Heading for a ride? How cycling could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a terrifying and debilitating form of dementia, and it affects the lives of millions of people around the world.  Most people assume this disease only affects the elderly, but right now in Australia there are more than 25 thousand people living with early onset dementia, inflicting some as young as 30.  Unfortunately, there is nothing doctors can do to effectively treat the disease, or even slow its progression.  However, despite the disease having a genetic component, there are some simple things you can do which may reduce your risk of developing the disease, and you’ll be pleased to hear that cycling is one of them.

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The heat map above shows the increased risk of dementia present in the western world (1), which is partially attributed to our sedentary lifestyle

Alzheimer’s disease is classified within a larger category of maladies known as the neurodegenerative disorders, or dementias.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for three quarters of all cases of the disease, but other types include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and the lesser known Lewy body dementia. All of these diseases have different pathophysiologies (the biochemical basis of the condition), but present with similar clinical symptoms, and most have similar initial triggers.  All these diseases present with a gradual loss of cognitive function, progressing to deficits in motor skills and loss of organ control, which can lead to the death of the sufferer.

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The effects of neurone death are most clearly seen in end stage dementia

Genetics, and how different genes can lead to different diseases, has always been a complicated area of study.  It’s difficult to determine exactly how many conditions are caused by a certain disease, how many sufferers were predisposed due to their genetics, or whether a disease was caused entirely by other factors.  As far as modern geneticists can tell, genetic mutations cause only about 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases, meaning that the remaining 95% of the time, you may be able to delay or avoid a dementia diagnosis.  This is where cycling can play an important role.

By simply riding regularly with your mates, you’re not only having fun and keeping fit, you’re also helping to minimise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia is caused by the death of neurones, the functional unit of the brain.  Essentially, the more neurones that die, the worse the condition gets.  One of the conditions that leads to the death of these neurones is hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen to the brain.  This is where cycling can help; any form of exercise aids to increase oxygen flow to the brain.  Factors such as obesity, poor cardiovascular health, poor diet, stress and diabetes are all well established triggers for the disease, but the good news is that so many of these issues can be countered or improved through exercise – so what better way to ward off disease than getting on your bike for a spin?

How to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s:

  • Maintain good cardiovascular health
  • Consume a diet rich in legumes, olive oils,  unrefined cereals, fruits, vegetables and fish
  • Exercise
  • Maintain healthy social circles
  • Manage diabetes carefully
  • Keep your brain active, by reading and learning new things wherever possible

Age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and unfortunately there isn’t any way to avoid aging.  Cardiovascular health is possibly the most important reversible factor, so keeping fit can help to lower your risk.  In addition to aiding cardiovascular health, exercise has been shown to directly increase blood flow to the brain, delaying the potential effects of hypoxia.  Activities that keep your brain active, such as maintaining a regular social life, can also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.  The community that comes with cycling, the group rides, the post-ride coffee chats, make up the social engagement that can help to limit the death of brain neurons that cause dementia.  So by simply riding regularly with your mates, you’re not only having fun and keeping fit, you’re also helping to minimise your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

This article was written by Tim from Pushys, but if you think you, or someone you love, may have dementia, see your GP, or call Alzheimer’s Australia on 1800 100 500 directly for more information.

References

  1. Image by Lokal_Profil 

About Tim_Davis@Pushys

I'm a Science Graduate and Medical student at the University of Queensland, specialising in anatomy and physiology. More importantly, I'm all for any type of riding; road, mountain, dirt jumping, I love it all! Let me know if there is anything you want to know about nutrition and health, and I'll do my best to help you out!

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