Four Weeks for a Healthier Brain: Resistance Training Can Prevent or Delay Alzheimer’s Disease

Brain Enhancement Healing Concept

One study has found that regular endurance exercise can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. In experiments with transgenic mice, it was found that resistance training decreased the formation of beta-amyloid plaques and normalized levels of corticosterone, the stress hormone associated with Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that the anti-inflammatory effect of resistance training could be the main reason for its effectiveness in preventing Alzheimer’s. The study concluded that resistance training could be an affordable and accessible therapy for Alzheimer’s patients.

Experiments involving rats demonstrated that four weeks of training with weights was sufficient to reverse the behavioral and physical changes characteristic of the disease.

Regular physical exercise, such as resistance training, can prevent[{” attribute=””>Alzheimer’s disease, or at least delay the appearance of symptoms, and serves as a simple and affordable therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. This is the conclusion of an article published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience by Brazilian researchers affiliated with the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and the University of São Paulo (USP).

Although older people and dementia patients are unlikely to be able to do long daily runs or perform other high-intensity aerobic exercises, these activities are the focus for most scientific studies on Alzheimer’s. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends resistance exercise as the best option to train balance, improve posture and prevent falls. Resistance exercise entails contraction of specific muscles against an external resistance and is considered an essential strategy to increase muscle mass, strength, and bone density, and to improve overall body composition, functional capacity, and balance. It also helps prevent or mitigate sarcopenia (muscle atrophy), making everyday tasks easier to perform.

To observe the neuroprotective effects of this practice, researchers in UNIFESP’s Departments of Physiology and Psychobiology, and the Department of Biochemistry at USP’s Institute of Chemistry (IQ-USP), conducted experiments involving transgenic mice with a mutation responsible for a buildup of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. The protein accumulates in the central nervous system, impairs synaptic connections, and damages neurons, all of which are features of Alzheimer’s disease.

During the study, which was funded by FAPESP, the mice were trained to climb a 110 cm ladder with a slope of 80° and 2 cm between rungs. Loads were attached to their tails corresponding to 75%, 90%, and 100% of their body weight. The experiment mimicked certain kinds of resistance training undertaken by humans in fitness centers.

At the end of a four-week period of training, blood samples were taken to measure plasma levels of corticosterone, the hormone in mice equivalent to cortisol in humans; rising levels in response to stress heightens the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Levels of the hormone were normal (equal to those found in the control group comprising animals without the mutation) in the exercise-trained mice, and analysis of their brain tissue showed a decrease in the formation of beta-amyloid plaques.

“This confirms that physical activity can reverse neuropathological alterations that cause clinical symptoms of the disease,” said Henrique Correia Campos, first author of the article.

“We also observed the animals’ behavior to assess their anxiety in the open field test [which measures avoidance of the central area of a box, the most stress-inducing area] and found that resistance training reduced hyperlocomotion to levels similar to controls among mice with an Alzheimer’s-associated phenotype,” said Deidiane Elisa Ribeiro, one of the first authors of the article and a researcher in the IQ-USP Neuroscience Laboratory. Agitation, restlessness, and wandering are often early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

“Resilience training is increasingly proving to be an effective strategy to avoid the appearance of sporadic Alzheimer’s symptoms [not directly caused by a single inherited genetic mutation], which is multifactorial and may be related to aging, or to delay its onset in familial Alzheimer’s. The main probable reason for this effectiveness is the anti-inflammatory action of resistance training,” said Beatriz Monteiro Longo, final author of the article and a professor of neurophysiology at UNIFESP.

Literature review

Animal model studies are based on a literature review published in Frontiers in Neurosciencewhere the same group at UNIFESP amassed clinical evidence that the benefits of resistance training include positive effects on cognitive dysfunction, memory deficits, and behavioral problems in Alzheimer’s patients, concluding that this could be an affordable alternative or adjunctive therapy.

Researchers from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) and the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP) in Brazil also took part in the study.

“Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the patient. Whole families are impacted, especially in low-income households,” said Caroline Vieira Azevedo, first author of the review article and postgraduate student at UNIFESP. “These two articles offer information that can be used to stimulate the creation of public policies. Imagine the cost savings if the appearance of symptoms in older patients is delayed by ten years.”

References: “Neuroprotective effect of resistance training exercise in the APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease” by Henrique Correia Campos, Deidiane Elisa Ribeiro, Debora Hashiguchi, Talita Glaser, Milena da Silva Milanis, Christiane Gimenes, Deborah Suchecki, Ricardo Mario Arida, Henning Ulrich and Beatriz Monteiro Longo, April 6, 2023, Frontiers in Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2023.1132825

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