This month, we have some good news for you about the power of gardening. A new study indicates that physical activities like gardening, dancing, or horseback riding could reduce Alzheimer’s risk by about 50 percent. This is great news for avid gardeners or people at risk for developing the disease.
The study, conducted by the UCLA Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh, studied 876 patients with an average age of 78 in four different research sites in the U.S. The participants were asked about their physical activity habits and MRI scans were taken of their brains. Those scans were then analyzed to see how the volumes of brain structures were doing, including the parts that deal with memory and Alzheimer’s.
The researchers discovered that any activity that keeps people moving daily helps the brain increase its gray matter, which could keep dementia from setting in.
“Any type of physical activity that burns calories—from jogging to gardening to walking to dancing—is associated with more gray matter in the brain,” said Dr. Cyrus Raji, the study’s lead researcher. “The most important thing [about that physical activity] is that it’s regular.”
The study’s results indicate that all people, but especially older people, would be smart to increase the amount of physical activity they get every day. Not only will people feel better, but they’ll also have more memory retention and less cognitive impairment.
Dr. George Perry, editor of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which published the study, called it “a landmark study that links exercise to increases in gray matter and opens the field of lifestyle intervention to objective biological measurement.” We know that exercise is good for you and a necessary part of living a healthy life, of course, and now we have one more incentive to get out of our desk chairs.
Currently, Alzheimer’s affects 5.1 million Americans, with significant increases projected for the coming years. The disease is debilitating and disheartening and ultimately fatal. Anything that can be done to prevent its onset should be highly encouraged.
“I think that these data should compel all physicians to provide some specific advice to everyone they see, either well or unwell,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “I have thought for some time that the most important single thing I can tell patients in order to prevent or slow down the progression of dementia is to provide them with some structured, minimal, routine exercise regimen.”