Thursday, May 26, 2011

Physical Exercises may Delay or even Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Scientists have discovered an interesting link between fitness exercises bring ultimately positive impact on the well-being of the Alzheimer’s patient, being able to slow down and even slightly reverse the symptoms severity.  Keeping your body fit causes multiple positive changes to your physical, emotional, and mental health, so there is an overwhelming reasons to include the daily routine in your action plan to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

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Patients with early Alzheimer's disease who exercised regularly saw less deterioration in areas of the brain that control memory, according to a study released at the 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

Mild Alzheimer's disease patients with higher physical fitness had larger brains compared to mild Alzheimer's patients with lower physical fitness, according to a study published in the July 15, 2008, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the Alzheimers and exercise study, 121 people age 60 and older underwent fitness tests using a treadmill as well as brain scans to measure the white matter, gray matter and total volume of their brains. Of the group, 57 were in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease while the rest of the group did not have dementia.

"People with early Alzheimer's disease who were less physically fit had four times more brain shrinkage when compared to normal older adults than those who were more physically fit, suggesting less brain shrinkage related to the Alzheimer's disease process in those with higher fitness levels," said study author Jeffrey M. Burns, MD, of the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City and member of the American Academy of Neurology.

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The results of this Alzheimers and exercise study remained the same regardless of age, gender, and severity of dementia, physical activity and frailty.

"People with early Alzheimer's disease may be able to preserve their brain function for a longer period of time by exercising regularly and potentially reducing the amount of brain volume lost.

Evidence shows decreasing brain volume is tied to poorer cognitive performance, so preserving more brain volume may translate into better cognitive performance," Burns said. "This is one of the first studies to explore the relationship between Alzheimers and exercise (cardio respiratory fitness)”.

The positive message from researchers is that in order to benefit mental activity, physical activity does not necessarily need to be extremely strenuous or constitute a big time commitment. The major point is that although moderate exercise can benefit mental capacity, it is necessary that it be done on a consistent basis.

By strengthening the heart, exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which increases tolerance to exercise, prunes body weight, and lowers blood pressure. In addition, exercise lowers the bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises good cholesterol (HDL) with the added benefit of increasing sensitivity to insulin, which reduces likelihood of developing a disease that could negatively affect brain function.

Older adults exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer's disease can help prevent mental decline through high-intensity aerobic exercise, according to another study published in the Jan. 11, 2010 edition of the journal "Archives of Neurology." A team led by Laura Baker observed the effects of aerobic training on 33 older adults diagnosed with mild-cognitive impairment. For six months, subjects either participated in high-intensity aerobic exercises or completed stretching activities. The aerobic group demonstrated significant gains in mental agility, when compared to the stretching group, which continued to decline. Baker reports that aerobic exercise likely protects the brain by building heart and artery resilience --- increasing blood flow to the brain.

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Mild Exercise Probed as a Means to Counter Dementia

Modest physical activity, which ranges from around thirty minutes a day, is recommended. If there are any health issues or concerns, then it is highly recommended that a professional health care advocate be consulted prior to beginning any new exercise regimen.

Need help with the arrangements – involve your caregiver or family member. Be consistent, and you will see positive results for your overall well-being soon.

So what types of activities are recommended?

Walking is the number one recommended activity.  It is a low impact activity that can be started slowly and gradually increased to achieve greater intensity and longer durations.  Daily changes can be made in an outdoor or indoor walking routine (e.g., many people vigorously walk in malls during inclement weather) to keep interest high (which assists in maintaining motivational levels).

Light strength training can be performed from a wheelchair.  Studies have shown that individuals who perform strength training will also improve bone density. Tai chi is an excellent activity for strength, balance and coordination.

Aerobic exercises that have low impact are highly recommended. These include swimming (even walking in waist deep water will build strength, as will walking in deep sand) and bicycling.
Gentle forms of yoga emphasizing mild stretching exercises improve circulation, digestion and focus.

Note that exercise is natural and lacks the unpleasant and dangerous side effects associated with most, if not all, prescription drugs.

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Sample of the Physical Fitness Training Protocol

  1. Weigh in. Note your weight at the beginning of the training session.
  2. Check Pulse.  This is obtained after several minutes of sitting quietly after arriving to the Fitness Center.  Do not proceed if your resting pulse is higher than 90.
  3. Warm-up Walk.  Walk on spot for several minutes to warm up.
  4. Stretches.  Perform a series of stretches, most of which are done sitting down: Neck stretch, (right, left, forward); arm across chest (r & l); hamstring stretch: sit, extend legs, one bent, one straight. Slide arms down straight leg, head looking forward, then switch.  calf stretch (r & l). Do each stretch twice. Hold for 16 seconds.
  5. Calf raise.  Up on tip toes and down, holding lightly onto bar.  Repeat 15 times. 
  6. Step up on Reebok step aerobics box and down (without bringing other leg to rest on box) – right, then left.  One set per side. Add 2 reps per week.
  7. Balance practice: Stand on box on right foot, holding onto bar lightly. Signal to the instructor when ready to let go and count seconds held; do 3 times for each foot and record longest time.
  8. Wrist roll-ups.  Perform two sets (each set = one rolling up of rope and one unrolling).
  9. Treadmill.  Fasten safety clip.  Set elevation at 0 and rate at 1.0 or more, depending on your physical abilities.

You should be at 15-20 minutes from the beginning of exercises by now.
  1. Bike.  Adjust seat height and position to be comfortable. Enter weight. Use up and down arrows to set weight and time. Hit start.
  2. Weight training. Perform 2 sets of 10-12 reps on 5 different machines that work large muscle groupsRest for at least 30 seconds after each set.  After two successful workouts of 2 sets of 10 at a given weight, increase to 12 reps. Then increase weight – 2-6 pounds, as tolerated, for upper body machine; 10-20 pounds for leg press. If you feel you are working too hard, drop back.
  3. Leg Press.  Strengthens muscles of the legs and buttocks. Back should be in most upright position possible. Shoulder pads should just touch shoulders. Legs, when on plate, should be at about 6 inches apart and at 90 degree angle (slightly greater than 90 for subjects with knee problems.
  4. Chest Press. Strengthens muscles of the chest and shouldersTwo adjustments: back and seat. Back should be so that vertical sidebar is parallel to your shoulder and upper arm when you are leaning back.  Seat height should be so that crook of arm handle is at armpit level.  Ankles should be crossed.
  5. Row: Strengthens muscles of the arm shoulder, and upper torso. One adjustment. Adjust seat so that center padded column is against your stomach, but you are sitting up straight, not slouched over the pad.  Move yourself as close to hand grips as possible.
  6. Torso Arm: Strengthens muscles of the arm, shoulder, and upper torso.  Back in upright position, adjustable seat height. Seat is raised in order for you to reach hand grips. If uncomfortable high off the ground, grips can be lowered. Use seat belt.
  7. Overhead Press: Strengthens chest and shoulder muscles.  Adjust seat so that your shoulder is at the crook of the hand grip.  Ankles should be crossed. Use seat belt. 

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You should be at 30-40 minutes from the beginning of exercises by now. Some general notes:
  1. Drink plenty of water through the exercise.
  2. Accept help from your family member or personal trainer to supervise your activity and monitor your vitals.
  3. Be reasonable. You have a life marathon to run, do not get yourself exhausted on the first mile.
  4. Be patient, do not expect magic improvements overnight.
  5. Reward yourself for being consistent.

 Sources and Additional Information:

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