(NaturalNews) Being more physically fit appears to slow down damage to the brain's memory centers in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center and presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.
"This is the first study to get an inside look into specifically where these changes occur in the brain," lead researcher Robyn Honea said. "We're able to locate the changes associated with fitness to the actual memory region, the hippocampus, which is a key area for Alzheimer's-related atrophy."
Researchers conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans on 60 adults over the age of 60 who were in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, along with 56 who did not have any form of dementia. All participants also took part in tests of oxygen consumption during a treadmill exercise, as a measure of overall cardiovascular fitness.
Alzheimer's patients who were more physically fit exhibited less of a decrease in the volume of the brain's memory areas, such as the hippocampus, than those who were less fit.
Prior research has suggested that remaining physically active slows the rate of age-related cognitive decline in people without dementia. More recently, scientists have begun to discover that physical activity may have the same effect on patients who have already developed Alzheimer's disease. A previous study found that overall brain volume decreased less in Alzheimer's patients who were more physically fit. That study, however, did not look at specific areas of the brain.
"The message is essentially if you have Alzheimer's disease, it's not too late to become physically fit," said Sam Gandy, chairman of the Alzheimer's Association's Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.
Another study presented at the conference found that dementia patients who participated in a 12-month caregiver-directed home exercise program had a higher quality of life and experienced fewer falls than patients not undergoing an exercise regimen.
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