Working on your muscles may help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, researchers have revealed.
Researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo and the University of São Paulo in Brazil have found strong evidence that resistance training — which involves training muscles against a weight or force — can have significant effects on the brains of dementia patients.
Before you hastily renew your gym membership or ditch the home gym equipment, it’s worth bearing in mind that this was a mouse model study. Nevertheless, the same principles probably apply to humans.
“This confirms that physical activity can reverse neuropathological changes that cause clinical symptoms of the disease,” says neuroscientist Henrique Correia Campos of the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP).
Mice with a genetic mutation that causes beta-amyloid plaques to build up in the brain – as seen in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease – were subjected to a four-week resistance exercise program with ladders and weights before being compared to mice without the mutation.
Not only was plaque buildup reduced after exercise, the levels of the hormone corticosterone in the plasma of the strength training mice were comparable to the plasma levels of mice from the control group. Corticosterone is similar to cortisol in humans, which is produced when the body is under stress, and has previously been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Because Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can cause wandering and restlessness in mice, the team also tested the beta-amyloid plaque mice for anxiety. Resistance training seemed to help here, too.
“We also observed the behavior of the animals to assess their anxiety in the open field test and found that resistance exercise reduced hyperlocomotion to similar levels to the controls in mice with the phenotype associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” says neuroscientist Deidiane Elisa Ribeiro of the University of Sao. Paulo in Brazil.
Aside from keeping in mind possible differences between the physiology of mice and humans, the exact role that protein plaques play in Alzheimer’s disease is still being debated, leaving room for debate about the extent of benefits that resistance training could provide. have for patients with dementia.
Still, resistance training has few drawbacks, especially as we age. It increases muscle mass and strength, increases bone density, aids balance and makes daily tasks easier to perform. It’s also one of those exercises that gets easier to stick with as you get older, so there are few excuses not to add it to your daily routine. The sooner the better!
Previous studies have noted how this particular type of exercise can strengthen connections in the brain that are likely to break when dementia sets in, so it seems that activity like this may protect against dementia and ease symptoms – assuming the same effects have been shown in the human of course.
Scientists are still trying to untangle the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease, its underlying causes, and the overall effects of aging on the body, but resistance training could help in all three areas.
“The main possible reason for this effectiveness is the anti-inflammatory effect of resistance exercise,” says UNIFESP neurophysiologist Beatriz Monteiro Longo.
The research has been published in Frontiers in neuroscience.
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