NEW YORK – Patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who performed better on a treadmill test had less atrophy in the areas of the brain that control memory, according to a study released Sunday at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Chicago.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies showed that exercise positively affected the hippocampus region of patients’ brains, an area important for both memory and balance. In Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain to suffer damage.
Exercise and physical fitness have been shown to slow down age-related brain cell death in healthy older adults.
Now, researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., have used MRI and other neuroimaging tools to analyze how exercise affects the brains of those with early Alzheimer’s.
Researchers studied the connection between cardiorespiratory fitness and regional brain volume in more than 100 people over 60. About half were healthy older adults and half were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“This is the first study to get an inside look into specifically where these changes occur in the brain. We’re able to locate the changes associated with fitness to the actual memory region, the hippocampus, which is a key area for Alzheimer’s-related atrophy,” said Robyn A. Honea, PhD, a lead investigator on the study.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke.