Does Exercise Help Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease Memory Loss?
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you may wonder whether there is anything that can be done to prevent or reduce the rate of memory loss associated with the disease. Regular exercise has been shown to slow the rate of memory loss for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, there is some evidence that regular exercise can halt memory loss, at least for a period of time. It also appears possible in some cases that regular exercise can work to reverse memory loss for a person with Alzheimer’s disease at least to some degree.
Specifically, regular exercise appears to benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s disease in six key ways when it comes to preventing, reducing the rate of, or even reversing memory loss (at least to some degree):
- Reduce risk of depression
- Reduce risk of restlessness and wandering
- Enhance balance and coordination
- Assist in addressing cardiovascular complications
- Reduce sleep issues
- Reduce rate of cognitive impairment
Upwards to 30 percent of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will experience major depression at some juncture in time. Not only does depression negatively impact the quality of life of a person with Alzheimer’s, depression is shown to intensify memory loss for people with the disease.
Among a wide range of affects, physical exercise stimulates the production of hormones and neurotransmitters associated with memory and mood. These include endorphins and encephalins, both of which influence memory retention. In addition, serotonin can assist in elevating mood as well as in enhancing memory and learning.
Restlessness and Wandering
Exercise may help prevent another of the more difficult aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. Restlessness and wandering can occur at any stage of the disease. Exercise expends energy that otherwise would lead to restlessness and wandering. A person who expends energy on exercise may be less likely to wander or be jittery than someone who is sedentary.
A side effect of restlessness and wandering is a negative impact on memory. By reducing or even eliminating restlessness and wandering through regular exercise, an associated slowing in memory loss may also occur.
Balance and Coordination
As the progression of Alzheimer’s disease continues, the ability to walk and carry out daily tasks begins to decline. There is something of a vicious cycle in regard to this decline. Memory loss contributes to the decline and the decline in being able to carry forth with these activities contributes to memory decline. And on and on.
In order to better maintain a quality of life (including mobility, memory, and addressing tasks of daily living), every effort must be made to preserve physical balance, strength, and coordination.
The human body truly is an interconnected system. Severe problems in one organ system can invariably affect other organ systems. At times the impact can be significant. One prime example is the cardiovascular system and the impact problems in that system can have on a person’s brain.
Poor cardiovascular health has long been associated with cognitive decline. With Alzheimer’s disease, any condition that impairs blood flow to the brain also increases the risk of vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is a common comorbidity associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Routine exercise, along with a proper diet and weight loss can enhance heart health. In addition to these efforts, the cessation of smoking are all central to the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases associated with diminished blood flow to the brain. Ultimately, this can aid in preventing Alzheimer’s memory loss or can lessen its severity.
Lack of proper sleep can have a truly negative impact on a person, whether or not an individual is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Lack of proper sleep can result in:
- Impaired cognition
- Impaired memory
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulty learning new concepts
Getting proper sleep can minimize the chances that one, some, or all of these negative consequences occur.
Routine, regular exercise is primary way to help overcome sleep problems. This includes both the inability to fall asleep and waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep. By exercising with moderate intensity during the day, you are more likely to sleep more restfully during night.
Exercise coupled with what is now known as proper sleep hygiene can be truly helpful in addressing memory issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Good sleep hygiene includes:
- Keeping a bedroom relatively cooler when sleeping
- Going to bed at about the same time each night
- Getting up at about the same time each morning
- Avoiding the use of devices with screens at least an hour before bedtime
- Avoiding the use of caffeinated beverages in the latter part of the day
- Cut down on alcohol consumption
Finally, there is research that indicates routine exercise may also prevent or reverse the loss of cognitive function in certain cases. Most of the current evidence suggests that aerobic exercise can help adults who have mild cognitive impairment as a result of age and Alzheimer’s disease.
Before starting any exercise program, you should consult with your primary care physician. You need to be certain that a proposed exercise program is something that you can physically handle.