Physical activity in Older Adults…really important!

Encouraging evidence indicates that being more physically active is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults. But it remains unclear exactly how physical activity lowers this risk for Alzheimer’s disease. One theory is that physical activity is somehow preventing the formation of the damaging plaques and tangles that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Alternatively, perhaps being more physically active may simply improve or maintain the ability to function in the face of accumulating brain damage from Alzheimer’s disease, a concept sometimes referred to as cognitive resilience.   

A recent study by NIA-funded researchers at Rush University aimed to test these two theories, finding an association between motor abilities and cognitive test performance, as well as a separate independent association between physical activity and cognitive performance. In both cases, better motor abilities or higher levels of physical activity were associated with better cognitive performance. The study was published Feb. 19 in Neurology.

More than 450 older adults from the Rush Memory and Aging Project were recruited from retirement communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area. Participants underwent a series of cognitive, behavioral, and biomedical tests during their lives, and generously agreed to donate their brain and other tissues following their deaths. In this study the researchers were particularly interested in measures of daily activity, motor function, and cognition taken about 2 years before death. Signs of dementia were observed in 191 participants, while the remaining 263 participants did not show signs of dementia. Daily activity was measured over 10 days using an accelerometer device worn on the wrist, averaged into a daily activity score. Cognitive function was measured as a composite of 21 cognitive tests assessing memory, spatial reasoning, and the ability to rapidly perceive or compare objects. Motor abilities were separately measured from daily activity as a function of several measures of fine motor skills, walking ability, and grip and pinch strength.

Read more from the National Institute on Aging: 

This article submitted by MSRN Member, Pat France