Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Even Older People Can Slow Alzheimer’s, Other
Dementia with Active Lifestyle
Data kept for 20 years;
lifestyle factors included recreational sports, gardening, yard work,
bicycling, dancing and riding exercise cycle
Nov. 27, 2012 - Previous studies have indicated
that exercise may slow the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s
disease. A study presented today, however, focused on senior citizens –
average age 78 – and concluded an active lifestyle helps preserve gray
matter in the brains of older adults and could reduce the burden of
dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Dementia exacts a staggering toll on society. More
than 35 million people worldwide are living with the disease, according
to the World Health Organization, and the prevalence is expected to
double by 2030. AD is the most common cause of dementia and currently
has no cure, according to the background on the study presented today at
the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of
Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D.,
radiology resident at the
University of California in Los Angeles,
and colleagues recently examined how an active lifestyle can influence
brain structure in 876 adults, average age 78 years, drawn from the
multisite Cardiovascular Health Study. The patients' condition ranged
from normal cognition to Alzheimer's dementia.
"We had 20 years of clinical data on this group,
including body mass index and lifestyle habits," Dr. Raji said. "We drew
our patients from four sites across the country, and we were able to
assess energy output in the form of kilocalories per week."
The lifestyle factors examined included
recreational sports, gardening and yard work, bicycling, dancing and
riding an exercise cycle.
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) and a technique called voxel-based morphometry to model the
relationships between energy output and gray matter volume.
"Voxel-based morphometry is an advanced method that
allows a computer to analyze an MR image and build a mathematical model
that helps us to understand the relationship between active lifestyle
and gray matter volume," Dr. Raji said. "Gray matter volume is a key
marker of brain health. Larger gray matter volume means a healthier
brain. Shrinking volume is seen in Alzheimer's disease."
After controlling for age, head size, cognitive
impairment, gender, body mass index, education, study site location and
white matter disease, the researchers found a strong association between
energy output and gray matter volumes in areas of the brain crucial for
Greater caloric expenditure was related to larger
gray matter volumes in the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes,
including the hippocampus, posterior cingulate and basal ganglia. There
was a strong association between high energy output and greater gray
matter volume in patients with mild cognitive impairment and AD.
"Gray matter includes neurons that function in
cognition and higher order cognitive processes," Dr. Raji said. "The
areas of the brain that benefited from an active lifestyle are the ones
that consume the most energy and are very sensitive to damage."
A key aspect of the study was its focus on having
variety in lifestyle choices, Dr. Raji noted.
"What struck me most about the study results is
that it is not one but a combination of lifestyle choices and activities
that benefit the brain," he said.
Dr. Raji said the positive influence of an active
lifestyle on the brain was likely due to improved vascular health.
"Virtually all of the physical activities examined
in this study are some variation of aerobic physical activity, which we
know from other work can improve cerebral blood flow and strengthen
neuronal connections," he said.
"Additional work needs to be done," Dr. Raji added.
"However, our initial results show that brain aging can be alleviated
through an active lifestyle."
H. Michael Gach, Ph.D.,
Ph.D., James T.
Oscar Lopez, M.D.,
Lewis Kuller, M.D., and
RSNA is an association of more than 50,000
radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related
scientists, promoting excellence in patient care and health care
delivery through education, research and technologic innovation. The
Society is based in
Oak Brook, Ill. (RSNA.org)
For patient-friendly information on MRI, visit
>> Radiological Society of
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