As we move into a new world with outdoor exercise, masks, and less of our go-to exercises, research is giving us new validation on the importance of exercise. Research does not always distinguish a dementia type in a study which allows us to generalize to our lives with dementia. In the case of how exercise impacts dementia, there really are no downsides whether one participates in aerobic and/or strength training.
Exercise’s impact on dementia is a continually growing field of research with a recent study looking specifically at Parkinson’s disease and long-term voluntary exercise.1 This eight-week study used mice as the subjects. The control group had no running wheel in their cage, the study group had a running wheel. Findings showed the mice who voluntarily exercised daily had reduced significant motor deficits. The results showed voluntary exercise not only reduced motor decline but provided a level of neuroprotection - immediate and longer-term benefits. We could simply sit in our recliner and wait for this study to be validated in humans or take it as a no-lose reason to exercise.
A second mouse study revealed similar outcomes for mice with Alzheimer’s (AD).2 In this study, wild-type mice with AD were housed with intermittent or unlimited access to the running wheel. Regardless of intermittent or continuous access, the exercise resulted in improved brain function (neurogenesis) for both sets of mice.
As older adults, a high-risk group for the novel COVID-19 virus, our exercise routine may well have been changed or missing. The second study clarifies, in the case of mice, even intermittent exercise had a positive effect on the brain. Perhaps you and your care partner visited the mall to walk, which might still be doable with appropriate precautions; or perhaps you switch to walking in your neighborhood or even at home with a digital program for walk or movement.
Now that summer has returned, swimming or water exercise looks like a safe option. According to the CDC “there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. Proper operation and disinfection of pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds should kill the virus that causes COVID-19.”3
Whatever exercise you choose to do, the CDC cautions people to limit close contact with people outside their homes in public spaces, both in and out of the water. Take a page from the mouse research, add some exercise back into your routine, it will improve your brain and your spirits.
By-line: Cate McCarty, PhD, ADC has been collaborating with Arden Courts in a variety of roles since the late 90’s. Her background in nursing, activities and admissions has given her a passionate commitment to quality of life for the individual and family with dementia. Cate is now personally caring for her spouse who has a diagnosis of dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.
1Wan-Ling, T., Hsin-Yung, C., Ying-Zu, H., Yuan-Hao, C., Chi-Wei, K., et al., 2019. Long-term voluntary physical exercise exerts neuroprotective effects and motor disturbance alleviation in a rat model of Parkinson’s Disease, Behavioral Neurology, doi: 10.1155/2019/4829572. eCollection 2019.
2Ginsberding, A-L., Zampar, S., Stazi, M., Liebetanz, D., & Wirths. O. 2019.
Pysical activity ameliorates impaired hippocampal neurogenesis in the Tg4-42 mouse model of Alzheimer’s Disease, 11:1759091419892692, doi: 10.1177/1759091419892692.