Health Buzz: Exercise May Promote Brain Health

The latest outlook on Alzheimer's; how to eat for your age

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Study: Exercise May Help Preserve Brain's Gray Matter

As if there weren't plenty of reasons to exercise already, new research suggests physical activity may also promote brain health. In a study of 876 adults ages 69 to 95, participants who burned the most calories had 5 percent more gray matter in their brains, reports USA Today. A shrinking amount of gray matter, or cerebral cortex, could cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles presented these findings yesterday at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago. Cyrus Raji, the study's lead author, told USA Today that people shouldn't wait to reap the brain benefits of exercise. "If you want to maximize the effect on your brain, these physical activities are something people have to start engaging in earlier in life, in your 50s and 40s."

More Alzheimer's research was published yesterday in Nature Medicine. Researchers studied the effects of psoriasis drugs on mice and found that they may help slow dementia. When the mice were given similar drugs for psoriasis, a skin condition that causes redness and irritation, the animals' short-term memories improved, reports BBC News. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently more than 35 million people across the globe living with dementia.

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  • The Latest Outlook on Alzheimer's

    More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and the nonprofit Alzheimer's Association projects that, barring major advances, 11 million to 16 million will have it by 2050—at an annual cost of $1.1 trillion in today's dollars. In May, the government announced the first national plan to combat Alzheimer's, and one focus is the role of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, a leading suspect in this form of dementia. U.S. News spoke about progress against the disease with a leading researcher in the field, Reisa Sperling, head of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Excerpts:

    Q: What do you see unfolding over the next couple of decades?

    A: What we have now is what I would term "symptomatic therapy." Drugs that are FDA-approved for Alzheimer's disease help people stay functional a bit longer, but they're not really slowing the underlying disease process. I actually am optimistic about the outlook over the next 10 to 20 years, because I think we are realizing that Alzheimer's disease can be detected a decade before people have symptoms. That will allow us to move into the same type of prevention strategy that has been successful in cancer and heart disease.

    Q: Has anything proven effective yet in either staving off or slowing the disease?

    A: Unfortunately, no. There are several anti-amyloid agents in large-scale trials that are due to report out this fall. However, those trials are being done at what we now recognize is probably the late stage of a 20-year disease process. And I'm afraid that may be too late for these particular mechanisms. The good news is that the agents are increasingly showing evidence that they have biologic activity, that they can lower amyloid in the brain and even affect what we call downstream processes, such as another key protein called tau. The issue is that we need to start both of those types of therapies, anti-amyloid and anti-tau, much earlier. [Read more: The Latest Outlook on Alzheimer's]

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    • Shop Your Age: Choosing Food That Fits

      When juggling work, friends, relatives, exercise, and perhaps a little leisure time, food shopping is rarely No. 1 on our to-do lists, writes U.S. News blogger Bonnie Taub-Dix. Like it or not, even with today's food-delivery services, we still have to make decisions about the best foods to buy for ourselves and our families. Although we all could benefit from making choices based upon the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and its MyPlate icon, we often choose foods for personal reasons—as a result of our desires, our companions, our environments, and our emotions.