Scientists have identified a form of exercise that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The new study conducted on mice led to the findings that regular resistance training may help prevent or at least delay the onset of symptoms of the age-related neurological disorder. It could also lead to affordable therapies for people at risk for the disease.
While dementia patients are unlikely to go on long daily runs or do other high-intensity aerobic exercise, researchers, including those at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, said these activities are the focus of most scientific studies on Alzheimer’s disease.
On the other hand, strength training, which contracts specific muscles against an external resistance, is seen as the best option to train balance, improve posture and prevent falls.
It has been shown to increase muscle mass, strength and bone density, as well as improve overall balance and muscle loss.
In the new study, recently published in the journal Frontiers in neuroscience, scientists assessed the ability of resistance training to protect the nervous system.
They conducted experiments on genetically modified mice that carried a mutation responsible for the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain – a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease.
The protein accumulates in the body’s central nervous system, damaging nerves and deteriorating interconnections, all of which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, scientists trained mice to climb a 110 cm ladder with an 80-degree incline and 2 cm between the rungs.
Loads corresponding to 75 percent, 90 percent and 100 percent of the mice’s body weight were strapped to their tails — mimicking the types of resistance training performed by humans in gyms.
After four weeks of training in this way, blood samples were taken from the mice to measure plasma levels of corticosterone – the mouse equivalent of the stress hormone cortisol in humans.
Rising levels of cortisol in response to stress have previously been found to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Levels of the hormone appeared to be normal in the exercise-trained mice.
Analysis of their brain tissue also showed a decrease in beta-amyloid plaque formation.
“This confirms that physical activity can reverse neuropathological changes that cause clinical symptoms of the disease,” study co-author Henrique Correia Campos said in a statement.
The mice’s anxiety levels were also measured using a test that measures their avoidance of the most stressful part of their box.
Scientists found that resistance exercise reduced anxiety-induced hyper-motion in mice genetically predisposed to an Alzheimer’s-like condition.
“Resistance exercise is increasingly proving to be an effective strategy to prevent the appearance of symptoms of sporadic Alzheimer’s, which is multifactorial and may be associated with aging, or to delay their onset in familial Alzheimer’s,” said Beatriz Monteiro Longo, another study author.
Researchers suspect that the main possible reason for this effect could be the anti-inflammatory effect of resistance exercise.
The findings can be used to create cost-effective public policies to reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease.
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