A new study published in the November issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease has linked running more than 15.3 miles per week with a decreased risk of dying from Alzheimer's disease. The study also concluded that fruit intake and statins – drugs used to lower cholesterol – contribute to a lower risk of the disease. Moreover, researchers found that walking to burn the same amount of energy as would be expended from running 15.3 miles has a similar association with the disease. Overall, this study could point to several lifestyle factors that benefit senior health. However, the one major caveat of the research is that it was designed solely to prove that these factors lower the risk of dying from the disease, not preventing the onset of the disease itself.
"Those who ran 15.3 miles or more each week had a 40 percent reduced risk of dying from Alzheimer's disease."
However, this study also highlights the important role exercise plays in contributing to independent senior living. A regular exercise regimen, along with a healthy diet, has a wide range of health-related benefits, and lowering the risk of death from Alzheimer's is certainly a reason to implement more walking or running into that routine. While this research does not prove that exercise prevents the disease, the scientists did find that exercise can affect the physical construction of the brain:
"Exercise seems to prevent the shrinkage [in the brain] that occurs with age," study author Paul Williams told HealthDay.
With Alzheimer's disease being the most common cause of dementia, such findings could be integral in finding concrete ways to positively increase the longevity of brain health. For seniors, this may mean going for a daily walk or run, and logging distance to ensure it is more than the 15.3 mile benchmark. Notably, according to Williams, this distance is approximately double the amount recommended for adults by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this particular study is the sample size used to find the association between running and reduced risk of death from Alzheimer's. Williams took data from more than 153,000 runners and walkers, all of whom were previously participating in the National Runners' and Walkers' Health Studies. This larger study, in which men and women were recruited, was initiated in the early 1990s. Using the National Runners' and Walkers' Health Studies, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have been able to associate these activities with a reduced risk of many medical conditions, including several cancers, pneumonia, sepsis and hip replacement.
In Williams' research, he followed participants for an average of 12 years and tallied deaths from Alzheimer's disease. He found that those who ran at the 15.3 mile mark or above had a 40 percent reduced risk of dying from Alzheimer's disease, while those who ran 7.7 to 15.3 miles had a 25 percent reduction in risk. However, Williams concluded that this later figure is insignificant, according to HealthDay. Although similar studies have been conducted in the past, the large sample for this research provides more accurate evidence.