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Could Regular Exercise Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

 
19/02/2015 | By Freedom Health Insurance
A recent study has found that regular exercise can help keep the brain healthy and active by delivering a steady flow of oxygenated blood to the brain.

According to Mail Online (1), the study found that regular exercise could reduce the risk or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Those suffering from the disease develop certain characteristics such as memory loss, difficulties with problem-solving, planning or language, and sometimes changes in mood (2).   

NHS Choices reports on the researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London who concluded that physical inactivity is one of many factors contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (3). Here, physical activity is defined as either 20 minutes of vigorous activity on three or more days a week, or 30 minutes of moderate activity on five or more days. The good news is that regular exercise, of moderate to high intensity, could potentially reduce the risk to the UK population as a whole of developing Alzheimer’s disease by around 20%.

Diagnosis


Alzheimer’s Society has found that early diagnosis is another important factor in the development of the disease. A prompt diagnosis can help avoid unnecessary stress and delay in access to medical treatment, so reducing the early impact of the disease. There can be huge differences in waiting times following GP referral depending on where you live though. Alzheimer’s Society reports that in England, patients wait for between one and 25 weeks from initial GP referral to initial appointment and between one and 21 weeks from their initial appointment to diagnosis (4).

BBC News Health reports that a recent initiative announced by NHS England will see GPs earn £55 for each patient they diagnose with dementia, with the aim of increasing the number of sufferers who have access to treatment (5).

The controversial six-month £5m scheme is intended to give GPs funding to produce detailed plans to improve dementia diagnosis rates, improve reporting structures and allow them to carry out measures such as visiting care homes to assess very elderly people that may not have been checked for dementia before.

Health Insurance


Alzheimer’s is known as a chronic condition or long term condition, which is not commonly covered by health insurance. But those with health insurance may be covered for the early investigations and specialist’s consultation to secure an early diagnosis which can otherwise prove difficult – it is currently estimated that less than half of people living with dementia in the UK have a diagnosis and thus access to treatment (6).  Alzheimer’s Society reports regional disparities in diagnosis rates too, ranging from just 32% in Herefordshire to as high as 75% in Corby.

Exercise can help lower health risks


The Institute of Psychiatry research (3) suggests that exercise may help reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s, and there are many other reasons too why many of us could benefit from exercising to raise our heart rate a little two or three times a week.  
People who do regular exercise generally have a lower risk of many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and some cancers. What’s more, in addition to helping reduce the risk of dementia, physical activity can help improve your mood, help ensure a good nights’ sleep, boost self-esteem, give you energy and lower your risk of stress and depression (7).

Before you start any new exercise plan, it is important that you discuss this with your GP to ensure it is safe and appropriate to do so.  

Note: This article is provided for informational purposes and does not constitute advice - please refer to your GP. 

References

1. Borland, S., 2014. Cut Alzheimer’s risk by walking; It only takes 20 minutes, 3 times a week, Daily Mail. Available here.
2. Alzheimer's Society, 2015. The dementia guide: About dementia. Available here.
3. NHS Choices, 2014. Exercise may help prevent Alzheimer's disease. Available here.
4. Alzheimer's Society, 2013. Diagnosis and assessment. Available here.
5. BBC News Health, 2014, GPs to be paid £55 for each dementia diagnosis.  Available here.
6. Alzheimer's Society, 2014, Dementia Diagnosis Rates. Available here.
7. NHS Choices, 2013., Benefits of exercise. Available here