Exercise and Alzheimer’s

Our nation is aging. The old age brings with it all the pains and aches and related health problems and issues. Of all of them, Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared.   Slow but inevitable loss of memory and a sense of self is the most alarming of all old-age related diseases. We do not know much about Alzheimer’s disease and everything we know we have learned in the last ten years. Intensive research is under way, but the cure is still not available. Fortunately, some of the research results are encouraging. Scientists from the Washington University in St. Louis found that regular exercise affects how the disease develops or progresses in people who are genetically predisposed to it.

Genetics and Alzheimer’s

Although we do not know why some people develop Alzheimer’s disease and others do not, we do know that genetics play significant role. People who have the disease in their family are much more likely to develop it themselves. It has to do with a particular variant of the APOE gene, involved in cholesterol metabolism. APOE gene variant e4 makes people 15 times more at risk of developing Alzheimer”s than those without it. And there is not much we can do to beat the genetics, right? Wrong. That is what is so interesting with the findings of the scientists from the Washington University.

The Research

The goal of the research was to find a direct correlation between regular exercise and the early development and progression of Alzheimer”s disease. The participants in the experiment were adults between 45 to 88 years old, mentally healthy and with no cognitive problems. Some of the participants had a family history of Alzheimer”s, but they did not show any signs of the disease.

The participants went through a number of tests. They had brain scans using positron emission tomography, to find out if they had any signs of amyloid plaques. The deposit of amyloid plaque is one of the signs of Alzheimer”s. Increased memory loss was found to be linked to larger deposits of the plaque. Participants were also checked for e4 variant of APOE. A detailed questionnaire they completed described their general health, lifestyle and physical activity habits in the last ten years.

The Findings

While a number of different research findings contradict when it comes to the link between exercise and the early development of Alzheimer”s disease, scientists from the Washington University were faced with surprising results. In general, they found very marginal difference between the accumulation of amyloid plaque, a sign of Alzheimer”s disease and the amount of exercise. But, when they checked the same results among people with e4 APOE gene, responsible for the disease, they found significant difference. People with the e4 gene, and who were as a result predisposed to developing Alzheimer”s, but who exercised regularly, had the same amount of amyloid plaque as people without the e4 gene. The exercise beat the genetics.

The scientists are careful to read too much into their findings because there are still too many unknows in the relationship between the e4 APOE gene and amyloid plaque, but their findings just confirm what we all already know: regular exercise, at least half hour every day, has huge benefits for our health. One of those benefits might be to protect our brains from slow inevitable loss of memory.


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