Alzheimer's patients who were in better physical shape than their peers were shown to have a larger brain, according to a study by a Kansas University Medical Center physician/researcher.
A study group of 121 people over age 60, 57 of whom were in the early stages of Alzheimer's, were given a one-time physical fitness test. Those who were less physically fit had four times more brain shrinkage when compared with those who were in better shape, according Dr. Jeffrey Burns of KUMC, who performed the study.
Burns said evidence shows that brain shrinkage can be tied to cognitive difficulties. It is possible then, he said, that exercising could prevent even more shrinkage, combating dementia.
"It doesn't prove it," he said. "But we know that exercise helps with general health and depression, and it may help with cognition."
Dr. John Hart, medical science director for the University of Texas at Dallas' Center for BrainHealth, said the results of the study provided an important piece of the dementia puzzle.
"Now we need to look further and figure out what exercise is doing to the brain and what parts of the brain it's helping to not decline," he said.
Burns cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the study, as the results came from a one-time test. The next step, he said, is to do a larger study over a period of two years.
Burns' findings will appear today in Neurology, the American Academy of Neurology's journal.