Physical education and dementia: new data
Physical activity in middle age is not associated with the preservation of cognitive functions in subsequent years
Anna Kerman, XX2 century, based on EurekAlert: Physical activity in midlife not linked to cognitive fitness in later years, long-term study shows
Although physical activity in the middle of life does not protect against Alzheimer's disease in old age, it helps to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and improves blood circulation to the brain.
In a study conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, researchers tracked the physical activity level of 646 adults for 30 years and found that, contrary to previous data, physical activity in middle age is not associated with the preservation of cognitive functions in subsequent years.
The results suggest that physical activity does not help to preserve cognitive functions, as well as to avoid or delay the appearance of senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease affects about 30 million people in the world, mostly elderly people.
The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. It was found that the physical activity of middle-aged people is associated with a high level of cognitive function two years later. This confirms previous results about the short-term benefits of exercise.
"The results of the study remind us that physical activity is beneficial for humans, as it supports the health of the cardiovascular system, optimal weight and muscle mass," says Alden L. Gross, associate professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. "Unfortunately, it's too early to talk about physical activity as a possible way to prevent Alzheimer's disease."
The scientists used data from a previous study, for which students enrolled at Hopkins School were registered between 1948 and 1964; in the future, their health was monitored using annual questionnaires. The researchers note that the uniformity of the sample – students of a certain medical school – means that any variations in physical activity and later cognitive functions cannot be attributed to other factors.
The average age of the participants in the experiment was 46 years in 1978 and 77 years in 2008. Every few years, participants answered questions about their physical activity, sports and physical limitations. The researchers used the responses of 646 participants (598 men, 48 women) from 1978 to 2008 to calculate the so-called metabolic equivalent, which is used to assess the level of physical activity.
A team of scientists conducted cognitive tests in 2008, and then, using the participants' medical data, counted diseases such as dementia by 2011. It turned out that 28 participants, or 4.5% of the sample, suffer from Alzheimer's disease.
Physical activity in middle age was not associated with the preservation of cognitive functions or the development of dementia. The study confirmed the previous data: a good level of physical activity has a positive effect on mental functions in the short term. Also, the authors did not find a link between changes in the level of physical activity during life and mental health.
The researchers say that the idea that physical activity can play a role in preventing or slowing the development of Alzheimer's disease appeared due to the fact that in experiments on mice it was proved that this slows down the formation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are involved in the development of dementia and Alzheimer's. It also increases the blood flow to the brain, which improves cognitive functions. This explains why, in the short term, physical exercise is beneficial for mental activity.
Gross says: "These results are important for further work. We need to focus on the causes and mechanisms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, as we still do not know what preventive measures can work. The task of researchers is to discover factors that can help older people retain their mental abilities. More long-term projects are needed."
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