Several Promising Research Studies Indicate Positive Impact of Exercise, Diet on Dementia
First you hear that exercise and diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s, then you hear that nothing makes the difference. So what’s the latest in this “yes it does, no it doesn’t” argument?
The Alzheimer’s Association is reporting that several long-term studies with large study populations have found a possible association between physical activity and dietary elements and the maintenance of cognitive ability and reduction of dementia in older adults. This research was presented at the 2010 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease.
“These are some of the first reports of this type in Alzheimer’s, and that is encouraging, but it is not yet definitive evidence,” said Dr. William Thies, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief medical and scientific officer. “Longitudinal studies and clinical trials are expensive, and I’m deeply concerned that the trials we need will not happen because of the chronic underfunding of Alzheimer research by the federal government.”
One of the studies, the Framington Study, followed study participations in the town of Framington, Massachusetts since 1948. This study, which initially focused on cardiovascular risks and is considered as the premier longitudinal study, has been expanded to also analyze cognitive performance. The researchers on this study found that study participants who participated in moderate to heavy physical activity had a 40-percent lower risk of developing dementia. On the flip side, participants who had the lowest levels of physical activity were 45 percent more likely to develop dementia when compared to their study cohorts who had higher activity levels. Similar results were found when the researchers limited the analysis to Alzheimer’s disease alone. Researchers also found that these observed associations were more evident in men. I hope that additional analysis will focus on the impact of moderate and heavy exercise has on women’s development of dementia.
Other studies that were reported at the conference indicated that dietary choices also may slow cognitive decline. One study analyzed data collected from 4,800 men and women who were age 65 and older participating in the Cardiovascular Healthy Study to determine the relationship between drinking tea or coffee and cognitive function over time. The researchers found that study participants who drank tea had significantly less cognitive decline than those who didn’t drink tea. “More specifically, study participants who drank tea 5-10 times/year, 1-3 times/month, 1-4 times/week, and 5+ times/week had average annual rates of decline 17 percent, 32 percent, 37 percent, and 26 percent lower, respectively, than non-tea drinkers,” the Alzheimer’s Association’s blog reported. However, coffee consumption was not found to have an effect except at the very highest level of consumption.
Another study found that low levels of vitamin D may increase the risk of cognitive impairment. The researchers, who used information obtained from 3,325 study participants age 65 and older, used blood samples to determine vitamin D levels, and then compared the participants’ performance on tests that measured general cognitive function. The study found that study participants who were deficient in vitamin D were 42 more likely to develop cognitive impairment; those participants who were severely deficient were 395 percent more likely to have this mental decline.
Another study which followed mice that were fed walnuts found that adding these nuts to the diet may have a beneficial effect on brain function. Furthermore, those mice that were placed on a diet without walnuts had memory deficits, anxiety-related behavior, and learning impairment in several areas.
What’s the take-away from this story? Although additional research is needed, these findings should give everyone who is worried about developing Alzheimer’s in their life additional information about how they can be proactive in opting for lifestyle choices (exercise and diet) in order to fend off this terrible disease.