Alzheimer's disease (AD) afflicts more than 5.4 million Americans and ranks as the most common type of dementia (Thies and Bleiler, 2011), yet effective pharmacological treatments have not been identified. Substantial evidence indicates that physical activity enhances learning and memory for people of all ages, including individuals that suffer from cognitive impairment. The mechanisms that underlie these benefits have been explored using animal models, including transgenic models of AD. Accumulating research shows that physical activity reinstates hippocampal function by enhancing the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and other growth factors that promote neurogenesis, angiogenesis, and synaptic plasticity. In addition, several studies have found that physical activity counteracts age- and AD-associated declines in mitochondrial and immune system function. A growing body of evidence also suggests that exercise interventions hold the potential to reduce the pathological features associated with AD. Taken together, animal and human studies indicate that exercise provides a powerful stimulus that can countervail the molecular changes that underlie the progressive loss of hippocampal function in advanced age and AD.
2012 Published by Elsevier Inc