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 New Study To Focus On Link Between Exercise ‘Prescription’ And Brain Health


Is sedentary behavior the new ‘smoking?’ Many clinicians and others think so, and a growing number of research studies have pointed to the negative impact of being sedentary on the heart, lungs, muscles, and the brain. At the same time, several studies have documented the benefit of exercise for people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. Now, a new study will test whether physical exercise can slow the progression of early Alzheimer’s disease-related memory problems or mild cognitive impairment in older adults.
 
EXERT is a national, 18-month-long clinical trial. It is taking place at 14 academic medical centers and YMCAs in the United States. Sites are located in California, Georgia, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas, and Wisconsin.
 
Talking about the importance of this study, Laura Baker, PhD, one of the lead authors and Wake Forest School of Medicine associate professor of geronotology and geriatric medicine says, “We have become increasingly sedentary. We don’t walk from one place to another, we use our cars. We sit in front of the TV or at a desk for hours on end. As a result, we are seeing significant health complications. We are learning that sedentary behavior has the same consequences as smoking.”
 
“We know how exercise impacts the body below the neck, and we know from studies with animals from the past 20 to 30 years that exercise has positive effects on the brain as well,” says Baker. “New connections are formed; inflammation is reduced; and brain cells are more resilient to toxins, stress, and early death.” To fully examine the connection between exercise and brain health, she says, randomized clinical controlled trials are necessary. This is where EXERT comes in.
 
While there have been other studies about the impact of exercise on the aging brain, there has been much inconsistency in methodology. The EXERT study will use a standard method that has been previously shown to lead to benefits on memory and thinking abilities in smaller studies. Participants will get a detailed “prescription” for an exercise program that will be closely monitored by personal trainers at the YMCA. These types of rigorous exercise studies have lagged because it is difficult to implement and maintain an exercise prescription in community settings.
 
“It takes a lot of work,” Baker says. However, she stresses that if exercise translates to positive results and a sense of well-being in a short time, it will be worthwhile. “Exercise could be medicine to slow the progression of memory problems or Alzheimer’s disease,” she says.
 
The trial, limited to 300 participants, is currently enrolling people for the study. Residents from skilled nursing or assisted living centers may be eligible if they live in one of the study locations and meet all of the criteria. For more information, visit www.adcs.org/Studies/Exert.aspx.​
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