One of the studies presented at the 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago shows that subjects with early Alzheimer's disease who exercised frequently saw less deterioration in the areas of the brain that control memory.
MRI scans show that exercise positively affected the hippocampus region of patients' brains, an area that is 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 age-related brain cell death in healthy older adults, and earlier this month a preliminary study was published showing that exercise may help slow brain shrinkage in people with early Alzheimer's disease.
Now, researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., have used MRI and other imaging tools to analyze how exercise affects the brains of those with early Alzheimer's.
The research found that patients with early Alzheimer's had a "significant relationship" between the size of key brain areas associated with memory and fitness, unlike healthy older adults. Those patients with better fitness ratings had less brain tissue atrophy and those with worse fitness had more brain damage.
"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, Ph.D., a lead investigator on the study. "This suggests that maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness may positively modify Alzheimer's-related brain atrophy."