It’s not news that residents of Dubuque and elsewhere should be getting more exercise, whether they’re receiving hospice care or traditional care. But what is news is a recent discovery why this is so important.
Doctors, trainers, other wellness pros, and even various government agencies have been advocating that a little bit of physical activity can do everyone good. This can even take the form of a low-impact walk for about 20 minutes or some basic stretching.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care also echoes this and encourages its patients to take the effort to get up and get moving even when it’s easier to stay put.
Even if it’s not particularly intense, exercise builds or at least stabilizes muscles and keeps joints flexible. Not exercising runs the risk of losing muscle mass, decreasing strength and endurance, and making it harder to move around.
It’s also known that even a little exercise can give a boost of endorphins, which provide pleasure and less pain to the mind and body. Serious athletes will say that’s why they go through all the pain, but endorphins also help people who prefer less strenuous activities. Other studies show that exercise also can increase brain cells, mental performance and overall memory.
A new study shows that there is another reason why exercising is great: it can potentially help reduce the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2012, researchers discovered a hormone in the brain and body that was believed to have a role in triggering biochemical reactions and related to energy metabolism.
The New York Times reported it was called irisin, named after Iris, a messenger goddess from Greek mythology. Once irisin was detected, researchers have spent the last few years examining where it’s found in the body and why it appears and why some people have more or less of it than others.
Higher levels of irisin were often found after exercise, but it was difficult to tell if it began in the parts of the body where muscle use took place or the brain generated it and sent it to those areas.
There’s still more research to be done, but a significant study recently presented in Nature indicated that irisin’s role in exercise could also have benefits to people battling dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Part of the experiment involved looking at the presence of irisin in a collection of preserved brain tissue at a medical brain bank. The brains of people who had Alzheimer’s disease before their death had low levels of irisin, and the ones who didn’t have dementia had higher levels of irisin.
The second step
Learning about irisin in the brain encouraged Canadian and Brazilian researchers to create the conditions of Alzheimer’s disease in rat brains, and then see if exercise can be a factor.
Essentially they created a rodent version of the disease by creating a way to create plaque on brain proteins, similar to what Alzheimer disease does to human brains.
Some of the rodents were given this treatment while others weren’t. All were given a solution of irisin.
The rats with dementia began to improve mentally after being given the irisin. Then the healthy rats were given a solution to block the irisin, and then they began to slowly decline.
Another variable in the project looked at exercise. The healthy mice exercised an hour each day for five weeks, such as running or swimming. Some of them had been given the solution to block the irisin.
Even without the irisin, the healthy rats that exercised regularly had higher irisin levels. They performed better on memory tests than mice in the healthy but not exercising group.
The rats that didn’t exercise and the ones that had the dementia solution did worse.
Researchers said their findings may suggest that exercise can protect against dementia by causing an increase in the amount of irisin in the brain.
What it means
The researchers were quick to say that their findings don’t automatically mean exercise and irisin can prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease.
Although rats are useful for experimenting and testing theories in controlled environments, additional research will require human test subjects and longer-term trials.
However, it does give some direction to the scientific community who continue to look for ways to cure, slow or even reverse the different symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Even pharmaceutical companies could potentially figure out ways to compound irisin as a way to help a patient battling Alzheimer’s disease.
The Journal of Clinical Medicine also has been looking into irisin, and agreed about the usefulness for further research into the possibility of irisin not only destroying the plaque that causes Alzheimer’s disease but preventing the symptoms from showing up in the first place.
Although the scientific community is trying to be precise about what these studies mean and don’t mean, they still might be relevant for those battling Alzheimer’s disease, their families and any caregivers.
If exercise is concluded to have even more benefits than initially believed, then this research could lead to greater encouragement and support to get people exercising.