Exercise could guard against disease by triggering a hormone which helps regrow brain cells, a US study has found.
ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie says scientists have known for some time that exercise reduces the risk of developing dementia, but they did not know if there was a direct link or whether ill people were simply unable to be physically active.
“A new series of studies involving Columbia University in New York has shown that a hormone released during exercise is depleted in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
“Degenerative diseases such as dementia affects tens of thousands of Kiwis or around one to two percent of those in their 60s and up to 30 percent of those over the age of 85.
“The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's and there is growing evidence that exercise is not only preventative, but rehabilitative too, and helps those living with dementia from living more fulfilling lives.
“Recently, ExerciseNZ, in partnership with Exercise as Medicine NZ, delivered the first comprehensive training for exercise professionals to help develop safe and effective exercising programmes for those with a range of long term conditions. More than 30 people 30 attended training workshops in Auckland and Christchurch, which included exercise professionals and allied health professionals.”
What’s clear is that exercise is not only beneficial but essential in the prevention and treatment of so many long-term health conditions, Beddie says.
The more exercise experts can support and educate those that are working with the community at every level from gyms to aged care exercise classes, the more they can collectively help to improve not only the length of life, but the quality of life of those living with dementia and other chronic conditions, he says.
The US university study, which has been published in the Nature Medicine journal, suggests not only that exercise really does protect against dementia, but also that a drug which mimics the irisin hormone could be the answer to preventing the disease.
But despite decades of research and trials, no drug has yet been found to reverse or prevent the condition, and several major drugs companies have now pulled out of testing altogether.
Recent research has shown that the hormone irisin promotes brain cell growth in the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and learning. Only two areas of the brain can regrow brain cells in adulthood, and the hippocampus is one of the first areas to deteriorate in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The scientists are now searching for pharmaceutical compounds that can increase brain levels of the hormone or can mimic its action.