Proven time and time again: The one sure-fire way to ward off Alzheimer's

It’s one of our biggest fears: all of our memories slowly fading away until we become a shell of who we used to be. You hear of all these ways you can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but is there one sure-fire way that can really put you in the best possible position to ward off cognitive decline?

According to the latest research, combined with what we already know, the most important thing you can do for your brain is exercise your body and mind. But the latest way to do that is crucial as well, say Gareth Howell, PhD, and his colleagues at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine in new research published in PLOS Biology.

They found that structural changes that make the blood-brain barrier leaky, causing inflammation of brain tissues in old mice, can be reduced by allowing the animals to run regularly.

Investigation began on changes in young and old mice, where their gene profiles were compared in highly complex ways. The team found age-related changes to genes can have an impact on vascular function and cause inflammation in the brain cortex.

So is it possible to slow down this process? To see how long-term physical exercise can impact on our brains, the researchers provided mice with a running wheel from 12 months old – equivalent to middle age in humans. They assessed their brains at 18 months, equivalent to around 60 years in humans, the age at which the risk of Alzheimer’s increases.

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Both young and old mice ran about 3km each night and this physical activity improved the ability and motivation of the older mice to do things their peers could not, such as have more spontaneity in their movement and thinking.

They concluded that aerobic exercise from middle to older age appears to preserve cerebrovascular health, prevent behavioural deficits and reduce age-related neuroinflammation in the cortex and hippocampus in aged mice.

“As a society we need to work hard to ensure we maintain an active lifestyle wherever possible. In this day and age, with so many distractions and conveniences, it is easy to fall into a lifestyle that does not include enough exercise. With an ageing population, I hope our study helps in encouraging a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise”, said Dr Howell.

While the risk of dementia increases with age and you can’t slow that down, it’s clear that the more you can do to help yourself avoid this terrible disease, the better.

What lifestyle changes will you make?