"That means the areas of the brain that are benefiting the most from this active lifestyle are also the areas affected in Alzheimer’s disease and are also responsible for cognition," he explained.
The same findings were observed in participants with Alzheimer’s disease or MCI. "People with Alzheimer’s who were more physically active in our study weren’t cured, but they had less deterioration in their brain matter volume, compared with the sedentary individuals," said Dr. Raji, who described the study as one of the largest voxel-based imaging studies of humans ever done.
Press briefing moderator Dr. Candice A. Johnstone of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee said in an interview that what’s unique about the study is that it shows that physical activity actually changes brain volume and that this benefit can be obtained through a variety of activities. This is especially important when counseling patients who may have difficulty walking.
What the study fails to address, however, is whether an active lifestyle will have an impact on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or MCI.
"Whether physical activity can significantly alter the course remains to be seen," she said. "It may be that people with changes in brain volume may be more likely to have [fewer] symptoms because their brain’s actively working to enhance those areas, but that’s the subject of future research. We do not know that."
Dr. Raji and Dr. Johnstone reported no conflicts of interest.