Alzheimers prevention

Alcohol's possible benefits for the brain

There seems to be quite a lot of evidence now, that a moderate amount of alcohol consumption (around 1-2 drinks a day) can help protect against Alzheimer’s — though not, a review concluded, vascular dementia or age-related cognitive decline (but the jury’s still out on that one, I think). Moderate alcohol consumption is significantly associated with other factors that help protect against dementia, such as better education, not living alone, and absence of depression, but seems to have an effect on its own account as well.

It must be emphasized that this positive effect is restricted to the ‘right’ level of alcohol consumption. The damage alcohol can do to the brain is only too well established.

The effect doesn’t appear to be restricted to a particular type of alcohol. Having said that, there are components in wine, especially red wine, that have also been associated with lower dementia risk. These components include polyphenols such as epicatechin, catechin and resveratrol.

Benefits may not apply to everyone however. One study found that carriers of the Alzheimer’s gene, APOe4, were more likely to develop dementia if they drank any alcohol — it was only non-carriers that showed a benefit of moderate drinking. Another large study found that the benefits of moderate drinking only applied to those who had no cognitive impairment. For those with mild cognitive impairment, drinking speeded up the rate of decline. Another, large long-running, study found that, although non-smokers who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol were less likely to have a stroke than non-drinkers, this didn’t apply to smokers.

These individual variations may explain the inconsistency in previous studies regarding the relationship between light to moderate drinking and age-related cognitive impairment.

The story of alcohol and the brain is clearly a complex one, not easily disentangled. One large, long-running study, for example, found an association between alcohol and brain atrophy even at moderate levels of consumption.

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Regular moderate alcohol intake has cognitive benefits in older adults

A six-year study involving over 3,000 seniors (75+) has found that for those who had no cognitive impairment at the start of the study, moderate drinking (1-2 drinks a day) was associated with a 37% reduction in risk of developing dementia compared to individuals who did not drink at all. The type of alcohol didn’t matter. However, for those who started the study with mild cognitive impairment, any consumption of alcohol was associated with faster rates of cognitive decline. Moreover, heavy drinkers were almost twice as likely to develop dementia during the study. The results are consistent with previous studies of middle-aged adults that suggest mild to moderate alcohol intake may reduce the risk of dementia, except in the case of individuals who already have mild to moderate cognitive impairment.

Sink, K.M. et al. 2009. Moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower dementia incidence: results from the Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS). Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Moderate drinking can reduce risks of Alzheimer's dementia and cognitive decline

A review of 44 studies has concluded that moderate drinkers often have lower risks of Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive loss. Moderate alcohol consumption generally is defined as 1 drink or less per day for women and 1-2 drinks or less per day for men.

[2374] Collins, M. A., Neafsey E. J., Mukamal K. J., Gray M. O., Parks D. A., Das D. K., et al.
(2009).  Alcohol in Moderation, Cardioprotection, and Neuroprotection: Epidemiological Considerations and Mechanistic Studies.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 33(2), 206 - 219.

Chocolate, wine and tea improve brain performance

A study of over 2000 older Norwegians (aged 70-74) has found that those who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better cognitive performance and lower risk of poor cognitive performance than those who did not. Those who consumed all 3 studied items had the best performance and the lowest risks for poor test performance. The associations between intake of these foodstuffs and cognition were dose dependent, with maximum effect at intakes of around 10 grams a day for chocolate and around 75–100 ml a day for wine, but approximately linear for tea. The effect was most pronounced for wine and modestly weaker for chocolate intake. The finding is consistent with research indicating that those who consume lots of flavonoids have a lower incidence of dementia.

[623] Nurk, E., Refsum H., Drevon C. A., Tell G. S., Nygaard H. A., Engedal K., et al.
(2009).  Intake of flavonoid-rich wine, tea, and chocolate by elderly men and women is associated with better cognitive test performance.
The Journal of Nutrition. 139(1), 120 - 127.

Red grape seeds may help prevent Alzheimer's disease

Research into the nearly 5000 compounds contained in red wine to reveal the source of the health benefits seen from red wine has revealed that polyphenols derived from red grape seeds may be useful agents to prevent or treat Alzheimer's disease. Red grape seeds currently being developed with the name of Meganatural AZ were found to significantly reduce cognitive deterioration in genetically engineered mice, by preventing the formation of amyloid beta. The mice were given the extract before the age at which they normally develop signs of disease, suggesting the extract may help prevent or postpone the development of Alzheimer’s. The major polyphenol components in the grape seed extract product are catechin and epicatechin, which are also abundant in tea and cocoa. Unlike the polyphenol resveratrol, which has been shown to have similar effects, but requires extremely high doses, the catechins appear to be effective at much lower doses. Further research will of course be needed before human recommendations can be made.

[2377] Wang, J., Ho L., Zhao W., Ono K., Rosensweig C., Chen L., et al.
(2008).  Grape-Derived Polyphenolics Prevent Aβ Oligomerization and Attenuate Cognitive Deterioration in a Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease.
The Journal of Neuroscience. 28(25), 6388 - 6392.

Why moderate drinking may boost memory

Another study has come out suggesting moderate amounts of alcohol are good for the brain, and explaining why. The rat study found that low levels of alcohol increased the expression of a particular receptor, NR1, on the surface of neurons in the hippocampus. Increasing the number of NR1 receptors in a different group of rats resulted in a memory boost similar to that seen in the rats given low doses of alcohol. There were no toxic effects of low-level alcohol consumption (1—2 drinks a day) on the brain, but a higher dose of alcohol did damage neurons.

The findings were presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting on October 14-18 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cabernet sauvignon red wine reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease

A mouse study has found moderate consumption of the red wine Cabernet Sauvignon significantly reduced Alzheimer’s-type deterioration of spatial memory function. The Cabernet Sauvignon used contained a very low content of resveratrol, 10-fold lower than the minimal effective concentration shown to promote Aß clearance in vitro. It is suggested that, instead, the benefit occurred through promoting non-amyloidogenic processing of amyloid precursor protein. The finding supports epidemiological evidence indicating that moderate wine consumption (one drink per day for women and two for men) may help reduce the relative risk for Alzheimer’s.

[2378] Wang, J., Ho L., Zhao Z., Seror I., Humala N., Dickstein D. L., et al.
(2006).  Moderate consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon attenuates Aß neuropathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
The FASEB Journal. 20(13), 2313 - 2320.

Moderate alcohol intake associated with better mental function in older women

A study of over 7,000 older women (65-80) found that those who drink a moderate amount of alcohol have slightly higher levels of mental function than non-drinkers, particularly in verbal abilities. The researcher warned that "Until we better understand the reasons why alcohol consumption is associated with better cognitive functioning, these results on their own are not a reason for people who don't drink to start or for those who drink to increase their intake."

[455] Espeland, M. A., Coker L. H., Wallace R., Rapp S. R., Resnick S. M., Limacher M., et al.
(2006).  Association between alcohol intake and domain-specific cognitive function in older women.
Neuroepidemiology. 27(1), 1 - 12.

More support for benefits of some alcohol

A longitudinal study of an elderly community sample found that, over an average of 7 years, mild-to-moderate drinking was associated with less average decline in cognitive function compared to not drinking.

[1203] Ganguli, M., Bilt V. J., Saxton J. A., Shen C., & Dodge H. H.
(2005).  Alcohol consumption and cognitive function in late life: A longitudinal community study.
Neurology. 65(8), 1210 - 1217.

Moderate alcohol intake may reduce cognitive decline in older women

Two recent large-scale epidemiological studies have come out recently with similar findings. Data from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (involving 4,461 women aged 65 to 79 years) has revealed that women who reported having one or more alcohol drinks daily had a 40% lower risk of significant declines in cognitive function over time, compared to women who reported no alcohol intake. It is possible that moderate alcohol intake may reduce the risk for narrowed vessels in the brain. In addition, alcohol may decrease the formation of plaque that is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Data from the Nurses' Health Study, begun in 1976 and involving 12,480 women, now aged between 70 and 81 years old, has found that women who had the equivalent of one drink a day had a 23% lower risk of becoming mentally impaired during a two-year period, compared with non-drinkers. It made no significant difference whether they drank beer or wine.

[1108] Espeland, M. A., Gu L., Masaki K. H., Langer R. D., Coker L. H., Stefanick M. L., et al.
(2005).  Association between Reported Alcohol Intake and Cognition: Results from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study.
Am. J. Epidemiol.. 161(3), 228 - 238.

[1115] Stampfer, M. J., Kang J H., Chen J., Cherry R., & Grodstein F.
(2005).  Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Function in Women.
N Engl J Med. 352(3), 245 - 253. (1st study) (2nd study)

Drinking too much alcohol, and not enough, increases risk of cognitive impairment

In Finland, researchers re-examined 1018 participants from a study of 1464 men and women aged 65-79 studied in 1972 or 1977. They found that participants who drank no alcohol in midlife as well as those who drank alcohol frequently were twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment in old age compared to those who drank alcohol infrequently. The effect of alcohol was however modified by the presence of the apolipoprotein e4 allele (implicated in dementia risk). People who were carriers of the apolipoprotein e4 allele had an increased risk of dementia with increasing alcohol consumption, with carriers of the gene significantly reducing their risk by never drinking.

[731] Kivipelto, M., Anttila T., Helkala E-L., Viitanen M., Kareholt I., Fratiglioni L., et al.
(2004).  Alcohol drinking in middle age and subsequent risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in old age: a prospective population based study.
BMJ. 329(7465), 539 - 539.

Possible benefits of alcohol in reducing cognitive decline

Another report from the Whitehall Study database. This one adds to the, still controversial, research linking moderate wine consumption with health and longevity. Of those who reported drinking alcohol in the past year, those who consumed at least one drink in the past week were significantly less likely to have poor cognitive function than those who did not. These benefits appeared even at levels of alcohol consumption that most sensible observers would consider excessive, and emphasizes once again that correlation is not causation. It seems likely that this association at least partly reflects other factors, and indeed, the correlation was reduced when social position was taken account of. It may also reflect the possible effect of alcohol in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol's benefits for cognition may be overstated

Some studies (that receive a lot of media attention) have suggested that moderate alcohol drinking may have beneficial effects on the heart or the brain. Other studies have found no effect, or a negative one. Now a new study may provide an answer to the conflicting results. Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has followed more than 10,000 men and women who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957, researchers in 1992 asked the participants about their drinking habits. It was found that men who consumed low levels of alcohol in 1992 had higher scores on the abstract reasoning test than those who drank either more or less. However, when earlier cognitive ability (measured in high school) was taken into account, the difference between non-drinkers and those who had one drink a day disappeared. With the women, both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers had lower scores at age 53 than moderate drinkers. But when adolescent cognitive ability was taken into account, these differences disappeared. Participants will be re-examined next year, when they’re about 65.

[2375] Krahn, D., Freese J., Hauser R., Barry K., & Goodman B.
(2003).  Alcohol Use and Cognition at Mid‐Life: The Importance of Adjusting for Baseline Cognitive Ability and Educational Attainment.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 27(7), 1162 - 1166.

Drinking wine may lower risk of dementia

Researchers in Copenhagen have followed up an analysis of drinking patterns for wine, beer and liquor of 1,709 people in the 1970s with an assessment of dementia in the 1990s, when participants were age 65 or older. 83 of the participants had developed dementia. Their alcohol intake was compared to that of those who did not develop dementia. It was found that those who drank wine occasionally had a lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Those who drank wine every day were no more or less likely to develop dementia than those who drank it less often. The study also found that occasional beer drinking was associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. It is important to note that eating habits were not investigated, and research suggests that wine drinkers may have better dietary habits than beer and liquor drinkers.

[2376] Truelsen, T., Thudium D., & Grønbæk M.
(2002).  Amount and type of alcohol and risk of dementia.
Neurology. 59(9), 1313 - 1319.

Moderate alcohol consumption may help prevent dementia

Recent research has suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may have positive health benefits for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular functioning. Given the connection between dementia in old age and cerebrovascular disease, a recent Italian study analyzed data from 15,807 patients (65 years of age or older) to assess whether there is any link between alcohol consumption and cognitive function. Signs of cognitive derangement were found in 19% of the participants who reported regular alcohol consumption, and in 29% of those who abstained from alcohol. The quantity of daily alcohol consumption was an important factor. The risk of cognitive impairment was reduced among women whose daily alcohol consumption was less than 40 grams and among men who drank less than 80 grams. Higher levels of alcohol consumption showed an increased risk of cognitive impairment when compared with both abstainers and moderate drinkers.

[954] Zuccalà, G., Onder G., Pedone C., Cesari M., Landi F., Bernabei R., et al.
(2001).  Dose-Related Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Function in Advanced Age: Results of a Multicenter Survey.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 25(12), 1743 - 1748.

A Dutch study suggests that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption could reduce the risk of dementia among older people. Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption (1 to 3 drinks per day) was associated with a 42% risk reduction of all dementia, and around a 70% reduction in risk of vascular dementia.

[794] Ruitenberg, A., van Swieten J. C., Witteman J CM., Mehta K. M., van Duijn C. M., Hofman A., et al.
(2002).  Alcohol consumption and risk of dementia: the Rotterdam Study.
The Lancet. 359(9303), 281 - 286.

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Physical exercise

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Exercise can aid recovery after brain radiation

A mouse study has found that exercise can prevent a decline in memory after whole-brain radiation treatment. Mice that had radiation plus access to a running wheel did as well at remembering where an escape hole in maze was as normal mice that didn't exercise. Irradiated mice that had no access to an exercise wheel eventually showed no particular preference for the section of the maze with the escape hole. The irradiated mice who didn’t exercise also showed depressive-like behavior, while those who exercised did not.

Wong-Goodrich, S.J. et al. 2009. Exercise promotes recovery from cognitive dysfunction, depressive-like behavior, and loss of hippocampal neurogenesis following whole-brain irradiation in adult mice. Presented October 20 at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.

Older adults

Maintaining or Increasing Activity Levels May Slow Cognitive Decline in Elderly

A 7-year study of over 3000 seniors (70-79) using self-report physical activity (walking) found that 21% were consistently sedentary, 12% maintained their activity levels, 26% had declining levels, and 41% had increasing or fluctuating levels. After adjustment for age, sex, race, education, study site, diabetes, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption and baseline cognitive score, they found that those who were sedentary throughout the study had the lowest levels of cognitive function at the beginning and experienced the fastest rate of cognitive decline; cognitive decline also was faster in those whose physical activity levels consistently declined during the study period. However, sedentary elders who increased their physical activity improved their cognitive function, especially the ability to process complex information quickly.

Barnes, D.E. et al. 2009. The impact of changes in physical activity levels on rate of cognitive decline in a biracial cohort of non-demented elders. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Whether lifelong physical activity helps or hurts the aging brain depends on extent

A study of 90 post-menopausal women found that long-term strenuous activity was consistently associated with poorer performance on all eight cognitive tests, in particular tests of semantic memory, working memory, delayed verbal recall, and sustained attention. However, moderate physical activity was consistently associated with better performance on all eight of the tests, especially cognitive flexibility, working memory, and sustained attention.

Tierney, M.C. et al. 2009. Intensity of long-term physical activity and later life cognition in postmenopausal women. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Alzheimer's Gene May Reduce Benefits of Physical Activity for Cognitive Ability

A study of some 1800 seniors (60+) found that the association of physical activity with better cognitive function was significant only for those who didn’t carry any copies of the “Alzheimer’s gene” APOE-e4 (which is the majority of people), and was greater with age.

Obisesan, T.O., Hamilton, J. & Gillum, R.F. 2009. Aerobic-related physical activity interacting with apolipoprotein E genotypes, is associated with better cognitive function in a nationally representative sample: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Physical fitness improves memory in seniors

A study of 165 older adults (59-81) has found a significant association between physical fitness and performance on certain spatial memory tests. Fitness was also strongly correlated with hippocampus size. Although rodent studies have shown that exercise increases hippocampus size and spatial memory, this is the first study to show that in humans. The findings provide more evidence for the benefits of physical exercise in preventing memory loss in older adults.

[404] Kramer, A. F., Erickson K. I., Prakash R. S., Voss M. W., Chaddock L., Hu L., et al.
(2009).  Aerobic fitness is associated with hippocampal volume in elderly humans.
Hippocampus. 19(10), 1030 - 1039.

Exercise prevents stem cell drop in middle age

Following mouse research showing that the creation of new brain cells (neurogenesis) in the dentate gyrus drops off dramatically by the time mice are middle aged and that exercise can significantly slow that trend, a new mouse study has confirmed these findings and found evidence that exercise has this effect by increasing the production of BDNF.

[990] Wu, C-W., Chang Y-T., Yu L., Chen H-ing., Jen C. J., Wu S-Y., et al.
(2008).  Exercise enhances the proliferation of neural stem cells and neurite growth and survival of neuronal progenitor cells in dentate gyrus of middle-aged mice.
J Appl Physiol. 105(5), 1585 - 1594.

Age differences in cognitive benefits of exercise and mental stimulation

A mouse study has found that while physical exercise (a running wheel) and mental stimulation (toys), singly and together, improved memory in old mice, exercise alone or exercise and stimulation improved memory in middle-aged mice but not stimulation alone, and only exercise alone benefited young mice. The results suggest that as we get old and maybe less able to exercise, cognitive stimulation can help to compensate, but exercise is central to memory reinforcement at all ages.

[751] Harburger, L. L., Nzerem C. K., & Frick K. M.
(2007).  Single enrichment variables differentially reduce age-related memory decline in female mice.

Behavioral Neuroscience. 121(4), 679 - 688.

Full text available at

Fitness and childhood IQ indicators of cognitive ability in old age

Data from the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932 has revealed that physical fitness contributed more than 3% of the differences in cognitive ability in old age. The study involved 460 men and women, who were tested using the same cognitive test at age 79 that they had undergone at age 11. Physical fitness was defined by time to walk six meters, grip strength and lung function. Childhood IQ was also significantly related to lung function at age 79, perhaps because people with higher intelligence might respond more favorably to health messages about staying fit. But physical fitness was more important for cognitive ability in old age than childhood IQ. People in more professional occupations and with more education also had better fitness and higher cognitive test scores at 79.

[770] Deary, I. J., Whalley L. J., Batty D. G., & Starr J. M.
(2006).  Physical fitness and lifetime cognitive change.
Neurology. 67(7), 1195 - 1200.

Exercise helps sustain mental activity as we age

A review of the research on the effects of exercise on brain functioning supports the view that physical exercise helps people maintain cognitive abilities well into older age. There’s also evidence that fitness training may improve some mental processes even more than moderate activity. The review examined three types of study: epidemiological studies, human intervention studies, and animal studies. All provide support for the benefits of physical activity for the aging brain.

Kramer, A.F., Colcombe, S.J., Erickson, K. & Scalf, P. 2006. Fitness Training and the Brain: From Molecules to Minds. Presented August 11 at the 114th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Simple Lifestyle Changes May Improve Cognitive Function

A study involving 17 people (35–69 years) with mild self-reported memory complaints but normal baseline memory performance scores, has found that 2 weeks on a program combining a brain healthy diet plan (5 small meals a day; diet rich in omega-3 fats, antioxidants and low-glycemic carbohydrates like whole grains), relaxation exercises, cardiovascular conditioning (daily walks), and mental exercise (such as crosswords and brain teasers) resulted in participants' brain metabolism decreasing 5% in working memory regions (left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), suggesting an increased efficiency. Compared to the control group, participants also performed better in verbal fluency.

Small, G.W. et al. 2006. Effects of a 14-Day Healthy Longevity Lifestyle Program on Cognition and Brain Function. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14, 538-545.

Review supports link between lifestyle factors and cognitive function in older adults

A review of 96 papers involving 36 very large, ongoing epidemiological studies in North America and Europe looking at factors involved in maintaining cognitive and emotional health in adults as they age has concluded that controlling cardiovascular risk factors, such as reducing blood pressure, reducing weight, reducing cholesterol, treating (or preferably avoiding) diabetes, and not smoking, is important for maintaining brain health as we age. The link between hypertension and cognitive decline was the most robust across studies. They also found a consistent close correlation between physical activity and brain health. However, they caution that more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made about which types of exercise and how much exercise are beneficial. They also found protective factors most consistently reported for cognitive health included higher education level, higher socio-economic status, emotional support, better initial performance on cognitive tests, better lung capacity, more physical exercise, moderate alcohol use, and use of vitamin supplements. Psychosocial factors, such as social disengagement and depressed mood, are associated with both poorer cognitive and emotional health in late life. Increased mental activity throughout life, such as learning new things, may also benefit brain health.

[296] Wagster, M., Hendrie H., Albert M., Butters M., Gao S., Knopman D. S., et al.
(2006).  The NIH Cognitive and Emotional Health ProjectReport of the Critical Evaluation Study Committee.
Alzheimer's and Dementia. 2(1), 12 - 32.

Fitness counteracts cognitive decline from hormone-replacement therapy

A study of 54 postmenopausal women (aged 58 to 80) suggests that being physically fit offsets cognitive declines attributed to long-term hormone-replacement therapy. It was found that gray matter in four regions (left and right prefrontal cortex, left parahippocampal gyrus and left subgenual cortex) was progressively reduced with longer hormone treatment, with the decline beginning after more than 10 years of treatment. Therapy shorter than 10 years was associated with increased tissue volume. Higher fitness scores were also associated with greater tissue volume. Those undergoing long-term hormone therapy had more modest declines in tissue loss if their fitness level was high. Higher fitness levels were also associated with greater prefrontal white matter regions and in the genu of the corpus callosum. The findings need to be replicated with a larger sample, but are in line with animal studies finding that estrogen and exercise have similar effects: both stimulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

[375] Erickson, K. I., Colcombe S. J., Elavsky S., McAuley E., Korol D. L., Scalf P. E., et al.
(2007).  Interactive effects of fitness and hormone treatment on brain health in postmenopausal women.
Neurobiology of Aging. 28(2), 179 - 185.

Lifestyle changes improve seniors’ memory surprisingly quickly

A small 14-day study found that those following a memory improvement plan that included memory training, a healthy diet, physical exercise, and stress reduction, showed a 5% decrease in brain metabolism in the dorsal lateral prefrontal region of the brain (involved in working memory) suggesting they were using their brain more efficiently. This change in activity was reflected in better performance on a cognitive measure controlled by this brain region, and participants reported that they felt their memory had improved. The memory training involved doing brainteasers, crossword puzzles and memory exercises. Diet involved eating 5 small meals daily (to prevent fluctuations in blood glucose levels) that were rich in omega-3 fats, low-glycemic index carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains) and antioxidants. Physical exercise involved brisk walking and stretching, and stress reduction involved stretching and relaxation exercises.

The study was presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's Annual Meeting on December 11-15, in Hawaii.

Lifelong mild exercise decreases cellular aging in the brain

A rat study has provided evidence that regular, light exercise (say a daily 30-minute walk or a light 1-mile run) decreases cellular aging in the brain. Those rats who had had access to an exercise wheel during their lives showed fewer byproducts of oxidative stress in their brains, and their DNA at two years resembled that of their 6 month old counterparts.

The research was presented at the Society for Neuroscience's 35th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Diet, exercise, stimulating environment helps old dogs learn

A new study of beagles provides more evidence that diet and mental stimulation are important in reducing or preventing age-related cognitive decline. The study, involving 48 older beagles (aged 7 to 11), compared four combinations of behavioral enrichment (regular exercise and lots of mental stimulation) and supplementation of diet with antioxidants had on a beagle's ability to learn: regular diet and regular experience; regular diet and enriched experience; regular experience and an enriched diet; and enriched diet and an enriched experience. The study followed the beagles over two years. Those in the groups with either an enriched diet or enriched environment did better than those without either, but those who had both the enriched diet and an enriched environment did noticeably better than all the rest.

[657] Milgram, N. W., Head E., Zicker S. C., Ikeda-Douglas C. J., Murphey H., Muggenburg B., et al.
(2005).  Learning ability in aged beagle dogs is preserved by behavioral enrichment and dietary fortification: a two-year longitudinal study.
Neurobiology of Aging. 26(1), 77 - 90.

Maintaining physical activity linked to less cognitive decline in older men

Longer and more intense physical activity may help people maintain their cognitive skills as they age, according to a 10-year study of 295 men, born between 1900 and 1920, from the Finland, Italy and Netherlands Elderly (FINE) Study. The study showed that over 10 years the cognitive decline in men who had reduced their daily physical activity by an hour or more was 2.6 times greater than the decline in men who maintained their activity. Men who performed their daily physical activity with a lower intensity 10 years later had a 3.6 times stronger decline than men who maintained the intensity level. Men who engaged in activities of the lowest intensity had up to 3.5 times greater decline than men who participated in activities with a higher intensity. There was no decline among those who increased the duration or intensity of their activities. Activities of medium-to-low intensity, such as walking three miles per day, was associated with less cognitive decline than the lowest-intensity activity like walking less than three miles per day.

van Gelder, B.M., Tijhuis, M.A.R., Kalmijn, S., Giampaoli, S., Nissinen, A. & Kromhout, D. 2004. Physical activity in relation to cognitive decline in elderly men: The FINE study. Neurology, 63, 2316-2321.

Walking may protect elderly from dementia

A study of more than 2,200 Japanese-American men between the ages of 71 and 93 has found that elderly men who are sedentary or walk less than a quarter of a mile per day are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease compared to men who walk more than two miles per day. Those who walked less than a mile (and more than quarter of a mile) a day also showed a significantly greater risk of dementia than those walking more than two miles a day.

[327] Abbott, R. D., White L. R., Ross W. G., Masaki K. H., Curb D. J., & Petrovitch H.
(2004).  Walking and Dementia in Physically Capable Elderly Men.
JAMA. 292(12), 1447 - 1453.

Physical activity associated with better mental functioning in older women

Since 1986, 18,766 women, aged 70 to 81 years, have been questioned on their physical activity in biennial questionnaires. The women were divided into five groups depending on their average energy expenditures. Those in the highest activity grouping had a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than women in the lowest. Women who walked at an easy pace for at least 1.5 hours per week had higher cognitive scores than those who walked less than forty minutes per week.

[965] Weuve, J., Kang J H., Manson JA. E., Breteler M MB., Ware J. H., & Grodstein F.
(2004).  Physical Activity, Including Walking, and Cognitive Function in Older Women.
JAMA. 292(12), 1454 - 1461.

Music with exercise boosts mental performance

In the first study to look at the combined effects of music and short-term exercise on mental performance, researchers found that listening to music while exercising helped to increase scores on a verbal fluency test among cardiac rehabilitation patients. The study included 33 men and women in the final weeks of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Participants completed a verbal fluency test before and after two separate sessions of exercising on a treadmill. The workouts were scheduled a week apart and lasted about 30 minutes. Participants listened to classical music – Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" – during one of the sessions. Participants reported feeling better emotionally and mentally after working out regardless of whether or not they listened to music. But the improvement in verbal fluency test performance after listening to music was more than double that of the non-music condition.

Emery, C.F., Hsiao, E.T., Hill, S.M. & Frid, D.J. 2003. Short-term effects of exercise and music on cognitive performance among participants in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care, 32 (6), 368-373.

Exercise improves attention and decision-making among seniors

An imaging study involving adults ranging in age from 58 to 78 before and after a six-month program of aerobic exercise, found specific functional differences in the middle-frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain that changed with improved aerobic fitness. Consistent with the functions of these brain regions, those who participated in the aerobic-exercise intervention significantly improved their performance on a computer-based decision-making task. Those doing toning and stretching exercises did increase activation in some areas of the brain but not in those tied to better performance. Their performance on the task was not significantly different after the exercise program. The aerobic exercise used in the study involved gradually increasing periods of walking over three months. For the final three months of the intervention program, each subject walked briskly for 45 minutes in three sessions each week.

[399] Elavsky, S., Colcombe S. J., Kramer A. F., Erickson K. I., Scalf P., McAuley E., et al.
(2004).  Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101(9), 3316 - 3321.

High sugar blood levels linked to poor memory

A new study takes an important step in explaining cognitive impairment in diabetics, and suggests a possible cause for some age-related memory impairment. The study assessed non-diabetic middle-aged and elderly people. Those with impaired glucose tolerance (a pre-diabetic condition) had a smaller hippocampus and scored worse on tests for recent memory. These results were independent of age or overall cognitive performance. The brain uses glucose almost exclusively as a fuel source. The ability to get glucose from the blood is reduced in diabetes. The study raises the possibility that exercise and weight loss, which help control blood sugar levels, may be able to reverse some of the memory loss that accompanies aging.

[543] Convit, A., Wolf O. T., Tarshish C., & de Leon M. J.
(2003).  Reduced glucose tolerance is associated with poor memory performance and hippocampal atrophy among normal elderly.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 100(4), 2019 - 2022.

Imaging study confirms link between exercise and cognitive function

A number of studies have suggested a link between exercise and cognitive function in older adults, but now an imaging study shows that there are actual anatomical differences in the brains of physically fit versus less fit older adults (over 55). Specifically, they found very distinct differences in the gray and white matter in the frontal, temporal, and parietal cortexes. With aging, these tissues shrink, a reduction closely matched by declines in cognitive performance. Fitness, it appears, slows that decline. A related study, published in March, suggests that women may benefit more from exercise than men.

Colcombe, S.J., Erickson, K.I., Raz, N., Webb, A.G., Cohen, N.J., McAuley, E. & Kramer, A.F. 2003. Aerobic Fitness Reduces Brain Tissue Loss in Aging Humans. Journal of Gerontology: Series A: Biological and Medical Sciences, 58, M176-M180.

Walking reduces cognitive decline in older women

A study that tested the cognitive abilities of 5,925 women who were 65 and older once and then again six to eight years later, found that the women who walked the least were most likely to develop cognitive decline -- 24 percent of them had significant declines in their test scores, compared to 17 percent of the most active group. The least active women walked an average of about a half mile per week, while the most active group walked an average of nearly 18 miles per week.
While any exercise appeared to be helpful, the benefit increased with every extra mile walked per week. Examples of activities that would reduce the risk of cognitive decline were: playing tennis twice a week, walking a mile per day, playing golf once a week.

The paper was presented by Kristine Yaffe at the American Academy of Neurology’s 53rd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, May 5-11.

Aerobic exercise improves some mental processes in older adults

The team of Duke University Medical Center researchers who demonstrated in late 1999 that aerobic exercise is just as effective as medication in treating major depression in the middle-aged and elderly has now reported that the same exercise program also appears to improve the cognitive abilities of these patients. The researchers found significant improvements in the higher mental processes of memory and the so-called executive functions, which include planning, organization and the ability to mentally juggle different intellectual tasks at the same time. Attention and concentration did not appear to be affected. Because it has been theorised that a reduction in blood flow to the brain might be one of the reasons why the elderly – especially those with coronary artery disease or hypertension – might suffer some degree of cognitive decline, it is speculated that exercise might improve cognitive functioning in such patients by improving the flow of oxygen-rich blood to specific regions of the brain.

Khatri, P., Babyak, M., Herman, S., Baldewicz, T., Madden, D.J., Doraiswamy, ., Waugh, R., Krishnan, R. & Craighead, E. 2001. Effects of Exercise Training on Cognitive Functioning Among Depressed Older Men and Women. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 9 (1).

124 previously sedentary adults, 60 to 75 years old, were randomly assigned to either aerobic (walking) or anaerobic (stretching and toning) exercise over a period of 6 months. Those who received aerobic training showed substantial improvements in performance on tasks requiring executive control (such as planning, scheduling, inhibition and working memory) compared with anaerobically trained subjects. Executive control processes are particularly affected by aging. The walking condition involved walking rapidly for 45 minutes three days a week.

Kramer, A.F., Hahn, S., Cohen, N.J., Banich, M.T., Mcauley, E., Harrison, C.R.,Chason, J., Vakil, E., Bardell, L., Boileau, R.A. & Colcombe, A. 1999. Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function. Nature, 400, 418 - 419.

The benefits of physical exercise for cognitive and memory performance in the elderly have not been consistently demonstrated in research. This study, a longitudinal one (the Interdisciplinary Ageing (IDA) study), was designed to reduce perceived shortcomings of earlier research.

The 442 people ( 65 - 95 years old) involved in the study had had their medical data collected regularly since 1965. 46 volunteers from this group (18 women and 28 men; mean age73.2 years) participated in an eight-week resistance training program. The program involved a warm-up lasting 10 min, followed by eight resistance exercises on machines.

PParticipants displayed a significant increase in muscular strength directly after the training, and this was still significant one year later. However, there was no improvement in any subjective health ratings or psychological well-being measures, with the exception of a decrease inself-attentiveness (fewer self-centred thoughts; less anxiety about themselves and the future).

There was however a positive effect on cognitive function. Memory recall and recognition were both improved, and was still significant a year later. It is unlikely that this long-term improvement can be directly due to such a short-term physical training program, but perhaps the experience of mastering a new situation and changing established habits increased participants' motivation to seek new challenges. This openness and self-confidence could be responsible for participants staying physically, socially and mentally active and being self-reliant, all of which are prerequisites for optimal cognitive functioning.

Perrig-Chiello, P. 1998. The effects of resistance training on well-being and memory in elderly volunteers. Age and Ageing, 27


Dementia & MCI

Physical activity reduces MCI

A German study involving nearly 4000 older adults (55+) has found that physical activity significantly reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment over a two-year period. Nearly 14% of those with no physical activity at the start of the study developed cognitive impairment, compared to 6.7% of those with moderate activity, and 5.1% of those with high activity. Moderate activity was defined as less than 3 times a week.

[248] Etgen, T., Sander D., Huntgeburth U., Poppert H., Forstl H., & Bickel H.
(2010).  Physical Activity and Incident Cognitive Impairment in Elderly Persons: The INVADE Study.
Arch Intern Med. 170(2), 186 - 193.

Exercise and Mediterranean-type diet associated with lower risk for Alzheimer's

A New York study involving 1880 elderly (average age 77) is the first to investigate both exercise and diet in connection with the later development of Alzheimer’s (within a five and a half year period). Participants were asked about their activity in the two weeks prior to the interview, about the regularity and duration, as well as the quality (vigorous, moderate, light). They were also asked about their food consumption over the previous year, and their responses grouped into nine food categories, the sum of which represented a Mediterranean-type diet score. Those who were very physically active had a 33% risk reduction of Alzheimer's; those who adhered more strongly to a Mediterranean-type diet had a 40% risk reduction. Those who did both had a 60% reduction. A Mediterranean-type diet is typically characterized by high intake of fish, vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals and monounsaturated fatty acids; relatively low intake of dairy products, meats and saturated fats; and moderate alcohol consumption.

Scarmeas, N. et al. 2009. Physical Activity, Diet, and Risk of Alzheimer Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(6), 627-637.

Full text available at

Moderate exercise helps mild cognitive impairment

An Australian study involving 138 older adults (50 years and over) with mild cognitive impairment, has found that those who undertook to achieve 2 ½ hours of physical activity each week (three 50 minute sessions), ranging from walking, ballroom dancing to swimming, for a six month period, continually out-scored the control group on cognitive tests during the 18 month testing period — showing that memory improvement was still evident a year after the supervised exercise period.

[1212] Lautenschlager, N. T., Cox K. L., Flicker L., Foster J. K., van Bockxmeer F. M., Xiao J., et al.
(2008).  Effect of Physical Activity on Cognitive Function in Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer Disease: A Randomized Trial.
JAMA. 300(9), 1027 - 1037.

Exercise may slow brain shrinkage in early Alzheimer's

A study of 121 people age 60 and older, of whom 57 were in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, has found that those with early Alzheimer's disease who were less physically fit (measured by cardiorespiratory fitness) had four times more brain shrinkage when compared to normal older adults than those who were more physically fit. The findings suggest the value of physical fitness in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The association existed even after age, gender, severity of dementia, physical activity and frailty were accounted for. There was no relationship between higher fitness levels and brain changes in the group of people without dementia.

Burns, J.M. et al. 2008. Cardiorespiratory fitness and brain atrophy in early Alzheimer disease. Neurology, 71, 210-216.

Mental and physical exercise delays dementia

A study using genetically engineered mice has found providing the mice with an enriched environment that enhanced their mental and physical stimulation improved performance on memory tests at an early stage of Huntington's disease, when memory impairment has begun. Specific molecular changes were also observed at the synapses in the hippocampus. Those without increased mental and physical activity showed decreased levels of specific proteins that are expressed at the synapse, but those exposed to stimulation didn’t. The finding offers hope for slowing the progression of the disease, as well as other dementias.

Nithianantharajah, J., Barkus, C., Murphy, M. & Hannan, A.J. Gene–environment interactions modulating cognitive function and molecular correlates of synaptic plasticity in Huntington’s disease transgenic mice. Neurobiology of Disease, Published online ahead of print 24 November 2007

Walking and moderate exercise help prevent dementia

A four-year study involving 749 older adults has found that the top one-third of participants who exerted the most energy in moderate activities such as walking were significantly less likely to develop vascular dementia than those people in the bottom one-third of the group. Contrary to some reports, no such association was found with Alzheimer’s disease.

Ravaglia, G. et al. 2007. Physical activity and dementia risk in the elderly. Findings from a prospective Italian study. Neurology, published online ahead of print December 19

How mental and physical stimulation slows Alzheimer's

A new study reveals how mental and physical activity slows the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s. In the study, genetically engineered mice were housed in either standard cages or ones with access to an enriched environment. After five months, the mice housed in the enriched environment had fewer Ab plaques, smaller plaque size, and reduced amyloid angiopathy compared to mice housed in standard cages. However there were no differences in the levels of soluble Ab peptide or the expression levels of its precursor protein (APP). Further investigation revealed differences suggesting that an enriched environment elicits protection via pathways that prevent Ab accumulation and enhance its clearance. The data confirm that an environment rich in mental and physical stimulation slows the progression of Alzheimer-like brain pathology.

Ambrée, O. et al. 2006. Reduction of amyloid angiopathy and A² plaque burden after enriched housing in TgCRND8 mice: involvement of multiple pathways. American Journal of Pathology, 169, 544-552.

Good physical function linked to Alzheimer's delay

A study following 2,288 older adults for six years found that those whose physical function was higher at the start of the study were three times less likely to develop dementia than were those whose physical function was lower.

Wang, L., Larson, E.B., Bowen, J.D. & van Belle, G. 2006. Performance-Based Physical Function and Future Dementia in Older People. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166, 1115-1120.

Exercise protects against Alzheimer's

A study following 1,740 seniors (aged 65 and older) over a six-year period, found that those who exercised three or more times a week had a 30 — 40% lower risk for developing dementia compared with those who exercised fewer than three times per week. Even modest amounts, such as walking 15 minutes a day, appear beneficial, and the more frail the person was, the more they benefited from regular exercise.

Larson, E.B., Wang, L., Bowen, J.D., McCormick, W.C., Teri, L., Crane, P., & Kukull, W. 2006. Exercise Is Associated with Reduced Risk for Incident Dementia among Persons 65 Years of Age and Older. Annals of Internal Medicine, 144 (2), 73-81.

Exercise slows development of Alzheimer's-like brain changes in mice

Population-based studies have provided evidence that various lifestyle interventions might help slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. A mouse study now provides a clue how that might work. Physical activity enhanced the learning ability of mice genetically engineered to develop amyloid plaques and decreased the level of plaque-forming beta-amyloid protein fragments in their brains. The mice were divided into mice with access to running wheels or no access. The findings are supported by another recent study that found that beta-amyloid levels decreased in the brains of another kind of transgenic mice when they were housed in groups and in environments that were enriched with running wheels, colored tunnels, and toys.

Adlard, P.A., Perreau, V.M., Pop, V. & Cotman, C.W. 2005. Voluntary Exercise Decreases Amyloid Load in a Transgenic Model of Alzheimer's Disease. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 4217-4221.

Enriched environment delays onset of Alzheimer's in mice

A study of genetically engineered mice has found that an enriched environment, with more opportunities to exercise, explore and interact with others, can dramatically reduce levels of beta-amyloid peptides, hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. The mice also showed greater activity for several genes involved in memory and learning, the growth of new nerve cells, cell survival, and the growth of new blood vessels within the brain. As with humans, mice in the enriched environment showed varying levels of activity. The most active were found to have the least beta-amyloid. Researchers suggested the reason may simply be a matter of blood flow; physical and mental activity can stimulate growth of new blood vessels and keep existing vessels open and functional.

Lazarov, al. 2005. Environmental Enrichment Reduces Aβ Levels and Amyloid Deposition in Transgenic Mice. Cell, 120(5), 701-713.

Why diet, hormones, exercise might delay Alzheimer’s

A theory that changes in fat metabolism in the membranes of nerve cells play a role in Alzheimer's has been supported in a recent study. The study found significantly higher levels of ceramide and cholesterol in the middle frontal gyrus of Alzheimer's patients. The researchers suggest that alterations in fats (especially cholesterol and ceramide) may contribute to a "neurodegenerative cascade" that destroys neurons in Alzheimer's, and that the accumulation of ceramide and cholesterol is triggered by the oxidative stress brought on by the presence of the toxic beta amyloid peptide. The study also suggests a reason for why antioxidants such as vitamin E might delay the onset of Alzheimer's: treatment with Vitamin E reduced the levels of ceramide and cholesterol, resulting in "a significant decrease in the number of neurons killed by the beta amyloid and oxidative stress.

Cutler, R.G., Kelly, J., Storie, K., Pedersen, W.A., Tammara, A., Hatanpaa, K., Troncoso, J.C. & Mattson, M.P. 2004. Involvement of oxidative stress-induced abnormalities in ceramide and cholesterol metabolism in brain aging and Alzheimer's disease. PNAS, 101, 2070-5.

Children & young adults

Aerobic fitness boosts IQ in teenage boys

Data from the 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976 who enlisted for mandatory military service at the age of 18 has revealed that on every measure of cognitive performance, average test scores increased according to aerobic fitness — but not muscle strength. The link was strongest for logical thinking and verbal comprehension, and the association was restricted to cardiovascular fitness. The results of the study also underline the importance of getting healthier between the ages of 15 and 18 while the brain is still changing — those who improved their cardiovascular health between 15 and 18 showed significantly greater intelligence scores than those who became less healthy over the same time period. Those who were fittest at 18 were also more likely to go to college. Although association doesn’t prove cause, the fact that the association was only with cardiovascular fitness and not strength supports a cardiovascular effect on brain function. Results from over 260,000 full-sibling pairs, over 3,000 sets of twins, and more than 1,400 sets of identical twins, also supports a causal relationship.

[819] Kuhn, H. G., Aberg M. A. I., Pedersen N. L., Toren K., Svartengren M., Backstrand B., et al.
(2009).  Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106(49), 20906 - 20911.

Vigorous exercise helps children's grades

214 sixth graders were divided into two groups — one group took a general physical education class in the first semester, then a non-physical education course in the next semester. The other group did the classes in the other order. There was no difference in performance in academic classes between those taking the physical education course and those taking the non-physical. However, students who took part in more vigorous physical activities at least three times a week (such as soccer, skateboarding) did better in academic subjects (by around 10%). It’s worth noting that PE classes only averaged 19 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity; activity outside the classroom was assessed in 30 minute blocks. Only vigorous activity impacted academic performance.

[728] Coe, D P., Pivarnik J. M., Womack C. J., Reeves M. J., & Malina R. M.
(2006).  Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 38(8), 1515 - 1519.

Physically fit children appear to do better in classroom

Several studies in recent years have demonstrated that exercise may improve cognitive functioning in older adults. New research suggests the same may be true of children. Preliminary results from a series of studies over the past two years have found a strong relationship between academic achievement and fitness scores. One of these studies also found that fit children were faster and more accurate at a visual discrimination task than sedentary children.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in Santa Fe, N.M., Oct. 20-24.

Lack of benefit

Whether lifelong physical activity helps or hurts the aging brain depends on extent

A study of 90 post-menopausal women found that long-term strenuous activity was consistently associated with poorer performance on all eight cognitive tests, in particular tests of semantic memory, working memory, delayed verbal recall, and sustained attention. However, moderate physical activity was consistently associated with better performance on all eight of the tests, especially cognitive flexibility, working memory, and sustained attention.

Tierney, M.C. et al. 2009. Intensity of long-term physical activity and later life cognition in postmenopausal women. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Alzheimer's Gene May Reduce Benefits of Physical Activity for Cognitive Ability

A study of some 1800 seniors (60+) found that the association of physical activity with better cognitive function was significant only for those who didn’t carry any copies of the “Alzheimer’s gene” APOE-e4 (which is the majority of people), and was greater with age.

Obisesan, T.O., Hamilton, J. & Gillum, R.F. 2009. Aerobic-related physical activity interacting with apolipoprotein E genotypes, is associated with better cognitive function in a nationally representative sample: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease July 11-16 in Vienna.

Some people are 'immune' to exercise

In view of the apparent benefits of exercise for cognitive function suggested by recent research, it is worth noting that a study involving 742 people from 213 families has found that "There is astounding variation in the response to exercise. The vast majority will benefit in some way, but there will be a minority who will not benefit at all."

The results were reported at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress in Sydney, Australia.

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Moderate to intense exercise may protect the brain in old age

August, 2011
  • Moderate but not light exercise was found to help protect the brain from brain infarcts in some older adults, but not all.

Another study showing the value of exercise for preserving your mental faculties in old age. This time it has to do with the development of small brain lesions or infarcts called "silent strokes." Don’t let the words “small” and “silent” fool you — these lesions have been linked to memory problems and even dementia, as well as stroke, an increased risk of falls and impaired mobility.

The study involved 1,238 people taken from the Northern Manhattan Study, a long-running study looking at stroke and vascular problems in a diverse community. Their brains were scanned some six years after completing an exercise questionnaire, when they were an average of 70 years old. The scans found that 16% of the participants had these small brain lesions.

Those who had reported engaging in moderate to intense exercise were 40% less likely to have these infarcts compared to people who did no regular exercise. Depressingly, there was no significant difference between those who engaged in light exercise and those who didn’t exercise (which is not to say that light exercise doesn’t help in other regards! a number of studies have pointed to the value of regular brisk walking for fighting cognitive decline). This is consistent with earlier findings that only the higher levels of activity consistently protect against stroke.

The results remained the same after other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, were accounted for. Of the participants, 43% reported no regular exercise; 36% engaged in regular light exercise (e.g., golf, walking, bowling or dancing); 21% engaged in regular moderate to intense exercise (e.g., hiking, tennis, swimming, biking, jogging or racquetball).

However, there was no association with white matter lesions, which have also been associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia.

Moreover, this effect was not seen among those with Medicaid or no health insurance, suggesting that lower socioeconomic status (or perhaps poorer access to health care) is associated with negative factors that counteract the benefits of exercise. Previous research has found that lower SES is associated with higher cardiovascular disease regardless of access to care.

Of the participants, 65% were Hispanic, 17% non-Hispanic black, and 15% non-Hispanic white. Over half (53%) had less than high school education, and 47% were on Medicaid or had no health insurance.



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Brain starts shrinking long before Alzheimer's appears

June, 2011

A study following older adults for more than a decade has found that neural volume in specific brain regions markedly predicted later development of Alzheimer’s.

A long-term study of older adults with similar levels of education has found that those with the thinnest cerebral cortex in specific brain regions were the most likely to develop dementia. Among those in whom these signature brain areas were the thinnest at the beginning of the study, 55% developed dementia over the next decade, compared with 20% of those with average cortical thickness and none of those in whom cortical thickness was above average. Those with the thinnest cortical areas also developed Alzheimer's significantly faster.

The study involved two independent samples. In the first group, 33 people were followed for an average of 11 years, during which time eight developed Alzheimer's. In the second group, 32 people were followed for an average of seven years, and seven of them developed the disease. (So 23% developed Alzheimer’s in total.) Participants were divided into three groups based on cortical thickness in the key areas: 11 had the lowest levels, 9 had the highest, and 45 were average.



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High iron, copper levels block neuron repair

June, 2011

New findings help explain why too much copper and iron are bad for your brain, and why curry is good for it.

A new study finds out why curcumin might help protect against dementia, and links two factors associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases: DNA damage by reactive oxygen species (ROS), and excessive levels of copper and iron in parts of the brain. It turns out that high levels of copper or iron help generate large numbers of ROS and interfere with DNA repair.

While small amounts of iron and copper are vital, these are normally bound by proteins. However, when there’s too much, it can overwhelm the proteins and the result is "free" iron or copper ions circulating in the blood, able to initiate chemical reactions that produce reactive oxygen species. Moreover, the free copper and iron also interferes with the activity of two enzymes that repair DNA, NEIL1 and NEIL2.

However, the curry spice curcumin binds to iron and copper and was extremely effective in protecting the NEIL enzymes from the metals.


Hegde, M.L., Hegde, P.M. , Rao, K.S.J. & Mitra, S. 2011. Oxidative Genome Damage and Its Repair in Neurodegenerative Diseases: Function of Transition Metals as a Double-Edged Sword. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease , 25 (1), 183-198.


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More evidence moderate alcohol consumption helps stave off dementia

April, 2011

More evidence that a moderate amount of alcohol helps protect against Alzheimer’s —but not vascular dementia or age-related cognitive decline.

A review of 23 longitudinal studies of older adults (65+) has found that small amounts of alcohol were associated with lower incidence rates of overall dementia and Alzheimer dementia, but not of vascular dementia or age-related cognitive decline. A three-year German study involving 3,327 adults aged 75+ extends the evidence to the older-old.

The study found alcohol consumption was significantly associated with 3 other factors that helped protect against dementia: better education, not living alone, and absence of depression. Nevertheless, the lower risk remained after accounting for these factors.

The ‘magic’ amount of alcohol was between 20-29g, roughly 2-3 drinks a day. As in other studies, a U-shaped effect was found, with higher risk found among both those who consumed less than this amount of alcohol, and those who consumed more.



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Walking counteracts brain atrophy in older adults

February, 2011
  • Walking 40 minutes a day three days a week prevented ‘normal’ atrophy in the brains of older adults.

Another study has come out proclaiming the cognitive benefits of walking for older adults. Previously sedentary adults aged 55-80 who walked around a track for 40 minutes on three days a week for a year increased the size of their hippocampus, as well as their level of BDNF. Those assigned to a stretching routine showed no such growth. There were 120 participants in the study.

The growth of around 2% contrasts with the average loss of 1.4% hippocampal tissue in the stretching group — an amount of atrophy considered “normal” with age. Although both groups improved their performance on a computerized spatial memory test, the walkers improved more.

The findings are consistent with a number of animal studies showing aerobic exercise increases neurogenesis and BDNF in the hippocampus, and human studies pointing to a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia in those who walk regularly.


[2097] Erickson, K. I., Voss M. W., Prakash R S., Basak C., Szabo A., Chaddock L., et al.
(Submitted).  Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Importance of exercise for Alzheimer's gene carriers

January, 2011

A small study suggests that physical activity may be of greater benefit to those carrying the Alzheimer’s gene in protecting against cognitive decline.

A study involving 68 healthy older adults (65-85) has compared brain activity among four groups, determined whether or not they carry the Alzheimer’s gene ApoE4 and whether their physical activity is reported to be high or low. The participants performed a task involving the discrimination of famous people, which engages 15 different functional regions of the brain. Among those carrying the gene, those with higher physical activity showed greater activation in many regions than those who were sedentary. Moreover, physically active people with the gene had greater brain activity than physically active people without the gene.

And adding to the evidence supporting the potential for exercise to lower the risk of dementia, another recent study has found that after ten years exercise (in terms of the number of different types of exercises performed and number of exercise sessions lasting at least 20 minutes) was inversely associated with the onset of cognitive impairment. The study used data from the National Long Term Care Survey.



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Beet juice promotes brain health in older adults

December, 2010

A small study suggests beet juice may improve blood flow in important regions of the brain in older adults.

Following on from previous studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, a study involving 14 older adults (average age 75) has found that after two days of eating a high-nitrate breakfast, which included 16 ounces of beet juice, blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes (especially between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex) had increased. This area is critical for executive functioning.

Poor blood flow in the brain is thought to be a factor in age-related cognitive decline and dementia.

High concentrations of nitrates are found in beets, as well as in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some lettuce. When you eat high-nitrate foods, good bacteria in the mouth turn nitrate into nitrite. Research has found that nitrites can help open up the blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen specifically to places that are lacking oxygen.



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DHA improves memory in older adults with cognitive impairment

December, 2010

A largish clinical study of cognitively impaired older adults has found six months of DHA supplements improved visual and verbal learning, though not working memory.

There have been mixed findings about the benefits of DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), but in a study involving 485 older adults (55+) with age-related cognitive impairment, those randomly assigned to take DHA for six months improved the score on a visuospatial learning and episodic memory test. Higher levels of DHA in the blood correlated with better scores on the paired associate learning task. DHA supplementation was also associated with better verbal recognition, but not better working memory or executive function.

Other research has found no benefit from DHA to those already with Alzheimer’s, although those with Alzheimer’s tend to have lower levels of DHA in the blood. These findings reinforce the idea that the benefit of many proactive lifestyle strategies, such as diet and exercise, may depend mainly on their use before systems deteriorate.

The daily dose of algal DHA was 900 mg. The study took place at 19 clinical sites in the U.S., and those involved had an MMSE score greater than 26.



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