Decreases in brain metabolism have been shown to be a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and predictive of cognitive decline and the conversion to Alzheimer’s in older adults. Scientists believe that physical activity can modulate brain glucose metabolism but until now it was unclear what level of intensity and duration of exercise was most beneficial.
The National Institute on Aging published an article that found “even moderate physical activity may increase metabolism in brain regions important for learning and memory.” The NIA-supported study was led by Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo of the University of Wisconsin.
Researchers had cognitively normal, late-middle age (average age 64 years old) participants wear an accelerometer for 7 consecutive days to measure their daily physical activity. Afterward, they looked at the amount of time each participant engaged in “light (e.g., a slow walk), moderate (e.g., a fast walk), and vigorous activities (e.g., run).” The data was analyzed to determine how they “corresponded with glucose metabolism within brain areas that have been demonstrated to be impacted in people with Alzheimer’s.”
Increasing the levels of moderate physical activity showed an increase in cerebral glucose metabolism across all brain regions examined. Participants that engaged in light physical activity had no changes to the metabolism in any of the brain regions examined. Another thing that impacted the amount of brain glucose metabolism was the duration of time spent in moderate physical activity. Researchers found that the more time a person spent doing moderate levels of physical activity (average 43.3 min/day to average 68.1 min/day), the greater the increase in brain glucose metabolism.
The NIA says it is encouraging evidence that physical activity may be beneficial for neurometabolic function. Moreover, they say it is a “critical contribution to the efforts to identify the intensity and duration of physical activity that confer the most advantage for combating Alzheimer’s-related changes in mid-life.”
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