into groups based on their level of exercise. One group performed less than the 150 minutes of physical activity per week recommended by the World Health Organization and the American College of Sports Medicine. Another group performed 150 minutes or more of physical activity per week.

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“Ultimately what they found was that there seemed to be an association between higher physical activity and a delayed onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” says neurologist James Leverenz, MD, who did not take part in the study.

What’s interesting about this latest research, Dr. Leverenz says, is that even though people with ADAD have a very high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, their level of physical activity seemed to have some influence on when they developed the dementia.

Takeaway: You can still influence the timing of disease onset

Dr. Leverenz says the results are promising for those who face a devastating diagnosis of ADAD. Even though the outlook is severe, perhaps they can still have some influence on the timing of the disease’s onset.

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Experts don’t yet know exactly what level of exercise provides the most benefit when it comes to prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s symptoms. But Dr. Leverenz says previous research has shown that it’s likely best to do a combination of cardiovascular exercise and strength and balance training.

“Exercise does seem to be good for brain health. Try to get to that 150-minute-a-week level,” he says. ”There’s no evidence that it harms you, and a fair amount of evidence is now showing that it’s good for brain health. So get out there and exercise.” 

Complete results of the study can be found in Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

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