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Exercise May Help Elderly
Avoid Mental Decline

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Exercising for more than an hour each day may help older adults prevent a decline in mental abilities, according to results of a study from the Netherlands.

The association between inactivity and mental decline was particularly strong in individuals who also carried the so-called Alzheimer's gene, the researchers report in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Lead author Dr. Albertine J. Schuit and colleagues from The National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven evaluated 347 men whose average age was 75.

The men underwent tests that assessed their mental functioning and were asked how much exercise they performed each day. All study participants were also tested for the gene variant ApoE-4, which is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Men who exercised for one hour or less each day were more likely to have impaired mental function than those who performed more than one hour of exercise daily. The least-active men had twice the risk of mental decline. The least-active men who also carried the ApoE-4 gene had a risk of mental decline that was nearly four times greater than that of active men without the gene, the report indicates.

``The stronger association between physical activity and mental decline in carriers of the ApoE-4 gene as described in our study has not been reported before,'' Schuit and colleagues write.

``Our study indicates that genetic predisposition may be an important risk factor to consider in future research investigating the effect of physical activity on mental functioning,'' the authors add.

The link between exercise and mental decline probably lies in the role exercise plays in overall brain health, the researchers suggest.

For example, exercise is known to increase blood flow to the brain, which helps maintain healthy oxygen levels. Regular physical activity is also believed to stimulate nerve cell regeneration and reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which are both associated with mental functioning.

SOURCE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2001;33:772-777.


Reference Source 89

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