Just 10 Minutes Of Exercise Can Benefit Your Brain

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In the most recent issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia, the official journal of the Alzheimer's Association, a strong theme emerged. That theme was exercise, more specifically, walking.

We've long known that Alzheimer's is lifestyle-related (it's even earned itself the nickname "type 3 diabetes"), but this issue included multiple studies that illuminate the benefits of moving your body, how much you have to move it to make an impact, and, interestingly, how evaluating the way we move our bodies could be used to diagnose Alzheimer's earlier and more accurately.

The first study was an analysis of data collected from 2,700 participants. Boston University Medical Center researchers, the authors assessed physical activity as well as thinking skills, planning skills, memory, and word recall. The results showed that just 10 to 21 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity could be linked to better verbal memory.

This means that if you want to improve symptoms of this disease, you don't have to run a marathon or bike 15 miles a day; even short bouts of exercise makes a difference in executive function.

When it comes to walking, taking more steps per day was associated with better executive function, and two more studies in the October issue dove into the connection between walking patterns and risk of cognitive decline and risk of dementia. The first, performed by researchers from Erasmus MC University Medical Center in the Netherlands, evaluated the gait—including walking speed, stride width, and time and variability of walking patters—and cognition of approximately 4,500 older adults without dementia. The results showed that the participants that performed poorly on the walking test were more likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia in the subsequent years.

The next study had similar results. Performed by scientists at Newcastle University, it explored the relationship between cognition and disease-specific gait impairments. The researchers analyzed the walking styles of 110 people of different ages, some with Lewy body dementia, some with Alzheimer's disease, and some that were dementia-free. The results not only showed that changes in walking patterns were associated with disease, but they were specific to the type of disease. For example, participants with Lewy body dementia are more asymmetrical when they walk.

The results of this group of studies, combined with what we already know about preventing Alzheimer's with healthy diet and lifestyle changes, make it clear that there's a very strong connection between the brain and physical movement, both in terms of preventing disease and how it manifests early on. More research is needed to understand the details of this relationship, but these studies suggest that in the future, walking style and gait could potentially be used as an inexpensive and noninvasive way of diagnosing different types of dementia, which could help doctors tailor treatments to the patient's specific illness.

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