While Alzheimer’s disease is a common problem for thousands of seniors, new research from two studies suggests the disease may affect men and women in different ways and exercising could play a huge role in the loss of mental clarity.
Once you develop Alzheimer’s disease, you brain begins to shrink in size. When 109 newly-diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients underwent a brain scan, researchers noticed that the brain shrinking actually happened earlier in women than in men. Women also lost more “gray matter,” a major component of the central nervous system, in their brains during the year before they were officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Men, on the other hand, tend to experience more difficulty with their ability to think clearly when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In addition, men lost more gray matter in different areas of the brain than females.
The findings that females had greater brain shrinkage while males experienced worse mental function at the time of diagnosis has many experts stumped. One physician noted that he was extremely surprised, as he suspected to see greater brain shrinking with greater cognition loss.
In a related study, researchers announced that leading an active lifestyle could possibly help stop brain aging and preserve gray matter volume. This was true even among seniors who already showed signs of dementia.
The second study involved 876 seniors, all with an average age of 78. The participant’s mental functions ranged from those who were showing no signs of the disease to those with full-blown dementia. Using two types of brain scans, researchers examined how activity affected gray matter volume.
Those seniors who burned more calories through sports, active gardening, bike riding, dancing, swimming, and cardio exercise lost less gray matter in vital brain areas. This was true even for those seniors who were already showing evidence of mental decline.
Physical exercise improves the blood flow to the brain, which strengthens the connections between brain cells. According to researchers, this strengthening of the brain cells prevents or decreases the loss of gray matter.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, studies like these provide a much needed glimpse into the way the disease affects the brain. Just knowing that daily exercise and activity could prevent a decline in mental status can give hope to millions of seniors around the world.