Any Kind of Physical Activity Protects the Oldest Old from Alzheimer's Disease

Staying physically active is critical for brain health, but you don’t necessarily have to break a sweat exercising to protect yourself from developing Alzheimer’s disease.   Among the oldest old, those who were the most physically active, whether through routine activities like housework and gardening or traditional exercise, had 2.3 times less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those who were the least physically active, according to a study just published in the April 24, 2012 issue of Neurology.

Dr. A. S. Buchman, lead author, and his colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, measured level of physical activity among 716 older adults with an average age of 81.  Each participant wore an actigraph continuously for 10 days to measure total exercise and non-exercise

physical activity, completed a self-report measure assessing physical, mental, and social activity, and underwent a comprehensive annual clinical examination, including a battery of 19 cognitive tests.  Across an average follow-up of four years, 71 of the 716 study participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.  Total daily activity was associated with incident AD (HR = .477).  Results did not vary by age, sex, or education.  In further analyses, total physical activity remained associated with risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even when the authors adjusted for common self-reported physical, social and cognitive activities, as well as for factors that might affect participation in physical activities, such as body mass index, depressive symptoms, vascular risk factors, current level of motor function, or APOE allele status.

Clearly physical activity, not just exercise, is protective against Alzheimer’s disease even in the oldest old.  Importantly, study results suggest that older adults whose health prohibits them from engaging in a typical exercise routine can still benefit from maintaining an active lifestyle through non-exercise activities.