In the study, Dr. Ding analysed the link between fitness and the health of white matter in the brain of elder patients who were either at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, or who were showing early signs of memory loss.
"Evidence suggests that what is bad for your heart is bad for your brain. We need studies like this to find out how the two are intertwined and hopefully find the right formula to help prevent Alzheimer's disease," said Dr Rong Zhang of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Zhang has previously identified that physical activity increase the speed of brain messages sent to the body.
However this new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, is the first to take objective measurements of participants’ fitness levels, without relying on self-assessment, creating a much higher level of certainty to these hypotheses. To measure levels of fitness, the team subjected participants to a maximal oxygen uptake test before using brain imaging to monitor brain activity.
The study is a strong affirmation of previous studies linking physical activity to healthy brain functioning, however Ding recognises that there is a lot more to learn. "A lot of work remains to better understand and treat dementia," said Dr. Ding. "But, eventually, the hope is that our studies will convince people to exercise more."